I've heard two speculations:

1) Onions & garlic are used to flavor meat, so they are guilty by association. I've heard the Jains have a similar prohibition for this reason.

2) Onions & garlic incite the "passions"-- in other words, its a Indian herbal viagra.

Does anyone know the real motivation for prohibiting onions and garlic? Is the real motivation lost to the mist of time?

This is the 4th minor Precept in the Brahma Net Sutra.

  • 1
    Jains have rules against eating plants which have life in them: my guess was that Jains wouldn't like garlic because is can sprout: similar to not eating carrots. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_cuisine#Other_restrictions agrees but that's labelled unreferenced and dubious. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… suggest that Jainism is influential (maybe they all had 'Ayurvedic' background oslt) and suggests that "onions and garlic are considered "tamasic" as they are believed to have a quality of darkness, lethargy and a putrid smell."
    – ChrisW
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 12:56
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_cuisine#Other_restrictions also says, "The respective Vinaya forbid the monks and nuns the consumption of mango and garlic. Both prohibitions followed incidents in which monastics harvested more than they could eat in one day." which sounds plausible (e.g. because sfaik the reason for other Vinaya rules is that they were created following various specific 'incidents').
    – ChrisW
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 13:00

1 Answer 1


Page 55 of this books tells a story about why no garlic


The text is from the Chanyuan Qinggui - the stories there are that the nuns were allowed to pick 5 heads of garlic a day but one day picked all of them. The Buddha then banned the use of garlic.

Another story tells that people who use garlic were not allowed near the Buddha when he was giving his sermon because of bad breath, body odor and possibly flatulence.

This seems more plausible to me if you have ever been around someone eating lots of garlic.

Onions, especially sweet onions, do not exhibit these same symptoms after eating.

  • Interesting, I eat a lot of garlic and don't have body odor. Then again, I have running water and am able to bathe more than once a year. Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 13:47
  • Even with daily bathing the oils in garlic come out through the skin. Perhaps a small amount of garlic is not very noticeable.
    – soulsings
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 2:02
  • I agree with soulsings. It's particularly noticeable when you go a period of two weeks to a month without garlic or onions. When you do, then you'll notice it as an odor between the nasal membranes particularly when consumed fresh and with little cooking. It can't be washed away: you have to wait for the body to eliminate them or become acclimatized. I haven't done enough meditation to personally vouch for its negative effects alluded to above.
    – pmagunia
    Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 20:26

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