Buddhist Dietary Consideration

Vegetarianism Encouraged

Compared with other religions, Buddhism has few dietary restrictions.

The primary consideration is vegetarian or not. While some Buddhist traditions require vegetarianism, most do not, and most lay Buddhists eat meat.

However, Buddhist monks and some believers from areas influenced by Chinese Buddhism are vegetarian or vegan. Choosing a vegetarian diet is considered virtuous, based on the Dharmic concept of ahimsa (non-violence). Most Buddhists are at a minimum part-time vegetarian.

Most dishes considered uniquely Buddhist are vegetarian. Further, many of the world’s oldest and most-popular meat substitutes, such as tofu and tempeh, originated in Asia.

Regional Variations

Attitudes toward vegetarianism vary by region, as well as between the two major Buddhist sects. Mahayana Buddhists in northern Asia (China, Japan, Korea, etc.) are more likely to be vegetarian than their southern counterparts, the Theravada Buddhists.

Taiwan (14%) and Vietnam (10%) are among countries with a high percentage of vegetarians. The Mahayana scriptures prohibit consuming meat. But even within the sect, there is a diversity of practice. For example, some Mahayana Buddhists might not purchase meat, but might eat a meat dish offered by a friend.

Theravada Buddhists consider vegetarianism a personal choice. The Vajrayana schools, which include Tibetan and Japanese Shingon Buddhism, encourage vegetarianism but do not consider it necessary. Tibetan Buddhism, for example, accepts that year-round agriculture is difficult in most of Tibet, making it impossible to insist upon vegetarianism.

Additional Meat Considerations

Some Buddhists avoid the consumption of large animals, such as beef, as well as organ meat.

While most Buddhists eat meat, many choose a vegetarian diet for holidays and celebrations, or as a devotional practice. Some Buddhists eat vegetarian on Chinese New Year eve, the 1st and 15th day of the Buddhist lunar calendar (lenten days), and on saint and ancestral holy days.

Dairy, Eggs and Alcohol

Many Buddhists and East Asians in general don’t consume dairy such cheese, milk or cream. Eggs might be consumed, but less so than in Western culture. Buddhism places great value on mind and mindfulness, and thus some followers avoid alcohol and other mood-altering substances.

Appreciated Foods

Buddhists appreciate food that’s simple and natural. For example, traditional Chinese cuisine consists of simple dishes featuring vegetables, rice and protein. Rice is a common staple in a Buddhist meal. Noodles and other grains are often served as well. Vegetables are either stir-fried or cooked in vegetarian broth with seasonings, and enjoyed with various sauces.