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I feel guilty about eating non-vegetarian food (fish, eggs and chicken). I know Buddhist followers, brahmins (Hindus) and Jains follows strict rules for vegetarianism. Does eating any sort of meat have an impact on your overall mentality?

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    I have seen Buddhist Monks returning from their Takuhatsu with cakes (eggs) and even meat. They eat what is given to them, and do not let it go to waste.
    – Codosaur
    May 29 at 13:01
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No vegetarianism doesn't have a real impact on mentality. But if someone wishes to be vegetarian as a social responsibility or for health concerns, they may do so. The Buddha has stated that non-veg food is bad for longevity. But with respect to the practice of mental well being, it has no affect. This is because by eating food, we do not harm anyone or intend to harm anyone, thus no bad karma. It is only the people who kill animals and keep them caged and sell them, who are doing real harm.

There was one occasion in the Buddha's time when a monk needed to eat meat for medicine. For monks, only certain types of meat like human flesh, dog meat and some other specific types of meat are forbidden. But for lay practitioners, there are no rules regarding non-veg food what so ever.

The most important thing is to not to crave food, either it's Veg or Non-veg.

Edit : Also it is not good to ask someone to kill an animal so that we can eat the meat. But buying meat that was not specifically killed for you is not harmful.

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    Do you have any evidence that the Buddha taught that non-vegetarian food is bad for longevity?
    – ruben2020
    May 29 at 13:59
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    "It is only the people who kill animals and keep them caged and sell them" - does eating meat not give these people a reason to do these things?
    – user253751
    May 29 at 18:33
  • @ruben2020 Yes. There is a Sutta i the Therawada cannon. Unfortunately I don't remember it's name or location..
    – sandeepani
    May 31 at 11:41
  • The most important thing is to not to crave food, either it's Veg or Non-veg. Monks have to eat what ever they get or have, since they are not supposed to buy food for themselves. So it's hard to be picky about the types of food.. For lay people, there can be times when we are not able to choose between the types of food we have as well. If being picky about the nature of the food hurts someone's feelings, if it isn't unhealthy, then we rather eat that food than hurt that person...
    – sandeepani
    May 31 at 11:45
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    @sandeepani I think you may be mistaken. Those suttas I believe, talk about reduction of longevity as being the consequence of killing or injuring others. It's not specifically about eating meat.
    – ruben2020
    May 31 at 14:36
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My answer is simple but I know many here won't like it. Supply follows demand, active or passive. If you take frozen meat imagining that you did not kill the animal so it is okay, as suggested by some here, you are simply justifying your craving with left-handed logic. The animal was killed not only because someone openly demanded to eat flesh but also because some other person acquiesed to the killing of the hapless creature by accepting it as an offering or buying it in the market. The second person is as much a part of the demand as the first one. At least, the first guy is honest while the other is not.

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    It's the same principle as eating non-organic vegetables which would have been grown with the use of pesticides to kill pests. You can't be responsible for that. You did not have the intention to kill those animals. The same applies to frozen meat in the supermarket.
    – ruben2020
    May 30 at 11:13
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    Your answer contradicts the teaching of the Buddha in MN 55, hence I downvoted it.
    – ruben2020
    May 30 at 11:16
  • Consider this answer which talks about a monk accepting frogs to eat -- perhaps if "frogs again" is all the villagers have to offer, then that's what monks ought to accept. Monks are supposed to be "easy to support".
    – ChrisW
    May 30 at 17:09
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    Please see Snp 2.2: “Killing living beings, hunting, cutting, binding, theft, lying, fraud, deceptions, useless recitations, associating with the wives of others: This is a raw stench, not the eating of meat."
    – ruben2020
    May 31 at 15:37
  • As a follower of the Theravada tradition, I could find no teaching by the Buddha specifically prohibiting a layperson from eating meat under any circumstance. Preference, perhaps, prohibition, no. I’d appreciate correction. But also, @Sushil Fotedar seems to imply the idea that a Buddhist consuming market meat fails the 3rd test disallowing meat killed specifically for the individual. That seems fallacious. If no Buddhist ever bought meat, it still would be offered as others would continue to buy. So this meat cannot be offered specifically for any Buddhist purchaser.
    – GVCOJims
    Jun 3 at 23:48
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I know Buddhist followers, brahmins(Hindus) and Jains follows strict rules for vegetarianism.

I don't think so -- I think that Buddhist doctrine teaches a middle way (avoiding extremes), including in rules about diet, perhaps in contrast to (some more extreme elements of) Jain doctrine.

So far as I know, Mahayana Buddhists are more likely to be vegetarian, but the Theravada doctrine in more-or-less as summarised in sandeepani's answer -- see Are all Buddhists vegetarian? for further details.

My question is does eating any sort of meat have an impact on your overall mentality?

Perhaps it depends on your beliefs.

My wife had the view that she couldn't "love animals" and at the same time want to eat them, so she became vegetarian to avoid feeling hypocritical or guilty.

Other people argue there's an important difference between compassion towards live animals, versus willingness to consume non-living flesh, and so see nothing wrong with the latter.

I guess there's more to it. At a minimum you possibly shouldn't feel superior ("I'm better than you") as a result of having a vegetarian diet -- and other behavioural characteristics (generosity, non-anger, mindfulness) may be more important.

There might even be a Buddhist practice -- perhaps not a mainstream practice -- of eating some meat specifically in order to avoid the "conceit" of considering oneself superior because of diet.

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  • "At a minimum you possibly shouldn't feel superior ("I'm better than you") as a result of having a vegetarian diet" Reminds me of the old joke about how you can tell whether or not someone is a vegan...
    – nick012000
    May 30 at 7:40
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    It is an old joke. Though in fact, that's only how you can tell whether someone is a vocal or a militant vegan -- it's also "whataboutism" and "tone policing" too, but whatever -- it is also a joke, insightful, and on-topic.
    – ChrisW
    May 30 at 11:31
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“All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.” - Dhammapada 129

Now it is up to you Nandita whom you want to consider as another !!!.

Related to the other question about the impact of meat eating on mentality why can't you experiment yourself ?

Stop eating meat for some time and see yourself if it improves your ability to concentrate or if it improves meditation and overall well being. If it doesn't improve anything then you know what to do.

Lastly, whatever may be the food, has it become a craving for you? Couldn't you resist not having certain kinds of food? Be honest with yourself. Any craving can hinder your spiritual progress.

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My question is does eating any sort of meat have an impact on your overall mentality?

Yes Nandita, as you testify, you experience much guilt because you intuitively feel that eating meat goes against the Buddha’s intrinsic selfless compassion and his teachings on that subject. For example:

The reason for practicing dhyana and seeking to attain Samadhi is to escape from the suffering of life, but in seeking to escape from suffering ourselves, why should we inflict it upon others? Unless you can so control your minds that even the thought of brutal unkindness and killing is abhorrent, you will never be able to escape from the bondage of the world's life. No matter how keen you may be mentally, no matter how much you may be able to practice dhyana, no matter to how high a degree of Samadhi you may attain, unless you have wholly annihilated all tendency to unkindness toward others, you will ultimately fall into the realms of existence where the evil ghosts dwell. You of this great assembly ought to appreciate that those human beings who might become enlightened and attain Samadhi, because of eating meat, can only hope to attain the rank of a great Raksha and until the end of their enjoyment of it, must sink into the never ceasing round of deaths and rebirths. (Surangama Sutra: Importance of Keeping the Precepts)

The Buddha said, “Son of my lineage, my teaching is not like that of the naked ascetics. I, the Tathagata, established rules of discipline in relation to specific individuals. Consequently, with a certain purpose in mind, I did give permission to eat meat regarded as suitable for consumption after it has been subjected to threefold examination. In other contexts, I have proscribed ten kinds of meat. And yet again, with someone else in mind, I have declared that it is improper to consume meat of any kind, even of animals that have died of natural causes. But I have affirmed, O Kashyapa, that henceforth, all those who are close to me should abstain from meat. (Mahaparinirvana Sutra: Abstaining From Eating Meat and Fish, Even Died by Natural Causes)

Unfortunately, there are many who will try to persuade you to think that eating meat is ok, as long as you don’t kill the sentient being yourself. The Buddha foresaw this:

After my Parinirvana in the last kalpa these different kinds of ghosts will be encountered everywhere deceiving people and teaching them that they can eat meat and still attain enlightenment. But how can any faithful follower of the Lord Tathagata kill sentient life and eat the flesh? (Surangama Sutra, Ibid)

The root tantra of Kalachakra says: Wicked people, hard to train, kill harmless beasts as sacrifice to gods and for their ancestors, to gain protection, profit, and fulfil their aims. To buy the meat, to wish to eat it, is indeed an evil act.

The Buddha was quite clear that he taught compassion, not evasion of responsibility:

For innumerable reasons, Mahamati, the Bodhisattva, whose nature is compassion, is not to eat any animal flesh. I will explain the reasons: Mahamati, in the long course of transmigration, all sentient beings have been our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, and we have felt many different kinds and degrees of kinship with each and every one of them. These sentient beings have been beasts, domestic animals, birds, and humans in different lifetimes and have often been related to us in some way. This being the case, how can the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva who desires to respect all sentient beings as he or she would respect himself or herself and who is committed to devotedly practising the Dharma eat the flesh of any sentient being whose nature is the same as himself or herself? Even, Mahamati, the Rakashasa, when they listened to a discourse on the highest essence of the Dharma by the Tathagata, were inspired to protect Buddhism. Through this they had awakened to the feeling of compassion, became sensitive to the sorrows of sentient beings, and therefore chose to refrain from eating animal flesh. How much more should human beings who love the Dharma do the same! Thus, Mahamati, whenever and wherever there is evolution among sentient beings, let people cherish the thought of kinship with them, and holding the thorough intention of treating them as if they were our only child, and therefore refrain from eating their flesh. So much more should Bodhisattvas, who are committed to being compassionate towards all sentient beings, and whose inner nature is compassion itself, choose to refrain from eating animal flesh. For a Bodhisattva to keep good integrity with the Dharma, he or she should not make any exceptions to the eating of animal flesh. He or she is not to eat the flesh of dogs, donkeys, buffaloes, horses, bulls, humans, or any other sentient being whether or not such flesh in generally eaten by some humans in some culture or society. Nor should a Bodhisattva eat flesh sold by others for monetary profit.” (A Re-translation of the Eighth Chapter of the Lankavatara Sutra and Commentary, By William Bagley, 2006)

Pure and earnest bhikshus, if they are true and sincere, will never wear clothing made of silk, nor wear boots made of leather because it involves the taking of life. Neither will they indulge in eating milk or cheese because thereby they are depriving the young animals of that which rightly belongs to them. It is only such true and sincere bhikshus who have repaid their karmic debts of previous lives, who will attain true emancipation, and who will no more be bound to wander to this triple world. To wear anything, or partake of anything for self-comfort, deceiving one's self as to the suffering it causes others or other sentient life, is to set up an affinity with that lower life which will draw them toward it. So all bhikshus must be very careful to live in all sincerity, refraining from even the appearance of unkindness to other life. It is such true hearted bhikshus who will attain a true emancipation. Even in one's speech and especially in one's teaching, one must practice kindness for no teaching that is unkind can be the true teaching of Buddha. Unkindness is the murderer of the life of Wisdom. (Surangama Sutra, Ibid)

Whoever, having laid aside violence in respect of all beings, moving or still, does not kill or cause to kill, him I call a brahman. (Sutta-Nipata III.9:629)

These are just a representative example of quotes. There are many more. There are also reinterpretations of the Buddha’s teachings that stray from his heartfelt-intent. In those cases, ask yourself if he meant selective compassion, or compassion for all sentient beings. And follow your heart—don’t listen to others.

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    Thank u so much for such a detailed explanation! You completely convinced me now on the whole partake of not consuming non veg! I've a query, does dairy products and tamas foods have an impact on our minds?
    – Nandita
    May 31 at 14:48
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It's amazing to me to see how people use religious justifications to justify things that against the spirit of their own religion.

The Buddha advocated for loving kindness, compassion and non-harming. For me, it strictly follow that if we can avoid harm, then we should. If we can live on a diet that's healthy and avoid harm, then what is the reason not to do it?

2500 years ago in India, people were probably straggling with getting food anyway, and it was not realistic to ask from them to cut out meat of their menu when it's an important source of food from them. Today, most people are no way near the conditions of ancient India, and it is quit easy to avoid animal products and live a healthy life. The fact that the Buddha didn't forbidden meat then does not mean that we can use the same justifications given 2500 years ago.

Also, in the time of the Buddha the conditions of the animals were compliantly different. Today, animals that are born and raised in the meat, dairy and egg industry are living an actual hell realm, when their body parts are being cut while they are still awake, they live in crowded small cages when they can barely move, they are separated from their children in the moment of birth, and they're killed in various horrific ways like gas chambers, electrification, spinning blades, and so on. Raising animals for meat today is not the same as it was at the time of the Buddha.

The Buddha did allowed monks to eat meat, but only is the animal was not slaughtered just for them. As monks were beggars, and they were supposed to eat everything that is served to them, it is impolite to say no to a piece of meat that is served to you. Today a lot of monasteries are not living in a beggar lifestyle, but has their own kitchen, and most of them do serve meat, because "the Buddha didn't explicitly forbidden it". If they buy meat at the store, doesn't that means they are paying someone to slaughter animals just for them? I think it's absolutely ridicules and it's an example of religious dogmatism, rather then connecting to the true spirit of the Buddha of non-harm and compassion.

Anyway, that's only my own opinion, and I'm not arrogant enough to say that my own opinion is the one that the Buddha would have if he was alive today. I only know that through the compassion that had opened to me through my own practice it has become impossible for me to consume animal products, and I encourage anyone to open to their own compassion and to see where does it takes them.

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  • Please see Snp 2.2: “Killing living beings, hunting, cutting, binding, theft, lying, fraud, deceptions, useless recitations, associating with the wives of others: This is a raw stench, not the eating of meat."
    – ruben2020
    May 31 at 15:37
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    ruben2020, I explicitly said in my post that the Buddha permitted eating meat. Please read my post before you comment on it.
    – Ziv Cohen
    Jun 2 at 9:21
  • I believe Ruben read your post and was kindly offering a sutta that might be of help to you as it appears you have not understood the sutta in question. Jun 2 at 13:48
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    @ZivCohen My point was not about telling you that the Buddha allowed eating meat. Rather, my point was that Kassapa Buddha did not consider eating meat to be bad karma or morally deficient in any way. Eating meat is not the same as killing animals, in the same way eating non-organic vegetables is not the same as killing small animals using pesticide. Karma in Buddhism is about mental intention and not the impact of one's action on the world, like it is in Hinduism and Jainism. It's not a system of universal justice or retribution.
    – ruben2020
    Jun 2 at 14:07
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    ruben, I didn't claim that eating meat creates bad karma, and I personally know really kind and compassionate people and advanced practitioners that consumes meat. As you say, you can consume meat without an intention of harm. Nevertheless, harm is caused by eating meat, whether one has intent for it or not. Immense suffering is caused by the meat industry today, witch is unnecessary suffering that can be easily avoided, simply by switching a diet. Why do you act morally, is it because of some "karmic score", or because you want to ease the suffering of others?
    – Ziv Cohen
    Jun 4 at 16:27
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Please read "Why is contributing to the market demand for meat not wrong?".

According to the Theravada school of Buddhism (and possibly also other schools), it is against the first precept to kill an animal yourself, but it is ok to buy frozen meat from the supermarket for consumption.

Let's say you go to a restaurant as a customer. If the restaurant prepares your meal order using frozen meat, then that's ok. But if you have to select the animal for slaughter (which happens in some Asian countries, for seafood dishes for e.g. you need to pick your lobster from an aquarium), then that breaks the first precept.

As long as you did not do the killing yourself or select the animal and ordered the butcher or chef to slaughter for you, it is not a violation of the first precept.

To summarize from that question:

  • It is wrong to kill or directly cause the killing of animals
  • It is wrong to have a livelihood on the business of meat
  • It is wrong to consume meat that is from an animal that is seen, heard or suspected to have been slaughtered specifically for you
  • It is ok to purchase and consume meat from the market (that was already dead long before you arrived at the market)
  • It is ok to order a meal from a restaurant, which is based on frozen meat

Why? This is because you did not have the intention to kill that animal. You are simply buying meat that was no longer alive when you first encountered it.

OP: My question is does eating any sort of meat have an impact on your overall mentality?

The answer is NO. Deliberately and intentionally killing an animal directly, affects your mentality. Eating food cooked from frozen meat doesn't affect your mentality, in Buddhism.

The Hindu idea of sattvic, rajasic and tamasic food (i.e. food affecting the mind) from BG 17.7-10, or that food conveys good or bad vibrations, doesn't apply to Buddhism.

Two quotes which are useful:

“Killing living beings,
hunting, cutting, binding,
theft, lying, fraud, deceptions,
useless recitations,
associating with the wives of others:
This is a raw stench,
not the eating of meat.
Snp 2.2

In three cases I say that meat may not be eaten: it’s seen, heard, or suspected. These are three cases in which meat may not be eaten.

In three cases I say that meat may be eaten: it’s not seen, heard, or suspected. These are three cases in which meat may be eaten.
MN 55

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    Ruben is correct in this OP with his comments and answer. Jun 1 at 1:41
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For overall mentality, being vegetarian may have positive or negative consequences. It will depend a lot on your reasons and circumstances. The intention matters a lot. And your other actions in life (both actions in the world and mental actions in your own mind) will have more effect on overall mentality.

Interpretation, variance in results

Many people practice vegetarianism out of compassion for all living beings. And that is helpful for their development of right effort, right view, compassion, discernment and other skillful qualities.

Some people practice vegetarianism with a strong sense of moral superiority. Or, they don't have a lot of compassion for all living beings, they might just do it to look beautiful. In this case, this wouldn't lead to any development.

Buddhists do eat meat, even monks

There is also a (false) idea that good buddhists don't eat meat. This is not true if you consider the traditions of practicing monks, in both the Buddha's time and today.

Present Practice

Please be advised that the food served at the monastery is not vegetarian. The monks respect the generosity of all lay donors and do not refuse any food offerings. Lay visitors eat the same food that is offered to the monks. Because of that, the monastery is unable to accommodate strict vegetarian diets. https://forestdhamma.org/visit/

The food at the Monastery is not vegetarian as is sometimes assumed. The monks respect the generosity of all the laypeople and do not refuse any offerings of food. The food available to lay visitors is the same as what’s first offered to the monks. If you have special dietary needs due to illness or allergies, please call to confirm that the kitchen will be able to accommodate them. Lacto-ovo vegetarians do well enough as long as they’re not set on absolute purity. The Monastery cannot accommodate vegan diets as it’s proven to be too disruptive. https://www.watmetta.org/overnightVisitors.html

In my personal understanding, seeing the generosity (dana) of the gift of food is more important than the quality or type of food.

I know some Tibetan buddhist monks who eat meat in religious ceremonies and also eat it regularly in everyday life.

In the Buddha's time: Devadatta

Devadatta was a cousin of the Buddha who tried to kill the Buddha and take over the Sangha. One way he did this was trying to say the Buddha was too lax for allowing monks to eat meat, which would have been donated.

He proposed a rule that monks "abstain completely from fish and flesh" (wikipedia, devadatta) or " It would be good if they should, their lives long, abstain from fish—if whosoever should eat fish, should thereby commit an offence." ([Cullavagga 7, Khadanka 7, Chapter 3][https://www.wisdomlib.org/buddhism/book/vinaya-3-the-cullavagga/d/doc370296.html] ) And this was rejected by the Buddha, although the Buddha did say that monks could choose to follow a no meat rule. (Presumably, not following the rule and eating meat is not an impediment to the training and path of monks. Otherwise, the Buddha would presumably make it a rule.) "Sleeping under trees has been allowed by me, Devadatta, for eight months in the year; and the eating of fish that is pure in the three points—to wit, that the eater has not seen, or heard, or suspected that it has been caught for that purpose.'"

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devadatta

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