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Buddha, His Teaching, His Followers, and the World View:

Do Buddhists Eat Meat?

Given the image of Buddha in the world view, this is a relevant question from a non-Buddhist. However, unfortunately the answer is not that simple.

Buddhists are known worldwide for their compassion and strong belief in karma. To know a true Buddhist is to know that one wouldn’t intentionally hurt even a fly let alone take an animal’s life. After all, the very fundamental basis of Buddha’s teachings begins with do no harm to anyone. With that principal alone, a serious Buddhist should not eat the meat of any sentient being. The bitter truth is, you would be wrong to make that blanket assumption. The fact of the matter is, many Buddhist’s are still eating meat. Not just as lay Buddhists, the monastics, the big popular preachers do so while they teach about compassion. However, as we spread awareness, more and more of the younger generation are moving towards a compassionate life-style, which is wonderful to see.

Do Buddhists Eat Meat?
Buddha with animals.
Illustration by Lasha Mutual.

What Did Buddha Say About Eating Meat?

Buddha clearly stated which can be found in the Lankavatara Sutra “Since all sentient beings are equal to me as my only son, how can I approve my followers to eat the flesh of my son? Eating meat to me is out of the question. I have never approved, I am not, and I will never approve that – I have strictly condemned eating meat in every way.” To eat meat as a Buddhist is to go against what Buddha Shakyamuni taught not only in the sutras, but in regard to non-violence and doing no harm to others overall.

Buddha taught us that all sentient beings want to be happy and avoid suffering. That is the primary goal in everyone’s precious life. Buddhists know that all animals (land and sea), insects (even those pesky mosquitos), including all those of the six realms, want to live and avoid suffering by any means possible and that by doing them harm directly or indirectly creates negative karma collectively and independently. Why then do so many Buddhists still eat meat?

The Unfortunate Part of the Controversy Is:

It’s hard to change your lifestyle, it’s hard to sacrifice temptation of the taste of meat, but the monks and nuns who are supposed to be renounced of worldly pursuits, rise above the ordinary lifestyle to practice what Buddha taught, but……The very unfortunate part in this whole controversy is the cheap excuses people make in eating them, such as

1. we don’t butcher the animal; we just buy the meat.

2. People often misinterpret Buddha’s words in trying to justify their actions, one of which is this: Buddha said: Replying to a question, if you are really hungry and found a dead animal, you can eat that in order to survive, but even in there, he put three conditions to make sure the animal is not killed for consumption, and three conditions are: you have not seen that killing for consumption, not heard and have no doubt if it was killed for consumption. People often misinterpret this as approval of meat eating.

3. Some even misinterpret the precious alms tradition of the monks and nuns, in justifying meat eating, by saying you respectfully eat what is offered.  

The Common Problem:

The unfortunate truth is common to all culture and religion, which is a lot of misinterpretation of the teaching of holy religions all over the world. There are a lot of cruelty and unethical practices and way of worshiping in all religions. Buddhism has also gone through that a lot and may be more today following the modern race of selling and marketing.

In today’s lifestyle, your consumption is the reason for slaughterhouses. Therefore, as we move towards awareness and more compassionate lifestyle, with plant-based foods, people will reduce raising animals for their meat and thereby the brutal and bloody killings will happen less and less.

Venerable Geshe Phelgye’s Appeal for Compassion

Venerable Geshe Phelgye saves goats
Venerable Geshe Phelgye saves hundreds of goats just prior to being slaughtered. He then donated the rescued animals to poor community to use their milk with one condition; never slaughter the animal.

As the Buddha taught over two and a half thousand years ago, there are many benefits to following a vegetarian lifestyle – both for us and for other beings as well. Today, so many centuries later, the Buddha’s words are as powerful as ever. Even modern science is starting to validate this profound teaching.

In recent years, the world has become a very unbalanced place. No doubt, part of this imbalance is directly caused by the human consumption of meat. In industrialized countries, the meat industry is guilty of causing huge environmental problems: methane gas produced by cattle is contributing to global warming; acidic pig feces pollutants subterranean aquifers; over-fishing is emptying the oceans of their fish; livestock have recently even spread serious and fatal illnesses to humans!

Not only are we hurting our environment by raising meat, but we hurt ourselves when we eat it. We hurt ourselves in two ways:

First, eating meat is contrary to our inherent Buddha nature which is, in essence, a love for all sentient beings throughout space; Second, eating meat is unhealthy, especially in the long term. By not eating meat, a person can lower their chances of getting heart disease, high blood pressure, cancers of all sorts, infectious diseases, the so called ‘Mad Cow’ disease, etc.

Therefore, my appeal to you is this: give up eating meat from today onwards; if you feel you cannot do that, at least eat less meat. It might take several tries to give up eating meat, as all habits are hard to break.

However, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do it for the following reasons:

  1. By not eating meat you will save many lives over the years and will gain good merit as a result. Remember that the Buddha taught that all sentient beings have at one point been our own mothers. To not eat meat is to not eat your own mothers;
  2. It will benefit your health, especially over the long term; and
  3. It will help preserve the environment for future generations.

Thank you,

Geshe Thupten Phelgye
(A Buddhist Monk)