Sunday, October 23, 2011

Buddhism, Bullfights, and Brad Pitt

Barcelona stages last bullfight
(reprinted from September 25 -- the Practical Buddhist is traveling in Thailand)
BARCELONA — Matadors drove the killing sword into bulls for the last time Sunday in Spain's powerful northeastern region of Catalonia in an emotive farewell fight before a polemical regional ban on the country's emblematic tradition takes effect.

Three of Spain's top bullfighters, including No. 1 Jose Tomas, starred in the sold-out show at Barcelona's 20,000-seat Monumental ring. Catalan bullfighter Serafin Marin closed the fight killing the last of six bulls to great applause.


Remember the scene in Brad Pitt’s Seven Years in Tibet It took forever to put up a temple because the Buddhist builders had to remove all the earthworms before digging, lest one worm get hurt.  Is that extreme? 

The First Precept can inform dialogues about hot-buttons like abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia and vegetarianism, but the precept doesn’t forbid anything.  Buddhism isn’t about moral absolutes. The Precepts are more “trainings” than commandments.  That makes moral decisions more difficult, not less. Because there are no absolutes, you have to consider deeply the nexus of intention, circumstance and outcome, and deal compassionately with all concerned.

So why do some Buddhists protect earthworms and others go to war?  Why do Buddhist countries have capital punishment, for that matter?

One clue might be in the centrality of compassion in Buddhist ethics.  Can you make compassionate argument that it’s OK to catch a fish to feed a family? Probably. How about a deer? And what about a trip to the market to buy beef?  Are these compassionate decisions for everyone involved including the animals? Many Buddhists would say they are.

But what about bullfighting, recently banned in Barcelona? No doubt there is a Buddhist somewhere who will point out that bullfighting is an industry that employs many workers in these tough times. 
 She’ll add that the dead bulls are always eaten, not discarded. She might even say that the bullring has brought joy and pleasure to many for centuries, and even taught ancient virtues though its elaborate rituals.

The Practical Buddhist is pretty sure those arguing to keep bullfighting will lose the argument, hands down. Making a entertainment out of ritually torturing and killing an animal would be a very hard sell no matter how you interpret the First Precept, no matter what the circumstances.

Now you could say “don’t get excited about bullfighting when wars are everywhere.”  The Practical Buddhist will claim that bullfighting coarsens and brutalizes people and disrespects life. It makes  killing attractive by doing it in beautiful costumes while stirring music plays. Certainly that softens opposition to violence and can stimulate aggression, pre-requisites for choosing war.


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