Why Do Buddhists Not Eat Meat?
Like many religions, Buddhism has dietary restrictions and food traditions.
Buddhists — those who practice Buddhism — follow the teachings of the Buddha or “awakened one” and adhere to specific diet laws.
Whether you’re new to Buddhism or want to practice only certain aspects of the religion, you may wonder what those dietary customs entail.
This article explains everything you need to know about the Buddhist diet.
Buddhism Dietary Practices
Siddhartha Gautama, or the Buddha, founded Buddhism in the 5th to 4th century B.C. in the eastern part of India.
Several forms of Buddhism exist globally, including Mahayana, Theravada, and Vajrayana.
Each type has slightly different interpretations of Buddha’s teaching, particularly when it comes to dietary practices.
One of the teachings prohibits taking the life of any person or animal. Many Buddhists interpret this to mean that you should not consume animals, as doing so would require killing.
Buddhists with this interpretation usually follow a lacto-vegetarian diet.
This means they consume dairy products but exclude eggs, poultry, fish, and meat from their diet.
On the other hand, other Buddhists consume meat and other animal products, as long as the animals aren’t slaughtered specifically for them.
Nonetheless, most dishes considered Buddhist are vegetarian, despite not all traditions requiring lay followers of Buddhism to follow this diet.
Alcohol And Other Restrictions
Another ethical teaching of Buddhism prohibits intoxication from alcohol given that it clouds the mind and can lead you to break other religious rules.
Still, lay followers of the religion often disregard this teaching, as some traditional ceremonies incorporate alcohol.
Aside from alcohol, some Buddhists avoid consuming strong-smelling plants, specifically garlic, onion, chives, leeks, and shallots, as these vegetables are thought to increase sexual desire when eaten cooked and anger when eaten raw.
Buddha Sculpture FAQs
What Does Buddhism Say About Eating Meat?
Instead, the Buddha is depicted there ruling that monks and nuns can only eat meat if the animal was not slaughtered specifically to feed them.
Some Buddhists believe that meat should be eaten only for medicinal purposes and then only when the animal has died of natural causes.
Does Buddhism Forbid Eating Meat?
Vegetarianism. Five ethical teachings govern how Buddhists live. One of the teachings prohibits taking the life of any person or animal.
On the other hand, other Buddhists consume meat and other animal products, as long as the animals aren't slaughtered specifically for them.
Was The Buddha A Vegetarian?
Buddha was a vegetarian Indian saint, spiritual master, and realized being. Spiritual teacher from ancient India who founded Buddhism.
The Buddha's influence has rippled throughout Asia and worldwide.
What Is Forbidden In Buddhism?
They constitute the basic code of ethics to be respected by lay followers of Buddhism.
The precepts are commitments to abstain from killing living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication.
Do Buddhists 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.
Fasting refers to abstaining from all or certain types of foods or drinks.
The practice — specifically intermittent fasting — is becoming increasingly popular for weight loss, but it’s also often done for religious purposes.
Buddhists are expected to abstain from food from noon until the dawn of the following day as a way to practice self-control.
However, as with the exclusion of meat and alcohol, not all Buddhists or lay followers of the religion fast.
Like other religions, Buddhism has specific dietary practices that followers may or may not practice. Some Buddhists may fast or refrain from consuming animals, alcohol, and certain vegetables.
Diet Pros And Cons
Every diet, including the Buddhist diet, has pros and cons to consider.
A Buddhist diet follows a primarily plant-based approach.
A plant-based diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and beans, but it may also include some animal products.
This diet provides important compounds, such as antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which have been associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
Aside from these health benefits, following a plant-based or vegetarian diet may also benefit your waistline.
One study demonstrated that Buddhists who followed a vegetarian diet for 11–34 years had less body fat than those who followed the diet for 5–10 years — and even less body fat than those who followed it for 3–4 years.
Vegetarian diets that restrict the intake of meat can be deficient in certain nutrients if they aren’t planned appropriately — even if they permit eggs and dairy.
Studies have found that Buddhist lacto-vegetarians had calorie intakes similar to those of non-vegetarian Catholics.
However, they had higher intakes of folate, fiber, and vitamin A and consumed less protein and iron.
Consequently, they had lower levels of iron and vitamin B12.
Low levels of these nutrients can cause anemia, a condition characterized by a lack of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
Aside from iron and vitamin B12, other nutrients that vegetarians may be lacking include vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc.
Still, it’s possible to consume a nutritionally adequate vegetarian diet by planning properly and taking supplements to fill any nutritional gaps.
Pros And Cons Of Fasting
Fasting is an important practice in Buddhism. Buddhists generally fast from noon to dawn of the following day.
Depending on your preferences and schedule, you may find fasting for approximately 18 hours every day to either be a pro or con of the Buddhist diet.
Consuming your entire daily calorie intake before noon can not only be physically difficult but also interfere with your social and professional life.
On the other hand, you may find fasting convenient and helpful for weight loss, if that’s a goal of yours.
In a 4-day study in 11 overweight adults, those fasting for 18 hours had better blood sugar control and increased expression of genes involved in autophagy — a process that replaces damaged cells with healthy ones — compared with those fasting for 12 hours.
While these results are promising, longer studies are necessary to make definitive conclusions about whether the practice is superior to a standard reduced-calorie diet for weight loss and other health benefits.
Given that the Buddhist diet consists primarily of plants, it may lack certain vitamins and minerals, particularly iron and vitamin B12.
Fasting, while an important component of Buddhism, may not be for everyone.
Foods To Eat And Avoid
While not all Buddhists are vegetarians, many choose to follow a vegetarian or lacto-vegetarian diet.
Here are examples of foods to eat and avoid on a lacto-vegetarian diet:
Foods To Eat
- Dairy: yogurt, cottage cheese, and milk
- Grains: bread, oatmeal, quinoa, and rice
- Fruits: apples, bananas, berries, grapes, oranges, and peaches
- Vegetables: broccoli, tomatoes, green beans, cucumber, zucchini, asparagus, and peppers
- Starchy vegetables: potatoes, corn, peas, and cassava
- Legumes: chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, and lentils
- Nuts: almonds, walnuts, pecans, and pistachios
- Oils: olive oil, flaxseed oil, and canola oil
Foods To Avoid
- Meats: beef, veal, pork, and lamb
- Fish: salmon, herring, cod, tilapia, trout, and tuna
- Eggs and poultry: eggs, chicken, turkey, duck, quail, and pheasant
- Pungent vegetables and spices: onions, garlic, scallions, chives, and leeks
- Alcohol: beer, wine, and spirits
While it’s not a requirement of practicing Buddhism, many follow a vegetarian or lacto-vegetarian diet that also excludes alcohol and pungent vegetables and spices.
Sample Menu For 1 Day
Below is a 1-day sample menu of a lacto-vegetarian Buddhist diet:
- 1 cup (33 grams) of breakfast cereal fortified with vitamin B12 and iron
- 1/2 cup (70 grams) of blueberries
- 1 ounce (28 grams) of almonds
- 1 cup (240 mL) of low fat milk
- 1 cup (240 mL) of coffee
A sandwich made with:
- 2 slices of whole wheat bread
- 2 low fat cheese slices
- 1 large lettuce leaf
- 2 slices of avocado
- As well as a side of:
3 ounces (85 grams) of fresh carrot sticks
1 cup (240 mL) of unsweetened tea
- 6 whole grain crackers
- 1 cup (227 grams) of Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup (70 grams) of apricots
- 1 ounce (28 grams) of unsalted peanuts
A burrito made with:
- 1 whole wheat tortilla
- 1/2 cup (130 grams) of refried beans
- 1/4 cup (61 grams) of diced tomato
- 1/4 cup (18 grams) of shredded cabbage
- 1/4 cup (25 grams) of shredded cheese
- 2 tablespoons (30 grams) of salsa
- Spanish rice made from 1 cup (158 grams) of brown rice, 1/2 cup (63 grams) of zucchini, and 1/2 tablespoon (7 mL) of olive oil
If you choose to fast, you would consume these meals and snacks before noon.
A lacto-vegetarian Buddhist diet should contain a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and dairy.
Health Benefits Of The Buddhist Diet
Examples of permitted foods that are staples of the traditional Buddhist diet in many Asian cultures include:
- Boiled or stir-fried noodles flavored with aromatic spices. Raw or cooked vegetables, seaweed and home-prepared dried food items can also be added.
- Rice, which can be cooked and flavored in many different ways-e.g., salty, sweet, neutral, sticky, colored or mixed with vegetables.
- Soy sauce is an essential tasty ingredient that is added to almost every dish, in much the same way as Americans flavor many of their foods with butter and/or salt.
- Sesame oil is also used heavily in preparing food. Unlike soy sauce, it contains no sodium.
- Buddhists who are not strict vegetarians will eat fish on an almost daily basis and/or will add it to many of their meals.
- Herbal tea is a popular and healing drink that originates from various types of tea plants.
For centuries Buddhists have believed that when meat is eaten it accumulates in the body, turning into harmful toxins.
Today, modern medicine seems to be proving them right.
A number of recent scientific studies have discovered a high incidence of cancer within populations that consume large amounts of meat.
Other negative health consequences that have been linked with eating meat include arterial sclerosis, heart disease, high blood pressure, encephalitis, stroke, gallstones and cirrhosis of the liver.
All of these conditions are directly related to consuming fat and cholesterol.
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, meat does in fact contain wastes and toxins, such as uric acid, that have negative effects on blood and body tissues.
In contrast, vegetable proteins obtained from nuts, beans and legumes are decidedly healthier and safer.
Furthermore, meat, meat products, poultry and seafood all spoil easily within a few hours, but most vegetables stay fresh for several days.
Although beans may become rancid relatively quickly, the deterioration is much easier to detect and recognize compared to spoilage in meat, which may not always be detectable by smell or taste.
Do Buddhists Eat Meat?
There are certain rules and norms that one follows within the Buddhist tradition. Buddhists must know what behaviors are encouraged, as well as things which must be taken in moderation or completely avoided.
In Buddhism, there are certain rules and norms that may vary across different traditions. This is the case with Buddhist vegetarianism.
In this guide, we will discuss the history of Buddhist practices generally.
We touch on how eating meat is viewed in the different schools of Buddhist thought. We will take a brief look at the different customs with regard to meat eating across the belief system.
Ethics is a field of thought and action that seeks to find the best and most moral way to act in any circumstance.
Buddhism has its own specific set of ethics that help inform the teachings and practices carried out within the tradition. Buddhist ethics is of a set of views that are agreed upon and lived by those of us taking the path towards Enlightenment.
For the Buddhist, ethics and morality play a huge role in the very foundation of the belief system.
These guidelines for how to live a right and just life are key tenets across all forms of Buddhism.
In some ways, Buddhist ethics should be considered a code of conduct that followers subscribe to when they accept the teachings.
Harmony, compassion, restraint, and avoiding doing harm are huge parts of the ethical system of Buddhism.
This extends beyond just actions with other people. When the Buddha taught to do no harm, he did not just mean harm to fellow humans.
He meant to do no harm generally, to any life.
This extends the ethical system to non-human living beings. For the Buddhist, do no harm applies to plants and animals as well as people.
Main Principles Of Buddhist Ethical Systems
Nonviolence is at the very core of the Buddhist ethical system. This is true across all types of Buddhism.
To the Buddhist, living a just, ethical, and moral life is a conscious commitment that we make.
This means that it takes a conscious effort to live in accordance with the tenants set forth by the Buddha and other important teachers.
Not only does the Buddhist see living by the axiom of “do no harm” to be just, but they also feel that this is the way to enlightenment.
A Buddhist who wishes to achieve enlightenment must internalize not only the teachings, but the spirit behind the ethical system. This is what they rely on when it comes to making the right or moral choice in a given situation.
How Ethical Systems Relate To Daily Choices
The ethical tenets that Buddhist commit themselves to extend beyond their thought and relations.
These tenets help inform what one should or should not do to make one’s living. They will inform how one interacts with others in the commercial realm.
And it also affects how followers feel about certain customs like whether to eat meat or not.
There are many people who assume that to be Buddhist means to abstain from all meat. It is easy to understand why this is so as it is hard to see how eating meat can “do no harm” to the animal involved.
The Buddha himself was a vegetarian. He did not partake in the consumption of any animal flesh. For this reason, many followers adopt a strict vegetarian diet.
Vegetarianism In Buddhism
As noted above, in some of his sutras, the Buddha explicitly says that his followers are not to eat the flesh of a being with sentience.
This is interpreted to mean that you do not eat the flesh or meat of any animal, including fish.
The Mahayana school still follows the Buddhist teachings strictly and prohibits the eating of any animal flesh.
This applies to followers as well as monks. If I refrain from taking life it means that all flesh is something I should avoid.
You are not entirely forbidden to eat meat across all Buddhist traditions. The popular Theravada tradition allows for the eating of pork, chicken, and fish, but there are caveats.
Meat can be eaten so long as the monk knows the animal is not killed for his consumption; he will eat certain types of meat if the food is not specifically prepared for him but rather just offered.
This is a more strict form of Buddhism that more closely allies their practices with the direct teachings of the Buddha.
In this view, one of the original Buddha’s final teachings related to the eating of sentient beings.
These teachings prescribe a very strict vegetarianism in conjunction with the maxim “do no harm.” It goes even further in that followers of this school do not even believe they should eat food that has come into contact with meat.
The Mahayana Buddhist can’t simply pick around the meat in a dish. The whole meal must be vegetarian in its entirety, including preparation.
This tradition points to Buddhist teachings and the bodhisattva for their stance on avoiding meat.
Spreading compassion, avoiding harm, and so on are not conducive to meat eating.
Monks may not accept gleaned meat (meat that was scavenged).
And while many monks rely on donations from followers, they are not to eat meat provided as an offering.
This is one of the most popular forms of Buddhist practice and this school allows for the consumption of some meat. According to tradition, the Buddha accepted any food offerings that were provided to him.
This included meat which he ate when offered. Monks given food donations will take and eat what is given, regardless of whether it is vegetarian or not.
Theravada Buddhists point to his discussing his early privilege as it relates to vegetarianism.
In one of the Sutras, he describes his family as being wealthy enough to feed both the family and servants a vegetarian diet.
He understood that this is not an option for some and that living this way was a privilege.
This is a less common form of Buddhism, but some adherents to this school can not only eat meat, but also drink alcohol.
You must abstain from alcohol in most Buddhist traditions. Many of the practices are only relevant for monks at the temple.
For the most part, even monks in this tradition abstain from meat and alcohol.
Many of the rules and traditions described above only apply to monks in Buddhist temples.
The strict food requirements don’t necessarily extend to lay followers.
Many practicing Buddhists are not vegetarian at all. Some are mostly vegetarian.
There are some sects that allow for the eating of poultry or fish, but no red meat.
There are many Buddhists who observe a vegetarian diet at least during certain parts of the year.
Other Food Exclusions
Something that may seem odd to an outsider is that for the Buddhist, pure vegetarianism also means the avoidance of certain herbs and vegetables.
You must also avoid pungent or fetid vegetables – things like onions, garlic, shallots, and coriander.
Some sects call for abstention of all meat, as well as eggs and dairy.
Buddhists are encouraged to follow specific dietary guidelines. These differ depending on the form of Buddhism and individual preferences.
Many Buddhists follow a lacto-vegetarian diet, avoid alcohol and certain vegetables, and practice fasting from noon to sunrise the following day.
That said, the diet is flexible, no matter if you’re a lay follower of Buddhism or wish to practice only certain aspects of the religion.