Fish and vegetarianism

12 August 2010 - 2:26am 6 Comments


Animal liberation activities happen every month in Kechara. It made me wonder – although I don’t eat as much meat as I used to, I still eat fish every now and then. Is eating fish permissible? Am I still considered a Buddhist if I eat meat?


The eating of meat extinguishes the seed of great compassion

Mahaparinirvana Sutra – Buddha’s final teaching on avoiding meat and fish

The Buddha did not forbid his ordained disciples from eating meat if they had no reason to suspect that the animal had been killed specifically for them. For this reason, monks from the Theravadan tradition do not reject meat when on their alms rounds. This does not mean they do not have compassion. Rather, they are practising non-attachment to whatever offerings they receive on their rounds. However, this dietary policy differs from tradition to tradition – for example, there are many Mahayana sutras that expressedly forbid the Sangha from partaking in meat.

When Kechara holds our monthly animal liberation activity, we go to huge lakes and release fish that have been earmarked for slaughter at restaurants. Before releasing them, we recite prayers like Shantideva’s dedication prayer. We also recite Medicine Buddha and His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche’s name mantras. By the power of the vows held by the Medicine Buddha and by Rinpoche, reciting and blowing their mantras onto the fish will bless them to take a good rebirth. As they are considered to be animals (and therefore sentient beings), vegetarians do not partake in eating fish.

If we have the great fortune to practise the Lamrim, it will benefit our practice to be vegetarian. This is especially when we are meditating on the suffering of the lower realms (e.g. the animal realm) or if we are doing practices geared towards developing compassion. Ask yourself what kind of compassion we can generate for animals if we keep eating them.

Ordering or eat meat means we are participating in the death of an animal, whether directly or indirectly. If we buy meat from a supermarket, or order meat dishes from a restaurant, it is indirect killing. In fact, in the Chinese culinary tradition, this can even be direct killing when we order live seafood. In this instance, we become the direct cause for the death of the fish. Direct causes for the death of an animal creates heavier karmic consequences than indirect causes.

Within the Vajrayana tradition, it is advised that only realised beings or the Buddha can consume meat. Being attained, it benefits the animal when they consume its flesh. Again, this is due to the power of the vows held by the practitioner. This is not true when normal samsaric beings consume flesh – the act of consuming flesh creates the causes for us NOT to develop compassion, and also leads us to increase our attachment to satisfying our five sense organs.

King Ashoka taught his people to have compassion for animals, and to refrain from harming or killing them. In one of his famous pillar edicts, he declared,

I have enforced the law against killing certain animals. The greatest progress of righteousness amongst men comes from the exhortation in favour of non-injury to life and abstention from killing living beings.

6 Responses to Fish and vegetarianism

  1. Now its really not difficult to understand the need to abstain from harming life that isn’t ‘our life’, because its self-evident that ‘our life’ should ‘never be harmed by anyone or anything’ isn’t it?. We don’t have to do it, (to harm, kill or eat ‘other lifes)
    as soon as we take actual control of ‘ourselves’.
    My best compliments and regards to His Eminence, all the way
    from ‘wild Brazil’.

  2. [...] also strongly encourages vegetarianism as a very practical and immediate commitment to not hurt animals. By sharing many distressing videos, news and articles with his students about the reality behind [...]

  3. Can we kill a predator; e.g. an attacking tiger in self-defense?

    • Hi Lifebrew, the point of vegetarianism is not to kill for our own pleasure, to feed our attachment to our tastebuds so self-defence doesn’t fall under that category. Having said that, tigers (or most animals) don’t attack unless provoked…and besides, they got there first :D

  4. Vegetarianism depends on location and branch of Buddhism. If you live in a place where all they have is just meat (like a forsaken desert) it would be okay to eat meat because that’s all you have to live off. If however you live in a place where you have a wide variety of food choose the vegetarian lifestyle.

    The Buddha never advocated a dietery rule of vegetarianism when Devadatta suggested that vegetarianism should a monastic rule. Eating meat is neutral karma however killing and knowing that the animal was killed especially for you is bad!!!!

    That being said, avoid meat whenever you can and be mindful of your actions. If you see meat, think to yourself is there an other option available for me?

    • Hi Roy, in agreement with you! I think for most people these days, they choose to eat the meat and they choose not to consider the alternatives. The keyword here of course is ‘choose’ :) so if you can live a life without killing, why choose to kill?