Buddhist vegetarianism

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One who eats meat kills the seed of great compassion. ~ Buddha, Nirvana Sutra

Buddhist vegetarianism is the belief that following a vegetarian diet is implied in the Buddha's teaching. The Mahayana schools generally recommend a vegetarian diet; according to some sutras the Buddha himself insisted that his followers should not eat the flesh of any sentient being.


Alphabetized by author or source
  • Manjushri declared, "It is because of the tathagatagarbha that the Buddhas refrain from eating meat."
    And the Lord added:
    "So it is, Manjushri. There is not a single being, wandering in the chain of lives in endless and beginning less samsara, that has not been your mother or your sister. An individual, born as a dog, may afterward become your father. Each and every being is like an actor playing on the stage of life. One’s flesh and the flesh of others is the same flesh. Therefore the Enlightened Ones eat no meat. Moreover, Mahjushri, the dharmadhatu is the common nature of all beings, therefore Buddhas refrain from eating meat."
    Manjushri also said, "There are, Lord, other, quite ordinary beings who also abstain from meat."
    "Whatever worldly people do," the Lord replied, "that is in harmony with the Buddha's word should be considered as the teachings of the Buddha himself."
  • Thus, Mahāmati, wherever there is the evolution of living beings, let people cherish the thought of kinship with them, and, thinking that all beings are [to be loved as if they were] an only child, let them refrain from eating meat. So with Bodhisattvas whose nature is compassion, [the eating of] meat is to be avoided by him. Even in exceptional cases, it is not [compassionate] of a Bodhisattva of good standing to eat meat.
  • For fear of causing terror to living beings, Mahāmati, let the Bodhisattva who is disciplining himself to attain compassion, refrain from eating flesh.
  • … how can I permit my disciples, Mahāmati, to eat food consisting of flesh and blood, which is gratifying to the unwise but is abhorred by the wise, which brings many evils and keeps away many merits; and which was not offered to the Rishis and is altogether unsuitable?
    Now, Mahāmati, the food I have permitted [my disciples to take] is gratifying to all wise people but is avoided by the unwise; it is productive of many merits, it keeps away many evils; and it has been prescribed by the ancient Rishis. It comprises rice, barley, wheat, kidney beans, beans, lentils, etc., clarified butter, oil, honey, molasses, treacle, sugar cane, coarse sugar, etc.; food prepared with these is proper food. Mahāmati, there may be some irrational people in the future who will discriminate and establish new rules of moral discipline, and who, under the influence of the habit-energy belonging to the carnivorous races, will greedily desire the taste [of meat]: it is not for these people that the above food is prescribed. Mahāmati, this is the food I urge for the Bodhisattva-Mahāsattvas who have made offerings to the previous Buddhas, who have planted roots of goodness, who are possessed of faith, devoid of discrimination, who are all men and women belonging to the Śākya family, who are sons and daughters of good family, who have no attachment to body, life, and property, who do not covet delicacies, are not at all greedy, who being compassionate desire to embrace all living beings as their own person, and who regard all beings with affection as if they were an only child.
  • If, Mahāmati, meat is not eaten by anybody for any reason, there will be no destroyer of life.
  • Again, Mahāmati, there may be some unwitted people in the future time, who, beginning to lead the homeless life according to my teaching, are acknowledged as sons of the Śākya, and carry the Kāshāya robe about them as a badge, but who are in thought evilly affected by erroneous reasonings. They may talk about various discriminations which they make in their moral discipline, being addicted to the view of a personal soul. Being under the influence of the thirst for [meat-] taste, they will string together in various ways some sophistic arguments to defend meat-eating. They think they are giving me an unprecedented calumny when they discriminate and talk about facts that are capable of various interpretations. Imagining that this fact allows this interpretation, [they conclude that] the Blessed One permits meat as proper food, and that it is mentioned among permitted foods and that probably the Tathagata himself partook of it. But, Mahāmati, nowhere in the sutras is meat permitted as something enjoyable, nor it is referred to as proper among the foods prescribed [for the Buddha's followers].
  • From eating [meat] arrogance is born, from arrogance erroneous imaginations issue, and from imagination is born greed; and for this reason refrain from eating [meat].
  • From now on, I do not permit my sravaka disciples to eat meat. … One who eats meat kills the seed of great compassion. … I, from now on, tell my disciples to refrain from eating any kind of meat. O Kasyapa! When one eats meat, this gives out the smell of meat while one is walking, standing, sitting or reclining. People smell this and become fearful. This is as when one comes near a lion. One sees and smells the lion, and fear arises. O good man! When one eats garlic, the dirty smell is unbearable. … It is the same with one who eats meat. It is a similar situation with all people who, on smelling the meat, become afraid and entertain the thought of death. All living things in the water, on land and in the sky desert such a person and run away. They say that this person is their enemy.
  • After my nirvana, how will people who eat the flesh of beings deserve to be called disciples of Śākyamuni? You should understand that these people who eat flesh may gain some modicum of mental awakening while practicing samādhi, but they are all great rākṣasas who in the end must fall into the sea of death and rebirth. They are not disciples of the Buddha. Such people kill and devour each other, feeding on each other in an endless cycle. How could they possibly get out of the three realms? When you teach people in the world to practice samādhi, teach them to renounce all killing.
  • I can affirm that a person who neither eats the flesh of other beings nor wears any part of the bodies of other beings, nor even thinks of eating or wearing these things, is a person who will gain liberation.
  • Thousands — millions and billions — of animals are killed for food. That is very sad. We human beings can live without meat, especially in our modern world. We have a great variety of vegetables and other supplementary foods, so we have the capacity and the responsibility to save billions of lives. I have seen many individuals. and groups promoting animal rights and following a vegetarian diet. This is excellent. Certain killing is purely a "luxury." … But perhaps the saddest is factory farming. The poor animals there really suffer. I once visited a poultry farm in Japan where they keep 200,000 hens for two years just for their eggs. During those two years, they are prisoners. Then after two years, when they are no longer productive, the hens are sold. That is really shocking, really sad. We must support those who are attempting to reduce that kind of unfair treatment. An Indian friend told me that his young daughter has been arguing with him that it is better to serve one cow to ten people than to serve chicken or other small animals, since more lives would be involved. In the Indian tradition, beef is always avoided, but I think there is some logic to her argument. Shrimp, for example, are very small. For one plate, many lives must be sacrificed. To me, this is not at all delicious. I find it really awful, and I think it is better to avoid these things. If your body needs meat, it may be better to eat bigger animals. Eventually you may be able to eliminate the need for meat. I think that our basic nature as human beings is to be vegetarian — making every effort not to harm other living beings. If we apply our intelligence, we can create a sound, nutritional program. It is very dangerous to ignore the suffering of any sentient being.
  • There are many great masters and very great realized beings in India and there have been many great realized beings in Tibet also, but they are not saying, “I'm realized, therefore I can do anything; I can eat meat and drink alcohol.” It's nothing like that. It should not be like that. According to the Kagyupa school, we have to see what the great masters of the past, the past lamas of Kagyupas, did and said about eating meat. The Drikung Shakpa [sp?] Rinpoche, master of Drikungpa, said like this, “My students, whomever are eating or using meat and calling it tsokhor or tsok, then these people are completely deserting me and going against the dharma.” I can't explain each of these things, but he said that anybody that is using meat and saying it is something good, this is completely against the dharma and against me and they completely have nothing to do with dharma. He said it very, very strongly. Other great masters also said this.
  • Of all his merit-making, Jigme Lingpa was most proud of his feelings of compassion for animals; he says that this is the best part of his entire life story. He writes of his sorrow when he heard the screams of baby birds being killed by an animal who had climbed into their nest and when he witnessed the butchering of animals by humans. He often bought and set free animals about to be slaughtered (a common Buddhist act). He "changed the perception" of others, such as his Pala sponsors, whom he once caused to save a female yak from being butchered, and he continually urged his disciples to forswear the killing of animals.
    • Janet Gyatso, Apparitions of the Self: The Secret Autobiographies of a Tibetan Visionary (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), p. 137.
  • Every individual who eats flesh food, whether an animal is killed expressly for him or not, is supporting the trade of slaughtering and contributing to the violent deaths of harmless animals.
  • Anyone familiar with the numerous accounts of the Buddha's extraordinary compassion and reverence for living beings … could never believe that he would be indifferent to the sufferings of domestic animals caused by their slaughter for food.
  • Ultimately the case for shunning animal flesh does not rest on what the Buddha allegedly said or didn't say. What it does rest on is our innate moral goodness, compassion, and pity which, when liberated, lead us to value all forms of life. It is obvious, then, that wilfully to take life, or through the eating of meat indirectly to cause others to kill, runs counter to the deepest instincts of human beings.
  • Although one can sympathize with lay persons trying to break their attachment to a diet featuring meat, it is something else again to extend those sympathies to monks, priests, and teachers. What business have these latter to propound the Dharma when they possess neither the perception nor compassion to see the connection between meat eating and the killing of harmless animals, and when they lack the self-discipline to put Buddhist compassion before the pleasures of their palates? What right have they to wear the Buddha's robes when they won't or can't honor the bodhisattvic vows they recite daily to liberate all beings?
    • Rōshi Philip Kapleau, To Cherish All Life: A Buddhist View of Animal Slaughter and Meat Eating (Rochester, NY: The Zen Center, 1981). Full text online.
  • Buddhism's starting point is that all living things, we who are so full of pain and sadness, together with all these living things, want to liberate ourselves from this state of pain. … All living things have been repeating transmigration for immeasurable kalpa. … Sometimes a soul perceives itself as a human. At other times it is born in a beast, that is, what we call an animal. … As a result, the living things around us are all our parents and children, brothers and sisters, as they have been for a long time. People of different religions will think this idea too serious and terrifying. [Indeed] this is a serious world to a terrifying degree.
    • Kenji Miyazawa, The Great Vegetarian Festival (1934); as quoted in Miyazawa Kenji: Selections, edited by Hiroaki Sato (University of California Press, 2007), p. 14.
  • When a Buddhist enters the Way, he utters the following sentence: “In taking the Dharma as refuge, I promise not to harm any being.” It is clear that this promise also applies to animals. … Fifty years after the death of the Buddha, Emperor Ashoka, who embraced Buddhism and vegetarianism at the same time, promulgated several edicts calling for animals to be treated kindly. Most notably, he had precepts engraved on a stone pillar enjoining his subjects to treat animals with kindness and forbidding animal sacrifices throughout his territory. Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists are strictly vegetarian. … For the Buddhist in general, to be vegetarian or vegan (especially in industrialized countries) is a means of manifesting his or her compassion toward animals. … Going beyond merely being vegetarian, many Buddhist practitioners have regularly followed the practice of buying animals marked for slaughter and then freeing them in their natural habitat or handing them over to shelters where they are well treated.
    • Matthieu Ricard, A Plea for the Animals: The Moral, Philosophical, and Evolutionary Imperative to Treat All Beings with Compassion, translated by Sherab Chödzin Kohn (Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications, 2016), pp. 29-32.
  • Above all, you must constantly train your mind to be loving, compassionate, and filled with Bodhicitta. You must give up eating meat, for it is very wrong to eat the flesh of our parent sentient beings.

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