Buddhism and Vegetarianism
1. From John Kahila (talk.religion.buddhism newsgroup):
Are all Buddhists vegetarians?
No. The First Precept admonishes us to refrain from killing, but meat eating is not regarded as an instance of killing, and it is not forbidden in the scriptures. (We are speaking here mainly of the Pali scriptures. Some of the Mahayana scriptures, notably the Lankavatara Sutra, take a strong position in favor of vegetarianism. Also see Note below)
As recorded in the Pali scriptures, the Buddha did not prohibit consumption of meat, even by monks. In fact, he explicitly rejected a suggestion from Devadatta to do so. In modern Theravada societies, a bhikkhu who adheres to vegetarianism to impress others with his superior spirituality may be committing an infringement of the monastic rules.
On the other hand, the Buddha categorically prohibited consumption of the flesh of any animal that was "seen, heard or suspected" to have been killed specifically for the benefit of monks (Jivaka Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 55). This rule technically applies only to monastics, but it can be used as a reasonable guide by devout lay people.
To understand this "middle path" approach to meat-eating, we have to remember that there were no "Buddhists" in Shakyamuni's time. There were only mendicants of various kinds (including the Buddha's disciples), plus lay people who gave them alms out of respect without necessarily worrying about the brand name of the teachings.
If meat was what a householder chose to offer, it was to be accepted without discrimination or aversion. To reject such an offering would be an offense against hospitality and would deprive the householder of an opportunity to gain merit -- and it could not benefit the animal, because it was already dead. Even the Jains may have had a similar outlook during the same period of history, despite the strict doctrine of ahimsa.
Vegetarianism could not become a source of serious controversy in the bhikkhu sangha until the rise of fixed-abode monastic communities in which the monks did not practice daily alms-round. Any meat provided to such a community by lay people would almost certainly have been killed specifically for the monks. That may be one reason for the difference in Mahayana and Theravada views on meat eating -- the development of monastic communities of this type occurred principally within Mahayana.
The issue of meat eating raises difficult ethical questions. Isn't the meat in a supermarket or restaurant killed "for" us? Doesn't meat eating entail killing by proxy?
Few of us are in a position to judge meat eaters or anyone else for "killing by proxy." Being part of the world economy entails "killing by proxy" in every act of consumption. The electricity that runs our computers comes from facilities that harm the environment. Books of Buddhist scriptures are printed on paper produced by an industry that destroys wildlife habitat. Worms, insects, rodents and other animals are routinely killed en masse in the course of producing the staples of a vegetarian diet. Welcome to samsara. It is impossible for most of us to free ourselves from this web; we can only strive to be mindful of entanglement in it. One way to do so is to reflect on how the suffering and death of sentient beings contributes to our comfort. This may help us to be less inclined to consume out of mere greed.
All of that having been said, it cannot be denied that the economic machine which produces meat also creates fear and suffering for a large number of animals. It is useful to bear this in mind even if one consumes meat, to resist developing a habit of callousness. Many Buddhists (especially Mahayanists) practice vegetarianism as a means of cultivating compassion.
The Jivaka Sutta hints that one could also make a good case for vegetarianism starting from any of the other brahmaviharas (loving-kindness, sympathetic joy, equanimity). Interestingly, it is loving-kindness rather than compassion that is mentioned first in the Jivaka Sutta.
If you are considering trying out vegetarianism for the first time, we suggest discussing it with someone who has experience. There are a few issues that ought to be considered regarding balanced diet, etc.
Note (by Binh Anson): The Lankavatara Sutra, although recorded the Buddha's teaching in Lanka (Sri Lanka), is essentially a product of later Mahayana development. According to H. Nakamura (Indian Buddhism, 1987), there are several versions of this sutra, one fairly different in content from the other. Most scholars concluded that this sutra was likely compiled in 350-400 CE. In addition, according the the popular Zen master D.T. Suzuki (The Lankavatara Sutra - A Mahayana Text, 1931), the chapter dealing with meat eating was indeed added much later in subsequent versions. He also agreed that this sutra was not the authentic words by the Buddha, but was compiled much later by unknown authors following Mahayana's philosophy.
2. From Ven. S. Dhammika (Australian BuddhaNet):
There are differences of opinion between Buddhists on this issue so we will attempt to present the arguments of those who believe that vegetarianism is necessary for Buddhists and those who do not.
Vegetarianism was not a part of the early Buddhist tradition and the Buddha himself was not a vegetarian. The Buddha got his food either by going on alms rounds or by being invited to the houses of his supporters and in both cases he ate what he was given. Before his enlightenment he had experimented with various diets including a meatless diet, but he eventually abandoned them believing that they did not contribute to spiritual development.
The Nipata Sutta underlines this point when it says that it is immorality that makes one impure (morally and spiritually), not the eating of meat. The Buddha is often described as eating meat, he recommended meat broth as a cure for certain types of illness and advised monks for practical reasons, to avoid certain types of meat, implying that other types were quite acceptable.
However, Buddhists gradually came to feel uncomfortable about meat eating. In 257 BC King Asoka said that in contrast to before, only two peacocks and a deer were killed to provide food in the royal kitchens and that in time even this would be stopped. By the beginning of the Christian era meat eating had become unacceptable, particularly amongst the followers of the Mahayana although the polemics against it in works like the Lankavatara Sutra indicates that it was still widespread or a least a point of controversy (see footnote in the previous section). Tantric text dating from the 7th and 8th centuries onward, frequently recommend both drinking alcohol and eating meat and both are considered fit to offer to gods. This was probably as much an expression of the freedom from convention which Tantra taught as it was a protest against Mahayanists to whom practices like abstaining from drink and meat had become a substitute for genuine spiritual change.
Today it is often said that Mahayanists are vegetarian and Theravadins are not. However the situation is a little more complex than that. Generally Theravadins have no dietary restrictions although it is not uncommon to find monks and lay people in Sri Lanka who are strict vegetarians. Others abstain from meat while eating fish. Chinese and Vietnamese monks and nuns are strictly vegetarian and the lay community try to follow their example although many do not. Amongst Tibetans and Japanese Buddhists, vegetarianism is rare.
Buddhists who insist on vegetarianism have a simple and compelling argument to support their case. Eating meat encourages an industry that causes cruelty and death to millions of animals and a truly compassionate person would wish to mitigate all this suffering. By refusing to eat meat one can do just that.
Those who believe that vegetarianism is not necessary for Buddhists have equally compelling although more complex arguments to support their view: (1) If the Buddha had felt that a meatless diet was in accordance with the Precepts he would have said so and in the Pali Tipitaka at least, he did not. (2) Unless one actually kills an animal oneself (which seldom happens today) by eating meat one is not directly responsible for the animal's death and in this sense the non- vegetarian is no different from the vegetarian. The latter can only eat his vegetables because the farmer has ploughed his fields (thus killing many creatures) and sprayed the crop (again killing many creatures). (3) While the vegetarian will not eat meat he does use numerous other products that lead to animals being killed (soap, leather, serum, silk etc.) Why abstain from one while using the others? (4) Good qualities like understanding, patience, generosity and honesty and bad qualities like ignorance, pride, hypocrisy, jealousy and indifference do not depend on what one eats and therefore diet is not a significant factor in spiritual development.
Some will accept one point of view and some another. Each person has to make up his or her own mind.
(1) Ruegg, D.S. "Ahimsa and Vegetarianism in the History of Buddhism" in Buddhist Studies in Honour of Walpola Rahula. S. Balasooriya,(et.al) London, 1980;
(2) P. Kapleau, To Cherish All Life, London, 1982.
3. From Samanera Kumara Liew ( firstname.lastname@example.org, 06 June 1999)
Is there something spiritually wholesome about being a vegetarian?
I'm aware there are some people whom are vegetarians here. Being somewhat health conscious myself, I'm almost one too. However, I can see that there are some seem to hold a view that I think they might like to reconsider -- i.e. the view that there is something spiritually wholesome about being a vegetarian.
As the suttas (discourses) clearly shows, the Buddha himself -- with his great wisdom -- did not ask his disciples, renunciate or lay, to be vegetarians. And so, you might like to reconsider that view that there is something spiritually wholesome about being a vegetarian.
The Buddha himself was not a vegetarian. And so, you might like to reconsider that view that there is something spiritually wholesome about being a vegetarian.
Some may argue that somewhere along the line someone might have modified the suttas. It would seem quite unlikely, as the Suttas (of the Theravada tradition at least) are brought to the present by a very large group of monks, not individuals. As such they can check each other for deviations. One person can't change anything without the agreement from others. For about 500 years the purity of the suttas was maintained by the oral tradition by large groups of chanting monks. When it eventually had to be put into writing in the first century due to wars, the monks who have such faith and respect for the Buddha would certainly have made much effort to ensure accuracy.
Assuming that despite all that, some people did attempt to modify the suttas, it wound have been quite impossible as there's *not* even a *single* trace in the voluminous Tipitika (the Vinaya, Sutta, and Abhidhamma Pitakas) which even suggests that the Buddha advised on being vegetarians. And so, you might like to reconsider that view that there is something spiritually wholesome about being a vegetarian.
Even if the above cannot convince you, try asking yourself this: "Why do I consider being a vegetarian to be spiritually wholesome?" You may say that "If I eat meat, I would be indirectly encouraging killing of animals"; or that, "If I eat meat, I would be indirectly a killer"; or that "If I'm a vegetarian, it would mean that less animals will be killed."
Noble considerations, I must admit. But let's examine this further to gain a better perspective. Try asking yourself this: "Where do my vegetables come from?" "From farms," you might say. To prepare the soil for cultivation, wouldn't it have to be tilled? And when the plants are grown, wouldn't pesticides have to be sprayed? Wouldn't all that kill lots of animals, though they may be smaller and seem insignificant to humans? Don't they suffer too?
Some may still continue to argue that one should get one's vegetables from hydroponic farms. A good argument, I must admit. But let's examine this further to gain a better perspective. Such farms use much water -- for the sake of the plants, for the sake of washing things, for the sake of keeping the place clean, and others. Wouldn't such use of water kill lots of animals too, though they may be smaller and seem insignificant to humans? Don't they suffer too?
And let's consider the boxes and pipes in which such farming is so dependent upon, and also the materials to built the green houses. They need to be manufactured. And so indirectly factories are needed; and so lands need to be cleared. Wouldn't all that kill lots of animals too, though they may be smaller and seem insignificant to humans? Don't they suffer too?
The machines and equipment needed by the factories too needs to be manufactured. And so indirectly more factories are needed; and so more lands need to be cleared. Wouldn't all that kill lots of animals too, though they may be smaller and seem insignificant to humans? Don't they suffer too?
Let's also further consider the supply of electricity, water, telecommunication services, and other infrastructures. Just consider all that needs to be done to supply those things. Wouldn't all that kill lots of animals too, though they may be smaller and seem insignificant to humans? Don't they suffer too?
And consider all those transporting this and that here and there that goes about to set up the factories and the factories for the factories, the infrastructures for all those factories, so that materials can be supplied to them, so that the boxes and pipes and the material to build the green houses can be made for the hydroponic farms, and that they may be sent to the farms, so that hydroponic vegetables can be cultivated, so that you may buy and eat them. Wouldn't all that kill even lots more animals, though they may be smaller and seem insignificant to humans? Don't they suffer too?
Wouldn't it then be proper to consider that "If I eat only vegetables I too would be indirectly encouraging killing of animals;" or that, "If I don't eat meat, I would be indirectly a killer too;" or that "If don't eat meat, it wouldn't mean that less animals will be killed. And in fact perhaps more are killed."
I could go on and on, but I should assume that you should get the message by now. And so, you might like to reconsider that view that there is something spiritually wholesome about being a vegetarian. We must understand: We live in 'samsara'; and it's not called 'samsara' for no reason. In this world, there IS suffering. That the Buddha has declared. Its cause too has been declared. So has its end. And so has the way to the end of sufferings.
Having drawn such reasonable arguments, some may *still* insist on arguing further that eating meat may reduce our craving (tanha), and so there must be something spiritually wholesome about being a vegetarian. I'd ask: "Who says meat tastes better than vegetables?" Have you tasted meat without any additives before? A raw carrot would taste much better. I myself can easily have more craving for chocolates than meat. I'd say durian (a local fruit) tastes much better. So it would not be proper to say that eating meat may reduce our craving. Besides, having aversion over a neutral thing such as meat seems quite unnecessary and even obstructive to one's spiritual progress. And so, you might like to reconsider that view that there is something spiritually wholesome about being a vegetarian.
Consider what the Buddha said: "Action (kamma) is intention (cetana)." When we eat meat we do not think: "Oh, may they kill more animals so that I may have more meat to eat. Never mind if being have to suffer and die." When we eat vegetables, fruits and other non-meat food, we do not think: "Oh, may they plant more of such food. Never mind if beings have to suffer and die." When we eat, our intention is to eat.
However, we may try practicing a few things:
- We may be moderate with our intake. Not indulge more than what we really need. That's what the Buddha advised, and there is something spiritually wholesome about this; and not simply not eat meat.
- We may choose to eat only "at the right time" (dawn to noon). This is encouraged even for lay people on certain days. That's what the Buddha advised, and there is something spiritually wholesome about this; and not simply not eat meat.
- When we eat we may eat mindfully, chew mindfully, taste mindfully and swallow mindfully. This would then help us eat without craving and strengthen our mindfulness. That's what the Buddha advised, and there is something spiritually wholesome about this; and not simply not eat meat.
If you choose to be a vegetarian, well go ahead. Do check with other knowledgeable vegetarians about having a balanced vegetarian diet. You need to make sure that you have adequate protein, B12, and zinc.
But for your own sake, do not hold to that view that there is something spiritually wholesome about being a vegetarian. Also, it would certainly not be wise to think oneself superior due to one's choice of food. Check yourself whenever you see others eat meat. Furthermore, it would be definitely improper to impose such wrong view upon others.
This message has been written to inform, and not criticize or offend. Hope it has been regarded in proper light.
Samanera Kumara Liew
06 June 1999
Compiled by Binh Anson Ph.D. ... Web-Site - BuddhaSasana