Q: Purchasing meat at the grocery store incentivizes its replacement by the grocer, which in turn necessitates killing of more animals. It is my understanding that the Buddhist vinaya allows monastics to consume what is placed in their bowls. Because lay people retain optionality with what they eat, is it advised that they purchase only vegetarian foods?
A: The Buddha taught that there are four types of food:
“There are four kinds of nutriments which enable living beings to grow and maintain life. What are these four nutriments? The ﬁrst is edible food, the second is the food of sense impressions, the third is the food of volition, and the fourth is the food of consciousness.” (SN 12:63)
The purpose of the alms round is to cultivate non-attachment to food on the part of monks and gratitude towards the donors for their merit (pāramī) simultaneously.
Monks practicing in the Mahayana tradition eat only vegetarian foods, adhering to the diet of Devadata, Gotoma’s cousin and a monk himself. However, the Buddha disagreed with Devadata. He stated that because death is natural law, there are allowances for eating animals:
“Jivaka, I say that there are three instances in which meat should not be eaten: when it is seen, heard, or suspected to kill directly. I say that meat should not be eaten in these three instances. I say that there are three instances in which meat may be eaten: when it is not seen, not heard, and not suspected. I say that meat may be eaten in these three instances.” (MN55)
For those crafting a diet within the framework of the three purities outlined by the Buddha in MN55, the logic of meat-eating goes as follows. If an animal was not killed with the intention that it be consumed by you specifically, then it is permissible to eat. Therefore, meat purchased at a grocery store, restaurant, or similar institution in which the slaughtering was done without the expressed purpose that the animal be consumed by you, then its consumption is justified within the three purities.
However, what is most important is to return to the core teachings of the Buddha through mindful meditation and inspection of causes and conditions with regard to what you choose to consume.
Ask yourself, is this beneficial or not? Appropriate or not? There should be no greed, craving, or attachment to food. That is most important. It is through this sort of mindfulness with regard to food that one relinquishes their attachments to it and develops right understanding. We must remain in the Middle Way (Majjhimā paṭipadā, 中道).
May all understand Dhamma and develop Wisdom!
May all beings be free from any suffering!
May all beings be well and happy!
Ayyā Kosallā & Mahāpajāpatī Bhikkhunī Sangha
Edited by Max Montgomery
If you have any questions related to dhamma, please feel free to ask. You can reach Ayya Kosalla directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will answer your questions and include them in future Dhamma Letters.
Bhikkuni Kosalla Vipassini is the Abbess of Mahapajapati Monastery in Pioneertown, California. For monastery updates, please see Mahapajapati’s Facebook. Donations are gratefully accepted, whether you volunteer your time, offer funds, or provide needed requisites for the monastics. If you are inspired to donate, you may do so here.
Buddha Sāsanaṁ Ciraṁ Tiṭṭhatu!
May the Buddha’s teachings last a long time!
Bhavatu Sabba Sotiṁ ca Maṅgalaṁ ca!!
May everyone be led on the path of peace and blessing!!
Sādhu Sādhu Sādhu !