The Buddha - and other ascetics of his time - were vegetarian. During the Buddha’s lifetime there were few Vinaya rules. The Buddha would formulate a new rule if and when it was necessary to do so. Many monks today justify meat eating on the basis that the Vinaya allows monks to eat whatever is offered to him so long as he played no part in the killing of an animal. But as we know most of the Vinaya rules were added much later. So I was quite surprised to hear Bhikkhu Bodhi saying that it was OK to eat meat; he was following on from a claim by someone else that as a bhikkhu is a beggar so he cannot pick and chose what to eat. But meat is bought from supermarkets, butchers shops and wet markets. they in turn buy meat from slaughterhouses. And they in turn buy from farmers who breed the animals. If this chain of causation is to be ended then the lay people could end the whole thing buy not buying the meat. If they did so then the shops and markets would not be able to sell the meat. This in turn would put the slaughterhouses out of business. As animal farmers would not be able to sell animals to slaughter houses this whole ugly business would end. My question is then when were such rules made that allowed monks to eat whatever was placed in their bowls? How long after the Buddha’s time were the exceptions made allowing a monk to eat whatever he was offered?
This is not true of the Buddha.
Bhante, please let the Blessed One together with the Saṅgha of bhikkhus accept tomorrow’s meal from me.”
The Blessed One consented by silence. Having understood that the Blessed One had consented, Sīha rose from his seat, paid homage to the Blessed One, circumambulated him keeping the right side toward him, and departed. Then Sīha addressed a man: “Go, good man, find some meat ready for sale.”
Then, when the night had passed, Sīha the general had various kinds of excellent foods prepared in his own residence, after which he had the time announced to the Blessed One: “It is time, Bhante, the meal is ready.”
and the Buddha’s last meal…
Then with the passing of that night, Cunda the smith, in his own residence, having had excellent comestibles and edibles made ready, and an abundance of tender pork, had the time accounced to the Gracious One, saying: “It is time, reverend Sir, the meal is ready.”
Then the Gracious One, having dressed in the morning time, after picking up his bowl and robe, together with the Community of monks, went to Cunda the smith’s residence, and after going, he sat down on the prepared seat. Having sat down the Gracious One addressed Cunda the smith, saying: “Serve me with the tender pork you have prepared, Cunda, but serve the Community of monks with the other comestibles and edibles which have been prepared.
The demand to be vegetarian was that of Devadutta…
At that time Devadatta went to see Kokālika, Kaṭamodakatissaka, Khaṇḍadeviyā-putta, and Samuddadatta, and he said to them, “Come, let’s create a schism in the Order of the ascetic Gotama, a break in transmission.”
Kokālika said to Devadatta, “The ascetic Gotama has great supernormal powers. How can we do this?”
“Well, let’s go to the ascetic Gotama and request five things: ‘Venerable Sir, in many ways the Master praises fewness of wishes, contentment, erasing of defilements, ascetic practices, being inspiring, reduction in things, and being energetic. And there are five things that lead to just that. It would be good, Venerable Sir:
- If the monks were stayed in the wilderness for life, and whoever stays near a village would commit an offense
- If they were alms-collectors for life, and whoever accepts an invitation would commit an offense
- If they were rag-robe wearers for life,
and whoever accepts a robe from a lay person would commit an offense
- If they dwelt at the foot of a tree for life, and whoever takes shelter would commit an offense
- If they did not eat fish or meat for life, and whoever does would commit an offense.’
The ascetic Gotama won’t allow this. We’ll then be able to win people over with these five points.”
Its a matter of choice - whose path do you want to follow… The Buddha’s or Devadatta’s ?
I didn’t know this. How do we know?
Actually what the Buddha was served was not pork. Nobody knows what that part of the meal was as no one knows how to translate the Pali words which comes out as ‘pig’s delight’. Pig’s delight would have hardly have been pork as pigs are not known to eat each other. Many people think that it was some kind of truffle; as pigs enjoy eating them and - although they grow below ground - they have the ability to sense them out and so forage for them.
Also the Buddha taught alongside the Jain teacher Mahavira. The latter was always looking for ways to fault the Buddha as he was jealous of the large following that Buddha had garnered. Jains are strictly vegetarian. if Buddha had eaten meat that would have been Mahavira’s golden opportunity. We can imagine Mahavira strongly denouncing the Buddha as some kind of false ascetic.
Of course they did! But the Jains had no solid doctrine, so everyone saw their attack for what it was… a slander of the Buddha’s character.
Now at that time many Jain ascetics in Vesālī went from street to street and square to square, calling out with raised arms: “Today General Sīha has slaughtered a fat calf for the ascetic Gotama’s meal. The ascetic Gotama knowingly eats meat prepared specially for him: this is a deed he caused.”
To which the Buddha gave a fitting reply
Jīvaka, those who speak thus: ‘They kill living creatures on purpose for the recluse Gotama, and the recluse Gotama knowingly makes use of meat killed on purpose and specially provided for him’, these are not quoting my own words, but are misrepresenting me with what is not true, with what is not fact. I, Jīvaka, say that in three cases meat may not be used: if it is seen, heard, suspected (to have been killed on purpose for a monk). In these three cases I, Jīvaka, say that meat may not be used. But I, Jīvaka, say that in three cases meat may be used: if it is not seen, heard, suspected (to have been killed on purpose for a monk). In these three cases I, Jīvaka, say that meat may be used.
Here is Ven Kassapa’s answer to the question of eating meat and character…
No carrion-stench is mine”, you say like this,
that it does not apply to you, O Brahma-kin—
while eating sālī-rice, all other things
with flesh of fowls so very well prepared;
the meaning of this, O Kassapa, I ask:
Your food, what sort of carrion-stench it has?
Taking life, torture, mutilation too,
binding, stealing, telling lies, and fraud;
deceit, adultery, and studying crooked views:
this is carrion-stench, not the eating of meat.
Even the previous Buddha Vipassi consumed meat… as attested by the Arahant Dverataniya Thera…
I was a deer-hunter back then,
within a grove in the forest.
I saw the Buddha, Stainless One,
I then gave a piece of meat to
Vipassi Buddha, the Great Sage.
I exercised overlordship
in the world including its gods.
Because of giving meat back then,
gems came into being for me.
I had two jewels in this world
for attainment of worldly things.
I am enjoying everything
as the profit of a meat-gift.
The idea that one could end the Suffering of one set of beings in Samsara through Volitional Acts (viz banning meat eating) aimed at yet other beings is deeply flawed IMO.
The Buddha was not vegetarian he taught the middle way, which in the conditions of the time meant it was not wise from a nutritional standpoint to prohibit meat for most people. The situation today with refrigeration, medical knowledge etc makes vegetarianism more accessible. The dhamma and the character of the Buddha himself is realistic not idealistic, for example dealing with removal of suffering and the cycle of impermanence. The Buddha’s stated position is found in MN 55 (above), where it’s said it’s permissible to eat meat provided it’s not killed specifically for the monk.
The Buddha’s main focus with food is that it should be eaten with the attitude of sustenance to support the body in the task of removal of the fetters:
(The parents eat the human flesh of the son):
“What do you think, O monks? Will they eat the food for the pleasure of it, for enjoyment, for comeliness’ sake, for (the body’s) embellishment?”
“Certainly not, O Lord.”
“Will they not rather eat the food merely for the sake of crossing the desert?”
“So it is, O Lord.”
“In the same manner, I say, O monks, should edible food be considered. If, O monks, the nutriment edible food is comprehended, the lust for the five sense-objects is (thereby) comprehended. And if lust for the five sense-objects is comprehended, there is no fetter enchained by which a noble disciple might come to this world again.”—SN 12.63
This points out that all sense experience should be treated like food, not abandoned but also not a cause of lust arising, a middle way.
Although this argument is often used to show how vegetarianism will stop killing of animals, it is not actually valid since animals are not slaughtered just for human food but also for other animals or even for medicine, the list it’s long. Furthermore farming for vegetable involves the killing of many other species.
As far as kamma is concerned, kamma is not transferable, in other words it is only linked to your actual actions as Buddha clearly stated in the Upajjhatthana Sutta: Subjects for Contemplation:
"'I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir.” …
Hence the kamma of those whom slaughter the animals cannot be adduced to those whom eat the meat after the animal is killed as long as it is not killed exactly for you.
For instance. I have rescued a domesticated python. Pythons cannot be vegetarian. I feed them frozen mice that I buy from the pet shop. I am not responsible for the death of those mice. I am not even responsible that the very nature of the snake is such that it needs meat.
Albeit in a 100% Buddhist world we will be vegetarian this is just an utopian view.
Meat will always be available for a reason or another and the interesting and sad thing is that you as human will be always indirectly responsible for the death of some other sentient beings.
Hence the Buddha was clear that intention in the mind was the main factor for kamma as we can read in the first verse of the Dhammapada that refers to the famous story of the blind arhat stepping on ants while doing walking meditation;
All mental phenomena have mind as their forerunner; they have mind as their chief; they are mind-made
Every year, humans raise and kill 50 BILLION chickens alone. 30-100 BILLION fish are produced and killed in commercial farms. These are animals that were purely created by humans, for humans to eat.
Putting aside other uses of animals, that’s a lot of beings that humans have directly raised to eat who would not be born in that form otherwise.
I’m not here to tell anyone what to eat, but I personally was stunned by those numbers so thought it worth sharing.
Thanks Paul for your reply. May you be well, happy and peaceful.
I’m confused by this and would love a Sutta to clarify.
It sounds like what you’re saying that buying meat doesn’t come with bad kamma. This doesn’t make sense to me. Buying meat seems like asking someone to kill for me, and I thought that was explicitly not ok?
If that was ok it seems like it would be ok to pay someone to exterminate termites at my house or ask my husband to kill the ants. I believe I heard a live talk by Ajahn Geoff that explicitly said this was not ok.
I get that if you are begging for food you don’t have control but isn’t it different if you’re choosing what to eat (and therefore who dies) with money?
I shared the same opinion and became a vegetarian about 10 years ago. Unfortunately, things did not go as well as I hoped because I developed a couple of ailments one of which still lingers on. The first is directly related to a deficiency of B12 vitamin and I was advised to take a B12 injection once a month. I continued it for over three years.
My second ailment is still undiagnosed but there is a reasonable likelihood that it too is caused by lack of B12. Although I ate vegetarian food rich in B12, unfortunately it did not work for me. And I know there are others who have developed similar complications due to converting to vegetarianism just like me. However, this situation may be different from person to person and may be influenced by various other factors as well. BTW even B12 is made from Pig’s meat.
There are various arguments as to the Buddha’s rationale for prohibiting killing and not prohibiting eating what is killed. The most appropriate rationale seems to be the fact that monks depend on food they collect from alms rounds and they are not in a position to pick and choose what they eat. But for me personally the Buddha’s rationale goes beyond that.
All living beings have been roaming in Samsara since beginningless times. We are not an exception. In this long journey we all have been born as animals too. Animals except those born as herbivores need flesh of other animals to survive. Even humans have been accustomed to eating meat ever since they have been in existence. I think due to the fact that we have been transmigrating in Samsara while just changing our form from human to animal and animal to human our genes have got so conditioned that we cannot completely give up meat without experiencing health related problems.
I think the Buddha understood this situation and that is why he did not prohibit eating meat. The Buddha however offered us a solution and that is the Noble Eight Fold Path which we all can undertake having realized the suffering associated with continued existence wherein one needs the flesh of other living beings to survive.
Yes you have to have knowledge of nutrition to be vegetarian. B12 is not available from any plant source so supplements or foods fortified with B12 have to be included in the diet. A further consideration is getting all the essential amino acids which play a role in the major functions of the body. Animal protein contains ‘complete protein’ with all the amino acids, but to obtain it from vegetarian sources requires eating a range of foods.
Not sure if this is what you meant, but afaik the Kassapa quoted in Snp2.2 is actually the previous Buddha Kassapa
MN55 clarifies the Buddha’s position on the kamma of eating meat.
Without digressing too far off-topic, I’d like to point out that Kamma is the baked-in-the-cake result of intentional action on the doer. The kind of Kamma generated depends on the initial mental factors of the person, the intention behind the act and the kind of action actually consummated within the given circumstances.
For example, if we consider the act of eating meat, this could happen in different ways.
A monk rises from his morning meditation and goes on alms round, desiring nourishment to last out the day. A householder puts a bit of meat into the bowl, the monk eats it mindfully, without relishing it, thinking “This will serve to maintain the aggregates for the next 24 hours”. Later, he uses the energy obtained to give a Dhamma Talk.
A person goes to the supermarket, desiring food to feed their family. They see that frozen meat is on sale. They buy this meat, cook it and eat it, thinking of watching the next episode of the Kardashians. Later they use the energy to fight with their neighbor.
A person goes to the fresh meat market, desiring food to feed the family. They select a live chicken, prodding it to check for plumpness and pay and wait while the butcher slaughters it for them. They then eat this meat thinking of politics. Later, they use the energy to lobby online for their government to launch an all out civil war against the opposition ‘traitors’.
A person goes to the woods with their rifle. They spend time and effort, tracking the deer. Finally, they sight their prey, position themselves upwind, aim through their telescopic lens and shoot to kill. They skin the animal and eat its flesh thinking of how much they will enjoy showing off the stuffed head as a trophy to their friends. Later, they use the energy to do their day job, piloting drones, meting out ‘justice’ over Iraq.
Do you see the difference in the Kamma patterns generated?
Thanks a lot for your reply. I am sorry for the confusion. As a monk I was only reffering to the kamma vipaka generated by monks who eat the meat knowing that an animal has been slaughtered to provide for them. For whichever way you look at it, the monk is complicit in the killing by intentionally eating the meat.
Very good essay here (in my opinion):
“As well as broadening ethics in this way, I would suggest we should deepen it. Ethics is not just what is allowable. Sure, you can argue that eating meat is allowable. You can get away with it. That doesn’t mean that it’s a good thing. What if we ask, not what can I get away with, but what can I aspire to?”
Thank you for taking the time out to reply to my question. I have left a comment on Phra Ajahn Sujato’s blog. It is now awaiting approval. My reply was this:
I would speculate that most - if not all - ascetics in the Buddha’s time would have been vegetarian; and so lay people would not have offered meat for them to eat, (And even today, according to government surveys, 23 to 37 per cent of Indians are estimated to be vegetarian),
Also Uddaka Rāmaputta (Pāli; Sanskrit: Udraka Rāmaputra) was a sage and teacher of meditation identified by the Buddhist tradition as one of the teachers of Gautama Buddha. He most probably was a Jain who are strictly vegetarian.
The issues surrounding the identities and historical dating of the Jain teachers Nigantha Nātaputta and Mahavira are confusing: Were they the same person? Were they contemporaries of the Buddha? These questions are somewhat off topic here. But what is without doubt is that Buddha did have Jain critics. Some were eager to fault the Buddha if only because they were jealous of the large following that Buddha had acquired: They were ever ready to find the slightest flaw in his behaviour and teachings. If the Buddha had eaten meat or even condoned it, they would have seized the opportunity to denounce him as a false or fraudulent ascetic. But they were never able to do that. This shows me that the Buddha did not eat, nor approve of eating, meat.
Thank you once again and bless you.
Ajivikas , are different than Jains. It is one of the school of philosophy purportedly founded in the 5th century BCE by [Makkhali Gosala .They are not Jains.Ājīvikas were organised renunciates who formed discrete communities. The precise identity of the Ajivikas is not well known, and it is even unclear if they were a divergent sect of the Buddhists or the Jains.
Original scriptures of the Ājīvika school of philosophy may once have existed, but these are currently unavailable and probably lost. Their theories are extracted from mentions of Ajivikas in the secondary sources of ancient Indian literature.Scholars question whether Ājīvika philosophy has been fairly and completely summarized in these secondary sources, as they were written by groups (such as the Buddhists and Jains) competing with and adversarial to the philosophy and religious practices of the Ajivikas.
Nignantha Nattaputta was an Ajjivika and not same as Mahavira.
The supply-and-demand argument works better when considering reduction (of killing) rather than elimination (of killing). Makes me think of Buddha’s 4th taxi off the rank in MN20 which I take to mean ‘if I can’t yet fully eradicate [something like killing animals], at least slow it down, take a partial win, choose the lesser of two evils’.
They also cannot be uncool.