do buddhists eat meat

Do Buddhists Eat Meat? Buddhist Views on Eating Animals Explained

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the topic of Buddhism and its dietary restrictions. Lots of people question: “Do Buddhists eat meat?” The answer to this question is not a simple one, as there are different schools of thought on the matter within Buddhism. I always assumed that Buddhism is against meat consumption, but after some research, I found out this was not exactly the case. 

Do Buddhists eat meat?

The view of meat eating varies between different schools of thought in Buddhism. One of the central tenets of Buddhism is ahimsa or non-violence. This principle extends to all sentient beings, including animals. Many Buddhists, therefore, choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet to practice compassion. However, not all Buddhists are vegetarians or vegans. 

History of Buddhism and its dietary restrictions

Buddhism is a religion with a long and complex history. It began in India between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE and has since spread throughout the world. Buddhism teaches that the key to liberation from suffering is through renunciation, wisdom, and compassion.

Buddhists have a variety of different views about meat eating. 

  • Some believe that it is wrong to kill animals for food and we should not eat them.
  • Others argue that it is acceptable to eat meat if the animal is not killed specifically to be eaten.
  • And there are Buddhists that believe it is only acceptable to eat meat if the killing of the animal was not seen, heard, or anticipated.

What did the Buddha say about eating meat?

According to Mahayana, the Buddha said that Buddhists should not eat meat and should also wash the food that has been touched by meat.

The eating of meat extinguishes the seed of Great Kindness.

Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra

On the other hand, according to Theravada, the Buddha accepted all food, including meat.

Did Buddha eat meat?

Many people are unfamiliar with the fact that the Buddha ate meat. While it’s true that Buddhism teaches compassion for all beings, Theravada Buddhism holds that the Buddha did eat meat.

Why do people interpret Buddha’s teachings differently?

People interpret Buddha’s teachings differently because everyone has their own unique perspective and understanding. What might make perfect sense to one person might not make sense to another.

The beauty of Buddha’s teachings is that they are open to interpretation and can be applied in a variety of ways depending on what works best for each individual.

There are several schools of thought on Buddhism and there is no consensus about eating meat. Some Buddhists eat meat, and some don’t.

How do Mahayana Buddhists view meat-eating?

The Mahayana tradition is one of the two major branches of Buddhism. It is based on the belief that all beings are equal and that it is our responsibility to help others achieve liberation from suffering.

Mahayana Buddhists argue that eating meat is prohibited by the Buddha. Monks who are begging for food should refuse meat if they receive it.

How do Theravada Buddhists feel about eating meat?

The Theravada tradition takes are more flexible and allows for the eating of meat under certain circumstances.

If the animal is not killed specifically for meat consumption and the killing is not seen by the Buddhists, they can eat it.

There are exemptions for the type of meat that is allowed. Humans, elephants, horses, dogs, snakes, lions, tigers, leopards, bears, and hyenas’ meat are prohibited to eat. 

Personal opinions on eating meat by Buddhist practitioners

I believe that it is acceptable to eat the meat that was given. The monks are told not to deny food given out of charity. However, from reading the text, I have concluded that I do not feel it is the right action to kill an animal for food, so I am a vegan.

Sherri G.

Whenever we say “the Buddha said”, we have to understand that what we are saying is that “the early church of the Buddha has said that the Buddha has said”.

Gene L.

That is an extrapolation and not a quote from the Buddha and it has been used to rationalize the eating of flesh. Think for yourself as the Buddha would encourage. There is no right way to do the wrong thing.

Nien C.

I’ve been vegan now for five years and never looked back. I believe the Buddha had those views at that time but nowadays things are so different and quite horrendous in animal agriculture and dairy.

I would simply follow the five precepts and interpret it as you may. Not to kill or cause to be killed is pretty straightforward to me but there are many interpretations according to our differing lives. Thich Nhat Hanh who sadly died recently became vegan years ago as are his sangha.

Linda M.

Whether the Buddha actually said it was OK to eat meat, or if this was injected into the Dhamma by those wishing to justify their contribution to animal cruelty during the centuries before it was written down is obviously conjecture.

But what is certain is that India was a very different place 25 centuries ago, a population of a few 10s of millions and no factory farms. Animals are treated horribly in Thailand, one place where you’d think religious dogma would help them. There really is no excuse for animal abuse. 

I’ve tried asking Thai monks if they would refuse human flesh if offered and they, of course, say yes, so there is room to be consistent with the precepts and educate the lay people.

Simon M.

Frequently asked questions regarding Buddhism

What foods are forbidden in Buddhism?

Although there are no foods that are categorically forbidden in Buddhism, there are certain dietary guidelines that practitioners typically follow.

These include avoiding meat and fish, according to some Buddhist views.

There are also types of meat that are not allowed to consume. As stated above, humans, elephants, horses, dogs, snakes, lions, tigers, leopards, bears, and hyenas’ meat is not allowed to consume.

Can Buddhists drink alcohol?

Drinking alcohol can have negative consequences on our spiritual practice and on our ability to be compassionate and wise. Therefore, it is generally recommended that Buddhists avoid or limit their consumption of alcohol.

Key takeaways

Do Buddhists eat meat? Well, different schools of Buddhism have different views on the subject, and it ultimately comes down to the individual practitioner’s interpretation of the Buddha’s teachings. 

Some Buddhists believe that eating meat is acceptable if the animal is not killed specifically to be eaten, others argue that it is only acceptable to eat meat if the animal has already died and some refuse to eat meat.

Petra profile image

Hi, I’m Petra and for most of my life, I was an omnivore. A vegan couple made me curious about veganism, so I did some research. What I found out about the animals, our planet, and the health benefits of a vegan diet made me go vegan overnight. It’s been 5 years now and it’s been one of the best decisions of my life.

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