Most if not all Buddhists I know are vegetarian or vegan. Thinking about the precepts this is not surprising - one should abstain from killing. However is this universally true in all Buddhist traditions? Are there some Buddhist traditions that emphasize vegetarianism more than others? For instance I believe the Tibetans were originally pastoral farmers which wouldn't lend itself to vegetarianism naturally.

So is Buddhist vegetarianism universal, specific to tradition or culture, or a lot more flexible than that?

  • 2
    No, they are not. However if you want to read a wonderful book on this very topic, please check out "The Great Compassion: Buddhism and Animal Rights" by Norm Phelps.
    – JD.
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 20:05
  • Buddha said "If there is a dead body, it can be eaten", it does not mean to kill, but over the time language changes, people changes.
    – Ritesh.mlk
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 11:48

14 Answers 14


Very much not the case, so long as you don't engage in a No true Scotsman fallacy and say that they aren't really Buddhists unless they are also vegetarian.

In some traditions it is common for a begging monk to eat whatever is put in their offering bowl, mixing it together first (see the interview with Achaan Chaa in Living Dharma).

For laypeople the provision is against engaging in the business of meat as it says in Vanijja Sutta, AN 5:177:

"Monks, a lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison.

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

There's little that I am aware of, at least from the Pali Canon, that addresses meat eating for laypeople. Even monks get a pass in some circumstances on this as well, as it says in The Bhikkhus' Rules: A Guide for Laypeople:

The Buddha did allow bhikkhus to eat meat and fish[88] except under the following circumstances:

If a bhikkhu sees, hears or suspects that it has been killed for him, he may not eat it.[89] (M.I,369)

This is clarified with footnote 90 with the following cited quote:

The flesh of animals which have been slaughtered to sell as meat for the people, however, is called 'flesh which exists already.' [It] has been slaughtered for their meat to be used for food by one person or by a group of people, apart from fellow Dhamma friends, or specially for the butcher himself… If people cook such meat and offer it to a bhikkhu, [it] will not be an offence to accept and eat it.

Citing The Entrance to the Vinaya, (Vinayamukha), volume 2, pages 131—133.

It should be emphasized that these are predominantly guidelines for monks, not for lay practitioners.

This gets further modified depending on the specific tradition. His Holiness 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, simply try to lessen the amount of impact or the amount of meat eaten, and I have seen quite a few Vajrayana practitioners eat meat.

Many other sects have de-emphasized the need for vegetarianism depending on the local conditions and the history of that specific sect.

Basically: Even among monks the following of vegetarianism is not absolute and it isn't even clear that restrictions on that order exist for lay followers in a lot of different Buddhist traditions.

  • 6
    It looks like a Buddhist should not himself kill & prepare the meat nor should he have an animal killed & cooked just for him. If it was killed & cooked for someone else and was offered to him, it is okay to eat. In today's case, every meat we eat in restaurants wasn't exclusively prepared for us. So we can eat it. Seems more like an excuse to eat meat than anything rational.
    – Bharat
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 19:51
  • That is roughly the justification I've seen many Buddhists use, but it depends on tradition the exact nature of it. For example, Ganachakra (Tantric feasts) can involve eating meat and drinking alcohol, though as the expression goes "you drink because of the ritual, you don't do the ritual to drink."
    – Hrafn
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 20:27
  • While I think there's a lot of interesting substance to this discussion, it would be best if it moved to chat.
    – Hrafn
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 20:48

Among my own school (Nyingma from Tibetan Buddhism), encouraging vegetarianism is a relatively recent trend, mostly grounded on the teachings of Patrul Rinpoche, who lived in the 19th century and was a vegetarian. Still, the main reason for encouraging his students to become vegetarians was mostly because he was often horrified at how teachers and self-proclaimed 'great practitioners' spent all their time gobbling meat. His descriptions on The Words of My Perfect Teacher are quite vivid and graphical — bordering on 'gore'. He certainly pointed that as one of the worst possible examples to set for others to follow — being more worried about one's next (meat) meal instead of worrying about one's practice. So the focus was set much less on 'vegetarianism' (as a form of ideology as it is popular today) but more in 'don't worry so much with your food; worry instead about your practice'.

Tibetans, in their vast majority, are not vegetarian — because you simply cannot grow many vegetables in the vast frigid plains of Tibet (technically 'deserts'), but the naturally-growing grass there would lend itself to raising goats. Nevertheless, because of the strong influence that many Mahayana schools have world-wide (specially Zen), which are more strict about vegetarianism, many leading Vajrayana teachers are slowly becoming vegetarians and encouraging their students to do the same. Again, the focus is not strictly about 'eating killed animals' (although that is certainly one of the strong arguments in favour as well), but much more about 'worrying about the practice, not about tasty meals'.

HH the Dalai Lama, for example, has a medical condition that disallows him to be a strict vegetarian. Nevertheless, he attempted at least twice to become one — finding more important to abstain from meat than to worry about his own health — with the consequence of almost dying from that. So his doctor currently forces him to continue to eat meat with some regularity, which he grudgingly does, against his wishes — because he also understands that keeping his health in order to teach and help more people during a longer period is more important than following a strict vegetarian diet just because vegetarianism is popular as an ideology and as a precept to refrain from getting more animals killed (I understand that he has been reducing his meat consumption to a bare minimum, at levels that don't interfere with his health).

The issue is really very complex. Among my main five teachers, two are strict vegetarians (one of them since birth, for cultural reasons — he was born in India in a region where vegetarianism is the norm. The other made a decision to become a vegetarian, following Patrul Rinpoche's guidelines). Two others are 'strict carnivores' — they refuse to eat anything with vegetables in it (seriously!), which is always a reason for plenty of laughing when someone tries to offer them some vegetarian dish. And a fifth one, probably my main teacher, is often a vegetarian for several years, then goes back to a more mixed diet for another few years, and back to vegetarianism. Since all of them are most excellent teachers, and explain Dharma in absolutely the same way, obviously this is a clear case where it becomes much more a 'personal' choice than a rigid precept that has to be followed no matter what. I specially like the attitude of my closest, main teacher. I think that his lesson to me is that we shouldn't be attached to ideologies — neither vegetarianism, nor anti-vegetarianism — and that's why he switches from one side to the other, to make his students think about what is really important in their lives. Most of the retreats he organises are strict vegetarian, even if he is not in a 'vegetarian' phase. But sometimes they're not.

Still, not being a teacher myself, I would certainly encourage vegetarianism to anyone who finds the thought of having animals killed for the pleasure of their meals, and who truly understand the importance of being a vegetarian for the right reasons — not to 'preach'; not to feel 'superior' to others (because you can abstain from meat, while others, poor weakly-minded, deluded beings, cannot); not to blindly 'follow orders'; much less to 'please' a teacher or 'impress' a group of practitioners; but because you can turn your vegetarianism option into practice (or because vegetarianism helps you in your practice, by focusing on the thought that billions of animals — from insects to whales — die every day). If you're doing exactly that, and it is really helping your practice, then please, stick to vegetarianism!

I would also claim that — unfortunately — beginners will have a lot of misconceptions about Buddhism, so a new teacher who is not a vegetarian might be thought of being 'fake'. Instead of long-winded discussions about vegetarianism vs. non-vegetarianism, I can imagine that a good teacher would be truly unattached to what he or she eats — and they might simply opt for vegetarianism because, that way, they will earn the respect of more students who happen to think that 'all Buddhists are vegetarians'.


Devadatta, a relative of the Buddha, at one point attempted to cause a schism in the sangha by asking the Buddha to implement 13 ascetic rules for all monks, one of those rules being vegetarianism. The Buddha in his wisdom decided against forcing these rules on all monks and instead stated that any monk who wished to take on these rules for their practice may do so.

There is also nothing in the precepts that state anything about eating meat or vegetarianism, although I have been told that in the Mahayana they do add that as part of the precepts and the Bodhisattva vow.

In those days, and also in at least the Theravada tradition, the monks had to eat whatever was given to them as they were/are totally dependent on the laity for support. Today if you wanted to feed Venerable Yuttadhammo and gave him noting but Oreo Cookies, he is bound to eat such food. The one exception being explained in the other post about if an animal is killed just for the monks, then a monk can refuse.

These two links should be very helpful in the discussion regarding Buddhism and vegetarianism:



  • Regarding Oreo cookies; I believe monks who receive alms food show no partiality to any food but would not be bound to eat something non nutritive or harmful simply because it was given.
    – Robin111
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 23:25
  • the Oreos were just an example, but now I'm interested because I've never heard of this non nutritive thing. Any links for that? Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 23:26
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    – Robin111
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 23:30

I forgot where I heard this, because it has been many years ago:

"One becomes a monk, not just to be vegetarian"

You're not forced not to have meat, but if you decide to devote yourself and stay in a temple, meat isn't what is served daily.

Other words, what if you sneaked out and have meat and get caught?

At certain temple, they don't punish you by expelling you, but most would, if not expel, warn you. Or you would be "punished" and be isolated / assigned to certain task where you carry out the work and at the same time "reflect".

As to why some of the monks still eat meat, smoke, drink alcohol etc:

I can't say all; but what I have seen is when I was backpacking in Thailand: In Thailand, when one graduates from high-school, students are required to either take part in military or in a temple becoming a monk for around 6 months (exact time I have forgotten). Many chose to, as was told to me, to become a monk at a temple.

So, those who send themselves to the temple after high school are not really those who really would like to follow Buddhism. For what I have seen there, some of them smoke, belong to a gang, were involved in unlawful activities, etc etc.

Another reason I was told is: some know what they do are bad, those who take part in gangs, etc etc, so out of this reason, they "hope" to repent and feel "protected". But afterward, they mostly remain where they were before they became a monk after high school.

The above is only what I have seen then and was told to me by the locals.

So, what it is about becoming a vegetarian being a monk / Buddhist?

You do so gradually, through practice and reading (addendum: please don't be affixed on words and their meaning; they are meant to be guides / guidance).

There is a saying:

"refrain the mouth from meals (meat), but fail to do so at heart (you still crave for it; you have to force yourself not to have it)"

That's not what this is about; you don't have to force yourself in / into doing anything in Buddhism.

Through practice and observance and patience, when one has attained eventually understanding, you would stop eating meat or other' being's flesh. It is meant to be a normal transition, if one finally understand "the way" of Buddhism, which involves time, patience, observance, reading / meditating / reflecting.

It comes to you normally and will so eventually, though the practices mentioned above, when one finally understand it.

I was told the following saying many years ago, which I still remember to this day:

"In Buddhism, it is about Destiny, if you so approach it in your lifetime, it is Destiny; you choose to believe it and follow it, it is Destiny; and if you choose to leave it and betray it, no-one would send you out the door, for you are welcome to depart, because no-one has held you in it at the first place - it is also Destiny."


Entire books have been written on the topic, "The Great Compassion" is a good one to start with-- it is written from the pro-vegetarian standpoint.

Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese Buddhists are all vegetarians. This is in part because the Bodhisattva vows from the Brahma Net Sutra, which are the vows and precepts that replaced the Indian precepts, explicitly forbids eating animals on several grounds-- for example, if reincarnation happens, then after enough time all animals you might eat at one point in the past were your mother or father.

In the Japanese system, during a period of modernization and anti-Buddhism, attempted a reform to try to bring down the monks in prestige a few notches-- explicitly legalizing monks to eat meat and marry. These reforms stuck, even though they were implemented as part of a larger reform that was hostile to Buddhism. So the Japanese forms of Buddhism we got from Japan, we'll see that Zen isn't pro-vegetarianism, unless you read about the life of the founders of the sects, who all were vegetarian. So anyhow, the movement away from vegetarianism is driven by Meiji politicians, not monks. Personally, I'll take my direction from Nichiren or Dogen before I give a lot of weight to the Japanese imperial bureaucracy's opinion on the matter.

ref: Meiji edict of April 1872

American Buddhism is a mix of various traditions. Chinese Buddhism, the most strongly vegetarian form of Buddhism, is in general under represented in the US. It's because of this accident of which sects are most visible that makes Buddhism look less vegetarian that it might otherwise be.

All that said, about half of US Buddhist I know are vegetarian. That is 25 times higher than the national rate.


From a Theravada Buddhist perspective one does not have to be a vegetarian since the first precept is not broken if one is buying meat from the e.g. the supermarket or if one is passively revieving food/meat e.g. at family dinners etc.

The following conditions must all be met in order for the 1st precept to be broken:

  • pano -- presence of a living being
  • panasannita -- one knows that it is a living being
  • vadhacittam -- the intention to kill
  • upakkamo -- the effort to kill
  • tena maranam -- the resulting death of that being

Here is a video on "Vegetarianism and Killing" by Ven. Yuttadhammo. The video discusses buddhist ethics from a point of view of ultimate reality. It is talked about why killing is unethical and how it affects ones own state of mind and what kind of vegetarianism one could practice.

Here is an interesting article with the title "Life as a Vegetarian Tibetan Buddhist Practitioner - A Personal View" by Eileen Weintraub.

Here is a short quote from the article:

"... It was not until the mid-1970s that mainstream Tibetan lamas started visiting America. Often their first contacts were with people from other Eastern spiritual traditions. American disciples were attracted to Tibetan Buddhism and migrated over from the mostly vegetarian Hindu traditions, including yoga and Transcendental Meditation practitioners. Did the Tibetans try to change their own meat-based diets? Did they try to embrace a new healthy, ethically conscious diet that was now available to them? More commonly the reverse happened—many Westerners graciously embraced the Tibetan diet. Students who were used to eating salads, brown rice and tofu learned to cook and eat lamb, beef and other Tibetan-style dishes to please their teachers... ".



Vegetarianism is mostly practiced in Mahayana Buddhism I believe. It's probably because of the Hindu and Jain influence. Theravada tradition follows the word of the Buddha. i.e. It's totally up to the food preference of the individual. Ironically, Devadatta is the one who demanded from the Buddha that all monks should be vegetarian. I believe Hitler was vegetarian too. But didn't he kill 1000s of humans? 1st precept is what the lay people have to keep to.

Following conditions have to be met for it to be broken.

i) The being must be alive.

ii) There must be knowledge that it is a living being.

iii) There must be intention to cause its death.

iv) Action must be taken to cause its death

v) Death must result from such action.

If all these conditions are fulfilled, then the precept has been broken. Buying meat products from a shop doesn't break any of these, let alone all.

  • Yes, maybe Mahayana Buddhists recommend vegetarianism than Theravada. I've seen Zen Buddhists being Vegetarian & Zen is Mahayana.
    – Bharat
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 21:16
  • 2
    And you seem to make this question a vegetarian vs non-vegetarian debate. I don't see how pointing out Hitler was a vegetarian adds value to the answer. Hitler was not a Buddhist.
    – Bharat
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 21:18
  • 1
    Theravada Buddhism doesn't recommend any food preference. It only recommends the monks to be easily maintainable. Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 21:18
  • Yes, the precepts don't recommend but what I meant is monks who infer from the Buddhist teachings on non-violence do at times.
    – Bharat
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 21:19
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    @Hrafn: Added a link to the title Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 21:35

Not all, only Mahayana Buddhists are required to be in normal conditions.

In Theravada Buddhism:

  • The Buddha forbids the eating of 10 meats (humans, elephants, horses, dogs, snakes, lions, tigers, panthers, bears, hyenas ) and says:

    "And let no one, O Bhikkhus, eat meat without having enquired (what it is). He who does, commits a dukkata offence" (Mahavogga 6.23)

  • Wrong Livelihood part of the Eightfold path includes things like hunting, fishing, etc...

  • The Buddha refuses Devadatta's request that monks not be allowed to eat fish

  • The Buddha explains that meat can be eaten under three conditions

    "I say, that meat could be partaken on three instances, when not seen, not heard and when there is no doubt about it." (Jivaka Sutta, MN 55)

    But then explains the five conditions when one gains demerit:

    "If he said, go bring that living thing of such name. In this first instance he accumulates much demerit.

    If that living thing is pulled along, tied, with pain at the throat, feeling displeased and unpleasant. In this second instance he accumulates much demerit.

    If it was said, go kill that animal. In this third instance he accumulates much demerit.

    When killing if that animal feels displeased and unpleasant. In this fourth instance he accumulates, much demerit.

    When the Tathagatha or a disciple of the Tathagatha tastes that unsuitable food. In this fifth instance he accumulates much demerit." (Jivaka Sutta)

So in my opinion Theravada Buddhism seems to be encouraging vegetarianism or veganism but not requiring it (remember any doubts about demerit means don't eat the meat).

Also one part of virtue for monks is:

"He abstains from damaging seed and plant life." (Apannaka Sutta, MN 60)

Certainly vegetarians and vegans don't abstain from damaging seed and plant life.

In Mahayana Buddhism:

"After my tranquility, in the Dharma-ending Age, these hordes of ghosts and spirits will abound, spreading like wildfire as they argue that eating meat will bring one to the Bodhi Way.

"Ánanda, I permit the Bhikshus to eat five kinds of pure meat. This meat is actually a transformation brought into being by my spiritual powers. It basically has no life force. You Brahmans live in a climate so hot and humid, and on such sandy and rocky land, that vegetables will not grow; therefore, I have had to assist you with spiritual powers and compassion. Because of this magnanimous kindness and compassion, this so-called meat suits your taste. After my extinction, how can those who eat the flesh of beings be called the disciples of Shakya?

"You should know that these people who eat meat may gain some awareness and may seem to be in samádhi, but they are all great rakshasas. When their retribution ends, they are bound to sink into the bitter sea of birth and death. They are not disciples of the Buddha. Such people as these kill and eat one another in a never-ending cycle. How can such people transcend the Triple Realm?

"When you teach people of the world to cultivate samádhi, they must also cut off killing. This is the second clear and decisive instruction on purity given by the Thus Come Ones, the Buddhas of the Past, World Honored Ones. (Shurangama Sutra)

"Previously,I taught this in cases arising from the needs of the situation. Now, on this occasion, I teach the harm arising from meat-eating." (Mahaparinirvana Sutra)

Mahayanists believed that The Buddha allowed meat-eating during his time in special conditions which no longer apply. During The Buddha's time monks had to beg to get food and without food humans die! Certainly monks living independently that have to produce their own food (rather than begging as was during The Buddha's time) would have to kill animals to gain meat, which would violate Theravada Buddhism as well.

Mahayanists also argue that The Buddha used supernormal powers to avoid the negative effects of meat-eating which the majority of monks in modern times cannot do.

I guess I understand both sides of the argument, obviously if you have to produce your own food you would have to kill animals to get meat (or wait for them to naturally die which would be too rare).

I don't personally stress or encourage vegetarianism or veganism. I've personally found that things like caffeine have a much more negative effect on the brain than meat-eating.

From my own personal observations there may be some conditions when eating meat causes demerit and others when not (similar to what The Buddha says) but other things seem to matter much more so I don't focus on it much and still eat meat.


The most famous living Buddhist, Dalai Lama eats non-vegetarian dishes. The reasoning for this is he had said there's not much vegetables grown in Tibet. So to be specific Buddhism does not encourage killing animals, but on specific occasions (Ex: there is no food other than meat) it is permitted as food, though they are not supposed to waste any meat. Buddhist monks have to travel from place to place and have to take up whatever available for their living.

  • 1
    The current version of that Wikipedia links says that his reason is, his doctors ordered him to eat meat on alternating days. See also This attracted public attention when, during a visit to the White House, he was offered a vegetarian menu but declined by replying, as he is known to do on occasion when dining in the company of non-vegetarians, "I'm a Tibetan monk, not a vegetarian".[62] His own home kitchen, however, is completely vegetarian.[63].
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 22:09

May I add another thought all of the good answers provided so far? This is what Kassapa Buddha said (as per the scriptures) on this issue. Kassapa Buddha is the sixth of the Seven Buddhas of Antiquity, and the third of the five Buddhas of the present kalpa.

Sutta Nipata 2.2: Here the Buddha recalled an incident in his previous life during the Buddha Kassapa’s time. Buddha Kassapa was his teacher then. It was an occasion when an external sect ascetic met the Buddha Kassapa and reviled him for eating meat, which he said is a stench compared to eating vegetarian food.

Buddha Kassapa replied: “Killing … wounding … stealing, lying, deceiving … adultery; this is stench. Not the eating of meat… Those who are rude, arrogant, backbiting, treacherous, unkind … miserly … this is stench. Not the eating of meat… Anger, pride, obstinacy, antagonism, deceit, envy, boasting … this is stench. Not the eating of meat… Those who are of bad morals, … slanderous … pretentious … being the vilest of men, commit such wrong things; this is stench. Not the eating of meat ….”


Meat eating involves two rounds of killing sentient beings. First, insects and other small animals are killed when lands are cleared to grown the grains to feed animals. Then we kill the animals for their meat.

Vegan diet involves only one round of killing when the lands are cleared to plant the crops.

  • 1
    good food for thought, but this is not answering the question.
    – Anthony
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 3:20
  • Hi and welcome to Buddhism SE. As Anthony have mentioned the answer does not answer OP's question. Could you be a more specific regarding the main part of the question which is "... is Buddhist vegetarianism universal, specific to tradition or culture, or a lot more flexible than that?... " Thank you.
    – user2424
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 14:41

Important to have a good heart. Buddhists can be vegetarian, provided the heart is also "vegetarian". One can be a vegetarian but if the heart is not "vegetarian", then being vegetarian is useless.


Being vegetarian is one's choice.

If the meat is killed for some person to consume -- and not particularly oneself -- and one buys it, then it is OK to buy and consume: i.e., you went to a butcher's shop and buy what is already there.

If there are reasons to believe that it is killed with you in mind, then it not suitable as it will taint your mind.

Pre-ordering meats may also not be acceptable, as the animals may be killed to fill your order -- in which case you are directly contributing to the death of the animal.

If you are a regular to a butcher's shop, and the butcher keeps a good cut of meat for you, then again it might not be appropriate: as the butcher is killing and setting aside a part of the animal with you particularly in mind. Here one's mind will get tainted, as one might suspect the animal was killed for oneself.

  • "killed with a particular person in mind", maybe Upasaka meant "killed for one". There would be fault for the recipient/buyer, if someone kills an animal, say for his child" and later changes mind and offers someone. So it's maybe just not best formulated. (Maybe Upasaka likes to take more time for making valuable answers more accessable).
    – user11235
    Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 12:48
  • "If the meat is killed for some person to consume and one buys it, then it is OK." also here. Maybe "if an animal has been killed not thought for one, then buying may have no share on the harmful act before. Aside: "ok" with killing would be an approve, mental kamma!
    – user11235
    Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 12:53
  • I made some changes. Can Ven. Sir or some one else edit this for better wording while preserving meaning and intent. Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 13:14
  • Nyom @ChrisW always rejoices in good deeds and has good skills in formulating, not to say loving to increase his stacks here.
    – user11235
    Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 13:40
  • In this case I could edit the grammar but I'm not sure of the meaning and intent (the subject is outside my own experience). If you're looking for specific wording, one way to might be to quote a reference -- e.g. a sutta, or an explanation of a relevant fragment of the vinaya.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 14:50

The diet of a Buddhist is His business alone. And a Good Buddhist should welcome well-thought out, compassionately offered instruction from a guru or equally trustworthy source of knowledge . If you ask the opinion of a delusional self-cherishing being you will get a delusional answer. Best to ask a monastic.

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