Frequently Asked Questions

Buddhism is for those with an inquiring mind. Let’s get together to dispel these misconceptions.Come with your question and let’s have a Q&A session.

One of the commonly-asked questions from my friends is: Can a Buddhist eat meat?

Bhante’s Answer:

Buddhists are supposed to uphold  the five righteous principles. First of the principles is “I undertake the precept to train myself not to kill any living beings”. This precept itself establishes

the right to live of every living being. Regardless of circumstances, Buddhist are always against violence and killing. With this understanding, being vegetarian is not compulsory but encouraged.

Buddha did not make it a rule to either lay people or ordained communities of monks or nuns that they should be vegetarians. Venerable Devadatta  requested Buddha to make it a compulsory

Vinaya rule for all the monks and nuns to be vegetarians. Buddha rejected it and replied that if monks wish to be vegetarian, they can observe the practice. If they do not want to, then they do not have to observe it.

The reason given here by Buddha is stated in a discourse known as Jivaka Sutta. Jivaka was a royal doctor who asked the Buddha, “Venerable Sir, is it alright for the monks to consume meat or fish?”

The Buddha answered, “If a monk see, hears or suspects a living being subject to slaughter and he thinks this living being is being slaughtered to prepare his food, he should not partake in the food because his mind is already defiled.”

Other than that, a monk eats to keep this body living and going on. Whenever he eats, he should remind himself that “I do not consume this food to enjoy myself or to keep this body strong or to indulge the sense faculties. I eat to keep this body alive in order to lead a righteous way of life, to practise the Dhamma, to help other to practise.” This is the purpose of food to a monk or a nun. We have to understand the the Buddha always encouraged vegetarianism, which is not compulsory.

As for your question on whether Buddhists can consume meat, there is no specific rule that prohibits eating meat. But remember, it is always encouraged that you consume foods without violating any of the precepts, without breaking or harming other living beings directly or indirectly. You may not kill, but some people can argue that when you eat meat, you are indirectly supporting killing. There is no rule even for ordained disciples to be vegetarians but it is always encouraged.

On the other hand, those who go to “live” seafood restaurants to order this crab or that fish are directly responsible for killing. This is clearly negative kamma, an act that produces unwholesome kammic energy. If Buddhists eat fish or meat that have already been prepared, we cannot say that  person is creating negative kammic energy and violating a precept even though we can argue that indirectly that person supports killing.

On the topic of eating meat, as Buddhists, we are taught not to kill. Therefore, it is very difficult to reconcile the lack of a rule to prohibit the consumption of meat yet we are encouraged to be vegetations. Is it like saying "You can kill but you are encouraged not to kill". These two doesn't reconcile and I think it disturbs a lot of Buddhists in that sense.

Bhante’s Answer:

It is very clear we do not encourage any form of killing, whether directly or indirectly. This is a precept and we must always strive to uphold this principle. I do not want to use the word “prohibited” because in Buddhism, we do not have laws. The practice of precepts is motivated by oneself through right understanding.

 

Why do we use the word ‘encourage’ here? It is because when we say Pānātipātā vēramani sikkhāpadam samādiyami – we observe the precept to train oneself not to kill. It is not “Thou shall not kill” as it is not a law. The Buddha reasoned that it is good and worthy for a wise human being  to refrain from killing. Why? Just as we do not like to be tortured and harmed, other living beings too do not want to be tortured and harmed. Therefore as intelligent and compassionate human beings, it is wise for us to refrain from killing.

 

Killing generate dark, unwholesome karmic energy. This I turn brings harm and danger for yourself in this life and lives to come. Besides, it has been seen that killing almost always brings disaster and calamity to society. It is very well understood that this is not a rule, but a training precept that we understood that this is not a rule, but a training precept that we undertake with the right understanding.

 

In the same token, vegetarianism is encouraged in Buddhism but is not compulsory. Why? If you make it compulsory, Buddhism will be confined to a small minority. Suppose today you are not a vegetarian, but the door is still opened to you to practise Buddhism. You start your practices, cultivate precepts and learn to meditate. In time, you start cultivating great compassion and love in your mind. Eventually you will develop a higher consciousness and reflect upon how consuming meat and fish is in fact encouraging liking. This realisation will gradually lead you to become a pure vegetarian out of great compassion and wisdom.

 

Consider this: If being vegetarian is made compulsory, many people will not be given a chance to develop the path of understanding Buddhist teachings, and eventually change. This is why Buddhism opens its door to all, including criminals and murderers. Whatever evil, wicked, immoral and unwholesome things you have done in you life, Buddhism still keeps the door open to all. That is why Angulimala, during buddha’s time, who killed almost a thousand people, eventually realised his mistakes and became an enlightened monk.

 

Vegetarianism is not even compulsory for Buddhist monks and nuns. If Buddha made vegetarianism. Compulsory for a monk or nuns.  If Buddha made vegetarianism compulsory for a monk or nun, they might not be able to practise. Buddhism encourages the interdependence of the community of monks, nuns and lay people. This allows the opportunity to learn and practise the Dhamma. So if the devotees offer fish, the monks had to accept fish as food to survive. If a monk were to insist on being vegetarian, he may not be able to survive as vegetarianism is not part of the diet of the local community where the monks is living in.

 

 

What is important here is the purity of your mind! Have you heard of Adolf Hitler?  Hitler was a vegetarian. The point that I am making is that one can be a vegetarian but still be evil, wicked and unwholesome. In spite of being a vegetarian, Hitler’s mind, actions and words were impure, and he brought a lot of destruction to the world. On the other hand, there may be people who are not vegetarians, but do not harm or kill living beings. Whatever he eats, his mind is full of compassion, goodwill and friendship. Which one is more superior in the practical sense? Just because someone is vegetarian does not mean he is pure. Likewise, it does not mean we discourage vegetarianism. The emphasis is on the qualities of a he mind!