The Five-Minute Buddhist Books

Recommended Host

A Buddhist Diet


Recently new to Buddhism this year, I want to thank you for your Podcast #43 on The Foundations of Buddhism. I have a question regarding diet – If we should not intake mind-alternating beverages like caffeine and alcohol and we should refrain from eating animals and seafood that have been killed. How do you justify a plant base diet – were not plants once living and killed for our intake. Then what is a person to eat and drink? Thanking you in advance for your wisdom and guidance.


happy_vegetablesThe prohibitions against caffeine, alcohol, and mind-altering substances are due to the harm they do to a Buddhist’s clarity of thought. we need to be present, mindful, and to avoid illusion and deception, while things that alter the mind hinder us in that ability. They make clear meditation difficult and have subtle effects on our daily lives. That’s true even with casual usage; the problems of addiction add another whole level to the problem. Some people may or may not agree with the prohibition, but I think most people understand the reasoning behind it.

Regular food, on the other hand, is more problematic. It’s not optional. We have to eat something, and for the most part, everything we eat used to be alive. The days of finding an animal that just happened to die and eating it are long gone for most of us. Almost all food animals today are raised by people for the sole purpose of being food. Clearly this is planned, and in many cases the animals suffer.

There is much debate on whether or not Buddhists should be vegetarians, and I don’t want to get into that again, because we have covered it numerous times in the past. The majority of Buddhists in the world are not vegetarians, but even if they were, vegetarian food was once alive as well.

Is killing a plant different from killing a person? According to Buddhism, yes. The main point to consider here is what makes humans and animals alike, yet different from plants? Animals have a property called sentience; animals feel pain and suffering. They are self aware, at least to some extent. As far as we can tell, plants are not self-aware and we cannot tell if they feel suffering. If plants do have some form of sentience, then they are much further down the chain than most other animals.

It’s a small point, but an important one. We have to eat something to survive, that’s just the way our world works. You can choose to be vegetarian or not, that’s up to you, but whatever you decide, just remember to be mindful that with every meal your take, someone or something died to give you that meal so that you might live another day. Thank them for giving up their life so that you might eat.

15 comments to A Buddhist Diet

  • Diane

    Excellent answers! You have a very accurate understanding of Buddhism thus far that I’ve seen.

  • Tina

    Grateful and thankful for your wisdom and guidance in the buddhist diet!

  • Abe Simpson

    I have always interpreted Buddha’s teaching on intoxicant’s as anything that causes headonism, which would clearly cause us to stay in our conditioned mind and not allow us to practice our buddha nature. I don’t think limiting it to drugs is appropriate. This is the middle way after all and moderation is key to this practice. Besides, tea, which is very high in caffeine,is an integral part of several buddhist cultures and its popularity is often attributed to the Buddha.

  • Nathan

    I am a vegetarian, and I have always considered the charge to reduce suffering more important in this decision than the proscription against killing. The reality is that animals for food suffer greatly. For me it’s an issue of right livelihood. Can I survive without contributing to the horrible suffering of living beings most people consume for food without a second thought? Of course, the flip side of the coin is that it is my choice alone, and I don’t try to convert friends or family.

    In regards to the proscription against mind-altering substances, I have always taken this with a grain of salt. The fact is, our contrived concept of “drug” vs “medicine” will be unduly influencing thoughts and policy on the matter for a long time. However, I believe extending this proscription to television seems more appropriate than extending it to all psychoactive substances. The tea ceremony of Japan is a good example of a (arguably) Buddhist ceremony revolving around a psychoactive substance: caffeine. Also, Zen’s emphasis on direct personal spiritual revelation seems to okay the use of things like psychedelics for spiritual growth in my mind. Certainly there are many who came to Buddhism and Taoism as a direct result of their psychedelic experiences. Self-dilution and drunkenness seem to be the main point of this precept, in my humble opinion. As a side note, cannabis as a meditative aide has been used in India since time immemorial.

  • I think that its safe to assume that if something has a central nervous system, it is considered a sentient being and therefore is something that should not be killed. Whether that means you should stick to that strictly and be a vegetarian depends on how many negative actions you want to have to offset with actions of merit.


  • Jason

    Well, I had some things to say but Nathan said them for me ‚Äî especially concerning the use of caffeine and alcohol. I continue to call myself a Buddhist despite drinking one glass of red wine daily (per doctor’s recommendation) and several cups of green tea. Remember, any substance you take into your body will have some effect on your brain chemistry ‚Äî from carrots to sugar to caffeine. The key is moderation and only taking in that which will benefit you and as many beings as possible. I would hesitate to place television watching under the precept concerning intoxication and instead consider it (not watching or limiting) a “Right Effort” exercise.

  • Candy Cook

    If you eat food, fruits or vegetables, from a plant; you don’t usually kill or harm the plant in the process. In fact, if I save the seeds from the fruit/veggie that I eat, and use them to plant next year’s garden.. those seeds have a much better chance of living and growing into a new plant than they do if I leave them to fend for themselves. And, if we speak of tomatoes, I notice that the plants health is reduced if I do not remove some of that fruit. It’s true, that some plants are removed entirely from the ground to eat them, but most plants are not.

  • Abe Simpson

    The Buddha said that while he was a young man he gave up all intoxication: “On seeing an old man, all intoxication with youth vanished from me. On seeing a sick man, all intoxication with health vanished from me. On seeing a dead man, all intoxication with life vanished from me.”

    You will notice that the Buddha doesn’t talk about alcohol or drugs. He talks about attachment.

  • Tina

    Thank you for that wisom.

  • The Buddha was never fond of meat in his last period of life. He was using the least food articles sufficient to survive a human life. Even the reason of his death is known. He had died due to consuming the poisionous meat. I believe he was great and shown us the way to consume the least toxified diet. Though he has allowed to eat the meat but of the animals who were died due to their natural death and not slaughtered intentionally just for taste. In my oepnion veg. diet is best and suffient for humans.

  • Thank you for the clarification. I believe that the intention behind the precept is that for the sake of “Training” I do not take life. The point is the avoidance of hatred and suffering (not death) by neither causing it nor participating in it. This is different than “no killing” period which is an impossibility. We kill thousands if not millions of micro-organism a day without intending it, but we do not cause them suffering intentionally by doing so. Death itself is not suffering, living in pain is suffering. When we end the life of an animal to survive we are not causing suffering,these animals lived a good life and thrived on their farm until it came to an end. Now, when we cram animals into cages so that we may sell more of them using less space then we cause suffering. You see it is our desires that are causing the suffering not the act of killing them. We eat plants and animals just like animals eat plants and animals, it is out of necessity not desire. When we begin to eat out of desire then we are causing suffering because our demand for plants and animals exceeds our necessity for them and thus Farmers must grow more plants and raise more animals and thus maximize their efficiency (causing suffering in the process). If you wish to avoid suffering then eat only what and when you need and nothing more.

    Whether you eat a plant or an animal is kind of arbitrary really, they are both alive and would have died anyway. Regardless of what diet you choose, it will not prevent your death either. Desire causes suffering.

  • Lynda Healey

    I have just read the above post from Kevin Douglass. I only hope that in the two years since he wrote such utter rubbish, he has studied, learned and grown up. The idea that animals today have “lived a good life and thrived on their farm” is as deluded as is “death itself is not suffering”. Number one Kevin, go inside a factory farm unit. There are no “Ann of Sunnybrook Farms” left, only concrete sheds where animals suffer incarceration away from sunlight, fresh air or any ability to carry out their innate social skills or needs. They are squashed together (like you Kevin on tippee toe, in your dining room with 1,000 other people, for life). Not in natural surroundings would they be forced to stand in thier own droppings and wee but here that is for life. They are artificially inseminated, given antibiotics routinely otherwise they would be ravaged by sickness in the filth. They suffer unending pain, brutality and agony for the whole of their lives. Number two Kevin, go into your local slaughterhouse, there is one near you, but I bet you don’t know where. Do you want to know why you don’t know? It is because the walls are so high as to hide the suffering and deafen the screams of the agony of waiting animals who know what they are there for. Of the animals who are dragged, punched,kicked, pushed, beaten and driven inside the building with electric prods, towards that smells of death and fear. The ones already inside, watching others killed, knowing that it is them next, seeing them kicked, punched, dragged, prodded, thrown and stamped on to make them still while their tormentors haul them onto meat hooks and slit their throats as they flay about hopelessly and helplessly in their own fear vomit, blood, saliva, urine and final bowel emptying. Some of these animals are sent there pregnant, their only sin that they are too clapped out at only one quarter of their life expectancy to produce (by drug induced over lactation), the gallons of milk to make their owners millionaires. They often give birth from fright and their infants are killed alongside them and in the sight of the mother’s own eyes. Please Kevin, do this for me will you, go see it for yourself, for I have done it. I am witness to the suffering. Nobody alive needs to be part of this. No religion on earth should condone this. Be at peace with yourself Kevin, become vegan and you will find the inner peace and ability to meditate. My heart, my mind and my whole being told me that what my eyes were seeing was wrong. But the meat industry hide it from you. “Evil flourishes when good men do nothing”. So stop being fooled by the “Western diet lies”, we do not need to kill sentient beings, our brothers and sisters, to live. I have been vegetarian for 25 years and vegan for more than ten and my health, teeth, bones, brain (I have a postgraduate degree), energy levels and ability to study and meditate get better every year (as do my looks,I am constantly told:). Please start by watching the film “Earthlings” narrated by Joaquain Pheonix. Sorry to “have a go” Kevin, but your thinking has been clouded by the constant stream of lies we have to learn to see through in order to live up to, observe and put into practice our religion.

  • Michael

    Just a thought, playing devils advocate.. Since our minds are like sponges(like children or if one is fully enlightened) Isn’t everything a mind altering substance. Even looking at a murderous crime scene will alter your mind to fit the situation. Your emotion and reasoning will follow what is being unfolded in front of ones attention. Even if we are mindful and aware of our awareness we are still being altered, maybe a better word to describe an altered state is progression. If one could be happy, respectful, and compassionate totally high by smoking marijuana, what makes that different from any other experience, its all progression, it always happens in linear format. Achieving so much fulfillment in anyway, isn’t that what life is about? Living it?

  • Kevin

    Just saw Lynda’s response after all these years. Lynda, You are supporting the point exactly. For the sake of training I don’t not torture , desire to or participate in the torture any living thing. What is the difference between a plant that was killed solely for my momentary enjoyment (like a flower) and a pig that was killed for my survival? Is the plants life less significant and therefore justified? Are the vegatables I eat justified for the same reason? Is it simply because a pig can scream in a way that inspires emotion in me that I care more for it? Isn’t this self centeredness. Perhaps the point is simply not to torture or create an incentive for torture ANY living thing by consuming more than you need. Certainly you are not suggesting that one person is superior to another person by way of some arbitrary dieting decision are you? I pray for your liberation, please pray for mine.

  • janet

    Again – Kevin – consider attending a slaughter house before putting your taste buds ahead of your heart and your own karma.