The Dhamma and Veganism/Vegetarianism


I think this:

Four deeds.
(1) There are deeds that are dark with dark result.
(2) There are deeds that are bright with bright result.
(3) There are deeds that are dark and bright with dark and bright result.
(4) There are neither dark nor bright deeds with neither dark nor bright results, which lead to the end of deeds.

Self-avowed slaughtermen are interested in the first yet sometimes are lucky to find their way to the third.

When I decided to become a vegetarian, I affirmed my interest in the second yet found the outcome to be the third.

Now I am just interested in the fourth.

Was there much much more?

I’ve had the Impossible Burger several times. I actually don’t like it because it tastes…too much like meat. I used to like BBQ spareribs but now find the smell a bit nauseating, a wicked brew of scents. It was one of the unexepected outcomes of becoming a vegetarian. A delight turned into aversion. :see_no_evil:

Perhaps one day equanimity will take care of that as well.


Yes. That’s within that industry, but that industry sits within a larger system called the world, and the effects of that industry are porous. How does changes in that industry affect the world? Does it cause more harm or less harm? Are more animals killed or less? Over what period of time are we talking about? My contention is, no one knows.

One of my favourite chemists of all time is a guy called Thomas Midgley. He gave the world two things that we have all probably heard of. Lead in petrol to improve performance of the engine and CFCs in refrigerators which replaced the toxic gases that were then used. The long term results proved to be very disappointing. Lead poisoning (including increased homicide) and the hole in the ozone layer. I know! One man did both of those.

Let’s hope these new ‘improved’ processes that you talk about don’t have any unexpected negative side effects. Or even completely expected but deliberately hidden negative side effects, like lead in petrol. Let’s hope that they fix the problems without introducing new unexpected misery. :pray:


(0)There are deeds that are even darker with even darker result. :wink:


Yes, the spirit of the precepts and ethical path factors is important, and the underlying principle seems to be not causing harm, either to self or other.
And of course Right Intention emphasises harmlessness. So it’s not just about avoiding unskillful behaviour, it’s also about developing skillful behaviour. Right Effort in other words.


Let’s hope our interest and cultivation of the path yields through insight into what matters - the dependent origination of suffering - which in turn means we don’t stay around long enough to see where the samsara keeps on going… For we know that a circular trajectory has no beginning and no end those traveling through it only tend to go in circles! :sweat_smile:


Speaking for myself as well; animals make me happy and when I see them my instincts tell me that they should be loved and protected. I also see them as part of ‘all beings’ in ‘may all beings be well and happy’.

Before I went vegan, I did feel some dissonance between metta meditation and the steak on my plate. As a consumer in a 21st century capitalist economy, buying animal products doesn’t feel consistent with the wish that ‘all beings be happy’ to me.

However, going back to ancient India, it’s not necessarily more compassionate to starve than to buy a dead chicken from the market. It’s probably not more compassionate for the Sangha to exclude animal products if that endangers the survival of the Sangha and Buddhism in the long run.

IMO, the strongest reasons for veganism/vegetarianism is just that they are common sense reactions to the circumstances of the present, like climate change, health, animal life quality, etc.

Like, Buddhism doesn’t require us to be vegan or vegetarian. Buddhism also doesn’t require us to wear a seat belt when driving or to brush our teeth. We should still (try to) do these things though because they are good for us :slight_smile:


My relationship with cockroaches has evolved to vacuuming them up and emptying them into the outside dustbin. There, all their needs are met.

And I feel no need to eat them either.


If anything modern meat production has made meat consumption MORE ethical in the context of Buddhism, since now for sure an animal wasn’t killed specifically for Ariyas/Sekhas/Savakas.

And as the Buddha said, the Dhamma is timeless, not fashionable, so yes Buddhist ethics is “frozen in time” (as in what he taught then still applies today), it’s only the “degeneration of beings” according to the Buddha that fail to grasp the true purpose of dhamma and thus are unable to free themselves from samsara.

The Buddha could look back in time countless Aeons or Kappas, and multiple expansion and contractions of the universe, I am sure he saw the same technogical advancements and overpopulation we have today in multiple iterations of the universe.

To imply his wisdom (and by extension ethics) is fashionable and not timeless is to grossly doubt the Buddha.

The only clause that could help your argument (and I’m indifferent to each side) is that the Buddha said the more beings degenerate the more rules they need. That’s the only sutta support I see that could help your case squeeze vegetarianism into Buddhist ethics, but it’s still long stretch as who has the verified wisdom and authority to change the Vinaya?

And this is why vegetarianism will always remain a personal decision and not a Buddhist decision.


I think we know that the basic relevant precept is not killing, personally. In the higher training of sila vegetarianism will eventually become a concern, but not an absolute requirement, to abide by.

The path to enlightenment is difficult. It’s a wise to make it as lighter as possible. By taking yourself out of the wheel of rebirth you will save an entire planet worth of animals.


I don’t agree with this narrow interpretation of the first precept as not killing personally. With this logic it would be OK to pay a hit man to kill somebody on your behalf - clearly that would be unethical and harmful.
But apparently it is OK to pay somebody to kill and butcher an animal on your behalf? Hmmm.

More generally I don’t understand this legalistic approach to the precepts and ethical path factors, as if they are rules to be got round when it suits us, this focusing on the “letter of the law”, rather than on the spirit.
I don’t understand why Right Intention and metta are being consistently ignored by some posters in this discussion.
And talking of metta, note how this sutta on loving kindness describes “One who does not kill, nor cause others to kill.”


Well the Buddha said it was ‘allowable’ for some types of meat to be eaten and rejected Devadatta’s plea for vegetarianism, which tells me that ‘not causes others to kill’ is too broad as the basic standard. Anyone is welcome to go beyond that basic standard, in how their Right intention manifests. Nothing is imposed, beyond the basic standard, of the first precept - the first precept is not a rule, either. The first precept extended beyond what is required for the practice, is compassionate but not wise.


So with your logic, not hiring a hit-man is just optional? Not a basic ethical requirement? Compatible with Right Intention? Compatible with Buddhist practice generally?


Murder is a parajika. We are talking about eating meat - do you see an equivalence?!


You were arguing that the first precept only applies to killing personally. I am challenging that assumption with the hit-man example, which surely demonstrates that causing to kill is also a problem.
Again, I don’t get this narrow legalistic approach to the precepts and ethical path factors.


Hi Martin,
I do apologize but I don’t really understand what is the intention behind statements like these? Are you trying to convince people that eating meat is as bad as killing a living being? Have you ever reflected how many rodents and insects die on rice fields? Don’t those beings count? If we reflect deeply we know that almost everything we eat involves killing.
If you can be a vegetarian, great, but why have these divisive and very categorical statements, do they lead to harmony? Why can’t we respect each other and our choices we make in regards to eating meat? There is so much much more to our development of the path than being a vegetarian.
By the way, not everybody can be a vegetarian, some people can’t afford it (in the country I live, for example, to have a balanced vegetarian diet costs much more that having a simple non- vegetarian diet), and some people can seriously damage their health.

Much metta,


I admire vegetarianism (I’m not one yet, but at this point eat no meat most days). However, I think there’s a certain harm quotient or “kill count” associated with the production of almost all foods.

For example, for cereal crops like maize or soy or wheat, the land needs to be prepared and ploughed (killing insects and worms), defended from pests like insects, snails, rodents, small animals, birds (even with organic methods, e.g. introducing biological predators or cats for rodents, that involves some killing), and then harvesting with a certain kill count also (insects, small nesting birds, small animals etc.).

Raising cattle and other animals by using cereal crops as feed makes things far worse (inefficiently converting plant calories to meat calories – for beef IIRC the ratio is about 30 – and adding the extra animal suffering and death on top of the magnified crop kill count).

Things are a bit greyer for dairy raised on natural pasture (as happens in Ireland where the weather is mild enough that dairy cattle feed on grass for almost all of the year). Pesticides do not need to be used and there doesn’t have to be ploughing and harvesting (assuming grass isn’t cut for silage). There are some other cruelties involved in the process though (male calves can’t produce milk and often end up raised as bullocks for beef), calves are separated from their mothers, many modern breeds are inhumanely too optimized to produce large quantities of milk and cows are generally slaughtered at around 5 years old (could naturally live to around 20). Some of those cruelties could be reduced at some cost to efficiency (use less modern breeds, use sexed semen in breeding to mostly eliminate male calves, and at the cost of about a third of the milk allow calves to suckle for a few months). All that would probably drive up by two to three fold the cost of the milk. However, allowing cows to live 20 years instead of 5 would probably triple the cost again (AFAIA some dairies run by Hare Krisha in the UK do this). A single cow living for 5 years on grass usually produces more than enough milk for a single lacto vegetarian in their lifetime. That’s the associated kill count (a lot better than the multiple cows a typical human beef eater will consume over a lifetime I guess).

Something similar holds if you feed dairy cows straw from cereal crops or unused byproducts of plant crops. In terms of efficiency, the most optimal farming systems are mostly plant based with a small amount of animal rearing that uses up food waste and residues and byproducts like straw of cereal crops.

Producing eggs is possibly more easily made ethical than dairy. Egg sexing technology is becoming quite viable and starting to be used commercially (ensuring no male chicks are produced and discarded). If heritage breeds are used and living conditions are good and chickens allowed to live their full lifespan, it’s IMO pretty ethical. I actually have a workmate doing this in his back garden (using rescued battery hens). Usually, in commercial batteries, hens are killed after 2 or 3 years when egg production falls a bit. However, leaving hens live a natural lifespans isn’t as inefficient as for cattle (generally, it gradually trails off over years, with 7 or 8 year old hens often still producing something, just infrequently). Probably just doubles the inefficiency.

Meat does take a lot of land to produce whether directly via grazing or indirectly feeding animals cereal crops. Vegetarian diets (or mostly vegetarian diets) need a lot less land (all a bit pointless if left-over land is merely used to grow crops for biofuels). Potentially, if efficient enough, we could rewild some of the countryside. An interesting question is would that actually reduce suffering? Wild land would involve wild animals with some predators and more prey (deer and wolves or wildebeests and big cats etc.). Wild animals generally tend to live stressed and shorter lives (zoo animals almost always live much longer) with predators eventually starving when they can no longer hunt or prey animals ending their lives devoured by a predator or bunch of them (there are rare exceptions such as big animals like elephants with no natural predators). Life in the wild is no picnic. So, paradoxically, there may be more animal suffering going on in an area of wild land than cultivated land. In relative term, the life of a cow on pasture (if looked after humanely) probably is in many ways better (protected from predators, food and water easily available) than that of a wildebeest (death is more humane too).

So comparing the relative amount of suffering going on in the same area of cultivated cereal, farmed pastureland system or equivalent area of wild savannah/prairie would be interesting (am not sure if anyone has ever tried to do it in a scientific quantitative sense). I suspect option 3 would be worst. However, am not so sure how options 1 and 2 would fare in relative terms.



You may be interested in looking up harmful algae blooms caused by ammonia and crop fertilizers running off into the ocean and lakes and killing hundreds of thousands of fish.


The precepts are there for the purpose of awakening. Certain activities impede that process of awakening and hence refraining from these activities is recommended by the Buddha. I have never killed a human or hired an assassin. But I have killed animals and I have asked others to kill animals. If you take two animals of similar sizes and cognitive capabilities, the karmic repercussions between those two activities (killing the animal yourself or asking another to kill them) is huge. It really is. Honest.


While I don’t condone killing animals, and never killed an animal in my life, nor asked anyone to kill an animal for me, according to the velama sutta and others like it, the issue is “punching up” rather than punching down.

If you feed an ariya you will gain a lot of merit, same for harming an ariya, you will lose a lot of merit. If you feed or harm an animal, you will not get or lose much merit. Not that you shouldn’t feed animals, it’s still beneficial.

“I tell you, Vaccha, even if a person throws the rinsings of a bowl or a cup into a village pool or pond, thinking, ‘May whatever animals live here feed on this,’ that would be a source of merit, to say nothing of what is given to human beings. But I do say that what is given to a virtuous person is of great fruit, and not so much what is given to an unvirtuous person.”


@rudite Well said! Using Dhamma to wrongly shame meat-eaters will always be counterproductive, and not very compassionate or inclusive. The language vegetarians use (at least in this forum) to describe meat-eaters is indeed highly divisive and disturbing, by morally equating meat-eating with actual killing.

Let us give loving-kindness, open arms, and understanding to all Buddhists–vegans, vegetarians, meat-eaters–and indeed, let us extend metta to everyone struggling to live a decent and moral life in samsara as best they can.

Let us not judge a person’s moral worth by what they eat; let us not equate their diet as a mortal sin.

Let us welcome and embrace the diversity of fellow Buddhists represented in this forum. Let us celebrate all our quirky, weird, and colorful differences, making it possible to learn from each other.

Let us also celebrate this amazing journey, this sublime experience of walking the Middle Way shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, heart to heart, together as allies and friends despite all our differences. In the end, we are searching and striving for the same one goal–Liberation.

Let us see ourselves in others, and let us make living in samsara a bit easier by kindly welcoming anyone and everyone to take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha.