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Question I have been speaking to some Buddhist monks who tell me that one can still eat meat and be a Buddhist monk. Is this true?

Bhoomi, Bangkok, Thailand

AnswerHello Bhoomi,
Thank you very much for your letter!

Well if you look at Buddhism scripturally and historically you will see that there is a lot of evidence to the contrary. I would say that it is not at all appropriate to call yourself a Buddhist while still eating meat (what to speak of calling yourself a Buddhist monk!)

Anyway, without indulging in criticism, allow me to share some information with you, allowing the texts to speak for themselves.

Best wishes,

Meat Eating & Buddhism

"For the sake of love of purity, let the Bodhisattva refrain from eating flesh, which is born of semen, blood etc. To avoid causing terror to living beings, let the disciple, who is disciplining himself to attain compassion, refrain from eating meat... It is not true that meat is proper food and permissible when the animal was not killed by himself, when he did not order to kill it, when it was not especially meant for him.

There may be some people in the future who, being under the influence of taste for meat will string together in various ways sophistic arguments to defend meat eating.

But meat-eating in any form, in any manner and in any place is unconditionally and once and for all prohibited.

"Meat eating I have not permitted to anyone, I do not permit and will not permit..."
Lord Buddha, (Lanka vatara Sutra ) see footnote 1

"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 abhorred, you will never be able to escape from the bondage of the world's life...
After my paranirvana in the last kalpa different ghosts will be encountered everywhere deceiving people and teaching them that they can eat meat and still attain enlightenment.. How can a bhikshu, who hopes to become a deliverer of others, himself be living on the flesh of other sentient beings?"
Lord Buddha, (Surangama Sutra) see footnote 2

"All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill."
Lord Buddha, Dhammapada, 129

"One who, while seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other living beings who also desire happinesss, will not find happiness hereafter.
Lord Buddha, Dhammapada, 131

"He who has renounced all violence towards all living beings, weak or strong, who neither kills nor causes others to kill - him I do call a holy man."
Lord Buddha, Dhammapada, 405 see footnote 3

"Anyone familiar with the numerous accounts of the Buddha's extraordinary compassion and reverence for living beings - for example his insistence that his monks strain the water they drink lest they inadvertently cause the death of any micro-organisms
(see footnote 4) could never believe that he would be indifferent to the sufferings of domestic animals caused by their slaughter of food"
Roshi Philip Kapleau, in To Cherish All Life

"The inhabitants are numerous and happy... Throuhout the country the people do not kill any living creature, nor drink intoxicating liquor.. .they do not keep pigs and fowl, and do not sell live cattle; in the markets there are no butcher shops and no dealers in intoxicating drink... Only the chandalas (lowest cast) are fisherman and hunters and sell flesh meat."
famous 4th century Chinese Buddhist traveller Fa-hsien see footnote 6

"I have enforced the laws against killing certain animals and many others. But the greatest progress of Righteousness among men comes from the exhortation in favour of non-injury to life and abstention from killing living things."
Pillar Edict of King Ashoka (268-233 BC) see footnote 7

"The eating of meat extinguishes the seed of great compassion"
Mahaparinirvana (Mahayana Version)

The 13th Century Zen Master Doyen, while visiting China, asked this question:
"What must the mental attitude and daily activities of a student be when he is engaged in Buddhist Meditation and practice?" Ju-Ching answered that one of the things he should avoid is eating meat. see footnote 8

"The salvation of birds and beasts, oneself included - this is the object of Shakyamuni's religious austerities."
Zen Master Ikkyu

"In China and Japan the eating of meat was looked upon as an evil and was ostracised… The eating of meat gradually ceased (around 517) and then tended to become general. It became a matter of course not to use any kind of meat in the meals of temples and monasteries."
Encyclopaedia of Buddhism see footnote 9

"There is just no reason why animals should be slaughtered to serve as human diet when there are so many substitutes. Man can live without meat."
The Dalai Lama

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