How should a Buddhist country feed itself?

So your argument is that killing animals for food is OK because it’s difficult to avoid killing insects in the process of growing crops? That the first precept means we shouldn’t try to minimise the harm we do?
Sorry, but this sounds more like an attempt to rationalise meat eating than an argument based on the precepts.


The purpose of the precepts and the virtue training is to liberate the mind, they’re a means to an end and not an end in themselves. The dhamma is not a socio-economic system, and not meant to be used as one. Any government that would use the dhamma as a socio economic system would go extinct. The chinese government would take all your resources, just like they steal fish from Argentina’s waters because they already depleted their own.

Also, the human brain developed on animal fat, without animal fat we wouldn’t have gotten to this point in evolution.

In short, man has evolved on meat through millions of years of evolution. In fact, our brains have started shrinking due to fat deprivation. All mammals actually eat a high fat diet, ruminant animals are able to convert plant matter into fat. Gorillas have bacteria that convert fiber into fat with their long intestines. Carnviores don’t have four stomachs or long intestines to convert plant matter into fat, and neither do we, we must eat fat directly.

Furthermore all living things have the instinct to live. Plants have a defense mechanism, they use poison like caffeine and other toxins. Small insects also use poison, while larger animals use claws and teeth. Man prioritized fish as a food source over large game which is dangerous through claws and teeth, or plants and insects which are dangerous through poison. I’m sure you heard of Chris McCandles who tried to live on his own off the land but made a mistake and ate a poison plant that looked similar to an edible plant, and died because of it. There’s a reason all civilizations are built on a water source, like river or ocean port.

Another important point, early man migrated all over the world by following animal herd migrations, this is why native populations lived in portable homes, they never stayed in one place, as their diet was mainly dependent on animal herds. So if you’re not near an animal herd or a river bank to catch fish (and build a civilization), you’re going to starve to death like Chris McCandless. To stay in one spot for a long period requires a water source with food in it.

He put forward the proposal that McCandless starved to death because he was suffering from paralysis in his legs induced by lathyrism, which prevented him from gathering food or hiking.[33] Lathyrism may be caused by oxalyldiaminopropionic acid (ODAP) poisoning from seeds of Hedysarum alpinum (commonly called wild potato). The ODAP, a toxic amino acid, had not been detected by Clausen’s previous studies of the seeds because he had suspected and tested for a toxic alkaloid, rather than an amino acid, as no scientist had previously suspected that Hedysarum alpinum seeds contained this toxin. The protein would be relatively harmless to someone who was well-nourished, with access to a normal diet, but would be toxic to someone who was malnourished, physically stressed, and on an irregular and insufficient diet, as McCandless was

Humans are primarily hunters, with “gathering” as a supplement, with plant poisons having little effect when you’re well fed by animal fat.

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So the purpose of the precepts is only to liberate the mind? Do the suttas actually support that view?

Yes, the purpose of wholesome conduct is to gladden the mind.

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Savatthi in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. Then Ven. Ananda went to the Blessed One and on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One: “What is the purpose of skillful virtues? What is their reward?”

“Skillful virtues have freedom from remorse as their purpose, Ananda, and freedom from remorse as their reward.”

“And what is the purpose of freedom from remorse? What is its reward?”

“Freedom from remorse has joy as its purpose, joy as its reward.”

“And what is the purpose of joy? What is its reward?”

“Joy has rapture as its purpose, rapture as its reward.”

“And what is the purpose of rapture? What is its reward?”

sutta continues until liberation

In this way, Ananda, skillful virtues lead step-by-step to the consummation of arahantship."

virtue → concentration → knowledge

A common formula in the suttas is “Perfect virtue leading to concentration”

and “Not content with those virtues pleasing to the noble ones”

Furthermore, the disciple of the noble ones is endowed with unwavering confidence in the Dhamma… unwavering confidence in the Sangha… virtues that are appealing to the noble ones: untorn, unbroken, unspotted, unsplattered, liberating, praised by the wise, untarnished, leading to concentration. Not content with those virtues pleasing to the noble ones, he exerts himself further in solitude by day or seclusion by night. For him, living thus heedfully, joy arises. In one who has joy, rapture arises. In one who has rapture, the body becomes serene. When the body is serene, one feels pleasure. Feeling pleasure, the mind becomes concentrated. When the mind is concentrated, phenomena become manifest. When phenomena are manifest, he is reckoned as one who dwells heedfully."

So the purpose of the Metta Sutta (Snp 1.8) is only to gladden the mind?
And the purpose of developing harmlessness (Right Intention) is only to gladden the mind?

Yes, the purpose of the dhamma is to end suffering for oneself. Gladdening the mind is a step in that process which is the result of concentration.

The dhamma’s purpose is certainly not for controlling others in order to obtain some unrealistic world peace. If it were, the Buddha’s natural inclination would have been to teach the dhamma, not go into seclusion, until Brahma begged him to teach.

The purpose of metta is to overcome one the 5 hindrances, which obstructs one from knowledge of liberation.

Bhikkhus, there are these five obstructions, hindrances, encumbrances of the mind, states that weaken wisdom.

But, bhikkhus, having abandoned these five obstructions, hindrances, encumbrances of the mind, states that weaken wisdom, it is possible that a bhikkhu, with his powerful wisdom, might know his own good, the good of others, and the good of both, and realize a superhuman distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones. Suppose a river were flowing down from a mountain, traveling a long distance, with a swift current, carrying along much flotsam. Then a man would close up the irrigation channels on both of its banks. In such a case, the current in the middle of the river would not be dispersed, spread out, and divided, so that the river could travel a long distance, with a swift current, carrying along much flotsam. So too, having abandoned these five obstructions … it is possible that a bhikkhu … might realize a superhuman distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones.”

When asked how the Buddha “saves the world” he answered by meditating in seclusion. Why? because without overcoming the 5 hindrances for yourself you cannot attain knowledge, thus it isn’t the blind leading the blind.


I went vegetarian in 1984, for Hindu reasons. But… almost every lay Buddhist I know eats meat. I am not one to judge what others eat.


My two cents on this subject is to remember that the precepts are not injunctions, or “sins,” but are training rules. On the path of training, we cultivate the best intentions and actions possible. We appreciate that our intentions and actions are kamma. This kamma has effects, or outcomes, that we must be mindful of.

Among the animal realm, it might be argued that there are higher and lower forms of animals. In preparing a field to grow vegetables, we know there are worms and beetles etc. killed, incidental to the cultivation of the field. If we are hunting or harvesting animals, we are actively seeking and killing a higher animal form, such as beef cattle or pigs (both highly sentient). In my view, the killing of these animals involves a brighter and darker form of kamma; but, it is all kamma. We can all do better than buying beef at the market and eating it, but for many, eating meat protein is either necessary or a dietary need.

So, per the OP, how should a Buddhist country feed itself? I guess the answer is “mindfully.” Mindful of the effects of the suffering of animals (of higher and lower sentience), and the kamma of killing them. Mindful that when possible a lesser harm can be chosen.

As for Thailand, I live there part of the year. It is a Buddhist country, but meat such as chicken, fish and pork is commonly eaten. Never in my life would I have wanted to be part of harvesting an animal, but here I am with my stepdaughter in her Mom’s Lisu village at the Thai-Burma border, carrying a mountain black pig in a bag. The pig was later harvested for food for the Lisu celebration that evening, and the head offered to “Apamo,” the god that protects the Lisu people and their village.

I’m not sure of the kammic effect that I inherited by this act, but who I am to insert my intentions onto the these beautiful and warm people? All in all, with all of our actions and intentions, we can only do our best, and be mindful of the causes and conditions of bright, gray, and dark kamma.


It’s not about “judging”, it’s about asking whether buying meat is consistent with Buddhist ethics.

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Thanks for all the replies. They were all very helpful.

I think this pretty much answers my initial question. Killing is indeed unwholesome, independently of whether it’s cattle or insects. This seems to be a sad truth: living according to Buddhist precepts requires the existence of other people to break the precepts and generate bad kamma. This reminds me of something I’ve read in some of Venerable Thanissaro’s books: after recognizing that our existence always puts a burden on the beings that need to die for our diet, we should work even harder for awakening. Getting free from samsara is a relief for both ourselves and others.


Perhaps it’s already been pointed out, but there is a big difference between modern industrial-scale farming of animals and a more subsistence style, where the animals are not particularly contained and live on largely scraps (e.g. pigs and poultry), or grasses, etc (often on land that is not suitable for crops in any case). Or they might be simply hunted. In those cases, there isn’t the destruction of forests and other habitats, poisoning of insects, restrictions of animals to cages, or, in fact, much mistreatment of the animals, apart from killing them when required for food, of course. Even now you can see a little of this. For example, how in the countryside chickens and other animals can efficiently dispose of scraps. I’ve helped clean up after markets in rural Thailand, and we would pick up the plastics and paper, but there was no point in picking up food scraps - they’d be gone in a few hours.

The point is that industrial farming is very different from subsistence-level farming, and quite different calculations about environmental impact, and number of beings killed, may apply.