Simply put, no. One does not have to be a vegetarian or vegan for that matter, to be a Buddhist.
Vegetarianism as a pre-requisite to being a Buddhist is a misconception that had been advocated directly or indirectly in the Chinese Mahayana tradition.
I’ve received many queries and responses from lay people about vegetarianism. Some wonder if it is a pre-requisite to be a vegetarian to be a Buddhist. Others wonder if it is a precept or by-clause under the No-Killing precept. All these questions plus some exchanges with a fellow Buddhist who is a vegan spur me on to write this post.
Here is a summary:
- To be a Buddhist, it is optional to be a vegetarian.
- To observe the First of the Five Precepts of “abstaining from Killing”, one does not have to be a vegetarian. It is still optional to be a vegetarian even if one observes the Five Precepts.
- To observe the Bodhisattva vows under the Chinese Mahayana tradition, it is *compulsory* to be a vegetarian.
Foot note to #3, it is not compulsory to be a Bodhisattva even if you follow the Chinese Mahayana tradition. It is only at a later stage that the Bodhisattva vow became a somewhat compulsory package for monastics. For lay people, the Bodhisattva vow is still *not* compulsory.
More after the jump.