Vegetarian week

from 18th to 25th October 2009 is vegetarian week in Thailand.

Thai cuisine is not known for vegetarian food, though there are some excellent places. Generally the veggie stuff is is Chinese or Indian. But they are coming round to the idea that meat, particularly red meat, is not really very good for you. Even ten years ago most Thai people felt that if you do not eat meat you will fall ill. In the temples in England where the fare was usually vegetarian, many of the Thais felt it was not good for them.

In Thailand, the Thai monks are also known for their fondness for meat, which is surprising to foreigners who associate Buddhism with vegetarianism. Both Western and Chinese derived Buddhism favour a vegetarian diet.

So far as Buddhism itself is concerned there are differing opinions. The Buddha told him monks to accept whatever was given, since it was gained on alms round. It would be a bit absurd to go on almsround but tell the people what kind of food you like. So long as the monk or nun does not suspect the animal was killed for them specifically, they can accept the offering.

On the other hand Devadatta, the Buddha’s cousin who tried to form a breakaway sect, demanded that monks be vegetarian. Faced with this the Buddha gave monks the choice, that they could be vegetarian if they wished, but he would not make it a stipulation.

From this we can understand that if you are veggie or not, you can still meditate, practise and gain enlightenment.

But do we know more now then they did then? For instance, the Buddha also allowed smoking. But we now know that it is not good for you, and is addictive. Hardly in line with the teachings (but remember there is an allowance for smoking in the monk’s code).

perhaps we now know more about diet too! In fact most meditators feel that diet and exercise are a vital part of the spiritual path. They feel it helps them.  They also feel it is more in keeping with the practise of metta (loving kindness for all beings). Even many Thai temples now, according to our Thai friend Terry, are trying to encourage vegetarianism.

The arguments go back and forth. But what we are left with is a choice. There is no stipulation that Buddhists must be vegetarian, but no prohibition either. It is up to the individual to make an informed choice.

6 replies on “Vegetarian week”

  1. Bhante,

    “the Buddha also allowed smoking….(but remember there is an allowance for smoking in the monk’s code).”

    Being no expert on Vinaya, the only instance of smoking that I found was in the medicines section. For those not familiar, basically, the monks try a medicine and when it doesn’t work they think of a new treatment, but doubt whether it is allowable or not. The monks approach the Buddha and ask if the new treatment is allowable, the Buddha approves, they try it, it fails, think of new treatment, doubt allowability, ask Buddha, get approval, try it, etc., for several pages. Smoking falls in this series of allowances.

    My guess is that the Buddha would have allowed morphine as medicine, but to extend that allowance to recreational use is a bit of a stretch. To my mind, it’s the same with smoking.

    Unless, of course, there is another allowance for smoking elsewhere, on which I would be happy to be corrected!


  2. My memory is hazy on the topic too, but I recall “Bhikkhus I permit you to smoke leaves through a pipe”.
    The vinaya experts at Amaravati temples quoted so anyway.
    Though of course, tobacco was considered ok until very recently, so I can’t see any reason why it would not have been allowed 2500 years ago. Knowing what we know now it would certainly be frowned upon.
    As an ex-smoker I might be biased…

  3. Final note on smoking: I recall learning that tobacco was indigenous to the Americas and then spread by Europeans to the rest of the world…so what were they smoking 2500 yrs ago in India? According to one source: “Substances such as Cannabis, clarified butter (ghee), fish offal, dried snake skins and various pastes molded around incense sticks dates back at least 2000 years”. I’ve read that Egyptians smoked cannabis for medicinal reasons long before that (but dried snake skins…?).

    1. I had wondered about the availability of tobacco or related plants. To non-smokers the whole concept must be pretty strange. As I recall monks were allowed to smoke leaves ‘through a pipe’. So the smokers argues a cigarette was pipe shaped…

      The Jains certainly had an influence on India of the time. But the whole issue ssems to have been a common one of the time. I feel that for Buddhists, the biggest factor is the precept against killing. It feels pretty silly to not kill a mosquito, but to eat a pig. Nowadays we know it is more healthy to stay off meat, and meditators tend to be fairly health conscious. The most important point is that eating meat was not considered a necessity or pre-requisite for gaining enlightenment. So I guess the choice is one’s own.

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