In this answer to 'Are all Buddhists vegetarian?' the poster says

[the Dalai Lama] has a medical condition that disallows him to be a strict vegetarian.

I've heard this before and never questioned it. But thinking about it - what kind of medical condition would preclude the Dalai Lama from being a vegetarian. Suddenly I feel very skeptical that there is any such condition. Is that unfair?

  • Less known factor is that, Tibetan Tantra practice has required meat as supplement: Five Meats, from different animals. The Maha-meat is the only one not from animal, if human is not classified as animal. D. Lama was well known travelling in the Western Countries administrating Kala Chakra Empowerment, in the high level for the exclusive disciples it required his Bodhicitta - hmmm... the sacred spring water from his holy body, he will need a lot of supplements to help him generate it...! Commented Aug 27, 2017 at 15:05
  • There is also the problem, mentioned by HHDL,that when living on the Tibetan plateau eating meat was usually necessary for survival.
    – user14119
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 12:59

5 Answers 5


According to this article, Is the Dalai Lama a vegetarian? on a web site named "Reasonable Vegan",

When the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 he took residence in India, the birthplace of the Buddha and a region with a rich tradition of vegetarianism. Here he adopted a vegetarian diet which he has described as being rich in milk and cream[2]. After 20 months of vegetarianism he succumbed to a Hepatitis B infection [3] and was encouraged by his doctors to resume consumption of meat to aid his recovery.

The web site's opinion is that meat-eating isn't necessary (which contradicts his doctors' advice):

It’s quite possible that doctors advised this change in diet, but it is unnecessary advice since usually acute hepatitis B infection in adults is overcome by the patients own immune system. If the Dalai Lama’s infection was severe (which from his description it sounds like it was, jaundice causing yellowing of the skin is seen in patients suffering severe hepatitis B) he may have required antiviral treatment. Some studies have been published assessing the potential effects of nutritional supplements or adjustments on Hepatitis B patients none of which suggest consuming meat as either a remedy or therapy[5]. Eating healthily is advised for all patients especially those with liver inflammation so perhaps the advice to change his diet was appropriate ‘lay off the cream’ but returning to regular consumption of meat is unlikely to have had any effect on his recovery.

Since recovering from his illness the Dalai Lama has remained convinced that he is unable to be vegetarian, let alone vegan. It is hard to understand how he can maintain this belief when brief research into hepatitis B or the nutritional adequacy of a well balanced vegetarian or vegan diet reveals etc.

Also FYI, here's a different article which may give some background information or insight into the prescriptions of Tibetan doctors: Medical advice from the Dalai Lama's doctor.


Interview with HHDL on July 4, 2010 by New Delhi TV, in which His holiness answers the vegetarian question:

Then about taking meat, there are some contradictions but in vinaya no prohibition in eating meat, so monks in Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, they take both veg and non veg food. One time I asked, discussed this subject with a monk from Sri Lanka about 40 years ago, he said Buddhist monks are neither veg nor non veg... he should accept whatever he gets, so that's the principle. But vinaya clearly mentions that meat which was purposely killed for you was not to be eaten but in general was not prohibited, some books like langaavatarasutra prohibited any kind of meat, including fish etc but some other texts not prohibiting, so different case, I think practically in northern part of Tibet, no vegetables. Very difficult. So that's practical reason. However, my age, about 13, 14, all Tibetan official festival, offered a lot of meat - I changed all to vegetarian food. Then, in 59 come to India. Around 65, I became a vegetarian.

NDTV: Why?

The Dalai Lama: Better. Philosophical reason. 20 months I remained strict vegetarian. At that time I took advice from some of my Indian friends about the substitutes of meat. Lot of milk, cream and ...then in 67 I developed gall bladder, hepatitis. So my whole body became yellow. So at that time I become like living Buddha. Whole body yellow. Nails also yellow. It remained I think for about 3 weeks. So Tibetan physician, as well as allopathic physician advised me to take meat. So back to original diet. Meantime, all our monasteries in south India, also Namgyal monastery, common kitchen, serve only vegetarian food. In south India monasteries, population 300-400, all vegetarian food. Also in foreign countries when I visit Buddhist centers I always ask them. Now it is up to the individual. But as a society, as a institution, when they give some sort of a festival, it must be vegetarian. That business started the gall bladder trouble. Finally, surgery. So that's the background. So my own case, meat once or twice a week, otherwise vegetarian. So I tried to become a vegetarian but still difficult. I think it's useful to know the whole background.


There are conditions which prevent the body from absorbing vital nutrients from plant sources. One is pernicious anemia, which is likely a condition he has, or something similar. You can understand given his importance why specific details of his health may not have been released to the public. Besides, the Dalai Llama is a person with a right to his own privacy.


Why should he? Buddhists in Mongolia eat meat, given that scarcity of other foods than horses milk products. I've seen one break a sheeps neck by cutting the upper part of its neck and then breaking the upper spine - it was the most humane slaughter ever. Lasted a second. In fact, the choice of diet was governed by necessities of existence, not by religious factors. Tying Buddhism with vegeterianism is a Western idea.


It could be that he understands the use of food (Puttamansa Sutta: Eines Sohnes Fleisch), and that there is nothing wrong in eating meet,ss long an animals is not seen, heard or assumes to have been killed for a monk, which is of course not easy to maintain if not walking for alms but living like a "king".

"One should not knowingly consume meat killed on purpose (for a bhikkhu). Whoever should consume it: an offense of wrong doing. I allow fish and meat that is pure in three respects: One has not seen, heard, or suspected (that it was killed on purpose for a bhikkhu)." — Mv.VI.31.14

That fact that eating meet it self is nothing wrong, is of course also an excuse for many monks to simply maintain their sensual pleasue with it, agrguing with health if approached about such tendency, accumulating much demerits not only for themselves but for the Sangh and the other gems reputy as well.

one should not consume meat without having reflected on it (on what it is). Whoever should do so: an offense of wrong doing." — Mv.VI.23.9

It is clear on the other side that teaching to abstaining from eating meat, is the Dhamma of Devadatta, the opposer of the Buddha, and just a means to win the favor of uninformed for gain.

To wish after meat, even for health purpose, has not been allowed by the Buddha, as far as my person knows, since such would open the door for the above mentioned usual situation and involve monks of the Buddha in worlds ways of killing for ones benefit, how ever, one may in certain cases as medicin use "meat broth (which again, the Commentary says, is just the broth without any meat)"

And at least, food is like people, clima... a matter of upanissayapaccayena (strong condition cause), which if we think that a person as he is a country bound reincanation, seems to be the most reasonable, thought that Tibetans are for sure most meat-eater.

There are less people having gone beyound desire for certain physical food, at least it would mean that one has gained No-returner and a attribute of first hollyness is to stick to Vinaya and in no cases let it appear as relative and not so importand, meaning confessing and being hardly ashamed about ones incapibility.

So one thing is: Vegan or Vegeterian is talk by the Devadattas, is not a requirement and eating meat (not taled about the gain) is nothing wrong.

And: There are less monks who stick and have faith into Dhamma-Vinaya and many who for the sake of their belly to householders a favor following popular things get involved in views and take side, even misinterpret the Buddha knowingly.

At least the Dali Lama is not a person with secure faith in Dhamma- Vinaya, but seek after advices and also for favor, outside the three gems and the Buddhas and Noble ones way. If he could stand doing Vegitarian or even Vegan, he would stand that for winning favor under laypeople and for politic, but even here he has his limits, to weak.

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