There is often uncertainty surrounding whether or not certain religious figures were vegetarians. Did Gautama Buddha eat meat?
Gautama Buddha likely ate meat. Buddha and his followers received most of their food from alms rounds, where they were given gifts of food by people as they passed. When this included meat, they accepted it with gratitude, if the animal had not been killed for their benefit.
For more on what we know about Gautama Buddha and whether or not he ate meat, read on.
Buddha was born Siddhartha Gautama in approximately 400 BCE in modern-day Nepal. Gautama was born into royalty and enjoyed a lavish lifestyle in his youth. However, at the age of 29, he came to understand that wealth and luxury were not the true keys to happiness.
Gautama embraced spirituality and studied the teachings of various religious groups that he encountered. Following six years of meditation and study, he attained enlightenment and began teaching the “middle way” under a new religion, which became Buddhism.
In contrast to many religions, Buddhism does not promote the worship of deities. Gautama Buddha was not a god but an enlightened human who encouraged people to seek enlightenment in themselves. Showing respect to an image of Buddha is encouraged as a sign of gratitude, not of subservience.
Buddhism is widespread, particularly in Asia, and its spread around the world has resulted in a number of different traditions. These are broadly classified into either Theravāda or Mahāyāna Buddhism.
The traditions of Buddhism are similar, yet have some key differences from one another. This, combined with cultural differences, mean that it can sometimes be difficult to understand exactly how a Buddhist is expected to live. This is unlike Roman Catholicism, for example, which has a strict code of religious doctrine.
One key question that often arises with religious figures is whether or not they ate meat or allowed their followers to do so. Vegetarians and meat-eaters might both be convinced that a religious figure ate the same diet as themselves, without any real evidence to support their viewpoint.
In the case of Gautama Buddha, there are some examples in Buddhist scripture that offer clues as to what he might have eaten.
It is worth remembering that, while Gautama Buddha was alive and leading his disciples, he was not yet the religious head of “Buddhism”. The more organized religion came later; during his time, Buddha was an enlightened man seeking to help others reach the same state of being.
As such, he did not issue strict rules regarding what a person should or should not eat. His followers were taught to live simply and without materialistic concerns. As such, he and his disciples would walk past homes collecting alms, offerings that often included food.
This food might contain meat and Buddha apparently stated that it was important to accept alms with gratitude. If this included meat, then there is nothing to contradict the view that these early monks would have eaten it.
At the same time, Buddha stated that his followers were forbidden from killing, including killing animals to eat. This extended to other people; a Buddhist should not accept the meat of an animal that was killed for the particular purpose of feeding them individually.
This has been offered as a reason that vegetarianism became more predominant in Buddhism throughout the centuries. As Buddhist monasteries were built and traditional alms rounds became less frequent, generous people would instead provide food to the monastery directly.
Unlike alms rounds, where monks were often given leftovers of meals that had already been prepared, these gifts to monasteries were usually prepared with the specific intention of feeding the monks. In essence, animals would have been killed for the monks themselves and they rejected the offerings, not wanting to encourage such an act.
This has made the question of meat-eating a difficult one for many modern-day Buddhists. Meat purchased in a store has usually not been killed for a specific individual, but by purchasing it, an individual is contributing to an industry that kills animals.
The modern meat industry is vastly different from anything that existed in Gautama Buddha’s time. Certain traditions of Buddhism forbid the eating of meat, while others allow it.
Whether or not a Buddhist believes it is right to eat meat is a matter of personal (and school) perspective. In any case, it appears that Gautama Buddha himself likely ate meat that was given to him.