When we think of Buddhism, we usually think that all Buddhists are or should be vegetarians, but necessarily. In Buddhism, the views on vegetarianism vary between different schools of thought as well as cultures. Buddhism believes in not killing, so vegetarian diet is recommended. Buddha himself was not a vegetarian. He did not teach his disciples to be vegetarians and even today, there are many good Buddhists who are not vegetarians. Buddha teaching, teach us to refrain from killing, but meat eating is not regarded as an instance of killing. So consuming meat is ok as long as we are aware that the animal was not killed on our behalf.
Understanding the Middle Path to Meat Eating
We have to remember that there were no “Buddhists” in Shakyamuni’s time. There were only mendicants of various kinds (including the Buddha’s disciples), plus lay people who gave them offerings/donations of foods and moneys out of respect without necessarily worrying about the brand name of the teachings. So, if meat was what a householder chose to offer, it was to be accepted without discrimination. To reject the offering would be an offense against hospitality and would deprive the householder of an opportunity to gain merit, also it would not benefit the animal, because it was already dead.
Buddhism and vegetarianism vary from culture to culture as well as different schools of teaching. Vegetarianism was not a part of the early Buddhist tradition and the Buddha himself was not a vegetarian. Today Buddhists that are following Mahayanist school are often vegetarian. There are others that abstain from meat while eating fish. Chinese and Vietnamese monks and nuns are strictly vegetarian and the lay community try to follow their example although many do not. Among Tibetans and Japanese Buddhists, vegetarianism is rare.
Should You be a Vegetarian
So if you are studying meditation and Buddhism, should you be a vegetarian? That’s up to you, your practice and what you think is best for you. The Dalai Lama is not a vegetarian, because of an illness. Eating meat doesn’t mean you are a bad person or don’t have compassionate for the animals. You are learning meditation and/or Buddhism because you want to find that inner peace and compassion, so you shouldn’t be a vegetarian just because you need or have to or because it’s a trend. If your health allow you to do it (we will talk more on next post about nutrition for vegetarians) and you feel it’s good for your practice, then yes. I’m myself are taking lessons in meditation and dharma but I’m not a full vegetarian. I’m only a vegetarian 3 days out of a week and on most days I only eat fish and not meat. There may be special days in the month that you could do fasting for example in some Asian cultures, Buddhists would eat vegetarian foods on the 1 and 15 of every month. You could also do it before or after a special ceremony. We will discuss more about the special dates and ceremonies in a later posts. But remember you shouldn’t do something because someone said it’s right, but rather because you have experienced it yourself. There is no right or wrong when you do everything with a heart of compassion and from with in.