Vegetarian debate in Buddhism

Ever since I stepped foot on this path, one of the biggest issues I’ve had is, do I eat meat or do I not eat meat?

At first I thought “Buddhists must not eat meat, I mean their trying to save all sentient beings right?” Well I started doing some research. Did you know that Siddhartha Guatama, the man that is referred to as The Buddha, ate meat? Yes, actually he did. He would of course not eat meat that was specifically killed for him, or if he heard the animal being butchered. But, being a monk and needing to beg for his food, he had very little options when it came down to eating meat or not. He specifically said “Monks, I allow you fish and meat that are quite pure in three respects: if they are not seen, heard or suspected to have been killed on purpose for a monk. But, you should not knowingly make use of meat killed on purpose for you.” I borrowed that quote from Buddhism and Eating Meat. He could of course refuse the kind generosity and starve, or he could eat it and be nourished.

So the argument on whether or not Buddhists should eat meat is pretty simple. We should not eat any sort of meat that was specifically killed directly for us. Of course there is a grey area there of sorts. You bought the meat so you must have paid for it to be killed? Well no, that’s not entirely true. Did you contract to have that animal killed? No. Did you call up the butcher and ask him to kill it for you? No. That’s what business they are in. They kill it and than sell it to the general public, or other companies who than package it and ship it to stores. I’m not saying it necessarily absolves us, but what if you do not have the choice?

To be honest, I’ve tried going completely “veggie”. It did work out for a while and yes, I did feel a bit better, but in the end it was either eat or not eat? Why? Well because most meat products are alot cheaper. Eating a vegetarian diet can get quite expensive after a while. For just a small package of four “veggie burgers” it’s nearly $5. Someone like myself, who’s concerned with feeding their families (myself, my wife and 2 children), has to look at things like cost. I can get a package of turkey burger, equaling 1lb, and get more than four burgers patties out of it, for half the cost. But when I do have the money, I will spend it on animal free products.

I try to be as conscious as I can of the choices I make and the repercussions. I search alot online for companies that do animal testing and refuse to purchase their products. I receive e-mail alerts from many animal activist groups, that way I can be more aware of things that are going on with animals and big business. I don’t purchase leather or clothing made from animals. Of course in the past I had, before I was as concerned as I am now with the welfare of all sentient beings. But we learn from the things we’ve done and try to make the best of it. I’m getting off point here though.

I would love to be completely vegetarian, but until I can afford it without causing my family to suffer this is the way it’s got to be. I know my kids would take to it. There was a span of a few months that we ate strictly vegetarian and they loved all the food they were given. Maybe now that I’m working a second job and 14 hours a day I can afford to be completely veggie again. We’ll see though, the rest of the bills are stacking up and having a roof over my children’s heads is the number one issue right now for me!

EDITORS NOTE: I have been made aware of a few things I wrongly said. Rather than edit this article, I posted my reply below, in the comments area. I left the article as is, as I originally wrote it. Please read below and follow the link I give.

11 Comments

  1. This debate has been going on for a long time. The important thing is that we have a mind of our own. Nevermind about the debate, let others argue about what the Buddha did or didn’t do, if we are really honest with ourselves then we can say, I don’t know for sure if the Buddha did or didn’t eat meat. However, we can know for sure what is right for us. Try to be aware, and follow your own path. The Dhama encourages independent thought does it not? So lets think independently and not strive to be like someone else. We can develop ourselves and thats good enough. Never stop investigating. Keep re-evaluating your ideas, if you really look at them you will see that they are always changing is some way. When all our concepts are in flux, it makes no sense to argue them anymore. You do not want to get bogged down in whats “wrong” or “right”, it just leaves you in a position of conflict. Once you have tagged an idea as your belief you will find that you now have something to push forward, or defend. However, these beliefes can change also. In fact, concepts that involve ideas of right and wrong can lead to all sorts of mental entanglments, best to let them go as soon as they arise. Friends, if you are in conflict about your eating habits then I encourage all of you to first drop all your ideas of right and wrong, should or should not, and then go meditate.

    For this subject of “eating meat” I encourage meditation and contiplation like this : First relax mind and body, concentrate on breath. Second investigate this question: what are your fundemental needs for survival? for example, most people would agree that we need food/water and shelter to survive, but what about social contact, could we live alone? Or how about the support of our family? or the encouragment of our piers/teachers, – how much of the tenderness, understanding, and acceptance of others have we used to boost ourselves up? Continue this line of questioning further and extend it to all sentient and non-sentient life. What do animals need to survive? do they need the same things as we do?

    Another thing to contiplate is: “meta” or loving kindness, compassion and empathy for other beings. These things need investigation, what is compassion and empathy? And also, how can it be developed in oneself? If you can develop compassion within yourself then you are on your way to becoming a “Buddha” this is for certain. If you feel you are in a compassionate state of mind then this is agood time to think about ’cause and effect’ in relation to other sentient beings (namley animals). For instance, what effect does eating meat have? Do you need to eat meat? Is it neccesary? yes/no – why? What effect does not eating meat have?

    Finally, let me say that eating meat can be an entaglement in itself. Like any other addiction, sometimes we wish to let it go, but a part of us will refuse. Luckily the Dhama provides us with a good process to help us overcome our problems. First, we must identify the cause of the problem, if you truley want to stop eating meat but your are doubtful, or afraid, then this is ‘the cause’. Your feelings, ideas, attitude and beliefes must be investigated. Doubt is an obstruction to your progress. We must be aware of doubt creeping in discouraging us. This can overcome our mental obstructions through being mindful, being aware of our thoughs and feelings. Sometimes we want to do something but its our own thoughs and feelings that are holding us back.

    The second thing we need to do is to set a goal, and clearly define our path to that goal. You must be realistic with yourself. Think about all the factors and obstructions in the way to your goal and make an estimation of how difficult it will be and how long it will take. And think about what you will need to accomplish your task. Some people may take 1 week to completley stop eating meat and convert to other foods without much trouble. For others is make take years of struggling, off and on again until they make the change. So make a plan, be realistic about it. Setting short term goals may help, each attainable within a short time span, so you can mark your progress. Avoidence is helpful: for example, if we are giving up eating meat, then in the short term it would be better to avoid meat, so as a renouncing drinker may avoid bars, you may want to avoid BBQ’s ect. Support is helpful: if you make a declaration to your friends and family / collegues, then they may be able to support you and encourage you to stay on the path.

    Thirdly, enacting the plan using the correct amount of effort. For people with less will power this can be the deciding factor between eating meat or not eating meat. It can be hard to change ones lifestyle, but with the correct amount of effort it can be done. Open your mind up to the idea of change and accept it willingly, then apply the right amount of effort to create that change. No need to force yourself to harshly and make yourelf ill/weak/stressed. Or on the other hand, better not relax too much and loose sight of the main goal. Sometimes we need to push ourselves a little bit in order to get things done, but usually we feel better for doing so in the long run.

    Last of all, we need to develop and maintain our new lifestyle/habits. This means we can re-evaluate our life even after we have achieved our goals. After all, once our goals have been achieved then a new window of oppertunity exists to set new goals and explore new areas of our life. In addition to this whatever we have achieved needs to be maintained. Its possible that even after we have chosen a certain path, that through neglect or negative influence we may abandon that path prematurely. So, maintian you accomplishments by staying aware of any negative influences that may creep in and try to persuade you to take up old habits.

  2. I have seen many debates on this issue as well.

    But my take as a vegan buddhist is, whether or not the Buddha ate meat, he was living as an ascetic who have to ask for alms and not decide what he wants to eat for that day. Most of us are not monks or nuns, we don’t have to ask for alms and can make a conscious choice what we want to eat, so it will be good to go veg.

    Some people claim that the Buddha didn’t say we have all to become vegetarians, so we don’t have to. That’s not true. Because if the Buddha were to do that, some people will think “Oh, I can’t live without meat, I guess Buddhism isn’t for me”. This cuts off their road to enlightment, which is not good, so it will not be wise to say that.

  3. I found this site when doing a trawl about Buddhism and vegetarianism and felt impelled to write. I was very moved by the honesty and openness of you guys! Since 7 years I’ve been a vegan and for over 6 years a practising if erratic Buddhist – for me, the two are inextricably linked. Rather than a ‘pointless debate’ I believe it’s very relevant, especially if you’re an animal abused and killed for food. Why hurt when you can heal? I speak as someone who was veggie for 15 years and went back to eating meat for several years. I wasn’t in a good state for many reasons and I shut parts of myself down in order to eat flesh. When I finally returned to vegetarianism and soon after, veganism, it was like a breath of fresh air! I understand the pull of meat-eating and the power of mind in all such cravings and don’t want to judge anyone – but I do think it’s important to have these debates.

    Food animals, both factory farmed and organic, suffer indescribably. Why add to that misery? What state of mind must a slaughterer be in to detach him/herself from the terror in an animal’s eyes and why would we let someone else do our dirty work for us?

    There are also massive environmental implications if you eat meat and dairy, as well as feeding the world/taking food out of the mouths of the hungry in developing world. check out this link http://www.viva.org.uk/campaigns/hot/index.php – the United Nations report, ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’ gives solid evidence too. Better to green your diet than your car!

    And as for human health/self-metta – veggies/vegans get less heart disease, cancers, diabetes type 2, obesity…

    Let’s face it, it’s easy for we humans to use scriptures of any religion to justify our self-interest – we’ve all done it at one time or another. As far as I know, none of us on this site is a Tibetan, which is one of the most inhospitable places to grow food in the world, so we don’t need to emulate their eating habits!

    For me, the bottom line is – how kind can I be, never mind whether eating meat stopped someone getting enlightened or not?

    Oh yeah, and the thing about insects – if we eat meat even more get killed because animals eat way more plant crops than we humans. Same goes for all those arguments about hurting vegetables (which have no central nervous system and have no evolutionary need to feel pain cos they can’t fight or run away!)

    Re expense. Kelly is right about home cooked food being cheaper – beans and lentils are awesome on so many levels, nutritionally and economically… but if you want to extend your repertoire, check out the many veggie sites. I’m from the UK but there are some really cool US sites that give animal-free recipes plus good nutritional advice to quell any nerves you have. You don’t need to eat lots or any eggs/cheese to make up the protein – plenty of other ways to do that.

    Hope you find this and links below of use. Sorry if it’s a bit rambling! With metta, Jane

    Vegetarian Resource Group – very good; I love Joanne Stepaniak’s section in particular. Her cookery books are also lovely and I think you’d find the intro to ‘Becoming Vegan’ very Dharmic, although she doesnt’ subscribe to one particular spirituality. http://www.vrg.org/
    frugalveggiemama.blogspot.com – says it all, really!
    http://www.frugal.org.uk/recipes.html this is a UK site but very good, with simple but delicious foods and ideas for budgeting.

  4. I am a vegetarian and I became so because of my interest in Buddhism; to me it seemed nonsensical to spout on about having compassion for all sentient beings… and then go and eat some of them.
    Certainly it seems that if one is to base one’s beliefs solely on the historical teachings of the Buddha, there is an ambiguity in what remains of his words, but the whole point of Buddhism is that you do not just sit down read his words and do as you are told… you meditate, you think and you reason. That is Buddha’s path to enlightenment. This is what you have written across the page:
    “Believe nothing. No matter where you read it, or who said it, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” – Buddha
    Now, I say to all those who dither, and wonder and make feeble excuses for their indecision: if you eat meat, are you causing other sentient beings to suffer… yes or no?
    My friend scolds me that vegetarians are no better than meat eaters because countless thousands of insects die whenever a crop of wheat or seeds is harvested in the fields. He thinks that justifies his desire to eat meat.
    But the point is that in eating only vegetarian food one is thinking about it, eating with ‘right mind’ and trying not to do harm. None of us is perfect, but I believe it is this ‘thinking’ and ‘trying’ which is at the core of what the Buddha was teaching.

  5. My eldest and I are vegan, and have been for a while. Our family mostly eats vegan, which S. and I are very grateful for. We’re also on an uber tight budget, and I do mean ***uber tight***. It’s very doable, but you do have to learn to cook (Seriously – from scratch is SO much cheaper. I’m a much better cook now.). Meat analogs are really, really expensive to buy, but you can make them much cheaper. My two youngest kids aren’t vegan but they are pretty far gone towards it. Neither of them will touch burgers, eggs, or cheese at this point, and they vacillate on the rest of it. Oh, and milk grosses them out, as they were both breast-fed and they know the deal there. Everyone has their own journey on this one, but let me say, though, that it is a really joyful thing to realize that what you are eating didn’t involve the suffering of another creature. You know, on a related note, it’s much easier to eat locally, and avoid scary imports this way, too, I’ve noticed….

  6. I am mostly vegetarian, I prefer meatless dishes but occasionally do eat a meat dish. I think it is totally a personal choice, as a Buddhist I try not to eat meat as much as possible but there are times when it is not practical, and some peoples physiology just need it more than others. I agree that it can be cheaper to cook all veggie if you don’t use a lot of prepackaged stuff. It just seems cheaper to cook with meat if we have been on a budget for some time and are used to cooking certain things and stretching meals. I love my veggie burgers but they aren’t exactly cheap, however a nice brown rice meal with fresh veggies and herbs can be really inexpensive and just as yummy. One of my favorite dishes is lentil soup made with lemon and lime juice, it is so cheap to make and with a little onion and garlic it is absolutely wonderful. As someone stated earlier, I think it’s more about taking steps in the right direction with our choices and improving toward our desired goal, be it vegetarianism or whatever, as long as we are making daily choices in the right direction we are always improving our lives and progressing toward our ultimate goals.

  7. When the Buddha and his disciples arrived at Pava, the son of the village goldsmith, whose name was Cunda, invited the party to a meal called sukaramaddava, or “boar’s delight”. Some scholars believe it was a special delicious dish of mushrooms, while others believe it to be a dish of wild boar’s flesh.

    The Sutta Nipata quotes The Buddha as having said: “Stealing, deceiving, adultery; this is defilement. Not the eating of meat.”

    In some schools of Tibetan Buddhism it is believed that eating an already dead animal is the best thing you can do for it.

    This pointless debate will always continue between those who wish to justify their own beliefs on either side…just be mindful of the fact that no one has ever reached enlightenment because of what they did or did not eat.

  8. Sorry to double comment, but as far as the more theoretical aspects of vegetarianism and Buddhism, this was an interesting link:

    http://www.veggiebuddhists.com/

    Obviously this comes from the perspective that is for vegetarianism in Buddhists.

    If cost is a deciding factor for you, there are a lot of websites showing how eating vegetarian can actually be much cheaper–it’s mostly the pre-packaged convenience food that is expensive (I admit I’d hate to live entirely without my Morning Star!). I don’t really cook any differently for myself than I do for my family, just minus the meat. So I make spaghetti and leave sauce to the side with no meat, they all like vegetable lasagna which is no more expensive, omelets are not relegated to breakfast, egg salad sandwiches, potato salad sandwiches (my favorite)–and that doesn’t even touch on the pasta and bean options–beans being very cheap and very healthy. One of my goals for the future is to broaden my vegetarian cooking–I’m not much of a cook!

    Anyway, I was just thinking about cost and vegetarianism after I posted last night and wanted to point out that there are ways to do it cheaply if it is that is a path you want to go on in the future.

  9. All I have to say is WOW! When I’m wrong I will admit it, and I’m admitting my “wrongness” here. The post above me, the Buddhist Vegetarian had a link on a page of his, or hers. I check out one in particular and was thrown back. Go to http://www.veggiebuddhists.com to read the things that I just learned. I guess the lesson here is I should have done some more research. Here is just a smidgeon of what’s on the page…

    “Q. Didn’t the Buddha eat meat?
    A. This is a claim sometimes made by Buddhists of all traditions. There appear to be some sutra references about the Buddha eating choice foods which could include meat before he was enlightened, while he was living in the palace. This is before he made the great renunciation and left the householder’s life and became a recluse (monk).
    His final meal before enlightenment is reported to be rice cooked in milk (which is vegetarian). In the sutras after his enlightenment we do not find one sentence, one sutra indicating anywhere that he ate meat. In fact, he defines delicious foods as choice hill rice with curry (Sutta 7, Majjhima Nikaya). In another sutra, Buddha and Ananda compare the teachings to a sweet honey ball which consists of flour, ghee, molasses, and honey (Sutta 18, Majjhima Nikaya).

    Q. What about the famous three-fold rule that the Buddha allowed meat eating if one did not hear, see, or order the animal to killed for one’s consumption.
    A. The main premise behind the three-fold rule is to graciously accept what one receives in your bowl when going for alms round. This rule was meant and spoken to monks and nuns, not to lay people. “Beggars can’t be choosers” in modern terms. So for the vast majority of Buddhists who are lay people, a conscious decision must be made.
    In the Pali scriptures and the Sanskrit Mahayana scriptures (Buddha’s discourses) there are many references to the Buddha’s compassion for animals and his wish for animals not to be killed, including statements in the Dhammapada and other sutras about how all animals do not wish to be killed and how we should avoid killing at all possible costs. The Buddha was most concerned about intent. If we accidentally kill and there is no intent, then there is no negative karma accumulated. But, if we purchase meat at a grocery store, can we honestly say that we do not intend for another animal to be killed?

  10. >>Did you know that Siddhartha Guatama, the man that is referred to as The Buddha, ate meat?

    i know i know

    he said, in future there are people accused he had eaten meat.

  11. This is a hard one for me, and I’ll say up front that I am a vegetarian (I eat cage free/vegetarian fed chicken eggs, and drink organic milk). I became a vegetarian a solid year or so before I even began to study about Buddhism, so my reasonings weren’t Buddhist ones–although they certainly tie in together. I admit that when I read about the idea that it’s okay to eat meat that someone else killed so long as you didn’t hear/see it being killed and as long as it wasn’t killed specifically for you that it struck me as an odd loophole. I can understand the reasons for it at that time period in the life of a monk–I’m not sure how it applies to today.

    I think we have to follow our hearts on this issue, I don’t think of it in terms of right or wrong or a “sin” or anything like that–I cook meat for my family as I’m the only vegetarian out of four. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if my daughter (14) eventually shifts that way, we’ll see, it’s her choice to make. I struggle with using as much organic as possible, but it is also expensive to purchase organic meat. It is changing and I see prices dropping and hope to someday be able to purchase only meat for my family that I know comes from places that animals are treated humanely. Steps on a journey.

    I think it’s important to see life as a journey and understand we have to take steps down our individual paths–that doesn’t necessarily mean going completely vegetarian for you right now. Being more conscious and aware of products, the treatment of animals and etc–that is your step now. Maybe you’ll have another step later down the road toward vegetarianism, maybe not, it’s all a journey and you’re the only one who can take each step on your own path.

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