How should a Buddhist country feed itself?

Since the first precept is not to kill, how would people get meat? Would a society made of Buddhist lay followers necessarily depend on either non-Buddhists or Buddhists who break the precepts? Did the Buddha say anything about this seeming contradiction? Even if one thinks that buying meat does not generate bad kamma, since the intention of killing didn’t come from you, it still sounds odd that a good Buddhist would always rely on someone else who is willing to get the bad kamma.

Btw, today veganism is quite practical in some countries, but I’m looking for an EBT answer.

Unfortunately, you’re not going to find one because Buddhism was a minority religion in India at the time of the EBTs. The question of what to do when Buddhists make up the vast majority of the population wasn’t really relevant until many centuries later, so the best you’ll get is extrapolation.


It seems how people acquire food is largely dependent upon local climate & geography and also technology therefore if there was an EBT answer, it may only apply to the time & location when the Buddha was alive.

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The causation of meat eating, right on from the start of the universe is described in DN27. Meat eating appears only at serial no 13 once the circle of workers appears, who live by hunting and menial tasks (such as actively tilling the fields, which harms insects etc in the soil). Prior to the appearance of this class, beings are said to have lived by gathering/sharing whatever could be found growing naturally in their self - allocated fields.

An entire country could radically embrace Buddhist principles, but it would not be capable of supporting a very large human population (assuming it was not conquered by its likely- to be- quite- violent non-buddhist neighbours).

There is no such thing as a business without customers.

Sutta: Wrong Livliehood

AN 5.177

“Monks, a lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five?

  1. Business in weapons
  2. business in human beings,
  3. business in meat,
  4. business in intoxicants,
  5. business in poison.

“These are the five types of business that a lay follower should not engage in.”

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This is just a random article I found when Bhutan came to mind after reading your question, but I think it’s relevant: How to Survive as Vegan in Bhutan? — Young Pioneer Tours

Therefore vegetarianism or veganism are far from alien concepts. In fact, vegetarianism in Bhutan is so entrenched that there are no slaughterhouses in the whole country.


Yes, buying meat supports an industry where people break the first precept and do wrong livelihood.


Wouldn’t a vegetarian or vegan diet involve killing insects?

You’d kill a lot more insects growing grain to feed cattle.


But insects are intentionally killed in the vegetarian and vegan industry, no?

Yes, but so does raising the livestock feed to produce meat. Veg*n diets would require far less feed crops to be grown, thus killing far fewer insects.


I would say “no”. Insects are killed as a side effect of harvesting machinery and the use of insecticides to protect crops. People set out with the intention of killing cows, pigs, chickens, fish, etc.

It’s my understanding that the 1st precept isn’t about killing the least amount of beings. If they are spraying pesticide then they are intending to kill animals. According to the argument presented about, eating a vegan or vegetarian diet would be unwholesome. You could of course grow the food yourself, but I don’t see how that’s practical for a whole nation.

I should say, I take a more Theravadin view on this matter. My issue is with the argument given.

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@Ceisiwr Some points to consider:

  1. Even if you hand grew all of your food in a garden, you will still kill living things.
  2. The Buddha made the 1st precept and endorsed the sangha accepting meat being included in alms food.

Given #1 & #2 as well as some acknowledgements in the suttas that a person couldn’t live without the deaths of others I think the Buddha cared about preserving life when possible.

Given the choice between killing billions of animals a year and however many insects, I think a person who genuinely cares about living things would gladly take the option of only having to kill a reduced number of insects and no animals.

Additionally, the U.N. has a report stating that livestock production contributes more to the greenhouse effect than transportation.


You are missing the point. My issue was with the argument.

Given the choice between killing billions of animals a year and however many insects, I think a person who genuinely cares about living things would gladly take the option of only having to kill a reduced number of insects and no animals.

Insects are animals.

So are fish, yet people think “vegetarian” means “willing to eat fish”. Thank you for pointing out that insects are animals. I used “insect” to avoid confusion with livestock animals.

Yes, that’s quite a common misunderstanding.

Exactly. The point/fact is that more (billions) are killed in animal agriculture. More insects, plus the animals used as food.

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Killing insects is the entire point of pesticides (thus the name). So it seems that the killing takes place no matter what. Unless your point is that one life is more important than another… That would be a different debate.

Large scale farming, which is required to feed our ever growing population, is going to kill billions of animals (of various sizes). You can try and grow your own food, and kill as few pests as possible, but I doubt you can feed almost 8 billion people farming like that.

For the original question - look at Thailand. They are about 90% Buddhists, and meat is very common in their diet. Back in the US I had a Buddhist girlfriend from Thailand, when I asked her why she ate meat she looked confused, and said she never heard of any prohibition against meat. As she said, even the Buddha ate meat.

Every country seems to have their own interpretation of Buddhism…


Yes, feeding grain to cattle and then killing the cattle is a very inefficient way of producing food for humans. It involves growing a lot more grain, and therefore killing a lot more insects, etc.