Buddhism: Eating and Diet | 11


Eating and Diet

Specific meals for specific occasions vary considerably throughout the Buddhist world, but virtually all traditions in all countries share 2 basic dietary prohibitions:

alcohol is typically prohibited (always for monks), being regarded as a clouder of reason;
likewise, meat is typically not eaten.

One of the most basic ethical principles in Buddhism is that which prohibits the killing of any other being; this principle fundamentally informs Buddhist dietary practices:

Vegetarianism is the ideal, certainly, but not always the practice, even in monasteries.
Monks in particular are put in a kind of ethical double bind when it comes to eating:

As much as they may wish to practice vegetarianism, in countries where monks go from home to home begging for their meals,

they are also under an ethical and philosophical obligation to take (without grasping) whatever is offered; this provides the laity with the opportunity for a kind of domestic asceticism.

Thus, if a layperson offers meat, the monk is obligated to accept it.

The prohibition against killing or harming other beings, however, importantly involves intention, and if the monk had no say in the killing of the animal and if it was not killed specifically for him, then no karmic taint adheres to him because there was no ill intention on his part.

On particularly important holidays or festival days, Buddhists often eat special foods:

For instance, in many countries laypeople eat a special milk and rice mixture, a kind of gruel intended to symbolically replicate Sujata’s initial gift of rice gruel to the Buddha, which enabled him to gain the strength for enlightenment.