Friday, January 28, 2005

Myth of Buddhist Diet

There have been varying myths of Buddhist vegetarian dietary needs and its restrictness. First and foremost, it should be known that Gautama Buddha, the Buddha commonly known, had always ate whatever he was given. The interpretation of vegetarianism in Buddhism really originated from his teaching. The first lay precept in Buddhism prohibits killing. Many see this as implying that Buddhists should not eat the meat of animals.

However, this is not necessarily the case. The Buddha made distinction between killing an animal and consumption of meat, stressing that it is immoral conduct that makes one impure, not the food one eats. Monks in ancient India were expected to receive all of their food by begging and to have little or no control over their diet. During the Buddha's time, there was no general rule requiring monks to refrain from eating meat. In fact, at one point the Buddha specifically refused to institute vegetarianism and the Pali Canon records the Buddha himself eating meat on several occasions.

In the today's world, attitudes toward vegetarianism vary by location. In Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka, monks are bound by the vinaya to accept almost any food that is offered to them, often including meat, while in China and Vietnam, monks are expected to eat no meat. In Japan and Korea, some monks practice vegetarianism, and most will do so at least when training at a monastery, but otherwise they typically do eat meat. In Tibet, where vegetable nutrition was historically very scarce, and the adopted vinaya was the Nikaya Sarvāstivāda, vegetarianism is very rare, although the Dalai Lama has recently made several comments encouraging its adoption. In the West, of course, a wide variety of practices are followed. Lay Buddhists generally follow dietary rules less rigorously than monks.

Many of my friends have always asked me if I eat meat or not. I do eat meat but not those which is directly killed from my requests or needs. I am trying to eat less meat and practise no beef in my diet. The point Buddhism tries to educate is the compassion for all living creatures no matter how insignificant. It is not Buddhism to refuse food or waste it. At this point of my practice I believe, its not reasonable to ask hosts or others to cater speficially for my needs. I do not belief I should effect or give hardship to others simply because I have a personal choice. It is best, as I have found, to be flexible and practise Buddhism as pragmatic as possible.

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