Most people believe that all Buddhists are vegetarians. Well, No! Some Buddhists are vegetarians, while others are not. Attitudes about vegetarianism may vary from sect to sect. As well as from individual to individual. Hence, if you are wondering whether you must commit to being a vegetarian to become a Buddhist, the answer is No.
So, this post will serve as a blueprint to you. As such, you will find answers to all the questions you may have about Buddhism and vegetarianism.
Although, it is unlikely the historical Buddha was a vegetarian. In his early teachings, the Tripitaka, the Buddha did not officially forbid his disciples to eat meat. If meat were put into their alms bowl. Of course, the monk was going to eat it.
Monks were to happily receive and consume all the food they were given, including meat. Thus, the Buddha was not necessarily a vegetarian. Neither did he teach his disciples to be vegetarians. And even today, many good Buddhists are not vegetarians.
But What if You Eat Meat, are You Indirectly Responsible for the Death of a Creature?
Some may see it as breaking the first precept. Well, it is true that when you eat meat, you are indirectly responsible for killing a creature. But, the same is applicable when you eat vegetables. The farmer has to spray insecticides on his crop. So, that you could serve the vegetables on your dinner plates without holes in them.
And also, animals have been killed so as to use their leather for your handbag or belt. More so, it’s oil for the soap you use and a thousand other products as well. Then, it is impossible to live without these things. By some means, it is indirectly responsible for the death of some other beings.
Thus, and this is just another example of the First Noble Truth. That is, ordinary existence is suffering and unsatisfactory. So, when you take the First Precept. You try to avoid being directly accused of killing beings.
Did the Buddha Support Vegetarianism for Monks?
Though the Buddha did not support vegetarianism for the monks. However, He did advise the monks to avoid taking ten kinds of meat for their self-respect and protection. Thus, they are humans, elephants, horses, dogs, snakes, lions, tigers, leopards, bears, and hyenas. This is because some animals attack people when they smell the flesh of their kind.
Likewise, when the Buddha was asked to introduce vegetarianism amongst his disciples. The Buddha refused to do so. This was because Buddhism is a free practice. Therein, his advice was to leave the decision regarding vegetarianism to the individual disciple. As a result, it clearly shows that the Buddha had not considered this as an essential religious observance.
Therefore, the Buddha did not mention anything about vegetarianism for the lay Buddhists in His Teachings.
But, Can Someone Still be a Buddhist Without Being a Vegetarian?
Actually, imagine having someone with a strict sense of vegetarianism, but then, portrays dishonesty, selfishness, and meanness. And, another person on the other hand who chose to eat meat, but then, he shows mindfulness towards others, honest, kind, and generous. Which of these two would make a better Buddhist? The person who was honest and helpful.
Hence, you should not judge the purity or impurity of man only by noticing what he eats.
In the Amagandha Sutta, the Buddha said:
“Neither meat, nor fasting, nor nakedness,
Nor shaven heads, nor matted hair nor dirt, Nor rough skins, nor fire-worshipping, Nor all the penances here in this world, Nor hymns, nor oblation, nor sacrifice, Nor feasts of the season,
Will purify a man overcome with doubt.“
Hence, taking fish and meat by itself does not make a man impure. As such, a man makes himself unclean by bigotry, deceit, envy, self-exaltation, and other evil intentions.
Finally, there is no rule in Buddhism that stipulated that the followers of the Buddha should not take fish and meat. Hence, the only advice given by Buddha is that Buddhists should not involve themselves in killing living things intentionally. and, on another note, they should not ask others to kill any living being for them. However, those who take vegetable food, and desist from animal flesh are praiseworthy.
Can Vegetarianism Affect Our Human and Health Qualities?
Basically, vegetarianism alone does not help a man to cultivate his humane attributes. There are humble, kind, polite, and religious people amongst non-vegetarians. Therefore, one should not condone abusive statements. For that reason, religious man must not practice vegetarianism at all cost.
On the other hand, if anybody believes that people cannot live a healthy life without taking fish and meat, it does not necessarily mean that they are correct as well. After all, there are millions of pure vegetarians all over the world. Yet, they appear to still be much stronger and healthier than the meat-eaters.
Generally, below are different views from different schools:
Do Mahayana Buddhists eat meat?
Yes, Mahayana Buddhism in China laid high stress on being vegetarian. But, both the monks and laymen/women of the Mahayana tradition in Japan and Tibet usually eat meat.
But, according to the Mahayana school, a Mahayana sutra seeming to give Gautama Buddha’s final teachings claimed that the Buddha ensured that his followers never ate meat. This includes those not included in the ten types. As a result, one should wash even vegetarian food touched by meat before being eaten.
Correspondingly, it is not permissible for the monk or nun to pick out the non-meat portions of a diet. And, leave the rest. Thus, the whole meal must be rejected if needs be.
Lastly, in several other Mahayana scriptures, the Buddha clearly indicates that meat-eating is unacceptable and karmically unwholesome.
Was There Any Subject that Influenced the Rise of Vegetarianism in Mahayana?
Yes, some suggested that the rise of monasteries in Mahayana tradition was a contributing factor in the emphasis on vegetarianism. In the monastery, they prepared food specifically for monks. This implies that large quantities of meat would have been specially prepared for monks.
Hence, when monks from the Indian geographical region of influence migrated to China from the year 65 CE. They met followers who assisted them with money instead of food. As a result of this, Chinese monastics and others who came to inhabit northern countries cultivated their vegetable plots. And, as well, bought food in the market. Perhaps, it remains the dominant practice in China, Vietnam, and part of Korean Mahayana temples.
Could There Be Vegetarian Dates for Buddhists in Mahayana traditions?
Definitely, Mahayana lay Buddhists often eat vegetarian diets on the vegetarian dates. There is a different arrangement of the dates. As a result, it ranges from several days to three or four months each year. In some traditions, the annual celebration of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara’s birthday. Enlightenment and leaving home days remains the highest importance to be vegetarian.
Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Taiwanese Traditions
Formerly, in China, Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, and their respective diaspora communities, monks and nuns are actually abstaining from meat. And, traditionally, eggs and dairy as well. Although, of recent, this rule often interprets to include other vegetables of the onion genus. As well as coriander – thus, called pure vegetarianism.
In view of that, it may interest you to know that Pure Vegetarianism is Indic in origin. As such, it is still in practice in India by some adherents of Dharmic religions such as Jainism. Also, it applies in the case of Hinduism.
Japan formally received Chinese Buddhism in the 6th century. Then, in the 9th century, emperor Saga made a law prohibiting meat consumption. Although, with the exception of fish and birds. Consequently, this remained the dietary habit of Japanese. As such, it continued until the introduction of European dietary rules in the 19th century.
Also, around the 9th century, two Japanese monks named Kūkai and Saichō established Vajrayana Buddhism into Japan. And, this soon became the prevailing Buddhism among the nobility.
Although, Japan offers a vast array of delicacies. Many of which are vegetarian. Most of all, even before the advent of vegan ramen, vegetarians still had options.
Fundamentally, the Buddha before his enlightenment describes his family as wealthy enough to provide non-vegetarian meals even to his servants. After becoming enlightened, he accepted any food offered to him as alms, including meat. But, there is no mention of him eating meat during his seven years as an ascetic.
However, this is not strictly speaking a dietary rule. Then, the Buddha on one particular occasion pointedly refused suggestions by Devadatta to institute vegetarianism in the Sangha.
Also, in the Amagandha Sutta in the Sutta Nipata. A vegetarian Brahmin confronts Kassapa Buddha concerning the evil of eating meat. However, the Buddha countered the argument by listing acts which cause real moral defilement. Consequently, at the end of the verse, he explained that the consumption of meat is not the same to those acts.
“Taking life, beating, wounding, binding, stealing, lying, deceiving, worthless knowledge, adultery is a prohibited act. Not the eating of meat.” (Amagandha Sutta).
Some Vajrayana practitioners drink both alcohols and eat meat. Hence, many traditions of the Ganachakra, which is an example of Panchamakara puja approved the offering and consumption of meat and alcohol. Although, this practice is now a memorable one. Thus, with no actual meat or alcohol ingested in it.
But, the 14th Dalai Lama and other esteemed lamas invite their audiences to adopt vegetarianism when they can. Hence, when asked in recent years what he thinks of vegetarianism, the 14th Dalai Lama said it is a wonderful practice. As a result, must be adopted and promoted.
Coincidentally, the Dalai Lama tried becoming a vegetarian and promoted vegetarianism. But, in 1999, there was a publication which read that the Dalai Lama would only be vegetarian on normal days. But, partakes of meat regularly.
That is, when he is in Dharamsala, he is vegetarian, but not necessarily when he is outside Dharamsala. Thus, Paul McCartney advised him, thereby urging him to return to strict vegetarianism. But, (The Dalai Lama) said his doctors had instructed him to eat meat. That is to say, that this attitude resulted in unapproved adoption of vegetarianism in Vajrayana tradition.
In Tibet, where vegetables have been historically scarce, vegetarianism is rare. Although, the Dalai Lama, the Karmapa, and other esteemed lamas instructed their audiences to adopt vegetarianism whenever they can.
At that moment, a lama named Chatral Rinpoche insisted that anyone who wished to be his student must be vegetarian.
But, contradicting his statement, in Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the sanctity of life both human and animal is something they cherish. Therefore, oftentimes they consume as a form of sustenance due to unavailability of vegetable.
For example, Tibetan medicine lay emphasis on the need to acquire and sustain a steadiness between the bodily fluids of wind, phlegm, and bile. In which a meatless food would disturb and definitely lead to fatigue.
As a final point, the 18th century Jigmé Lingpa, a Tibetan religious leader suggested that whoever that wish to eat meat, but, also do not want to sacrifice their religious beliefs should recite a prayer over their meal to purify it before consuming. This is done so as to create a positive interconnection between the consumer and the animal. Thus, assisting it in attaining a finer rebirth.
How Can Someone Handle Critics from People Against Buddhist Meat Eaters?
People who condemn Buddhists who eat meat is unaware of the Buddhist attitude towards food. Thus, a living being needs sustenance. We eat to live. Hence, a human being should supply his body with a nutritious diet. As it needs to keep him healthy. And, as well, to give him enough energy to work.
However, as a result of increasing wealth, more and more people, especially in developed countries eat to satisfy their palates. Hence, if one craves after any food, or kills to satisfy his greed for meat, this is wrong. But, if one eats without greed and without directly being involved in the act of killing, but, merely to sustain the physical body, then, he is practicing self-restraint.
How Did the Practice of Vegetarianism Influence the Mindset of Buddhist Members?
Basically, the historical Buddha and his disciples were homeless wanderers. Basically, they solely feed on the alms they received. Therefore, Buddhists did not begin to build monasteries and other permanent communities until sometime after the Buddha died.
Also, monastic Buddhists do not live on alms alone.
Instead, they also feed on food grown by, donated to, or purchased by monks. Therefore, it is hard to argue that meat provided to an entire monastic community did not come from an animal slaughtered, especially for that community.
Thus, many groups of Mahayana Buddhism, in particular, began to lay emphasis on vegetarianism. Especially, Mahayana Sutras, decidedly provide vegetarian teachings.
Diversity of practice
Today, approach towards vegetarianism differ from sect to sect and even within sects. But generally, Theravada Buddhists do not kill animals themselves. But, consider vegetarianism as a personal choice.
Also, the Vajrayana schools, which includes Tibetan and Japanese Shingon Buddhism, encouraged vegetarianism. But, do not think it should be necessarily included in Buddhist practice.
Also, Mahayana schools are more often vegetarian. Yet, even among Mahayana sects, there are differences in practice. This implies that, in keeping with the original rules. Some Buddhists might not be able to buy meat for themselves. However, may eat a meat diet offered them at a friend’s dinner party.
The Middle Way
Wholesomely, Buddhism discourages any form of perfectionism. The Buddha taught his disciples to find a middle way between extreme opinions and insights. For this reason, fanatical Buddhists who do practice vegetarianism are discouraged from becoming attached to it.
Also, a Buddhist who practices Metta which is loving-kindness to all beings without any selfish interest do not eat meat. However, they do so out of loving-kindness for living animals. As such, it is not because there is something bad about an animal’s body.
In some cases, the meat itself is not the point. And, under some conditions, compassion might make a Buddhist to break the rules.
The Business of Suffering
We believe you still see free-ranging livestock on small farms. But, significant “factory farms” can be a rough place for animals.
Breeding sows live the majority of their lives in cages so small that they cannot turn around. Also, egg-laying hens kept in “battery cages” cannot spread their wings. These practices raise interest toward the adoption of vegetarianism.
As Buddhists, we should consider if the products we purchase were made with suffering. This includes human pain as well as animal suffering. Hence, if your faux-leather shoes are made by exploited laborers working under inhumane conditions, you are also guilty of suffering.
The point is, to live is to kill. It cannot be avoided. Even Fruits and vegetables come from living organisms. More so, farming them requires the use of insecticides to eliminate insects, rodents, and other animal life. Further, the electricity and heat from our homes may come from facilities that harm the environment.
Or, do you even think about the cars we drive? Definitely No. We are all intertwined in a web of killing and destruction. And, as long as we live, no one can be completely free of it.
So, as Buddhists, our effort should not aim at mindlessly following the rules written in books. Instead, to be mindful of the harm we do. And, of course, abstain from it if possible.
Can Buddhist Eat Eggs?
Buddhist monks and nuns, as well as some lay Buddhists in China and Southeast Asia, are vegans. Although, they usually use the word ‘vegetarian.’ They also do not eat eggs. Most of the people there are lactose intolerant. As a result, there is no tradition of drinking cow’s milk. However, some may even eat meat occasionally. On the other hand, this may not apply to other Buddhist sects.
Why Does Buddhist Not Eat Garlic?
There is no prescription on the food of any kind in Buddhism, including meat. The reason why a Buddhist might choose to be vegetarian is out of compassion. However, certain yogic practices require control of the diet. Thus, onions and garlic can sometimes lead to mental excitement, which might hamper some meditative practices.
Do Buddhist Eat Beef?
A strict Buddhist eats a specific food, even when he’s not a vegetarian.
For many Chinese Buddhists, consumption of beef, large animals and other exotic species is prohibited.
Also, another restriction on food that is not known to many is the abstinence from eating animal innards and organs.
Buddha’s Quotes About Vegetarian
“It is more important to prevent animal suffering, rather than sit to contemplate the evils of the universe praying in the company of priests.”
“May all that have life be delivered from suffering.”
“When a man pities all living creatures, then only is he noble.”
“To become vegetarian is to step into a stream, which leads to nirvana.”
“To avoid causing terror to live beings, let the disciple refrain from eating meat.”
“The eating of meat destroys the seed of Great Kindness.”
“One who, while seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other living beings who also desire happiness, will not find happiness hereafter.”
“He who has renounced all violence towards all living beings, weak or strong, who neither kills nor causes others to kill – him I do call a holy man.”
“The easiest beneficence is a smile. The purest release is to have a vegetarian meal.“
You see, vegetarianism is quite an object of contention in Buddhism practice today. But, in the Buddha’s teachings, the most vital thing is the quality of your heart. As such, the nature of your diet does not matter much.
Many Buddhists are cautious about eating meat. However, they do not feel disturbed about being selfish, cruel, dishonest, or jealous about it. Instead, they only change their diet, which is a natural habit.
So whether you are a vegetarian or not, remember that the purification of the mind is an essential thing in Buddhism. As a result, one must not do away with it.
To your peace!