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Buddhist Vegetarianism
(An Entry from Buddhism A to Z)

All beings--human or beast--
Love life and hate to die.
They fear most the butcher's knife
Which slices and chops them piece-by-piece.
Instead of being cruel and mean,
Why not stop killing and cherish life?
(Cherishing Life, I 83)

In Buddhism adhering to a completely vegetarian diet is a natural and logical ramification of the moral precept against the taking of
life (see Five Moral Precepts). The Bodhisattva Precepts (see Brahma Net Sutra) also explicitly forbid the eating of non-vegetarian food and also the eating of garlic, onions, and other related plants.

In the Shurangama Sutra, the Buddha states:

After my extinction, in the Dharma-Ending Age, these hordes of ghosts and spirits will abound, spreading like wildfire as they argue that eating meat will bring one to the Bodhi Way. . . . You should know that these people who eat meat may gain some awareness and may seem to be in samadhi, but they are all great rakshasas. When their retribution ends, they are bound to sink into the bitter sea of birth and death. They are not disciples of the Buddha. Such people as these kill and eat one another in a never-ending cycle. How can such people transcend the triple realm?
(SS VI 20-22)

The Venerable Master Hsuan-Hua comments:

Question: "When you eat one bowl of rice, you take the life of all the grains of rice, whereas eating meat you take only one animal's life.

The Master: On the body of one single animal are a hundred thousand, in fact, sever million little organisms. These organisms are fragments of what was once an animal. The soul of a human being at death may split up to become many animals. One person can become about ten animals. That's why animals are so stupid. The soul of an animal can split up and become, in its smallest division, an organism or plant. The feelings which plants have, then, are what separated from the animals's soul when it split up at death. Although the life force of a large number of plants may appear sizeable, it is not as great as that of a single animal or a single mouthful of meat. Take, for example, rice: tens of billions of grains of rice do not contain as much life force as a single piece of meat. If you open your Five Eyes you can know this at a glance. If you haven't opened your eyes, no matter how one tries to explain it to you, you won't understand. No matter how it's explained, you won't believe it, because you haven't been a plant!

"Another example is the mosquitoes. The millions of mosquitoes on this mountain may be simply the soul of one person who has been transformed into all those bugs. It is not the case that a single human soul turns into a single mosquito. One person can turn into countless numbers of mosquitos.

"At death the nature changes, the soul scatters, and its smallest fragments become plants. Thus, there is a difference between eating plants and eating animals. What is more, plants have very short lifespans. The grass, for example, is born in the spring and dies within months. Animals live a long time. If you don't kill them, they will live for many years. Rice, regardless of conditions, will only live a short time. And so, if you really look into it, there are many factors to consider, and even science hasn't got it all straight." (Buddha Root Farm, 64)

Mahakashyapa asked the Buddha, "Why is it that the Thus Come One does not allow eating meat?'
The Buddha replied, "It is because meat-eating cuts off the seeds of great compassion." (Cherishing Life, II 5)

Chinese. chi jai zhu'i.

BTTS References

  1. Flower Adornment Sutra, PII 29-31;
  2. Flower Adornment Sutra Ch11 214-224;
  3. Flower Adornment Sutra Ch22 59-63;
  4. Dharma Flower Sutra 789-791;
  5. Brahma Net Sutra;
  6. Listen to Yourself, Think Everything Over I 112-114, 116-118; *Buddha Root Farm 63-65;
  7. Cherishing Life I 1-4,83; Cherishing Life II 1-3, 5, 7, 9, 63 (= Brahma Net Sutra third minor), 142-144;
  8. Shurangama Sutra III 78-79;
  9. Shurangama Sutra IV 40-42; SS VI 20-23;
  10. Shurangama Sutra VII 4-8;
  11. Brahma Net Sutra I 120-122 (5 allium);
  12. Dharma Flower Sutra IV 790-792; Proper Dharma Seal, Dec. 1984, p. 2 "Verses on a Simple and Practical Way to be Kind to Other Living

Non-BTTS References

-- Lengyan Jing (Ven. Yuan Ying com.) pp. 954956.

-- Suzuki, tr. Lankavatara Sutra, p. 220.

-- Kapleau, Philip, To Cherish All Life: A Buddhist Case for Becoming Vegetarian. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1982.

-- Encyclopedia of Buddhism "Ahimsa," "Ahara."

-- Ruegg, D. Seyfort. "Ahimsa and Vegetarianism in the History of Buddhism." Buddhist Studies in Honour of Walpola Rahula. London, Vimamsa, Sri Lanka: Gordon Fraser, 1980, pp. 234-241.



Updated: 2-7-2000

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