To Eat or not to Eat … meat that is!


Is it okay to buy and eat meat from hunters and killers, Fritz asked on facebook.

Quite a conundrum isn’t it?  As with most matters on ethics, it can be tricky to simply draw a line and divide things into black and white.  My reply
below. 🙂

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First off, the Buddha gave instructions on differing levels of practices for different individuals with varying aptitude, affinity and aspirations.

In general, what we eat usually has no direct impact on your cultivation, unless we eat too much, too little, or eat something unsuitable for your body (say allergens or poison).  However, certain food that are intoxicants or stimulants should be avoided if one is keen on maintaining clarity of the mind and emotions.

That said, food can have an impact on others whose kind you are eating.

Consider how it would be odd if a animal-rights-activist should be delighting in hunting or pork-chop.  A Bodhisattva strives to be a friend to all, so where one can choose, one chooses not to consume meat.

Vegetarian diet is hence undertaken as a practice under the Bodhisattva vows, ie for those who has devoted their life to cultivating the path towards Buddhahood.  It comes forth as a cultivation of love and compassion towards sentient beings.

Beyond this, there are those who may to renounce the household life and take up the robes.  Such a person lives off the alms of lay followers and so eat whatever is given, choosing nothing.  Contrary to what some believe, this means they do not get to choose meat as well.

However, in the Chinese Mahayana tradition, it is commonly accepted that monastics will consume vegetables only, owing to the Bodhisattva vows that became a standard practice for them.  This practice is also in part due to how monasteries became established in the forest, away from villages and alms round were forbidden by the emperors.  Having monks go on alms round was seen as having the emperor’s teacher go on the street for alms food, leading to the restriction.

In addition, having food prepared within the monastery for hundreds or thousands of monastics also meant that if there is meat offered, then the animals are most likely slaughtered for their consumption.  This would transgress on not having an animal killed specifically for consumption.

For most people, we are not quite ready to take on rigorous spiritual cultivation.  Some may wish to simply pursue a happy present life and a happy rebirth for now.  Then one may take refuge, observe the five precepts and conduct oneself in the ten wholesome deeds.  Most people would still want to choose their favourite food!  Not that there is any crime or shame in that, and consequently, one should  avoid ordering the death of animals for their food where possible.


In general, eat kindly, with love and compassion for all, with gratitude to all sentient beings, with minimum cruelty and harm to others.

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