Friday, September 16, 2011

A Buddhist-Vegetarian Debate Resource

David N. Snyder, Ph.D. (
Not eating animal products for a day beats buying and releasing animals (

Buddhist vegetarian vs. meat-based diet debate resource

Q: Didn’t the Buddha eat meat?

A: The Buddha may have eaten some meat, following the threefold rule. But his diet was more like a vegetarian diet who ate meat "out of pity" (Numerical Discourses III.49) on rare occasions.

Are lamb chops actually made of lambs, killed and bloody, crying and clinging to life?

Q: What about the famous threefold rule the Buddha allowed meat eating if one did not hear, see, or [suspect] that the animal was killed for one’s consumption.

A: The main premise behind the threefold rule is to accept what one receives in one's bowl when on alms round. This rule was meant for and given to monks and nuns, not lay people. “Beggars can’t be choosers” in modern terms. So for the vast majority of Buddhists who are lay people, a conscious decision must be made.

Q: What about evolution? Doesn't evolution show that all animals must kill and eat as members of the food chain?

A: Some people argue that we as humans should be eating at the top of the food chain, like other large animals or because of our “superiority.” However, if we are truly superior to other animals we do not need to show it by being the greatest inflicters of violence.

Chinese Buddhist cuisine in Taiwan (

Rather, it is better to show moral superiority by being the most compassionate. Not all large or intelligent animals eat at the top of the food chain. [The largest and strongest are vegetarian -- as an intelligent way to support their mass.] For example, elephants, rhinos, whales, and gorillas are all very large, very strong, and very intelligent animals that eat at the bottom of the food chain where food is most abundant. The largest whales use a filter in their mouths to catch the tiniest green plankton in the sea as their meals. A microscope is necessary to view plankton.

Because of our close connection to animals biologically (evolutionarily) and spiritually in the rebirth process, the Buddha was opposed to violence toward animals. An understanding and acceptance of the theory of evolution is important because without that acceptance there is a perception of a great separation between humans and animals which simply does not exist.

Somehow some of us love some animals but do not give a second thought to other animals.

As time goes on, people will realize that it is not just a biological connection. If we are animals, as evolution shows us, then animals also evolve with the same Buddha-nature (capacity for enlightenment, or whatever spiritual terminology one wishes to use). We all evolved from the same source.

Q: Devadatta, who was a Buddhist monk and a cousin of the Buddha, made a list of new rules he wanted implemented. The Buddha refused to make them mandatory. The list included ascetic practices, including strict vegetarianism: Since the Buddha refused to accept this list, isn’t he saying that meat eating is allowed?

A: No, Devadatta made this list not out of compassion for monastics or animals but as a ploy to cause a schism in the Sangha and take the Buddha's place. See Devadatta

Q: How does vegetarianism fit with the middle way? Isn’t vegetarianism an “extreme” view?

A: See Vegetarianism and the Middle Way

Q: In first world countries only about 3 to 5% are vegetarian. What good is one person becoming a vegetarian?

A: See Nutrition and environment

Q: What do the Buddhist Theravada and Mahayana scriptures say about vegetarianism?
A: See Numerical D
iscourses 3.16

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