How Should All Aspiring For Buddhahood Eat And Drink? 上求佛道者应当如何饮食?

An Introduction To Maha-Veganism 大乘净素 (Short For Mahāyāna Buddhist Veganism 大乘佛教之净素)


– 释迦牟尼佛

Not heeding eating [of] meat, [one] should contemplate this eating, [with] thought [of it] as [one’s own] child’s flesh. Those [who] eat meat, sever [the] seed [of their] great compassion.

– Śākyamuni Buddha
(Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra)

Especially as active consumers with choice, we should always choose with as much compassion and wisdom as we can. Out of his perfect compassion for all sentient beings, Śākyamuni Buddha eventually encouraged the avoidance of meat-eating in many sūtras. As an example, in the Brahmā Net Sūtra (梵网经), he taught its rationale as a higher discipline, in terms of a Bodhisattva Precept (菩萨戒), for the fuller avoidance of harm. This is so as to continually demand to eat meat directly or indirectly demands the killing of more animals. Here it is, as taught.


[The] Third [Light] Precept [Against] Eating Meat: If [as] Buddhas’ [Bodhisattva] disciples, [of] intentionally eating meat, all meat should not [be] eaten. Those [who] eat meat, sever [the] seed [of their] Buddha-nature’s great loving-kindness [and] compassion, [with] all sentient beings [who] see [them] abandoning [them]. Thus, all Bodhisattvas, should not eat all sentient beings’ meat. Eating meat attains immeasurable transgressions. If intentionally eating [it, they] commit [a] light defiled transgression.

Bodhisattvas should aspire to liberate all beings from suffering, instead of eating them or creating ill karmic connections with them. Animals to be helped might also shun those who devour meat out of fear and disgust. Meat-eating thus goes against the natural loving-kindness and compassion within our Buddha-nature, making its potential harder to bear fruit fully. (Note that this is a lighter transgression only in comparison to personal killing, which breaks ‘[The] First [Heavy] Precept [Against] Killing’.) This precept advocates vegetarianism, which is the non-eating of meat.

According to the Buddha’s teachings in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra (楞严经) below, even animals whose meat and products are not linked to one’s demand should be avoided, so as to not create negative karmic affinities with the deceased.


If all Bhikṣus, [do] not wear eastern silk waddings [and] silk clothing, and this land’s [leather] boots [and] shoes, furs [and] down, [or eat and drink] milk, cheese, ghee [and] cream, such Bhikṣus, from [the] world, [will] truly [be] liberated. [Having] repaid past debts, [they will] not wander [through] the three realms. Why [is this] so? [Those] wearing their body parts, [are] all by those conditioned. Like people [who] eat this earth’s hundred grains within, [whose] feet [do] not leave [the] earth. If enabling [their] bodies [and] minds, of all sentient beings’ bodies or body parts, [with] both paths [of] body [and] mind, [to] not wear [and] not eat [them], I say these persons, [will be] those truly liberated.

This becomes the practice of veganism, which also avoids use of animal products, such as the above, and in spirit including others such as eggs, honey, gelatine, wool… Beyond going vegan, the Buddha also urged avoidance of the five pungent roots in the next Bodhisattva Precept. Here it is, as taught.


[The] Fourth [Light] Precept [Against Eating The] Five Pungent [Roots]: If, [as] Buddhas’ [Bodhisattva] disciples, [they] should not eat [the] five pungent [roots, of] garlic, leek, onion, chive [and] asafoetida [i.e. hing]. These five pungent [roots, mixed] within all foods, should not [be] eaten. If intentionally eaten, [they] commit [a] light defiled transgression.

The reasons for not eating these roots were explained by the Buddha in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra as follows.


As all sentient beings seeking samādhi [i.e. meditative concentration, they] should sever [from the] world’s five kinds [of] pungent [root] vegetables. These five kinds [of] pungent [roots, when] eaten cooked give rise [to] lust, [and] eaten raw increase anger.

Eaten either way, they will give rise to one of the first two, of the three spiritual poisons (of greed, hatred and delusion) that create suffering. (Likewise are effects for cooked and raw meat.) Lust, which is sexual desire represents greed, while anger represents hatred. These twin poisons can manifest subtly as aphrodisiac effects that increase craving for sense pleasures and spur irritability, thus keeping stability and progress of training in concentration at bay. Their effects are however not obvious to those who consume only a little, or who are not simply mindful enough to notice their effects. The sūtra continues as follows.


Such people [of the] world, [who] eat [the] pungent [roots], even if able [to] proclaim [the] twelve divisions [of] sūtras [i.e. all Buddhas’ teachings, the] ten directions’ heavenly beings [and those with godly virtues, will be] disgusted [at] their foul stench, all far departing [from them]. Many hungry ghosts [and] such, as they, [from them] eat next, lick [and] kiss [their] lips. Always with ghosts dwelling, [their] blessings [and] virtues by the day dissipate, [in the] long term without [any] benefits. 

As more spiritually and physically refined beings, though not yet Buddhas, gods naturally find the smell of the five roots (and alcohol) pungent, and will shun even from those knowledgeable in the Dharma who eat them. This is while ghostly beings, some of whom might be harmful draw near to consume the taste of the roots secondhand, due to their lack of positive karma to consume firsthand, from the very mouths of their eaters, without them knowing. Being often close to them, their physical health will suffer due to energy clashes, while being spiritually disturbed. The sūtra continues as follows.


These people [who] eat [the] pungent [roots, when] cultivating samādhi, Bodhisattvas, heavenly beings, [those with godly virtues and the] ten directions’ [i.e. everywhere’s] good [Dharma Protector] gods, [do] not come [to] guard [and] protect [them]. Great powerful demon kings, attaining this convenience, manifest [as] Buddhas’ bodies, [and] come for [them, to] speak [the false] ‘Dharma’ [i.e. teachings that distort true teachings of the Buddhas], [that] slanders [the] prohibitive precepts, [and] praises [the three poisons of] lust [i.e. greed], anger [i.e. hatred] and delusion [i.e. ignorance]. [When] life ends, they [themselves] become [reborn as the] demon kings’ family members. [When] received demonic blessings exhaust, [they will fall into the] Uninterrupted Hell [i.e. Avīci]. Ānanda, those [who] cultivate [for] Bodhi [i.e. enlightenment of Buddhahood] [should] forever sever [from these] five pungent [roots].

The presence of Dharma Protector gods naturally results from good Dharma practice. They are important because they safeguard practitioners physically and spiritually, keeping harmful unseen beings away. Thus, if absent, harmful beings can seize the opportunity to mislead with various manifestations, including as ‘Buddhas’, to delude with wrong teachings that lead away from Buddhahood. They will promote evil by belittling importance of moral precepts, while promoting growth of the three poisons. Those tricked by them thus create karma similar to theirs, to be reborn as one of them in their next lives. When their remnant positive karma dissipates, their demonic negative karma will ripen, sending them into the deepest hell, where there is the most intense and prolonged suffering. Although this is the worst-case scenario, it can indeed happen. With the above concerns on food covered, the next precept is on drink. Here it is, as taught.

第二饮酒[轻]戒: 若佛子,故饮酒,而酒生过失无量,若自身手过酒器与人饮酒者,五百世无手;何况自饮?亦不得教一切人饮,及一切众生饮酒,况自饮酒?一切酒不得饮。若故自饮,教人饮者,犯轻垢罪。

[The] Second [Light] Precept [Against] Drinking Alcoholic Beverages: If [as] Buddhas’ [Bodhisattva] disciples, [of] intentionally drinking alcoholic beverages, as alcoholic beverages give rise [to] faults [of] commission [and] omission [that are] immeasurable, if personally [by] hand passing vessels [with] alcoholic beverages [to] offer others [to] drink alcoholic beverages, [for] five hundred lifetimes [will they be] without hands; what more [if to] personally drink [them]? Likewise, [they] should not instruct all humans [to] drink, and all [other] sentient beings [to] drink alcoholic beverages, what more [to] personally drink alcoholic beverages. All alcoholic beverages should not [be] drunk. If intentionally personally drinking, [or] instructing others [to] drink, [they] commit [a] light defiled transgression.

Any intoxicating drink (or food) should not be consumed, lest loss of mindfulness results, leading to breaking of other precepts, which harm many more, by doing what should not be done, and not doing what should be done. Even the slightest support of intoxication, such as by passing a wine glass to others should be avoided, since they might also lose mindfulness and harm many more. Such abuse of hands can even karmically lead to their loss for many lifetimes, by being born handicapped or as animals without hands.

As above, this is how all Bodhisattvas, who sincerely and diligently aspire for Buddhahood should eat and drink – in the ‘Mahāyāna vegan’, or for short, ‘Maha-Vegan’ way, by avoiding all meat, animal products, pungent roots and alcohol to practise great compassion (Mahā Karuṇā). The term Maha-Vegan (or Maha-Veganism; 大乘净素) is an umbrella phrase that is hereby used for convenience, to encompass the above teachings taught by the Buddha in the sūtras. Secular veganism avoids products and services (including entertainment) made possible by enslaving, exploiting and eventual killing of animals too – which the great compassionate Buddha would see as Wrong Livelihoods that should not be supported. As the Pure Land Tradition’s Second Patriarch Great Master Shàndǎo (净土宗二祖善导大师), who is regarded as a manifestation of Amitābha Buddha (阿弥陀佛; Āmítuófó) was a well-known vegan too, Maha-Vegans are in good spiritual company! All yet to aspire, and those who already aspire to be Bodhisattvas are thus encouraged to do their best in practising the Buddha’s most enlightened way of consumption.


– 释迦牟尼佛

Such as I [have] spoken,
[is] named as Buddhas’ speech.
Not such as spoken,
is Pāpiyān’s [Māra: The Evil One] speech.

– Śākyamuni Buddha
(Śūraṅgama Sūtra)

Related Articles:

How The Buddha Eventually Advocated Veganism

Why Buddhists Avoid Meat-Eating & Practise Animal Liberation

Why Avoidance Of Alcohol Is So Important

Related Course:

Project Makan: Vegetarianism & Veganism In The True Sutras



Verse On Five Pungent Roots

[When] eaten cooked, [they] give rise [to] lust [i.e. greed], [and when] eaten raw, [they] increase anger [i.e. hatred]. [When eaten,] good [Dharma Protector] gods far depart, [and] hungry ghosts [who might be evil] always dwell [near].

五辛: 大蒜、革葱、慈葱、兰葱、兴蕖
Five pungent roots: garlic, leek, onion, chive, asafoetida (hing)


五辛酒烟 –  

Verse On Drinking & Eating

[Of] animals’ flesh [and] produce, five pungent roots, alcohol [and] smoking – [these are what] māras drink [and] eat, [that the] Buddhas’ disciples [i.e. Bodhisattvas] abstain from.

The Five ‘M.A.R.A.S.’ Of Consumption
(An acronym for easier remembering)

Roots of garlic, leek, onion, chive, asafoetida (hing)
Animal by-products & co-products
Services from exploitative slavery & Smoking which intoxicates



Verse On Abstinence From Meat

[With] greed [for] meat not reduced, [the] compassionate heart [is] difficult [to] grow. Aspiring compassion [to be] complete [for all beings, there] must [be] abstinence [from] meat.



Verse On Sentient Beings

Plants are non-sentient beings. Animals are sentient beings.



Verse On Less Eating

Humans eat animals, who [in turn] eat [much] plants. [If] aspiring [to] eat less food, directly eat [only] plants.



Verse On Great Strength

Greatly strong animals, [like bulls, horses and elephants] are vegans. Greatly compassionate Bodhisattvas, [are] not meat-eaters.

[The first are physically strong, the latter are spiritually strong.]




Verses On Threefold Purity

[The] Buddha spoke [of] threefold pure meat, [from animals] not seen, heard [and] suspected [to be] killed [for oneself. This] skilful means [is for] alms-seeking monastics, not [for] those buying [and] selling meat.

Bought [and] sold meat, [though] without [killing] seen [and] heard, [there is] however suspecting [of animals, to be for] oneself killed, [as there is no supply from killing without one’s demand for meat. With] less buying [is there] less killing [and] selling, without buying [is there] no killing [and] harming.


Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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