Vegetarianism and meat-eating have long been a topic of debate among many people. However, for those who follow Buddhism, it is a way of life that is deeply rooted in compassion and nonviolence. Buddhists believe that animals, like humans, have the right to live and pursue happiness, and that consuming meat goes against the principles of morality and kindness.
As such, vegetarianism is not only recommended, but also considered a fundamental aspect of the Buddhist path. If you’re interested in exploring the intersection between spirituality and dietary choices, there’s no better place to start than with the rich tradition of vegetarianism in Buddhism.
To provide a more informed perspective on this issue, LotusBuddhas would like to introduce the advantages and disadvantages of vegetarianism and meat-eating, so that we can make choices that are appropriate for our physical health and spiritual development.
Why doesn’t Theravada Buddhism emphasize vegetarianism? Why did the Buddha eat meat and still attain enlightenment? Why does Mahayana Buddhism prescribe strict vegetarianism for monks and nuns? Read this article to find out and make the best choice for yourself!
Advantages and disadvantages of meat-eating
Meat is a perfect source of protein, providing all the amino acids that our bodies need. Amino acids are necessary to prevent muscle loss, protect respiratory health, and maintain a healthy immune system.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health website, the average adult should consume about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or about 64 grams for a 65-kilogram adult. Lean red meat, fish, and poultry are better protein sources in a healthy diet.
Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is only found in meat, fish, eggs, and dairy, although it is sometimes added to cereals and margarine. It is important for the formation of red blood cells and nerve fibers. If our bodies do not produce enough red blood cells, this can lead to iron deficiency or anemia.
Protein: Two-thirds of our protein comes from meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. However, protein can also be found in grains, seeds, and legumes. Recent studies have shown that most of us eat more protein than we need. The recommended daily intake is 45 grams for women and 55 grams for men.
Iron: Iron from animal sources is more easily absorbed than iron from plant sources. This is because different compounds containing iron from plant sources can bind to many other compounds, reducing absorption. However, Vitamin C in fruits and vegetables helps to absorb this type of iron. Vegetarians should drink a glass of fruit juice with their cereal to aid absorption, as it promotes an acidic environment that is more easily absorbed.
Omega-3: Studies have shown that high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in tuna, salmon, and mackerel help to keep blood healthy and prevent the formation of blood clots. It has been recognized that eating fish protects against certain conditions including heart disease and high cholesterol.
Meat-eating can have several disadvantages, including:
Increased risk of certain health conditions: High consumption of red and processed meats has been linked to an increased risk of several health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Higher intake of saturated fats: Meat products, particularly red and processed meats, are high in saturated fats. Consuming high levels of saturated fats has been linked to increased cholesterol levels and a higher risk of heart disease.
Environmental impact: The production of meat, particularly beef, has a significant environmental impact due to factors such as deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and water usage. Reducing meat consumption can have a positive impact on the environment.
Ethical concerns: The consumption of meat raises ethical concerns related to animal welfare and cruelty. Many people choose to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet due to their ethical concerns about animal rights.
Cost: Meat products can be more expensive than plant-based foods, particularly when purchasing high-quality and ethically-sourced meats. This can make it difficult for some people to afford a diet that includes meat on a regular basis.
Nutritionists advise eating lean meat alongside fatty meat because it contains higher levels of nutrients and lower levels of fat. Furthermore, many people use tricks to artificially enhance the growth of livestock, leading to many harmful chemicals in meat, fish, eggs, and so on.
Advantages and disadvantages of vegetarianism
Our diet, we should include 5 servings of vegetables per day, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. According to statistics from the Harvard School of Public Health, most Americans eat no more than three servings of fruits and vegetables. Vegetables provide many health benefits, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, maintaining digestive health, preserving good eyesight, and reducing the risk of certain cancers.
Protein: A vegetarian diet meets protein requirements, although the amount of protein they provide is lower than eating meat. This may be beneficial as a high amount of protein is associated with bone loss and kidney damage.
Vitamins: Antioxidants found in Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Beta Carotene are mechanisms that protect our bodies against highly reactive molecules that may lead to aging and disease.
Vegetarians who consume a lot of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables are half as likely to develop cancer compared to those who do not regularly consume them.
Antioxidants that help reduce the risk of cancer include the carotenoid lycopene (found in processed tomatoes which can reduce the risk of prostate, lung, and digestive cancers), vitamin E (associated with reduced risk of colorectal and cervical cancers), and the mineral Selenium.
Fat: Vegetarians tend to consume less saturated fat as these are found in meat and dairy products. They consume more unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, peanut oil, and sunflower oil. A high amount of saturated fat can increase blood cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease.
Better weight management: Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in calories and fat, which can make it easier to maintain a healthy weight.
Environmental sustainability: Animal agriculture is a significant contributor to environmental problems such as deforestation, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. A vegetarian diet can help reduce the environmental impact of food production.
While vegetarianism is often associated with numerous health benefits, ethical considerations, and environmental advantages, there are also some potential drawbacks to following a vegetarian diet. Here are a few:
Nutritional Deficiencies: Vegetarian diets can sometimes be deficient in certain essential nutrients that are commonly found in animal products, such as vitamin B12, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids. Vegetarians need to pay close attention to their nutrient intake and may need to take supplements or eat fortified foods to ensure they are meeting their nutritional needs.
Limited Food Choices: Depending on where you live and what kind of vegetarian diet you follow, you may have limited food choices and may need to be more creative in planning your meals. For example, vegan diets exclude all animal products, which can make it challenging to find suitable sources of protein and other essential nutrients.
Social Challenges: Being a vegetarian can sometimes be socially challenging, particularly when eating out or attending social gatherings where meat-based dishes are served. You may need to advocate for your dietary choices and deal with social pressure or criticism.
Expense: Vegetarian diets can sometimes be more expensive than omnivorous diets, particularly if you rely on processed or specialty vegetarian foods. Fresh produce, whole grains, and legumes can be more affordable options, but may require more time and effort to prepare.
Risk of Overconsumption: Some people may assume that vegetarian diets are inherently healthy and may over-consume high-calorie, low-nutrient foods like pasta, bread, and sweets, leading to weight gain and other health problems.
In addition, due to economic needs, many people have used chemicals that directly affect the growth of plants, making them look fresher and grow faster, leading to vegetarians also receiving some toxins harmful to the body through this dirty plant source.
Why does Buddhism advocate vegetarianism?
Vegetarianism is a topic of debate within Buddhist teachings, with different interpretations and practices among various Buddhist traditions. However, generally speaking, vegetarianism is often viewed as a positive practice in Buddhism, as it aligns with the principle of non-harm (ahimsa) and compassion (karuna) towards all living beings.
In the Buddhist tradition, the first precept is to refrain from killing, which includes abstaining from consuming meat, as the act of killing animals for food goes against the principle of non-harm. Many Buddhists, particularly in Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet as a way to practice non-violence and reduce suffering.
However, there are also Buddhist traditions, such as Theravada, that do not place as much emphasis on vegetarianism and instead focus on moderation and mindful consumption of food. In these traditions, the emphasis is on not being attached to any particular diet, but rather on cultivating awareness and compassion towards all living beings.
Vegetarianism is not a part of the early Buddhist tradition, and the Buddha himself was not a vegetarian. The Buddha became aware of his food by going on alms rounds or being invited to the homes of his supporters, and in both cases, he ate what was offered to him. Before his enlightenment, the Buddha experimented with different diets, including vegetarianism, but ultimately he gave them up because he believed they did not contribute to spiritual development.
In 257 BCE, King Asoka stated, “In contrast to the past, now only two peacocks and one deer are killed for food in the royal kitchens, and even this will be stopped.”
By the 2nd century CE, meat-eating had become unacceptable, especially among followers of Mahayana Buddhism, although conflicts against it in texts like the Lankavatara Sutra showed it was still prevalent or at least a point of debate.
In Tibetan Buddhist texts from the 7th and 8th centuries onwards, alcohol and meat were frequently used to offer to deities. This may have been an expression of freedom from conventions that mystical practices taught. It was also a protest against the Mahayana missionaries, who strictly adhered to their own rules without considering the true freedom. It was to transcend the constraints, rules, and patterns that make us cling and suffer.
Nevertheless, Mahayana Buddhism argued that meat-eating affected compassion greatly, as it is a manifestation of desire, greed for self-interest, and indifference to sentient beings.
Buddhism is widely known for its teachings on compassion, even for animals. So why do we encourage meat-eating? Meat-eaters will more or less be influenced by the law of karma, and they will be reborn in an unfavorable realm!
Vegetarian Buddhists have a simple and convincing argument to support their reasons. Meat-eating encourages an industry that causes cruelty and death to millions of animals, and a truly compassionate person would want to reduce all this suffering by refusing to eat meat.
Today it is often said that Mahayana monks are vegetarian and Theravada monks are not. Although Theravada Buddhists do not have strict vegetarianism, nowadays, the majority of monks and Buddhists in Sri Lanka are beginning to balance between vegetarianism and meat-eating for health benefits.
Vegetarianism does not help with spiritual development
The debate over whether to eat vegetarian or meat has been controversial for many centuries, with some people, both Buddhists and non-Buddhists, presenting arguments to defend their stance on meat-eating:
– Eating vegetarian does not necessarily lead to the development of compassion within a person’s inner nature. Evidence shows that many vegetarians also exhibit negative thoughts and actions towards others when it comes to personal interests. I have seen a vegetarian person take a stick and kill a dog when it bit their small daughter.
– Why blame the wolf for eating the sheep? It is doing what it was created to do!
– The Buddha himself ate meat that was given to him, but he achieved enlightenment. This demonstrates that being vegetarian does not contribute significantly to spiritual development.
– When we eat meat, we indirectly share responsibility for the death of animals. However, the same is true when we eat vegetables. Farmers till the soil, which greatly impacts the living environment of insects and small animals. They spray pesticides to kill many species of insects to produce fresh vegetables for vegetarians. Many animals and insects consider plants their home, the condition for them to exist and develop.
– We eat vegetarian because we believe that plants are without consciousness, but is that accurate? Plants communicate with each other in their own way, and they also need water and sunlight to live. Seeds are offspring, and pollen is how they reproduce.
– Buddhism teaches that there are millions of living beings in a glass of water, but why do vegetarians drink them? Do they like living in our bodies? No! We impose this on them because we need to exist.
– Meat eaters can still attain a state of purity and peace just like vegetarians. According to the Buddha’s teachings, what is important is the quality of the mind, not your dietary habits.
Many Buddhists are very concerned about not eating meat, but they do not care about changing their selfish, deceitful, cruel, or jealous habits inside them. They change their eating habits because it is easy, while changing their mind is difficult. Whether you are a vegetarian or not, remember that purifying the mind to bring oneself to a state of tranquility and peace, free from any disturbance, is the most important thing in Buddhism.
Whether to eat vegetarian or meat is a personal choice for everyone, the sun still rises every morning and the earth still rotates for a very long time… long time!