There is some evidence that plants are 'sentient beings' and can communicate (e.g. see this article or this wikipedia page). However Buddhists believe eating meat is wrong because of killing a living entity, what about plants? If this is true what can you eat?
Theravada and Vajrayana Buddhists (Tibetan, SE Asian) and Japanese Mahayana Buddhists are not vegetarian. So if you don't want to be a vegetarian, there are plenty of traditions that don't bother with this rule. And as for rules, there are plenty of traditions that de-emphasize rules altogether.
So that leaves East Asian Buddhism. The traditional arguments for vegetarianism are based on the traditional cosmology, which makes a distinction between plants and animals. Sentient beings can be born as animals but not plants.
If we don't believe in the traditional cosmology, the distinction between sentient and insentient remains.
According to wikipedia, some sects see plants as sentient being-- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentient_beings_(Buddhism) (Japanese and Tibetan, which aren't vegetarian). In Tien Tai, the founder suggested plants and even the insentient can attain enlightenment.
I'm not a radical non-dualist, but arguing that everything the same, (plants, animals, rocks) and that all states are the same (living, dead) is a typical radical non-dualist argument. The problem with nondualism applied to ethics is that it makes it easy to justify what ever you want.
And the "science" sounds like bunk. My computer feels pain when it overheats and ice cubes feel pain when they crack-- but only as a metaphor. My computer and the ice in my freezer (and the grass under my feet) has never had an original thought or even a thought. They don't have nervous systems of a sort that I'm familiar with (by my own experience of having a nervous system.)
For there to be a scientific grounding for the idea that plants (and maybe rocks) are sentient, you'd have to demonstrate that they have something similar to a nervous system and can react in the same way that a thinking, feeling creature can. I admit a scientifically grounded interpretation of sentience still has edge cases-- for example, nematodes only have a few neurons, so they are borderline insentient.
Buddha said that we could eat meat under a few conditions:
- You cannot kill the animal
- You cannot ask for someone to kill a specific animal for you to eat, or suspect the animal was killed for you
- You cannot see the animal being killed
- You cannot hear the animal being killed
the Buddha also said that we should not eat certain types of meat like elephants (because they belong to the king)
It is nice to be a vegetarian, really a beautiful thing to do, but you dont need to be one in order to be a Buddhist in most traditions, the Buddha himself ate meat, even HH Dalai Lama eats meat, on the other hand most mahayana monasteries dont serve meat, its a matter of choice.
source: Ven Dhammavuddho Thero book "only we can help ourselves"
My theory is that it is not wrong to directly deprive plants of their life, in order to eat them, unlike animals, because they don't have the five aggregates. In my opinion, plants do not have mental formations and consciousness although they have form, sensations and perception. Without the five aggregates, they are not sentient beings.
Plants are amazingly sensitive to changes in their environments. However, there is no good evidence that they are sentient (i.e., consciously aware of what is happening to them). I suggest that whoever posted this question actually read the two pieces linked to.
There is nothing wrong with eating plants.
Keep your body alive and strive to gain knowledge. As when you gain knowledge, liberation will follow, and great will be the goodness of the liberated one.
Or ... start worrying. And stop moving your body ... One tea spoon of soil contains 1000 millions microorganisms (http://archives.microbeworld.org/microbes/bacteria/where.aspx). You don't want to kill all these beings, don't you? So? Stop moving your body. Don't walk. Don't eat. Die.
Or ... completely stop worrying. And start killing ... there are millions of edible animal species. Kill. Eat. Live.
Big is this mess of suffering. Too big.
Neither of these two extremes lead to liberation.
The answer is the "middle way".
Questions of this nature can put one off course and is not beneficial to one and all. Meat eating is a very sensitive topic. There are many different views on this and each may be right to a certain extent, but they may not necessarily be wise. In this case, we should put aside our personal views and be open enough to look at the Buddha’s views. This is crucial as he is the Tathagata who knows and sees.
The Suttas and Vinaya will be our source of reference because in AN 4.180, the Buddha said that if some monk claimed that such and such were the words of the Buddha, those words should be compared to the Suttas (discourses) and Vinaya (monastic discipline). Only if they conform to the Suttas and Vinaya can they be accepted to be the Buddha’s words.
The next consideration is which Sutta and Vinaya should we refer to? Although various schools of Buddhism have different interpretations of the Buddha’s teachings, all generally agree that the four Nikayas (collections), namely, the Digha Nikaya, Majjhima Nikaya, Samyutta Nikaya, and Anguttara Nikaya, and a few books of the Khuddaka Nikaya, are the earliest authentic discourses of the Buddha.
Furthermore, these earliest books are consistent throughout with the flavour of liberation, while later books sometimes give contradictory teachings. The Vinaya books of the different schools of Buddhism are all quite similar to the Theravada Vinaya. For this reason, the earliest Suttas and Theravada Vinaya will be our source of reference.
The Buddha was quite clear that people should think for themselves and not follow blindly. There are many problems with meat-eating, not only the fact that animals are sentient beings. There are strongly compelling environmental and health reasons as well as the fact that any truly kind, thoughtful and loving human being must be able to see the brutal cruelty and suffering inflicted on animals used for food. It is why slaughterhouses are hidden away so that we can pretend they do not exist.
Human beings can live perfectly without slaughtering and eating animals therefore to continue to do it simply out of greed, ignorance and habit (addiction/grasping) is a serious barrier to following the Dharma. The Buddah's rules about not eating meat only if specifically killed for you etc were aimed at monks who had to eat what they were given, and needed to spread the teachings, therefore had to refrain from offending people by refusing their food. None of those reasons for permitting the eating of meat apply to the average person today, yet I am constantly meeting people who grasp at them as ways to excuse their indulgence.
More crops are grown to feed livestock than grown to feed humans
(And yes livestock do eat non-edible parts of plants and other stuff like fish-flour and dead bodies of other livestock animals and animal feces but that is on top of crops grown specifically for them)
** also grass fed meat which is sold at stores and is a tiny amount of all meat sold - comes from animals that were fed crops at some point and animals eat a lot of crops so even one way to give it to them is a lot of crops as well ( fattening a few months before slaughter - when animals are indors during winter - piles from crops lied in the field for bonus feed etc ) so even that isnt a real exception
so if poeple would go vegan then there would be less crops grown and eatn
so even if plants are sentient a vegan diet is best in that regard - so its best for the plants as well you go vegan
And no you dont have to be vegan to follow thervada buddhism (what i follow) or reach enlightenment but i do think its a kosala (wholesome) thing to do that can aid in the practice if done right (not hating those who eat animal products - "carnists" - and not hating animal abusers etc) - its a way to control cravings better to feel more metta to more beings more easily etc