I have been vegan (no animal products) for over 5 years but recently have encountered many health issues (unable to digest many plant protein, leaving no viable protein to eat), including some meat in my diet seems to be the only option (I can't tolerate any grains or beans anymore).

I would try to source as ethically as I could, but it does of course, still involve the killing of another.

Is there any way this is acceptable? Or should one sacrifice their health, if necessary?


9 Answers 9


If you eat vegetables or grains, it can indirectly cause the death of animals like snails and earthworms, due to clearing of land, ploughing, pesticides, weeding etc.

If you wear clothes made of cotton, it can indirectly cause the death of animals like snails and earthworms, due to clearing of land, ploughing, pesticides, weeding etc.

If you use banknotes made of paper, or buy or use anything made of paper, it can indirectly cause the death of animals, when trees got chopped down for the manufacturing of paper.

If you use any plastics or fuel for your car or banknotes made of polymer, it can indirectly cause the death of animals due to drilling for petroleum and gas.

If you throw rubbish away, it can indirectly cause the death of animals, because some of that trash ends up in the sea or landfills.

If you buy anything metal (including all electronics), it can indirectly cause the death of animals due to mining.

If you drink treated water from the tap, it can indirectly cause the death of small animals from the process of filtration and chlorination.

If you use electricity, it can indirectly cause the death of animals from the process of clearing land for building hydroelectric dams, or the billowing of smoke from a plant that burns hydrocarbons.

When you pay any kind of taxes, even indirectly e.g. through purchasing goods, the money from it may be used by the government to buy weapons and train soldiers for killing humans.

Basically, the Buddha taught that to break the first precept, you must have the intention to kill and then actually kill. This applies to directly causing the deprivation of life. For e.g. hitting a mosquito would be directly killing it.

By buying frozen meat or vegetables from the supermarket, or using paper or banknotes or wearing clothes or drinking treated water or using electricity or using electronics (including the computer or smartphone you are reading this on), you did not have any intention to kill anyone and you did not in fact kill anyone. Therefore, you do not break the first precept this way.

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    I have a question about your conclusion. You say "you did not have any intention to kill anyone and you did not in fact kill anyone". But if all of the things on your list are true (and I agree that they are) then if you do A with intention, which you know with certainty will result in the death of being B - aren't you killing being B with intention? Please help me understand why not. Thank you.
    – GVCOJims
    Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 21:49
  • @GVCOJims When you use treated water or buy vegetables, you are not intentionally killing insects right then and there. They were already dead long before. When you buy frozen meat at the supermarket, you are not intentionally killing animals right then and there. They were already dead long before you showed up at the supermarket.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 3:50
  • @ruben2020 when you buy meat, you are creating market demand for meat products, which will create motivation for meat producers to supply that demand by killing more animals, the dead meat doesn't simply appear in the supermarket, it was produced to meet market demand that you create by buying it. It is true that practically everything you do or consume will have some impact but I can't think of one activity closer to killing an animal directly than eating meat, that's because the only reason for consuming meat nowadays is for pleasure (unless it is some health condition like OP's)
    – igrossiter
    Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 14:28
  • @igrossiter Market demand was discussed in this question.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 15:04

My thought on this is that;

Buddhist precepts are taught as one follows so that he or she would not feel or experience unwholesomeness. Having unwholesomeness mind could affect one's mind, therefore affect one's meditation and vipassana (seeing things clearly).

I am myself a lay person who try to follow a good path in this life. Mostly now, I try my best to avoid taking meat or only little amount, if I could especially those from animal industry. But if somebody offer them to me, I sometimes take little of it. Or if those meat are left-over, and I am hungry, I most likely take them.

Those are my thoughts for now. Not sure if it would help. Apologize in advance. This is probably my first comments and English is not my native-language.

Thank you,

  • I very much agree with you. I'm not strict vegetarian, just for easy daily living, but it would be very good if I'm. But I would :) Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 15:35

Just to be clear, not all Mahayana schools prescribe vegetarianism. It is widely understood that Buddha originally allowed meat, and for practical reasons in some regions of the world such as Tibet, meat is invariably more accessible than vegetables or grains.

In Tibetan Buddhism, vegetarian diet can be prescribed as part of the purity catharsis practiced in Kriyayoga-tantra. In this approach, the student's attitude of purity is effectively maximized until it culminates in realization that attachment to purity is itself a form of impurity.

In a more broad sense, Buddhism recognizes that all phenomena are deeply connected and interrelated in a multitude of different ways, including various energy-donorship, symbiosis, and food-chain relationships. In this context, the act of eating someone or being consumed by something larger, is seen as part of the natural order of things, taken with sacred awe and heartfelt appreciation.

We still try to minimize the suffering of others, if we can / when we can. But we also understand that we inevitably play our role in incurring suffering; we understand that we can't be perfectly sterile, and this makes us feel humble and more connected with other imperfect beings. This change of attitude is known as "warmth" and is understood to be a sign of growing Realization.


Yes. The Dalai Lama is not a vegetarian, for health reasons. Another factor is the practice of the begging bowl. It would be unskillful to demand of those practising generosity to provide vegetarian. That said, it is most probably better karma to be vegetarian. Disclaimer, I am not vegetarian.


There's a Wikipedia article, Buddhist vegetarianism, which says that doctrine (view) varies from one tradition to another, and from one person to another.

I don't know if it's possible to add to that, except personal opinion.

Is there any way this is acceptable?


Or should one sacrifice their health, if necessary?

Perhaps not? I'm thinking that doesn't sound like the "Middle Way" applied to food, and instead sounds more like a Jain practice.

If it helps you might find that a compromise is possible, e.g. to eat meat sometimes; or milk product, fish, or eggs, etc.; or, depending on where you live, perhaps a product like quorn.


I admire vegans, would be my ideal one day. Or even better, no need for "daily food" any more if I wish, one day.

I believe you a Theravada practitioner; if not, at least more aligned and accessing to Theravadin Pali Suttas. That's even more adored, for listening to compassionate heart and discernment than subscribing to words and preaching.

Likely the health issues you encountered not resulted from vegan meals, but the plant products are polluted, genetically modified, left them no longer having the same nutrients any more. If you read articles, the GMO soya bean contained 70% less nutrient (protein) than the original bean our grandpas eating. The soil polluted too, also pesticides and chemical fertilizers... you may read those articles about Monsanto, ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Dreyfus. Also, in ready-made vegan products like noodle, flour dough, bread... beancurd, are usually loaded with plasticizer, or GMO corn or GMO corn syrup giving volume or texture. It could result in nutrition imbalance. Better you add nuts, mushrooms, or some plant roots/fruits with great nutrients to your diet. The Chinese are very good with this eating for health knowledge, recorded in many Classical Texts of Chinese Medicine. Herbal plants such as types of Ginsengs, Angelicas (Dāngguī), wolfberries and Jujubes with great nutrients are commonly added in cooking to enhance health. However, possible some people with special body types not suitable to be vegans.

To my knowledge, every type of meat has it's equivalent in plant. Example, cashew nut = kidney (like in English kidney pie), chestnut = chicken meat, mushroom = meat (pork or beef, just flesh), walnut = fat of meat... So without meat, we human can still have the nutrient same as meat provided by plants.

If not, then for Chinese Mahayana, in Sutras I studied come to my understanding, that a lay-Buddhist can have the Three-Clean-Meat (三淨肉). That is the meat, a) not seen the killing, b) not heard the killing, c) not suspected the killing... not done for you in purpose. However, it seems this Three-Clean-Meat a Bhikkhu's meat in Theravada. Normally, buying ready prepared meat in the supermarket is OK. Although, lay-Buddhist the true Dharma follower not supposed to boast over the meat-eating, should take it as a necessary progression to the more ideal, i.e., being vegetarian. It's particularly disgraceful and condemned, if a Buddhist praised meat-eating, or encouraged other to eat meat. For those who taken the Bodhisattva vow, i.e., the Upāsakas (居士), then they should be vegetarian (unless health issue); so are the Bhiksus, unless they practicing Dhūta (頭陀行), i.e., going for alms round accepting what's given. These Dhūta-guna Bhiksus are normally Hinayana practitioners.

Some would like also some dislike, if I stated Theravada is not Hinayana. Hinayana practitioners are also one branch in Chinese Buddhism (which I admired, for their concentration on Dhyana with great Sutras teaching the practice, only in Chinese Canon). The great translator of Chinese Sutras Kumarajiva (344–413 CE) was a Hinayanist later turned Mahayanist, according to recorded documents. I think Kumarajiva had no idea what was Theravada though. Further, I don't find any equivalent records in the Five Vinayas of the Early 18 Buddhist Schools preserved in the Chinese Canon, that credited the Pali Vinaya of reporting the Buddha once eating meat offered by a general out of pity, another suspected meat eating offered by Uppalavannā the gift of 500 cow-robbers. If someone could enlighten me when the Pali Vinaya written and what the origin of it (such as to which early 18 Schools it related), would be a great interest to me. These are commonly used by some Theravadins (luckily not all) to credit meat eating, further contriving the ludicrous accusation of Mahayanist the Devadatta offshoot. Buddha condemned Devadatta advocating vegetarian only because Devadatta taken the Brahmin/heretic's doctrine that not eating meat granted one to be born in the Brahma world. This of course obviously was not Buddha Dharma. But one with fair mind would never mix up as that Buddha condemned vegetarianism.

For Tibetan Buddhism, the Tantric practice likely required meat eating, like in Ganacakra (eating Five Meats: human, horse, elephant, dog and beef), which a secret practice supposed not revealed to the public and uninitiated. It's understandable Dalai Lama will need to eat meat, for health reason; he is a Tantra Master, giving Kālacakra empowerment. Although not sure the Five Meats are still the same ingredients in Lamaism, or modernized? On the other hand, due to geographical condition, some people have to rely on meat as their main food source, I would assume Tibet is such place, also Mongolia. I heard that Khenpo Tsultrim Lodrö (who I like) and his Tibetan Buddhist School is revolutionizing for vegetarian practice.

I think I've given more than enough details, and fair accounts, on most of the arguments on vegetarianism of Buddhism, which I hope would be beneficial for the OP to make good choice, so are those who got the same doubts. Often fair accounts are not always liked.

  • welcome :). i would suggest checking your vegan diet ingredients. like non-GMO soya is always better. if you can access to Chinese Health Medicine knowledge, you may be able to adjust and enhance the diet. also, vegetarian is a natural inclination, better listen to your body. if you connect to the Buddha/Dharma, you will also be easier to be vegan, like studying Sutras, meditation, chanting Mantras/ Verses... Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 15:45

It depends on your goals: Some Buddhists follow the path of compassion (bodhisattvas) who try to minimize the amount of pain (bad actions+consequence) or maximize the good karma that results from their actions, for which pragmatic veganism (or ostro-veganism) is currently the way to go in terms of diet, because plants and bivalves cannot feel pain (the plants and bivalves still experience dukkha in the form of stress but it’s too a lesser degree since they are not cognizant or lack the senses or the Rupa needed to experience the sensation of pain.

I’d argue that plants experience the relatively least amount of Dukkha for living beings compared to bivalves, then animals, then humans (according to these perceptions). Of course, one also has to try to minimize collateral damage (dead insects, etc). The argument here is that, if a being lives compassionately, it is a gift to other sentient beings allowing them to reach Buddhahood/Nibbana/unconditioned/enlightenment or a lesser but better than mundane “heavenly” existence. Veganism/ostroveganism has the smallest net environmental impact and is what could help bring about what was mentioned, though one must do research into what one to eat or not to eat. Right Effort!

I understand why some Buddhists eat meat, but many of them who intend to do it for health reasons should switch to healthier and more ethical options like mussels or clams because 90% of them are sustainably farmed, they lack brains, and they contain the b-12, carnitine, proteins, and omega-3s human can easily get from animal sources (though I manage to get by with supplements and algal oil).

In a sense, good-will/benevolence is a Desire and the Buddha focused more on eliminating ill-will/cravings than promoting good-will/cravings if the goal is the unconditioned (Nibbana). Gotama did see merit though in good will (Ananda is an embodiment this), but restricted his compassionate actions to Buddhahood and teaching for earthly life. Compassion compels “me” to not seek full Buddhahood right away but to gradually live for the enlightenment of all creatures and make the situations/environments that make getting enlightened easier to arise (eradication of most disease etc), and seek a balance between the enlightenment and liberation/peace of the person writing this and those around him :)


Intetion is kamma and of course a "only" taking in a count that harm is directly caused by ones actions, agreement or even joy within harm, is bad kamma as well. Just merely ignoring things in hypocritical ways does not help one out. If an action harms, simply don't do it. It an action praises harm obiviously and agrees with wrong ways, simply don't do it.

If asking Should one sacrifice their health, if necessary? your heart might already know the answer. Health and long life and especially a life without much guilty feelings, are not really matters of the kind of food but how it has been gained, how it is received and how food is used as nutrition for live.

All beings require food and yet beings are in most cases food or suffer under the gaining effort of it by others.

So the more it can be seen as given or abounded the healthier it is at long terms. The lesser careless joy is found in eating but more seen as a need to propable get ride of desire for food at all, just to cross the desert, the more freedom of remorse will be felt.

So it's good to focus more on that rather then on any hypocritical thesis. Situations and possibilities are different for all beings but as a human being one has actually a big spectrum of possibilities most animals would not have.

Tend to what ever feels best for you and gives you rightly the most less reasons for remorse yet food needs to be used to cross.

And food does not end with physical food, and so it's good to always watch out who "gives" and with what intention and strings toward what is dealt.

The Four Nutriments of Life might be useful for liberating insight.

The four nutriments of life stand for the first truth of Ill; the craving for the four nutriments is the origin of Ill, the second Truth; the stopping of that craving is the cessation of the continued process of grasping for material and mental food, which is the end of Ill, the third Truth; and the Noble Eightfold Path is the way to that cessation.

If having tendency and possibility, a mind torward right resolve, make use of the possibility of the holly life and even the highest kind of livelihood for your own benefit and that of all others. Of course, again, possipilities and circumstances are different and according to previous action done individually.

And at least, there is nothing wrong in "just" eating what ever, especially if freely given and no harm has to be conformed by the act of taking or receiving. Cases are especially in a householders life different day by day and there is no way to generalize best ways outward the pillows given for the holly life, yet they can be adopted in cases, sometimes even good.

Trust a skillful heart (mind) when arising and doubt hypocritical ways of thinking, cut them of by simple ways of thinking right here and now when it is actually required. Stick firm by ways of actions in thoughts, words and speech which are not harmful.

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma and not meant for commercial purpose or other low wordily gains by means of trade and exchange.]


Follow Theravada Buddhism. Then you can successfully work towards enlightenment regardless of your food preference.

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    Not a useful answer. And this is not about me.
    – Cloud
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 14:58
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    It's about reducing suffering of others'
    – Cloud
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 15:06
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    @SankhaKulathantille. Please don't post such answers, asking or "advertising" to follow a particular tradition within Buddhism. Could you rephrase the first sentence in your answer?
    – user2424
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 18:02
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    No need of big arguments. Veganism is recommended. But not compulsory in Buddhism. The essence is respect for life and avoid intention of killing. Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 8:36
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    Veganism recommended is my personal statement. see my second statement not compulsory in Buddhism. I meant when you get access to plenty of fruits and vegetable and still you tend to consume meat items is just desire of the taste. Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 12:51

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