Must Buddhists Be Vegetarian?
Article Expanded 27/05/03
"If a person does not harm any living being…
and does not kill or cause others to kill-
that person is a true spiritual practitioner."
-Dhammapada (The Buddha)
order to satisfy one human stomach, so many lives are taken away.
promote vegetarianism. It is extremely important."
-Live in a Better Way:
Reflections on Truth, Love and Happiness (pg 68)
(His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama)
for 12 Quotes by HHDL on Vegetarianism
Buddhists be vegetarian?
the fuss then?
Though the Buddha never made it a compulsory rule that all
His followers have to be vegetarians, He strongly encouraged us to be. In
the Bodhisattva practice of minimising harm to
all beings and benefiting them as much as possible, the practice of
vegetarianism as far as possible plays an essential role. We can see this in
many of the Buddha's recorded teachings.
"The eating of meat extinguishes the seed of great
"...Ananda, I permit the bhiksus (monks) to eat only the five kinds of pure
flesh* which are the product of my transcendental power of
transformation and not of animal slaughter. You, Brahman, live in a
country where vegetables do not grow because it is too damp and hot and
because of all the gravel and rock. I use my spiritual power of
compassion to provide you with illusory meat to satisfy your appetite.
How then, after my nirvana, can you eat the flesh of living beings and so
pretend to be my disciple?..."
"...All monks who live purely and all Bodhisattvas
always refrain even from walking on grass; how can they agree to uproot
it? How then can those who practise great
Compassion feed on the flesh and blood of living beings?..."
"...How can a monk, who hopes to become a deliverer
of others, himself be living on the flesh of sentient beings?..."
"...If a man can (control) his body and mind and
thereby refrains from eating animal products, I say he will really be
liberated. This teaching of mine is that of the Buddha whereas any others
that of evil demons..."
-Surangama Sutra (The
"The Bodhisattva, whose nature is Compassion, is not
to eat any meat… For fear of causing terror to living beings…let the
Bodhisattva who is disciplining himself to attain Compassion, refrain
from eating flesh."
-Lankavatara Sutra (The
"If a bhikkhu sees, hears or suspects
that it has been killed for him, he may not eat it."
-Mahavagga of Vinaya Pitaka (The Buddha)
"Let him not destroy, or cause to be destroyed, any life at all,
nor sanction the acts of those who do so. Let him refrain from even
hurting any creature, both those that are strong and those that tremble
in the world."
-Sutta-Nipata (The Buddha)
"I have enforced the law against killing certain
animals and many others, but the greatest progress of righteousness among
men comes from the exhortation in favor of non-injury to life and
abstention from killing living beings."
-King Asoka's Edicts
All true practitioners of the Bodhisattva path eventually
relinquish meat-eating. In His previous lives, the Buddha as a
Bodhisattva would rather cut His own flesh to feed an eagle than let it eat a smaller bird. All advanced practising
Bodhisattvas are thus necessarily vegetarians, since they cannot bear the
pain of sentient beings.
While nothing we eat makes us impure, our choice of diet is an action
with implications. If our choice of diet arises from greed, sustaining
the greed obviously makes us impure.
being vegetarian is so important on the Bodhisattva path,
why was the Buddha not one?
The Buddha and the Sangha in His
time were not total vegetarians as they consumed alms food offered by lay
followers, whom they encountered "randomly" from place to
place. Though the Buddha never requested specific food to be offered, He
spoke against the intentional acquiring of meat for Him and the Sangha. In this way, the Buddha neither directly nor
indirectly cause the death of any being for His
food. On the other hand, we have the freedom of the choice of our diet,
since we do not eat alms food. Why not make the kinder and wiser
Can't I be a good
Buddhist who is not vegetarian?
Of course we can. One who eats meat can cultivate a pure
heart just as one who is vegetarian might have an impure heart. But why
not cultivate a pure heart while making the extra effort to further the
practice of Compassion by being vegetarian?
didn't the Buddha say there is pure meat?
The Buddha advised monks that meat should only be accepted
when certain conditions are met. Meat may be eaten by one who does (1)
not see, (2) hear of, (3) or doubt about the animal having been killed
purposely for him to eat, (4) but is certain that it either died
naturally, (5) or that its flesh had been abandoned by birds of prey.
meat from the markets and restaurants considered pure meat?
No, because demand creates supply.
Once, a disciple of the Buddha asked a man why he kept
buying meat. The man replied that he did so since the meat-seller kept
selling meat. When the meat-seller was asked why he kept selling meat, he
replied that he did so since the man kept buying from him. When the
Buddha was consulted as to who was the unskillful (in Compassion and
Wisdom) one, He replied that both were unskillful.
Supply and demand is an obvious vicious cycle. The whole
universe of meat eating and animal slaughtering is an intricate web of
interdependence, of related cause and effect. When we buy meat, we play a
part in the circle of life and death of other beings.
is real pure meat then?
Here are some forms of meat that can be considered pure
1. Meat ordered or received by mistake.
2. Leftover or discarded meat.
3. Meat from animals that have died naturally or by accident for at least
(The number of hours is to ensure the consciousness
has left the body).
4. Meat from random alms rounds as practised in
the Buddhist tradition.
killing vegetables taking life too?
Yes. However, plant life is not sentient life- they are
not beings with reason and emotion.
growing vegetables kill many insects too?
This is not true if we choose organic food, which are
grown without the use of pesticides (which can be harmful to humans too).
In comparison to eating non-organic vegetables, pesticides are used fifty
times more when we eat meat- to kill pests to produce animal feed. It
takes ten kilos of vegetable protein to produce only one kilo of animal
Much of our daily products also involve animals- such as
leather shoes, milk from cows, honey from bees, soap from animal fat, drugs
with animal serum (that might be tested on animals)… However, there are
many new products today that are free from animal derivatives. Given more
choice, we are at liberty to make wiser decisions on how to live life in
a more harmless way. Consider becoming a vegan!
Despite all we can do, merely to live is
to deprive other beings of their food, habitat and/ or life to a certain
extent. Therefore, Buddhists practising the
Bodhisattva path should do all they can in their ability to avoid
killing, and to protect life instead.
you further convince me to be a vegetarian?
Here are some good reasons to be a vegetarian.
1. Personal well-being- No disease can come from a
balanced vegetarian diet. Medical proof states that all kinds of diseases
can spring from meat-eating, while having a vegetarian diet can not only
prevent, but help cure many diseases. Our body constitution is also not
designed for meat digestion. For example, our teeth and intestine
structure are virtually identical to that of herbivorous, not carnivorous
animals. Eating animals which die in great fear and hatred, we devour
along their toxins of fear and hatred, which affects both our spiritual
and physical health.
2. Well-being of animals- Animals live imprisoned and
tortured lives before the final horror of being slaughtered. While alive,
they suffer from overcrowding, castration and countless other cruelties.
3. Well-being of the environment- Animal-rearing depletes
the Earth's resources of energy, land, crops and water. It also creates
large amounts of harmful animal sewage and greenhouse gases..
4. Well-being of fellow humans- More than two-thirds of
the Earth's cropland is used for cultivating animal feed for animals to
be slaughtered as meat. No human starvation would exist if animal rearing
for the rich meat-consumers was lessened, converting the crops as food
for citizens of the Third World Countries.
5. Peace on Earth- Wars, racial riots and other forms of
related human unrest are collective karmic results of generated hatred
when group-slaughtered animals, which die in great fear and hatred, are
reborn as humans.
"For hundreds of thousands of years
the stew in the pot has brewed hatred and resentment
that is difficult to stop.
If you wish to know why there are disasters of armies and weapons in the
listen to the piteous cries from the slaughterhouse at midnight."
-Ancient Chinese Verse translated by Gold Mountain Monastery Staff
6. All beings have at one point or another been reborn as
our kin. The practice of vegetarianism is thus the practice of filial
piety. It is the practice of the Loving-kindness, Compassion and
Equanimity to all beings, recognising that they
have Buddha Nature (the potential to become Buddhas)
if vegetarian food is hard to find?
Another reason why the Buddha never made vegetarianism a
compulsory rule is His understanding that the living and karmic
conditions of different people are different. For example, it would be
downright impossible for all Tibetan Buddhists to have vegetarian diets
can hardly grow vegetables. However, at least three major Tibetan
monasteries have become totally vegetarian today with the aid of imported
What happens if you cannot find vegetarian food readily?
Does it mean you have no choice but to eat meat? Think again carefully...
the path of Compassion is not always easy to tread. It involves making
many sacrifices. Being a committed vegetarian might mean having to go the
extra mile to get vegetarian food.
you know the Buddha is a vegetarian at heart?
The Buddha remarked that the meat He consumed in His entire life was
manifested by His great compassion and psychic powers. That is to say,
not only does the meat in theory already exist as pure meat, it isn't
even real meat! In other words, the Buddha was a full vegetarian at
It is worth mentioning that the Buddha did not die from
eating meat (poisoned or putrid pork), as it is so often mistaken. His
last meal consisted of "sukara-maddava"-
which is correctly translated to be (1) a pig's soft food, ie. food eaten by pigs, (2)
"pig's delight," ie. a favourite food of pigs,
(3) "pig-pounded," ie., food trampled
by pigs. It was actually a kind of mushroom called truffles.
do some well-known practitioners not vegetarian?
Some of these practitoners are advanced practising Bodhisattva, who eat
meat out of skillful means and compassion to benefit more beings
indirectly. In fact, they might even be enlightened beings who are able
to manifest "fake" meat like the Buddha. If one wishes to follow
the practices of these masters, one has to be sure of one's motivation.
If it is not compassion and wisdom, it is greed and ignorance at play-
nothing other than selfish rationalisation.
It is also a mistake to think that by eating meat, one will generate a
karmic Dharma connection with the deceased being, so as to help it in
future. These beings would rather us to connect with them while alive-
not when they are on your dinner plate!
On a related note, animal liberation (life-releasing) is easily practised when we practise
vegetarianism- which is simply liberating animals from our dinner table.
If one thinks carefully, it is actually spiritually hypocritical to
liberate animals from captivity when we eat them. This is especially so
when animal liberation is at times done in an ignorant random manner,
endangering environmental balance, the animals themselves and other
I'm still unsure whether to be a vegetarian…
Well… the Buddha left it to you to choose!
Remember- Buddhism is a free religion. Though there are always kinder and
wiser choices you can make, you are also free to choose otherwise.
vegetarian diet is not obligatory for Buddhists. Still, for those of us
who follow the teachings of the Great Vehicle, it is important. But the
teachings of the Buddha were open and flexible on this subject, and each
practitioner has the choice to be vegetarian or not."
-His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
Reflect carefully- why are you putting off vegetarianism
when it so obviously has all the plus points? Is it due to plain greed
for the taste of meat? If you want to be sure you are not vegetarian not
because of greed, the best solution is to be vegetarian and prove it to
yourself. This is not my challenge for you- this is your personal spiritual
challenge. We have to be totally honest with ourselves. Remember this-
your decision to be vegetarian or not will affect thousands of sentient
lives in your lifetime.
Vegetarianism by the World's Most Famous Buddhist-
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (1989 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate):
the mid 1960s, the Dalai Lama was impressed by ethically vegetarian
Indian monks and adopted a vegetarian diet for about a year and a half.
Apparently he consumed primarily nuts and milk. Unfortunately, he
contracted Hepatitis B and his liver was seriously damaged. For health
reasons, he was advised by his personal physicians to consume meat. While
he has eaten meat in moderation ever since, the Dalai Lama has repeatedly
acknowledged that a vegetarian diet is a worthy _expression of compassion
and contributes to the cessation of the suffering of all living beings.
However, he eats meat only on alternate days (six months a year). He is a
semi-vegetarian, though he wishes to be a full one. By making an example
of cutting his meat consumption in half, he is trying to gently influence
"While many of the great Tibetan teachers did and do eat animals,
the Dalai Lama has broken new ground by publicly stating his case for
vegetarianism. If we seriously consider the compassion inherent in His
Holiness' advice and actions, Buddhist meat-eaters could similarly try to
eat vegetarian at least every other day to start out with. Since
Buddhists have taken vows not to kill, they should not support a livelihood
that makes others kill. Even if one does not have great compassion for
animals this would meritoriously save humans from performing heinous
deeds. The power of each human being becoming vegetarian releases the
most intense suffering of the animal realm—the agony of factory-farmed
animals. This profound action can help slow the grinding wheels of samsara, bringing to a halt the cycles of suffering
of the entire animal realm and influencing their eventual liberation.
When animals are not just looked upon as creatures to fill our stomachs,
they can be seen as they really are—beings who
have the same Buddha nature as we all do. "
"This Thanksgiving, staff of the Fund for Animals are thanking the
Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, for recent statements
in support of animal rights. In an audience with representatives of The
Fund for Animals earlier this month, the Dalai Lama commended the animal
rights movement for working to end the suffering of animals, and urged
everyone who can to adopt a vegetarian diet. Speaking with The Fund for
Animals' national director, Heidi Prescott, and program coordinator, Norm
Phelps, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize recipient said, "People think of
animals as if they were vegetables, and that isn't right. We have to
change the way people think about animals. I encourage the Tibetan people
and all people to move toward a vegetarian diet that doesn't cause
suffering." His Holiness also condemned the abuse and killing of
animals for entertainment purposes, such as the practice of hunting wild
animals for sport. The Dalai Lama invited the Fund for Animals to work
with his government in exile in India to help encourage
people to become vegetarian and to protect animals from suffering."
-AmeriScan: November 25, 1998
"According to Buddhist teaching, there is a very close
interdependence between the natural environment and the sentient beings
living in it. Some of my friends have told me that basic human nature is
somewhat violent, but I have told them I disagree. If we examine
different animals, such as tigers or lions, we learn that their basic
nature provides them with sharp fangs and claws. Peaceful animals, such
as deer, which are completely vegetarian, are more
gentle and have smaller teeth and no claws. From that viewpoint we
human beings have a nonviolent nature."
-Ecology and the Human Heart
"Whenever I visit a market and see the chickens crowded together in
tiny cages that give them no room to move around and spread their wings
and the fish slowly drowning in the air, my heart goes out to them.
People have to learn to think about animals in a different way, as
sentient beings who love life and fear death. I
urge everyone who can to adopt a compassionate vegetarian diet."
-In an audience granted to Norm Phelps and Heidi Prescott
of The Fund for Animals, Washington,
D.C., November 10, 1998
"One day I went to visit a small lake to offer food to
the fish that we had previously freed there. On my way back someone said,
"By the way, did you see the poultry farm?" All of a sudden I
had a vision where I saw large groups of chickens marching along carrying
banners on which it was written, "The Dalai Lama not only saves
fish, but even feeds them. What does he do for us poor chickens?" I
felt terribly sad and sorry for the chickens . . . We no longer raise
poultry in our settlements."
-The Dalai Lama, in Imagine All the People: A Conversation with the
Dalai Lama on Money, Politics, and Life as It Could Be (pg. 30)
I do not see any reason why animals should be slaughtered to serve as
human diet when there are so many substitutes. After all, man can live
without meat. It is only some carnivorous animals that have to subsist on
flesh. Killing animals for sport, for pleasure, for adventures, and for
hides and furs is a phenomenon which is at once disgusting and
distressing. There is no justification in indulging in such acts of
In our approach to life, be it pragmatic or otherwise, the ultimate truth
that confronts us squarely and unmistakably is the desire for peace,
security and happiness. Different forms of life in different aspects of
existence make up the teeming denizens of this earth of ours. And, no
matter whether they belong to the higher group as human beings or to the
lower group, the animals, all beings primarily seek peace, comfort and
security. Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to a man. Just as
one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not to
die, so do other creatures.
- The Vegetarian
Way, 19th World Vegetarian Congress 1967
"For those people who can practice strict vegetarianism,
that is best. I was deeply impressed the other day when I heard on
the BBC radio that the number of vegetarians in this country (Great Britain)
is growing. This is good news."
-The Meaning of Life from a Buddhist Perspective (pg 72-73)
"Vegetarianism is very admirable. In the case of those living in Tibet in
the past, because of the climatic conditions and the scarcity of green
vegetables, it is perhaps understandable that people generally adopted a
non-vegetarian diet. Now, however, particularly in countries where there
is an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits, it is far better to
reduce our consumption of non-vegetarian food as much as possible."
-The World of Tibetan Buddhism (pg 111)
"I think that from a Buddhist point of view it is very important to
be vegetarian. I always say that even if on an individual level one does
not always manage to stick to a vegetarian diet, when large numbers meet
for a party, a conference, or any other gathering, it is indispensable
that the group avoids eating meat. As for myself, I have tried my best to
introduce vegetarianism to Tibetan society...
According to Buddhism the life of all beings--human, animal or
otherwise--is precious, and all have the same right to happiness. For
this reason, I find it disgraceful that animals are used without being
shown the slightest compassion, and that they are used for scientific
...I have also noticed that those who lack any compassion for animals and
who do not hesitate to kill them are also those who, sooner or later,
show a lack of compassion toward human beings. Inversely, the more
compassion we have toward animals, the more we regard their lives as
precious, then the more respect we have for human life. "
-Beyond Dogma (pg 28)
"The suffering of animals is immediately apparent, for example, in
goats and lambs slaughtered by the butcher, unable to save their own
lives. Animals are harmless, they are totally powerless, possessing nothing but the bit of water and food we
give them. They are so simple, so stupid, ignorant, and defenseless, that
men really have no right to hunt and kill them for food. Cows, horses,
mules and other animals have a dismal life and a dismal fate."
-Essential Teachings (pg 43)
"If you adopt questionable methods to become richer, such as selling
arms or building poultry farms, then your livelihood becomes a source of
negative energy and karma. By investing your money in the poultry
industry, for example, you may become richer but at the expense of other
beings' lives. ..
Although from a spiritual point of view, we can say that human beings are
the most precious of all living beings, seen from other angles we are the
most destructive species our planet has known. Not only do we create pain
for other species-- the millions of fish, chickens, cows and others we
consider to be our righful food -- but we use
our intelligence even to plan the total destruction of the planet on
which we live!"
-The Dalai Lama on Money, Politics, and Life As It Could Be (pg 15,
If you are paying particular attention to observing practices of the
three lower tantras it is important to maintain
a vegetarian diet. Although it was reasonable for Tibetans to eat meat in
because of the climatic conditions and the scarcity of vegetables, in
countries where there are vegetables in abundance, it is far better to
avoid or reduce your consumption of meat. Particularly when you invite
many people to a party, it is good if you can provide vegetarian food.
-A Survey of the Paths of Tibetan Buddhism
Kyabje Lati Pinpoche is one of HH the Dalai Lama's spiritual advisers and the Root Guru
of Trijang Rinpoche Yangsi- Trijang Rinpoche is the present Dalai Lama's junior tutor.
This interview was conducted by Kunga Nyima on 26 December 2000 at Sakyamuni
Dharma Centre, Singapore.
recent years, we heard that there are plans to convert the diet of the
three great Gelugpa monasteries into full
vegetarianism. What is Rinpoche's view of this
plan and for that matter, for Buddhist monasteries in general, to become
A: I am happy the monastic authorities want to make this huge change.
That is really appreciable. I really support this type of change coming
Q:Why does Rinpoche feel that it is better to be vegetarian?
A:If the number of
people who consume meat is reduced, it then automatically reduces the
number of people who kill the animals to meet the demand. In this way, by
becoming vegetarian, we contribute, to some extend, the reduction in the
number of animals killed.
Q:Why is it then in old
that the monasteries are rarely fully vegetarian?
A:In Tibet, there are many people
who are strict vegetarian. Even in the big monasteries where there are
huge gatherings of monks, they never eat non-vegetarian food. In the
monk's individual quarters, though, there might be some monks who eat
meat as food.
Vegetarianism is something not very new in Tibetan society.
Generally, in the old Tibetan society, most of the people try to avoid
taking meat specifically killed to feed individual person. This is
evident in very level of Tibetan society. Even in the scriptures of the
Buddha, we have to avoid taking such meat which is killed specially just to feed ourselves. The texts prohibit
us from taking this type of meat. That is the common way of practice and
instructions in the Buddha's teachings. Especially in the Mahayana
teachings when a person does intensive practice of Bodhicitta,
they are advised or prescribed to avoid taking meat.
May all beings be free from fear, harm and danger.
May all beings be well and happy.
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© 2003 by Shen Shian