What Do Buddhists Eat?

What Do Buddhists Eat?

What Do Buddhists Eat?

Early Buddhist monks depended on almsfood, or food donated by supporters. Anything placed in their proffered bowls was to be accepted with gratitude and eaten, even if unpleasant.

This included fish and meat, as long as the animals were not specifically killed for the monks.

The modern sects of Buddhism have different rules regarding diet. While most practice nonviolence, many consume meat. Chinese and Vietnamese sects consume meat, fish and eggs.

However, these same sects reject the Five Pungent Spices, which include garlic and onion.

Tibetan Buddhists will not consume fish, avoid fowl but may consume red meat.

The belief is that the animals from which red meat comes are large and can provide for many people with their sacrifice.

Buddhism And Eating Meat

All Buddhists are not vegetarians, and Buddhist texts do not unanimously condemn the consumption of meat.

Certain sutras of the Great Vehicle, the Mahayana, however, do so unequivocally. 

An example is the Lankavatara Sutra, which states: “So as not to become a source of terror, bodhisattvas established in benevolence should not eat food containing meat.

Meat is food for wild beasts; it is unfitting to eat it.

People kill animals for profit and exchange goods for meat. One person kills, another person buys — both are at fault.

Similarly, in the Great Parinirvana Sutra, the Buddha says, “Eating meat destroys great compassion” and advises his disciples to avoid the consumption of meat “just as they would avoid the flesh of their own children.”

Numerous Tibetan masters also condemn consumption of the flesh of 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. Many Tibetans live on high plateaus, vast plains that are unsuitable for anything but raising herds of yaks, goats, or sheep.

Until recently, renouncing eating meat in such conditions would have meant living purely on butter, yogurt (in the summer), and tsampa, the traditional Tibetan dish made from roasted barley flour.

These conditions have led the inhabitants of these plains, nomads for the most part, to live off their herds. Moreover, most Tibetans are very fond of meat.

In spite of this, they are quite aware of the immoral aspect of their behavior and attempt to compensate for it by killing only the number of animals strictly necessary for their survival.

Exiled in India and Nepal, more and more Tibetan monasteries have stopped authorizing the use of meat in the meals prepared in their kitchens.

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.

In contrast to the view of Hindu vegetarians, for Buddhists meat is not impure in itself. In principle, Buddhists would find nothing wrong with eating the flesh of an animal that had died from natural causes.

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 were well treated. 

For example, we read in the autobiography of the Tibetan hermit Shabkar (1781–1851) that over the course of his life he saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of animals.

In Tibet animals that are “redeemed” in this fashion end their days in peace with the rest of their herd. This practice is still current among the Buddhist faithful. In Bhutan, where Buddhism is the predominant religion, hunting and fishing are prohibited throughout the country.

Buddha Sculpture FAQs

Can Buddhist Drink Alcohol?

Despite the great variety of Buddhist traditions in different countries, Buddhism has generally not allowed alcohol intake since earliest times.

The production and consumption of alcohol was known in the regions in which Buddhism arose long before the time of the Buddha.

Why Do Buddhists Not Eat?

In general, Buddhism prohibits the eating of any and all meat, because the killing of animals violates the First Moral Precept and meat is considered an intoxicant to the body, which violates the Fifth Moral Precept.

Why Do Buddhists Not Eat Garlic?

But how about the Buddhists? They rank garlic, onions, shallots and other members of the Allium genus as the Five Acid and Strong-Smelling Vegetables, which are just too damn strong.

And that's why Buddhists don't eat garlic and onions.

Did Buddha Ever Drink?

Production and consumption of alcohol was prevalent long before the time of the Buddha.

He added that Buddha had recognised that indulging in intoxicants (alcohol) led to losing heedfulness, a quality important to achieve realisation

What Are Buddhist Not Allowed To Do?

The precepts are commitments to abstain from killing living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication. ...

As shown in Early Buddhist Texts, the precepts grew to be more important, and finally became a condition for membership of the Buddhist religion.

Why Are Buddhists Vegetarian?


Many people equate Buddhism to vegetarianism. Buddhists believe that life is sacred and that killing sentient beings is unjust.

For many religions and even people, choosing vegetarianism is the way to live a more peaceful life.

By avoiding meat, vegetarians avoid spreading violence.

Are Buddhists vegetarian? Well the answer is not all of them. There are different schools of Buddhism.

One of them is the Mahayana and the other one is the Theravada. The former believes that people should follow a strict vegetarian diet while the other one does not. 

The Mahayanas believe that partaking in food that has animals in it contributes to suffering of sentient beings.

On the other hand, The Theravadists believe that since Buddha himself ate meat, that it is allowable to eat meat as well. 

For them, they follow the teachings in Nipata Sutta, where it says that immorality and evil stems from impure thoughts, feelings and spirit and not from consuming meat.

Buddha has also mentioned avoiding only certain types of meat. Thus it means some meat are allowable

To Be A Vegetarian Or Not?

Many people choose the vegetarian or even vegan lifestyle in order to be healthier or even be a better person.

They believe that if we start with ourselves, then we can spread the life of non-violence.

Many vegetarian people think that eating meat causes pain and suffering and thus should be avoided at all costs.

They also say that it is a healthier choice since some meat causes cancer.

On the other hand, meat eaters or omnivores argue that eating meat is a healthy choice.

They believe that meat provides us with better protein than what vegetables or plants do.

They also argue that other animals eat other animals; much like a lion eats a zebra. 

This basically supports their claim to eating meat. For the Theravadists, they will eat meat, as long as they were not the one who directly killed the animal. They believe that harvesting plants also causes pain and thus is no different from buying butchered meat.

Benefits Of Vegetarianism

Vegetarianism has many benefits. Aside from non-violence being a vegetarian can help you in a lot of ways.

Many people who are trying to lose weight and keep the pounds off resort to being vegetarians.

Aside from having a whole dose of vitamins and minerals, vegetables also contain protein.

Studies find that certain vegetables like soy, broccoli, cauliflower may carry higher amounts of protein than meat.

Fruits also contain antioxidants that help ward off aging.

Vegetables, fruits and grains have fiber that help fight cancer and promote a healthy digestion.

Fruits and vegetables are also cheaper to produce and are easier to digest.

Benefits Of Eating Meat

Meat is high in protein and zinc. Zinc and help fight infection and diseases. Meat is also a good source of amino acids.

The amino acids coming from meat is very similar to what the human DNA has and need.

Meat such as fish also has Omega 3 Fatty Acids which is good for the brain and heart.

On the other hand, red meat may cause cancer if consumed too much. Moderation is key.

Processed meat is also not advisable.

Buddhism And Peace

Gautama Buddha set out to be enlightened through the path of peace and love. He wanted to spread goodness in everyone.

Ethical treatment of animals is needed in order for them to live a happy life even though they will later on die to serve man as food.

Eating meat is a personal choice.

Not all Buddhists are vegetarians. Being a vegetarian has it’s pros and cons but if you feel that you will become a better person by not eating meat, then by all means do so.

On the other hand, if you are a good person, care for animals but still eat meat. Peace comes from the heart.

Buddhists and non Buddhists can learn from animals to take only what is needed and not more.

Understanding Buddhist Patients Dietary Needs

Because immigrants from Asian countries with large Buddhist populations are a rapidly growing minority group, it’s important for nurses to understand Buddhist patients’ beliefs about health, illness and food.

The love of nature and maximum enjoyment of what nature provides us is necessary in order to live a truly natural life.

This is the main belief in many Asian cultures, such as those of China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and the Philippines.

While Christianity is the dominant religion in many of these countries, there are also significant numbers of Buddhists, along with Muslims, Hindus and atheists.

In the Buddhist faith, life revolves around nature with its two opposing energy systems, known in Chinese philosophy as yin and yang energy.

Examples of these opposing energy forces, which are cyclical, include heat/cold, light/darkness, good/evil and sickness/health.

Although a simple illness, such as a cold or flu, may be considered an imbalance of yin and yang energy, many Buddhists-though not all-believe that the best way to live a healthy life is to be a vegetarian.


The Buddhist tradition of vegetarianism has gained a great deal of popularity around the globe, as both a diet and a way of life. In the United States alone, there are about 20 million vegetarians.

At the same time, in certain Asian cultures there has been a strong movement away from the traditional strict vegetarian diet as a result of these countries’ exposure to Islam and Christianity.

Part of being a culturally competent health care professional is being careful not to make blanket generalizations about patients from unfamiliar cultures-such as assuming that if a patient is an immigrant from an Asian country, he must be a Buddhist. 

Even if it is known for a fact that the patient’s religion is Buddhism, this does not necessarily mean that he or she strictly follows all Buddhist religious practices to the letter.

It is vitally important for nurses to initiate dialogue with patients and their families in order to determine what, if any, cultural/religious needs and dietary restrictions must be accommodated to ensure the best possible healing process for the patient.

Understanding Buddhist Beliefs

The Buddha was born in what is now Nepal and founded Buddhism in India during the sixth century B.C.

After Buddha’s death, his followers considered him a divine entity with the ability to lead them to Heaven.

This is a faith of supreme optimism that teaches self-control as a means to search for true happiness. Buddhists practice yoga and meditation as a means to reach spiritual emancipation or true liberation.

Through mastering self-control, a Buddhist can reach full potential toward a journey of self-improvement during this life in order to achieve reincarnation, or rebirth after life. The rebirth process requires a desirable state of freedom or purity from primitive human desires and wishes.

The Buddhist code of morality is set forth in the Five Moral Precepts, which are:

  • Do not kill or harm living things.
  • Do not steal.
  • Do not engage in sexual misconduct.
  • Do not lie.
  • Do not consume intoxicants such as alcohol, tobacco or mind-altering drugs.

Buddhists believe that being careful in selecting the food one eats correlates with the amount of light in one’s body and the degree of power necessary to climb up the spiritual ladder-i.e., to reach the desirable state of relaxation and of being sincere to oneself and others.

By following this path, one’s soul reaches harmony, the desirable spiritual status and/or the power of virtue necessary to attain the reincarnation process.

Buddhist Dietary Practices

In the teachings of Buddha, this concept of making the right food choices for spiritual enlightenment is exemplified by the “Five Contemplations While Eating.”

Essentially, this means that Buddhists are exercising a special force related to “stopping and thinking” about the food they are eating.

(Interestingly, it is believed that the Buddha himself actually died from food poisoning.) A Buddhist asks himself these five basic but essential questions:

  • What food is this? = The origin of the food and how it reached me.
  • Where does it come from? = The amount of work necessary to grow the food, prepare it, cook it and bring it to the table.
  • Why am I eating it? = Do I deserve this food or not? Am I worthy of it?
  • When should I eat and benefit from this food? = Food is a necessity and a healing agent because I am subjected to illness without food.
  • How should I eat it? = Food is only received and eaten for the purpose of realizing the proper way to reach enlightenment.

A Buddhist Glossary Vegetarianism: A diet that includes no meat. In the Buddhist religion, eating a vegetarian diet is a natural and logical ramification of the moral precept against the taking of life.

Veganism: A philosophy of life that should be thought of as entirely separate from vegetarianism.

It is concerned with an entire lifestyle rather than just a dietary regime. 

Veganism prohibits not only the eating of animals, animal products and their derivatives-including milk, cheese and honey-but also the use of animal furs, leathers, skins, etc.

Vegans believe these products-and even their by-products-must be avoided at both the physical and mental levels to ensure true liberation that facilitates the attaining of enlightenment. Ahimsa:

The act of not killing or harming. It refers to the compassionate, non-violent treatment of living things and the acknowledgment of all sentient creatures’ right to live and be reborn.

Practicing ahimsa will keep the Buddhist on the right spiritual path and enforces “a better life and better health.

Karma: A sort of spiritual bank account that is accumu-lated through one’s actions in life.

Good karma occurs for those who follow Buddhism’s moral precepts; it will lead to being reborn as a higher being, such as a god or wealthy human.

Bad karma, which can result from forbidden acts such as killing living things, can cause one to be reborn as a lesser being, such as an animal, insect or demon. Once you pay off your karmic debts, you can be reborn as a human.

Buddhists who are strict adherents to their faith depend not only on these Five Contemplations but also on the Five Moral Precepts to determine which foods are appropriate to consume and which are considered forbidden.

In general, Buddhism prohibits the eating of any and all meat, because  the killing of animals violates the First Moral Precept and  meat is considered an intoxicant to the body, which violates the Fifth Moral Precept.

According to the Fifth Precept, consuming any type of intoxicants will reflect negatively on a Buddhist’s life and afterlife in the following ways:

  • Effects on Self: It will distort and cloud one’s samadhi-i.e, it will hinder one’s judgment and decrease proper concentration necessary for meditation, which is the path to enlightenment.
  • Effects on Others: It will increase one’s susceptibility to commit crimes and do wrong to others, which means loss of the desirable self-control.
  • Religious/Spiritual Effects: It can cause bad karma (see Glossary) that harms other sentient beings and later on will haunt the original being.

Buddhists believe that whoever lives only for pleasure loses his soul’s harmony and the power of virtue.

According to the “no killing” precept, whoever kills animals or eats meat will lose the “purity of both body and mind”-i.e., one gets all mixed up with the meat one eats and loses purity, clarity and the power of self-control.

Buddhists also believe that causing the suffering of living creatures just to satisfy our taste buds is not a justifiable reason to eat meat.

In Buddhists’ eyes, hunger is the minimal expression of compassion that can be offered and becoming a vegetarian is a choice-i.e., choosing not to kill animals (out of kindness) and not to eat them (out of compassion).

In addition to the physical suffering of animals, Buddhists believe that eating meat also causes another type of suffering: bad karma. Killing a sentient being forces it to begin a painful process of rebirth.

Since Buddhists believe it is possible for animals to attain enlightenment, killing them deprives them of that chance. Eating a vegetarian diet helps ensure that the cycle of karmic retribution will be purified:

If you don’t eat animals, they won’t eat you. If you don’t kill them, they won’t kill you.

Other foods that may fall into the “forbidden” category include “the Five Pungent Spices.”

This refers to onions, scallions, chives, garlic, etc. Traditionally, Buddhists have believed that a person who eats these foods will suffer the following ill effects:

His blood and flesh will be rejected by the gods, and the heavens will distance themselves far from him.

His breath is always foul; therefore, all gods and saints will reject him.

If eaten cooked, these foods will arouse lust and cause explosive temper.

If eaten raw, they will increase one’s anger and cause bad body odor that will not please the gods but will stimulate interested “hungry ghosts” who will hover around and kiss one’s lips.

Being near ghosts is believed to hinder one’s enlightenment.

Today, however, many vegetarians around the world, including some Buddhists, may eat the Five Pungent Spices without reservation.

For Buddhists, this depends on such factors as the person’s degree of adherence to their faith, whether they are practicing Buddhism along with other faiths, and their geographic location.


One of the main tenets of Buddhism is to not harm any living being. This includes animals, plants, and people.

As a result, Buddhists are vegetarian for ethical reasons as well as health-related ones.

Some Buddhist sects also believe that eating meat damages one’s karma because it takes away life force energy from other beings in order to sustain oneself (a subtle form of violence).

Many Buddhists find this reason compelling enough on its own to be vegetarian but there are many others who choose this diet for spiritual or medical reasons too.

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