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?

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    Apart from any new understandings about the lives of plants, as far as the buddha discourses encoded in the canon are concerned, he declared circumstances that are appropriate for eating meat (Jivaka sutta, Majima Nikaya) metta.lk/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pitaka/2Majjhima-Nikaya/Majjhima2/….
    – user382
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 14:58
  • A similar question in hinduism
    – MoonMind
    Commented Jul 19, 2014 at 10:18
  • Plants often depend on animals to eat them. Did anyone say what you do if you don't eat animal or plant?🤔 Is that a thing?😬
    – Lowbrow
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 5:16

10 Answers 10


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:

  1. You cannot kill the animal
  2. You cannot ask for someone to kill a specific animal for you to eat, or suspect the animal was killed for you
  3. You cannot see the animal being killed
  4. 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"

  • thanks for the edition, I know my english is not very good and it is very kind of you to edit it, I appreciate it.
    – konrad01
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 21:16

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


Our primary consciousness is said to have existed from beginningless time. Both Samsara and Nirvana are likewise said to be conditioned from beginingless time. There may be as many sentient Beings 'as the whole of Space'.This is traditionally interpreted as meaning 'infinite'. Thus representing all possibilities and variations of sentience.

'I am not you. Yet you are all of me'.

All Sentient Beings exist on a spectrum of sentience.There is no sharp boundary between sentience and non sentience.Stones may have just one of the five aggregates (Form).Plants may have three (Form, Feeling, Perception but not impulses/mental formations or consciousness). Humans seem to have all five.

It seems that a Sentient Being requires all five aggregates in order to be able to purify 'their' afflictions and 'their' subtle latencies. This is traditionally said to be done through the accumulation of the two 'treasure' piles of merit (which can only lead to the 'height of Samsara') and wisdom (being the 'opposite antidote' to the obscuration of ignorance). It is only through 'the wisdom that discerns the emptiness of inherent existence' that Buddhahood is finally 'attained'.

This wisdom is a facet of our very nature.It exists in our 'naturally abiding Buddha nature'(Buddhagarba) but not not in our reality. If this were not so then purifying our afflictions would be impossible and the whole Buddhist path would be false.No true origins. No ceasations. No path....

Karma is an action with intent. It requires 'freewill'(the ability to respond to the environment rather than be in a reactive trance like state). This requires mental formations and consciousness to at least some degree.Primates may have this.As for dolphins and elephants?.....

There may well be extra-terrestrials residing throughout the Universe with varying degrees of both organic and non organic sentience.Thus the traditional hierarchy where human life (spiritual potential wise) is the most precious/useful may only be relevant for this planet.The Buddha was teaching in a particular time and place. His teachings were focused in order to be both relevant and compassionately useful.He was encouraging humans.Thus the needful bias. Lord Jesus also had 'a bias' towards his own people during his lifetime ministry.But then afterwards things broadened out.....Same with the Dharma.

All six realms can be found around us in this very human life. This is the higher meaning of the teaching. Look around you!There are said to be three 'turnings of the wheel'.The third is sometimes equated to the vehicle of the Bodhisattva (or put it more profoundly to the emphasis upon the subjective continuity of the primordial clear light mind in naturally abiding and transforming Buddha nature).

Can we walk this highest path as a meat eater? Lord Jesus and the Lord Buddha did. Are we then to say that they were not of Bodhisattva heart?

It is therefore for the individual to make choices according to their unique mix of challenging Karma.Beware of distractions and keep to the moderate.Do your best in your own circumstances. Do not be too hard on yourself.

Let kindness be our whole religion. Wisdom naturally unfolds compassion. Two sides of a delicate spider's web.

May all Sentient Beings be well and happy. Andy xxx


I have been a vegetarian for 20 years, and have only recently started eating meat upon the advice of my physical therapist. My uninformed opinion is that meat can be eaten for necessity, but one should not develop a desire for it or come to savor it, just as one should not take delight in other sense objects.

The Buddha taught that his own monks had been slaughtered as animals countless times in previous lives. If true, then surely I have as well. Perhaps I am being eaten alive by animals whenever I am bitten by a mosquito, or by bacteria whenever I develop a skin rash or catch a cold. The microbes will eat me up completely when I die.

All humans eventually die, as do chickens. If I was reborn as a chicken, I suppose I would be a Buddhist chicken. Would I allow myself to be eaten by a Buddhist human who needed extra nutrition for health reasons? Would I be accepting of having my fertilized eggs, embryonic baby chicks, used to culture viral samples for vaccines that save millions of lives? I hope I would, but maybe not.

I am a blood and tissue donor, in my present life. So maybe?

Shades of grey, all.

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