The Buddha explains the ethics of meat-eating.

Margaret’s comment on my last post got me thinking (which I always appreciate – thanks Margaret :). So I propose a bit of a study session on one of the suttas most commonly cited in the ethics of meat-eating. Included is the full Pāli of the text as well as a reputable English translation. Please read, comment, ask questions, answer them, etc. I’ll try to keep up :)


Meat eating vs Vegetarianism is a common topic amongst Buddhists and has passed in and out of various fads in the West in the last few decades. The arguments and discussions have many angles: ethics toward sentient beings, what’s best for our planet, and personal health being chief amongst them.

Do you want my thoughts first or the Buddha’s? Well, we’ll start with mine because they’re shorter, then get to the Buddha’s.

  1. We should avoid harm to sentient beings, right down to flies, flees, ticks, etc. You don’t need to believe in reincarnation to see the wisdom of this. Read Sir (Saint) Thomas More’s Utopia. How we treat other beings, right down to the bacteria on our body, reflects in how we treat fellow humans. Children who abuse cats when young become sociopaths later in life (or so Law and Order tells me).
  2. When we do need to harm other beings, do so with respect and humility. A Native American traditionally killing an elk or buffalo has far more respect from me than a punk who thinks it’s funny to run over a squirrel with his car. In Buddhism it is our intention (cetanā) that generates our action (karma). It is an unfortunate consequence of Western culture and ethics that actions are superficially lumped together and evaluated.
  3. Our planet. Yikes. Well I’m pretty convinced that humans are causing climate change and that we need to do something about it. There are about a million and one things you can do to help, and as many to cause more harm. It’s my impression that a vegan lifestyle, or as close as one can get to it, helps. Eating local or raising your own (even meat) is also helpful, as it reduces carbon from shipping food all over the planet. Depending on your location, either of these may be difficult. But it’s not about absolutes, it’s about effort and intention.
  4. Personal health? Be wise, educate yourself, talk to friends, be very mindful of changes you make and how they affect your body/energy levels. When I first went vegetarian, from a solid diet of steak and potatoes, I lived on Chex-mix and dairy products for a while, much to my own demise. It took time and help from friends to shift to healthy foods and a healthy lifestyle.

Sheesh. Hopefully not too long winded there, ’cause the Buddha’s worse… Here it is in the Pāli via here.** 

5. Jīvakasuttaṃ

51. Evaṃ me sutaṃ – ekaṃ samayaṃ bhagavā rājagahe viharati jīvakassa komārabhaccassa ambavane. Atha kho jīvako komārabhacco yena bhagavā tenupasaṅkami; upasaṅkamitvā bhagavantaṃ abhivādetvā ekamantaṃ nisīdi . Ekamantaṃ nisinno kho jīvako komārabhacco bhagavantaṃ etadavoca – ‘‘sutaṃ metaṃ, bhante – ‘samaṇaṃ gotamaṃ uddissa pāṇaṃ ārabhanti [ārambhanti (ka.)], taṃ samaṇo gotamo jānaṃ uddissakataṃ [uddissakaṭaṃ (sī. pī.)] maṃsaṃ paribhuñjati paṭiccakamma’nti. Ye te, bhante, evamāhaṃsu – ‘samaṇaṃ gotamaṃ uddissa pāṇaṃ ārabhanti, taṃ samaṇo gotamo jānaṃ uddissakataṃ maṃsaṃ paribhuñjati paṭiccakamma’nti, kacci te, bhante, bhagavato vuttavādino, na ca bhagavantaṃ abhūtena abbhācikkhanti, dhammassa cānudhammaṃ byākaronti, na ca koci sahadhammiko vādānuvādo gārayhaṃ ṭhānaṃ āgacchatī’’ti?

52. ‘‘Ye te, jīvaka, evamāhaṃsu – ‘samaṇaṃ gotamaṃ uddissa pāṇaṃ ārabhanti, taṃ samaṇo gotamo jānaṃ uddissakataṃ maṃsaṃ paribhuñjati paṭiccakamma’nti na me te vuttavādino, abbhācikkhanti ca maṃ te asatā abhūtena. Tīhi kho ahaṃ, jīvaka, ṭhānehi maṃsaṃ aparibhoganti vadāmi. Diṭṭhaṃ, sutaṃ, parisaṅkitaṃ – imehi kho ahaṃ, jīvaka , tīhi ṭhānehi maṃsaṃ aparibhoganti vadāmi. Tīhi kho ahaṃ, jīvaka, ṭhānehi maṃsaṃ paribhoganti vadāmi. Adiṭṭhaṃ, asutaṃ, aparisaṅkitaṃ – imehi kho ahaṃ, jīvaka, tīhi ṭhānehi maṃsaṃ paribhoganti vadāmi.

53. ‘‘Idha, jīvaka, bhikkhu aññataraṃ gāmaṃ vā nigamaṃ vā upanissāya viharati. So mettāsahagatena cetasā ekaṃ disaṃ pharitvā viharati, tathā dutiyaṃ, tathā tatiyaṃ, tathā catutthaṃ. Iti uddhamadho tiriyaṃ sabbadhi sabbattatāya sabbāvantaṃ lokaṃ mettāsahagatena cetasā vipulena mahaggatena appamāṇena averena abyābajjhena pharitvā viharati. Tamenaṃ gahapati vā gahapatiputto vā upasaṅkamitvā svātanāya bhattena nimanteti. Ākaṅkhamānova [ākaṅkhamāno (syā. kaṃ.)], jīvaka, bhikkhu adhivāseti . So tassā rattiyā accayena pubbaṇhasamayaṃ nivāsetvā pattacīvaramādāya yena tassa gahapatissa vā gahapatiputtassa vā nivesanaṃ tenupasaṅkamati; upasaṅkamitvā paññatte āsane nisīdati. Tamenaṃ so gahapati vā gahapatiputto vā paṇītena piṇḍapātena parivisati. Tassa na evaṃ hoti – ‘sādhu vata māyaṃ [maṃ + ayaṃ = māyaṃ] gahapati vā gahapatiputto vā paṇītena piṇḍapātena pariviseyyāti! Aho vata māyaṃ gahapati vā gahapatiputto vā āyatimpi evarūpena paṇītena piṇḍapātena pariviseyyā’ti – evampissa na hoti. So taṃ piṇḍapātaṃ agathito [agadhito (syā. kaṃ. ka.)] amucchito anajjhopanno[anajjhāpanno (syā. kaṃ. ka.)] ādīnavadassāvī nissaraṇapañño paribhuñjati. Taṃ kiṃ maññasi, jīvaka , api nu so bhikkhu tasmiṃ samaye attabyābādhāya vā ceteti, parabyābādhāya vā ceteti, ubhayabyābādhāya vā cetetī’’ti?

‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’.

‘‘Nanu so, jīvaka, bhikkhu tasmiṃ samaye anavajjaṃyeva āhāraṃ āhāretī’’ti?

‘‘Evaṃ, bhante. Sutaṃ metaṃ, bhante – ‘brahmā mettāvihārī’ti. Taṃ me idaṃ, bhante, bhagavā sakkhidiṭṭho; bhagavā hi, bhante, mettāvihārī’’ti. ‘‘Yena kho, jīvaka, rāgena yena dosenayena mohena byāpādavā assa so rāgo so doso so moho tathāgatassa pahīno ucchinnamūlo tālāvatthukato anabhāvaṃkato [anabhāvakato (sī. pī.), anabhāvaṃgato (syā. kaṃ.)] āyatiṃ anuppādadhammo. Sace kho te, jīvaka, idaṃ sandhāya bhāsitaṃ anujānāmi te eta’’nti. ‘‘Etadeva kho pana me, bhante, sandhāya bhāsitaṃ’’ [bhāsitanti (syā.)].

54. ‘‘Idha, jīvaka, bhikkhu aññataraṃ gāmaṃ vā nigamaṃ vā upanissāya viharati. So karuṇāsahagatena cetasā…pe… muditāsahagatena cetasā…pe… upekkhāsahagatena cetasā ekaṃ disaṃ pharitvā viharati, tathā dutiyaṃ, tathā tatiyaṃ, tathā catutthaṃ. Iti uddhamadho tiriyaṃ sabbadhi sabbattatāya sabbāvantaṃ lokaṃ upekkhāsahagatena cetasā vipulena mahaggatena appamāṇena averena abyābajjhena pharitvā viharati. Tamenaṃ gahapati vā gahapatiputto vā upasaṅkamitvā svātanāya bhattena nimanteti. Ākaṅkhamānova, jīvaka, bhikkhu adhivāseti. Sotassā rattiyā accayena pubbaṇhasamayaṃ nivāsetvā pattacīvaramādāya yena gahapatissa vā gahapatiputtassa vā nivesanaṃ tenupasaṅkamati; upasaṅkamitvā paññatte āsane nisīdati. Tamenaṃ so gahapati vā gahapatiputto vā paṇītena piṇḍapātena parivisati. Tassa na evaṃ hoti – ‘sādhu vata māyaṃ gahapati vā gahapatiputto vā paṇītena piṇḍapātena pariviseyyāti! Aho vata māyaṃ gahapati vā gahapatiputto vā āyatimpi evarūpena paṇītena piṇḍapātena pariviseyyā’ti – evampissa na hoti. So taṃ piṇḍapātaṃ agathito amucchito anajjhopanno ādīnavadassāvī nissaraṇapañño paribhuñjati. Taṃ kiṃ maññasi, jīvaka, api nu so bhikkhu tasmiṃ samaye attabyābādhāya vā ceteti, parabyābādhāya vā ceteti, ubhayabyābādhāya vā cetetī’’ti?

‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’.

‘‘Nanu so, jīvaka, bhikkhu tasmiṃ samaye anavajjaṃyeva āhāraṃ āhāretī’’ti?

‘‘Evaṃ, bhante. Sutaṃ metaṃ, bhante – ‘brahmā upekkhāvihārī’ti. Taṃ me idaṃ, bhante, bhagavā sakkhidiṭṭho; bhagavā hi, bhante, upekkhāvihārī’’ti. ‘‘Yena kho, jīvaka, rāgena yena dosena yena mohena vihesavā assa arativā assa paṭighavā assa so rāgo so doso so moho tathāgatassa pahīno ucchinnamūlo tālāvatthukato anabhāvaṃkato āyatiṃ anuppādadhammo. Sace kho te, jīvaka, idaṃ sandhāya bhāsitaṃ, anujānāmi te eta’’nti. ‘‘Etadeva kho pana me, bhante, sandhāya bhāsitaṃ’’.

55. ‘‘Yo kho, jīvaka, tathāgataṃ vā tathāgatasāvakaṃ vā uddissa pāṇaṃ ārabhati so pañcahi ṭhānehi bahuṃ apuññaṃ pasavati. Yampi so, gahapati, evamāha – ‘gacchatha, amukaṃ nāma pāṇaṃ ānethā’ti, iminā paṭhamena ṭhānena bahuṃ apuññaṃ pasavati. Yampi so pāṇo galappaveṭhakena [galappavedhakena (bahūsu)] ānīyamāno dukkhaṃ domanassaṃ paṭisaṃvedeti, iminā dutiyena ṭhānena bahuṃ apuññaṃ pasavati. Yampi so evamāha – ‘gacchatha imaṃ pāṇaṃ ārabhathā’ti, iminā tatiyena ṭhānena bahuṃ apuññaṃ pasavati. Yampi so pāṇo ārabhiyamāno dukkhaṃ domanassaṃ paṭisaṃvedeti , iminā catutthena ṭhānena bahuṃ apuññaṃ pasavati. Yampi so tathāgataṃ vā tathāgatasāvakaṃ vā akappiyena āsādeti, iminā pañcamena ṭhānena bahuṃ apuññaṃ pasavati. Yo kho, jīvaka, tathāgataṃ vā tathāgatasāvakaṃ vā uddissa pāṇaṃ ārabhati so imehi pañcahi ṭhānehi bahuṃ apuññaṃ pasavatī’’ti.

Evaṃ vutte, jīvako komārabhacco bhagavantaṃ etadavoca – ‘‘acchariyaṃ, bhante, abbhutaṃ, bhante! Kappiyaṃ vata, bhante, bhikkhū āhāraṃ āhārenti ; anavajjaṃ vata, bhante, bhikkhū āhāraṃ āhārenti. Abhikkantaṃ, bhante, abhikkantaṃ, bhante…pe… upāsakaṃ maṃ bhagavā dhāretu ajjatagge pāṇupetaṃ saraṇaṃ gata’’nti.

Jīvakasuttaṃ niṭṭhitaṃ pañcamaṃ.

And since I’m too lazy and incompetant to even try a translation of that, we’ll stand on the shoulders of giants: with Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation of the  Majjhima Nikaya here (click for larger images):

The sutta seems to set up two standards (neither of which exhausts our discussion of vegetarianism in Buddhism, but both help). The first is for a monk. For the monastic, meat should not be eaten if it is seen, heard, or suspected [to have been prepared for him]. But meat may be eaten otherwise.

I often say this is my own “I didn’t know and I’m not gonna fuss” rule. In London, a Korean friend’s mother invited me to a huge meal upon hearing that I was a Buddhist. It was 80% meat products. I ate it. It would have been rude to say, “hey, I’m a vegetarian, sorry I can’t accept your generosity.” That would have made everyone uncomfortable, and me hungry – nibbling on the few veggies. It would have made no difference to the animals already bred, raised, fed, and killed for the meal.

The second standard is for the layman. Here again intentions are key. It says that “anyone who slaughters a living being for the Buddha or his student, he lays up much demerit in five ways.” First by saying “go get the animal to be killed”; second when the animal experiences pain; third when he says “go kill the animal”; fourth when the animal is in the pain of being slaughtered; and fifth when he offers the food to the Buddha or his student.


For one thing, we shouldn’t take this, or any of the Buddha’s teachings, at face value. We are constantly urged to test them in our lives, to discuss them with wise people, and to see what brings about the reduction in our own greed, hatred, and delusion. As Margaret noted, vegetarianism can become an attachment, and this is far, far from what the Buddha would have suggested (*see below/bottom for a hint of this). The Buddha may have prescribed many exterior activities to monks and laypeople, but that does not mean that those activities are necessarily right for us. Central to Buddhist thought is that we each must learn and decide for ourselves – not without help, but ultimately it is up to us to realize the truth, not to accept or believe it as in some systems of thought.

What’s (to me) very interesting about this sutta is that it intermingles discussion of loving-kindness (mettā) and equanimity (upekkha) in the discussion of what the Buddha’s monks should or should not be eating. I’m not sure what exactly to make of that. They seem a bit out of place, so perhaps an addition by later compilers of the canon, or maybe there is a deeper purpose that simply escapes me. Perhaps, and this would be my guess: the discussion is framed around meat-eating (a physical activity) to serve as an example of what possible mental intentions might be at play, both for those eating and for those more closely responsible for the killing of animals.

* in the Āmagandha Sutta (Sutta Nipata II.2.) Kassapa refutes the view of defilement through eating meat and states that this only comes about from an evil mind and actions. This, it seems is an argument against a dogmatic clinging to vegetarianism and a restatement of the primacy of mind and mental influence upon our acts.

** One of the first things that jumped out at me regarding this sutta is that it is in the “householder group” (Gahapativaggo) in the Majjhima Nikāya (number 55, book pp.474-476). Jīvaka, after whom the sutta earns its name, is a rich householder, and the owner of the mango grove in which the Buddha is resting. In this group of suttas all are addressed to householders – some are taught by Ananda, some by the Buddha himself. All deal closely with the differing doctrines and practices of the time. 

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  • Maringouin

    As always, Justin, an excellent presentation and analysis! But we could debate cases and suttas until hell freezes and never get anywhere. The point seems to me to be the need to develop a personal sense of responsibility. This (again, to me) involves avoiding both excess and unhealthy food choices. Much of the meat-raising which is destroying the rain forests is to make hamburgers for McDonald's, or other fast-food chains, or to provide already grossly-overfed persons with 16-oz steaks, which no one needs. Case in point: Bruce and I recently had a meal which we considered to be a massive meat hit in terms of our regular non-vegetarian diet. Total meat consumption of two people: one chicken breast and two strips of bacon. That's a big meat meal for us. We don't make a fuss about eating meat or not, but we certainly don't eat a lot of it.The planet? Well, what's the carbon footprint of veggies brought into Montana in winter? How much poison was poured onto those veggies to keep them looking nice for the supermarket? How super-processed are all those soy products that are made to look (I don't say taste) like bacon, luncheon meat, cheese, whatever (not to mention the genetic engineering of the soybean)?Like I said, we can argue cases forever. I don't object to vegetarianism and I certainly do object to excessive meat eating. Excessive anything-eating, actually. But most of all I object to being told that somehow a person who eats meat–as I do–isn't 'really' a Buddhist because as we all know, Buddhists Don't Eat Meat. According to some, it's another absolute truth that Buddhists Don't Drink Alcohol, but we haven't all made that choice either, and the Five Precepts are a heck of a lot clearer about intoxicants than about meat-eating.Your point about taking personal responsibility for our health and habits is a good one and it seems to me that the real challenge is to make informed choices about not only what we eat, but how we eat and how much we eat. The Slow Food movement is a really interesting development in that direction. I would probably eat differently if I were not living where there is an adequate supply of locally grown everything. Including wine.Thanks for your thoughtfulness on this topic. Much appreciated.

  • CrypticFragments

    I am a meat-eater. I have recently become a Buddhist. I am going to confess to using the poor excuse my friends, who are Tibetan (monks and otherwise), use: Food without meat is not very tasty or filling. I, and they, were raised on meat.Of course, this choice was somewhat different when I lived with them in India, where farm animals tend to serve other purposes before being slaughtered for food.As I progress along the path, perhaps I will re-evaluate the frequency with which I dine on meat. But for now I will follow the advice one of my monk friends gave me, that we should simply pray for the animal we consume.

  • Adam

    I made the choice to become a vegetarian as of the New Year. Before that, I ate very little meat as my wife has been a vegetarian for many years. For me, it was about not causing harm to sentient beings. In this day in age, the choices are almost limitless for the vegetarian, except when it comes to fast-food (Subway or Taco Bell) or "quick" food out of a box. I simply see no reason why an animal should suffer so that I can expand my waistline. I see the argument quite a bit that it is somehow worse for the enviroment to be a vegetarian because of all of the extra vegetables you're going to consume and how much of a carbon footprint you'll be leaving. This simply isn't true, unless your diet consisted of nothing but meat beforehand! I don't know of many meat-eaters outside of the college dormroom that don't eat beans or vegetables or something along with their meat. I agree with your points Justin, in that a vegan (or close to it) lifestyle goes a very long way in reducing our impact on the enviroment, as well as providing numerous health benefits (ask a cardiologist how many vegetarian patients they have…..). As well as Margaret's points on how we are destroying the rainforests for Big Macs. It's pretty sickening. All these reasons are what led me to not eat meat anymore. I find that FOR ME, it is a more compassionate way of life. I don't see it as an attachment. I think it only becomes an attachment when you'd starve yourself rather than eat meat. Or when you become one of the militant PETA-types. Yes, I think we would all benefit from a reduction in the amount of meat consumed in this country. But I'm not going to demand that everyone adopt my lifestyle choice. However, in the Buddhist world, I do see a lot of "well, the Buddha ate meat, so it doesn't really matter what I consume". As you can see from what you posted, this was not the Buddha's position on this at all. It's sad that people rarely take the time to consider what is on their plate, where it came from, and what the impact is from their consumption. Also, I f*cking miss bacon. Cheers.

  • Buddhist_philosopher

    Thanks, Margaret. With regards to personal responsibility we're in total agreement. A light meat diet such as yours and Bruce's, and as I recall you stick to local and fresh foods, certainly makes much more ecological sense than eating imported, doctored up soy fake meats.Veggies in MT? Depends on the veggie. Onions, potatoes, gourdes and some others can be grown pretty nearby, so I try to eat more of those in winter months. Bananas are a disaster (carbon-wise) year around so I quit eating them for a while but have relapsed. So certainly there's room for greater mindfulness even in a veggie diet :)What I do like about the sutta(s) is that in our attempt to seek the counsel of the wise (in this case the Buddha) it helps to actually see what the wise said – at least according to one tradition's record. And as we see, much to some people's chagrin, is that the Buddha was not a vegetarian, nor did he advocate absolute vegetarianism. Arun – thanks for the style tip. I was a bit flippant in calling myself incompetent regarding the Pali, as I could translate it given the time. And certainly the passage is too long to be useful to most readers, but I do hope people will have a look at it beside the translation and perhaps pick out some recognized words and/or get a sense of the flavor of Pali. Along similar lines, I have a giant Chinese scroll of the Heart Sutra in front of me now. I can't read it, but every now and then I learn a new character and the scroll takes on new depth. I could go on ad nauseum about my love of language and the importance I see in it for understanding a culture/person/religion… If I had a Burmese palm leaf image to include, I probably would. :) Or at least a link to it, which is what I might have left this at had the sutta itself not been buried halfway down in the lengthy Householder Group.Tseten – I think the prayer/mindfulness of consumption goes a long, long way. It's better to be a mindful meat-eater than a naive vegan.Adam – I hear you with the bacon! I think my girlfriend (over a year now as a vegetarian) is tormented by it even more than me. :) Again I think it's great for us, if we call ourselves Buddhists or simply seek the advice of the Buddha on things, to actually read what he said and study his life as much as we can. Buddhism changed with every new culture it entered and I'd hate to see it lose too much of its roots (I love Bodhipaksa's "Fake Buddha Qutoes" list and discussions) as it comes to the West.Hence my demand from this moment forth that we all learn Pali. :) j/k.

  • Arun

    @Buddhist_philosopher: Don’t give yourself too much credit. You are still but an enthusiastic novice of the Pali language. It’s easy for me to see from my own experience and also as one who’s worked with many scholars who have studied Pali since long before you were even a itch in your father’s pants. Before typing up one of your characteristically smug and defensive replies—take your position as an academic into account and look at your writing reasonably: how much properly serves your audience and how much is just self-serving?I admire your enthusiasm for Pali study and language in general. I deeply encourage you to continue your explorations and to share them broadly. I’m sure that if you keep at it, you’ll grow up to be quite the reputable Pali scholar one day. But until then, be mindful of where you are.

  • Kyle

    Thank you for the great post Justin. I am too a meat eater and I don't object to any style of life a Buddhist would take meat eater or not.On a side note, if I didn't respect Justin so much as to know when to keep my mouth shut, I'd be screaming at a certain arrogant person right now…but I shall remain calm here.

  • zendirtzendust

    Hi Justin,I enjoyed this post mostly because you did leave much of the Pali in. While I am not an academic in Buddhism (although can be called one in other realms if you so wish) I agree and disagree with Arun concerning the placement of the text. While leaving the original text did take up plenty of space (something I am cautious with on my own blog) I think leaving portions or links to original material both work. For me, being a full on virgin in Pali, I skipped right over it. I suspect that others that can read it would prefer it to be there to compare.I also don't find your writing self-serving (I can go to other blogs for that. Check out some science blogs for a true ego-trip). As per the actual discussion of meat-eating: I am a meat-eater. However, since beginning practice I can go for weeks not eating meat without realizing it. I prefer this to just "stating" that I am a vegetarian. It seems more healthy just to go with what my body it telling me. Cheers,JohnBTW, sorry for the rambling comment but am between two meetings, no lunch (I plan to feast on turkey flesh though) and still got two deadlines to "meat"Bwahahahah!

  • Daniel

    Thanks for your post Justin, I think it's a really interesting review and I DID LIKE TO SEE HOW THE ORIGINAL TEXT LOOKS LIKE. I think for the kind of public you are addressing here its nice to notice that what you are saying is an actual translation from an ancient text and its fun to see how it looks like (yes as fun as the "dead" lady or any other picture). And by the way, what is the importance of space in a web site? This is not a paper magazine, use as much as you want!Of course, I understand that there is people who master the "technique" of communication very well but lack of real original ideas. Such people tend to forget that the actual purpose of writing is communicating and not doing an exercise of style. Seeing your non-understandable text did not take me much time, but I have to say that reading comments that have a lot to say about the style of a piece of work but obviously very little about the content… those really are a waste of time. And I'm not getting into the self-awareness thing because then I'll have to talk about cyber-trolls…That said, let me introduce a new perspective in your thread of comments. I do not miss meat at all. I became vegetarian when I was 18, way before I became buddhist, and I've never missed the meat. Actually, I'm surprised some of you guys do, you should really consider eating it if you really miss it that much but, how could you want to eat meat after reflecting on what are you going to put into your mouth? I feel as empathic with a dog as I do feel with a cow (or a tuna). How can you eat a cow or a dog? Well, my grandpa used to eat cats though…Anyways I have to say I took a break on my vegetarianism for a few years, and I didn't do it for a nutritional need, but for social pressure! It is really difficult to be vegetarian, particularly if you eat outside, if you visit your family, if you visit friend's family… As many of you reflect in your comments we all face the feeling that we are making the others feel uncomfortable and we all like to be liked. I understand that that's a real pressure. However, again, when you reflect about it, it doesn't really make sense to do it to make the others happy (does it, really?) AND by being openly vegetarians we are educating others on the options they have, and gradually bringing it to normality. Yes being a feminist some 50 years ago was really challenging, but thanks to that now you can be it with little effort. If nearly everyone was vegetarian would be having this conversation at all? My guess is not, we'll be happily eating salad and rice with veggies :o)

  • Adam

    @ Daniel, I said that I miss bacon, and it's because it's bacon. I once proclaimed I'd walk over broken glass Bruce-Willis style for bacon. Bacon is friggin delicious. Yes, I know where it comes from, and how it used to get to my plate, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it's so damn tasty. So is steak, burgers on the grill, chicken fingers at the bar…….I ate meat for over 25 years. It was a staple in my diet, and a quite delicious one. I think it would only be natural to miss the taste, as well as the way your body felt after a good bar burger. Our bodies (and minds) become conditioned to such feelings. The one thing that keeps me from falling off the meat wagon and into a pile of bacon is knowing exactly how it would get to my plate.

  • Buddhist_philosopher

    Thanks for the great discussion, everyone. Glad to hear some folks at least enjoyed the lengthy bit of Pali. Good luck with your 'meatings', John :) So has your practice led you to eat less meat? Listening to the body, and awareness in general around food, is great. I still eat fish (wild caught, never farmed, sometimes local) fairly regularly when I'm feeling slowed down and it gets be back up and going. And (pssst, don't tell anyone) I did have a bacon cheeseburger toward the end of my time in China last year because I was so strongly craving red meat. My guess is that with the travels and strange foods I wasn't getting near the protein, and/or iron, that my body requires. I felt GREAT afterward… But no meat since. I swear. I think… (yea, I'm one of those weird folks who doesn't count fish, sorry… Catholic upbringing maybe)Daniel – thanks for your kind words and thoughtful comments. The 'why crave meat' question might go deeply into our biology. There was a study recently that suggested fatty foods (like bacon) can be as addictive as heroin, so we might get biologically wired to just want it, no matter how much cognitive work we do to KNOW that it's not good for us or that it involves harming animals or environmental degradation or whatnot.I honestly usually don't crave meats (I get my fish fix for that, so I guess I kinda do [yes I've tried supplements, but nothing has worked like actually eating a bit of salmon or trout]) but in reading things like that about our biology – and I've also researched biological roots to mental illnesses – I can empathize with people who do crave meat, even in unhealthy excess. Sometimes our brains work against us in odd ways, even when we 'know' better.And I dig the feminism reference – people, mostly women, had to work hard 'to put a face on' the fight for equality to get where we are today. Civil rights too. Perhaps mindful eating will undergo a similar process.

  • Tom Armstrong

    Very interesting! … and annoying in a Whitaker kind of kindly way.Of course, I immediately have become very concerned about the asocial qualities of Children who abuse bacteria. [I'll try looking at episodes of The Andy Griffith Show to see if there is any news there on the topic.]The Armstrong Rule — which I presume everyone wants to know about — is that we should all avoid eating meat.BUT, there was an animal in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy that was bred such that it wanted to be eaten. Any information from the sutras about that? Is that an animal that we not only can eat, but must eat!?Thomas Nagle in his famous essay "What is it Like to be a Bat?" addresses the matter of it being rather impossible to imagine what our non-human friends' and enemies' conscious experience is like.I guess, then, we should presume the best (or, the worst, if you like meat) and stay away from even teeny animals. And I suppose we shouldn't eat fetuses, or abort them.

  • They call him James Ure

    Great post Justin. I myself am a vegetarian and have been since 2005. I thought I'd miss meat but not at all. I chose to do it mostly for compassionate reasons for I love animals so much!! Sometimes I'd rather spend time with a dog than many humans!! Hehe.I am also a vegetarian for the environmental impact of a meat based diet as Margaret pointed out.But, I am not a militant vegetarian who screams at others who still eat meat. I don't think that does anyone any good. Why act better than them? Just because you're vegetarian doesn't mean you're better than others. I don't get offended when people eat meat around me. It would be silly to be offended. I agree that we all have to do what's right for us. If we try and force ourselves to be vegetarian, but the will isn't in it then it seems like a waste of time. Part of my vegetarianism stems from my Buddhist beliefs of course but it also is tied into the teaching of the middle path. In that regard, I'm not going to refuse meat if it is offered to me at a guests house. I personally believe that to make a scene about not eating meat just so you can stay a "pure vegetarian" is less important than showing some compassion and gratitude for the gift being offered to you. Especially if you're a visitor to a foreign country.Also, I won't refuse meat if it is a situation of life or death. I think it is attachment and extremism to expect someone to die rather than eat meat. That's Janinism.

  • dham3

    I had bookmarked your blog to be commented on when I had more time. Buddha himself ate meat. I am a vegetarian because I love animals and I do not want to eat another living being. Eating meat is an individual thing, on one's own conscience, and situation. I recall an incident when an visiting monk of English descent was offered at dana fish and chips, which was accepted graciously. On this topic Jonathan Safron Foer has written a book called 'Eating Animals' of which I have only read the excerpts.

  • Maringouin

    Er, fish aren't vegetables. If you eat fish, how can you be a vegetarian? But I think that your comments, Justin, about how you only eat fish when your body needs it, highlights what other people have commented, namely that it's important to attend to your body and what it asks for. A healthy body knows what it needs in the way of nutrients. And all bodies are different. I'm encouraged by the tone of tolerance, concern and responsibility expressed in this discussion.

  • Mumon

    I'd posted before on this topic, here:, and here: idea that either the Buddha in his time, had all the answers here must be questioned, like anything else in Buddhism.The fact is, because human nutrition is a scientific endeavor as well as a social endeavor, a sensual endeavor, an ecological endeavor as well as – or perhaps and therefore is – a moral endeavor.It is absurd, I think, to take stances such as raw veganism and what- not, given what we know about human evolution and nutrition.In China incidentally, as well as in some other places, the ingestion of the human placenta is sometimes done for health reasons.Is this immoral? Whose life is it taking, exactly? And then (Tom, take note) there's the tapeworm, which actually did evolve to want to be eaten! Is it moral to render tapeworms extinct? I think so, but isn't that the killing of animals?

  • Tom Armstrong

    Mumon,I would eat tapeworms if I knew that they knew I was eating them and they knew that it was that that they wanted.That is, if their consciousness was much larger than, by all evidence, it is.I have no problem with you eating placentas. You can also eat my hair and toe- and finger-nails. And you can munch on my liver so long as you leave me enough to get by.I disagree with the idea that we can eat meat when mysteriously we feel our body needs it. Instead, we can eat almonds. The idea of not eating meat is a "be kind to animals" thing. Screw the Buddha if it wasn't exactly that in his day.

  • Buddhist_philosopher

    A couple comments via twitter:@dustinbuster: @Buddhistethics …What the buddha ate really is irrelevant. Eating animals is destroying the planet.@dustinbuster @Buddhistethics i don't understand the concept of "respect" when taking another being's life. Meat eating isnt necessary (or kind).–First, thanks for the feedback. As an animal rights activist in DC, it's helpful to hear/see your thoughts. As Margaret and others have pointed out, not all meat eating is eco-destructive; but in general yes, meat is a huge player in the climate crisis. I've known quite a few hunters, Native Americans among them, who have a genuine respect for the animals they hunt. This goes beyond the individual animal, for whom they pray and give thanks, to the population and ecosystem. In fact, around these parts, some of the most avid conservationists are hunters. I can't say I fully understand it either, but I do respect them.Tom, glad to see Mumon cleared up at least one of your questions. I like the Armstrong rule :)James and Dham3, to my mind you've hit the perfect middle path in both conduct and reasoning _/_ :)Margaret, yes, I guess I'm technically a Pescetarian, but given that I can't spell that and pronouncing it is tough too, and about half the people I know would need me to explain, "that's a vegetarian who also eats fish" – I tend to just say vegetarian. Plus the weird Catholic thing of fish not being a meat has never really been scrubbed from my sub-conscious. And yea, it is great to see thoughtful, tolerant discussion here. The internet has a way of stirring the worst in people around sometimes-contentions issues :)Mumon, what's wrong with raw-veganism?

  • Mumon

    Re: Raw veganism, I don't think it's a long term solution for the human diet; as I said humans evolved as omnivores.To each their own, I say, but we should realize that our morality and ethics should be informed by science and reality.Tom: to each their own, of course, although it seems you apply different standards to plants (who have also evolved defenses against being eaten) than you do animals.

  • Tom Armstrong

    Mumom,I try to be consistant, but I'm not wedded to it.Plants don't have brains, thus they don't suffer nor do they have an experience that they lose. The idea that carrots scream is a false one.My opposition to killing animals is one of (2) lessening suffering and (3) ending a being's experience of life, unless it is largely an unhappy one that cannot be made happy.Basically, I'm a "happy" guy.Though we humans have canine teeth, we can get protein from nuts and other sources. I think the argument FOR meat eating is a weak one [by my values system], but I am not thoroughly educated on the subject.

  • Mumon

    Tom:I can't say I'm thoroughly educated either, and like other ethnic groups around the world I'm informed by my own peculiar cultural biases, but, especially since I've read a few of Dawkins' books (he did write mostly on evolution), my ideas on this subject have, uh, evolved as well.The big take-away you get from Dawkins' book is that we are not only kin to all living animals (and plants, if you go back far enough), but the idea that we humans are "in control" of either our environment or other species is much more of an illusion than even the most dyed in the wool tree-hugging environmentalist could hope to articulate.Humans domesticated animals (and wheat). But in so doing they domesticated us as well. Although we haven't developed Douglas Adams' cow who could ask what part his diners wanted to eat, the fact of the matter is, millions these animals have evolved to be hugely dependent on human beings for their survival, for good or for ill, with the quid pro quo that, uh, we eat them when we're hungry.In doing these things we have altered the ecology of the entire planet for the worse and decided that other living things – plants too – must die.Now, this has not been done wisely or in a sustainable manner by any means, and the fact of the matter is, this is only the tip of the melting iceberg.I would stipulate that this must be changed, and I would say that in general, Americans should eat less of everything than they do (a less stern version of the Armstrong rule perhaps). Remember when you say you're a vegetarian, chances are you're still eating a lot of petroleum transsubstantiated into food via agriculture.

  • They call him James Ure

    I also try to catch and release as many bugs as I can who wander into our house. I use this neat little device called, "The Bug Buddy." It's inexpensive, easy to use and very effective. I caught and released countless bugs. Now is a good time to get one with summer coming on in here in the U.S. Check it out: Click here to find the Bug Buddy.Other bugs I have to take a different approach. Ones that carry disease like mosquitoes I swat because to let them infect you or your kids with a sickness isn't following the middle path in my view.It's important to value the mosquito's life but ours as well.

  • Tom Armstrong

    Mumon,I think if we go back far enough, we're kin to granite.Kinship doesn't cut it for me. I'd eat my sister if I thought she wasn't sentient. [Wait a minute: I WILL eat my sister.]While it is true that we have domesticated animals (think: dogs!) and plants (think: shrubs trimmed to look like me!) and rocks (think: Pet Rocks) to benefit humans, it doesn't follow that we then can chew on them without guilt.Our kindly domesticated cows still cry when their young are taken from them. Our pigs are still intelligent and (if they could quite understand it) would recoil at the idea of becoming a ham sandwich.While we cannot satisfactorily release our pets and farm animals out into the jungle and hope that they will be OK, we ought not be giving them terrible lives. There are other alternatives: Farm Animal Zoos and Funny farm animal reality TV shows, for example. Oh, all right, I don't know what we'll do with them. Sterilize them all and let the all the species go extinct, probably.

  • Buddhist_philosopher

    James – thanks for the bug buddy link. It looks pretty cool. For Mumon and Tom (and others): have any of you heard about/read "The China Study:" vegan friend of mine recommends it as a study of health in animal protein-free people vs the rest of us :)

  • Tom Armstrong

    Don't mind me, I'm just writing a comment so that I can reinstate my "email follow-up comments" thingy.