In Buddhism, the views on vegetarianism vary from school to school. According to Theravada, the Buddha allowed his monks to eat pork, chicken and beef if the animal was not killed for the purpose of providing food for monks. Theravada also believes that the Buddha allowed the monks to choose a vegetarian diet, but only prohibited against eating human, elephant, horse, dog, snake, lion, tiger, leopard, bear, and hyena flesh. Buddha did not prohibit any kind of meat-eating for his lay followers. In Vajrayana, the act of eating meat is not always prohibited. The Mahayana schools generally recommend a vegetarian diet, for they believe that the Buddha insisted that his followers should not eat meat or fish.
The accepted legend of the Buddha's death also says that he died after accepting tainted meat from his hosts while traveling. The relevant word to describe this food, however, is contested as to meaning: it is not the usual term for meat (mamsa), but sukara-maddava, which translates as "pig's delight". Some people interpret that to refer to a kind of truffle loved by pigs.
Views of different schools
There is a divergence of views within Buddhism as to whether vegetarianism is required, with some schools of Buddhism rejecting such a requirement. The first precept in Buddhism is usually translated as "I undertake the precept to refrain from taking life." Some Buddhists see this as implying that Buddhists should not eat meat, other Buddhists argue that this is not the case. Some Buddhists do strongly oppose meat-eating on the basis of scriptural injunctions against flesh-eating in Mahayana sutras.
Buddha in the Anguttara Nikaya 3.38 Sukhamala Sutta, describes his family being wealthy enough to provide non-vegetarian meals even to his servants. After becoming Buddha, he accepted any food offered with respect as alms, including meat, but there is no reference of him eating meat during his seven years as an ascetic.
On one occasion, according to the scriptures, a general sent a servant to purchase meat specifically to feed the Buddha. The Buddha declared that
... meat should not be eaten under three circumstances: when it is seen or heard or suspected (that a living being has been purposely slaughtered for the eater); these, Jivaka, are the three circumstances in which meat should not be eaten, Jivaka! I declare there are three circumstances in which meat can be eaten: when it is not seen or heard or suspected (that a living being has been purposely slaughtered for the eater); Jivaka, I say these are the three circumstances in which meat can be eaten.—Jivaka Sutta, MN 55 
In this particular sutta, Buddha instructs to a monk or nun to accept, without any discrimination, whatever food is offered in receiving alms offered with good will, including meat. Whereas the Buddha declares the meat trade to be wrong livelihood in the Vanijja Sutta, AN 5:177 .
Monks, a lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison.
These are the five types of business that a lay follower should not engage in.
But this is not, strictly speaking, a dietary rule. The Buddha, on one particular occasion, specifically refused suggestions by Devadatta to institute vegetarianism in the Sangha.
According to Kassapa Buddha (a previous Buddha before Shakyamuni Buddha)
- "[t]aking life, beating, wounding, binding, stealing, lying, deceiving, worthless knowledge, adultery; this is stench. Not the eating of meat." (Amagandha Sutta).
There were monastic guidelines prohibiting consumption of 10 types of meat. Those are humans, elephants, horses, dogs, snakes, lions, tigers, leopards, bears and hyenas because these animals can be provoked by the smell of the flesh of their own kind or the eating of such flesh would generate a bad reputation for the Sangha.
According to the story of the Nirvana Sutra, a Mahayana Buddhist scripture purporting to give the Buddha's final teachings, the Buddha insisted that his followers should not eat any kind of meat or fish, even those not included in the 10 types, and that even vegetarian food that has been touched by meat should be washed before being eaten. Also, it is not permissible for the monk or nun just to pick out the non-meat portions of a diet and leave the rest: the whole meal must be rejected. However, this scripture is of late origin and is thus not accepted in Theravada Buddhism.
Also many Buddhist teachers refrain from eating meat (and fish and egg), while many other Buddhist teachers do eat meat.
Eating meat versus killing
In Buddhism, what is most important is to recognise that being alive, by its very nature, is the cause of direct or indirect suffering and death to other beings (samsara). One should avoid gluttony and greedy consumption, while maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle which is conducive to attaining enlightenment. In the Pali Canon, the Buddha refused suggestion by Devadatta to institute vegetarianism in the monastic code.
Mahayana Buddhism argues that if one pursues the path of the Bodhisattva for enlightenment, one should avoid meat eating to cultivate compassion for all living beings. Similarly, in Theravada Buddhism, avoiding meat eating for the purpose of cultivation of metta (loving kindness) is also seen to be in accord with Buddhist Dharma. In most Buddhist branches, one may adopt vegetarianism if one so wishes but it is not considered skillful practice to verbally attack another person for eating meat.
In Chinese Mahayana, vegetarianism is seen as a prerequisite for pursuing the path of the Bodhisattva. The argument for vegetarianism is made more forcefully, often to the extent of accusing those who eat meat of lacking compassion. Chinese Mahayanists do not accept the Pali suttas as definitive when they conflict with the Mahayana sutras, and consequently some do not accept that Gautama Buddha ever ate meat or permitted eating it, in accordance with the Lankavatara Sutra.
In the Pali Canon, Buddha explicitly declared meat-eating to be karma neutral and once explicitly refused suggestion by Devadatta to institute vegetarianism in the monks' Vinaya. Buddha's advice on meat eating was directed specifically to monks. In his comment, he stated that monks and nuns are not allowed to eat meat if they have seen, heard or suspect that the meat was killed specifically for them.
Theravada commentaries explain the Buddha was making a distinction between direct destruction of life and eating of already dead meat. Moreover, they point out that the cultivation of vegetables also involves proxy killing. In fact, any act of consumption would cause some degree of proxy killing. Hence, the Buddha advised his followers to avoid gluttony or any other act of craving which lead to overconsumption. However, Theravadins argue that it is acceptable to practice vegetarianism based on brahmavihara.
Theravada canon does not contain Buddha making a reference for lay followers' meat eating. The distinction is rather crucial as monks and nuns beg for alms, eating left over foods of lay household. In this case, therefore, economic chain of proxy killing is largely absent. On the other hand, monks and nuns must stop collecting alms once they judge that enough amount for daily sustenance has been collected and they are not allowed to cherry pick food. Instead they must eat whatever given to them, which include meat.
Certain Mahayana sutras do present the Buddha as very vigorously and unreservedly denouncing the eating of meat, mainly on the grounds that such an act is linked to the spreading of fear amongst sentient beings (who can allegedly sense the odour of death that lingers about the meat-eater and who consequently fear for their own lives) and violates the bodhisattva's fundamental cultivation of compassion. Moreover, according to the Buddha in the Angulimaliya Sutra, since all beings share the same "Dhatu" (spiritual Principle or Essence) and are intimately related to one another, killing and eating other sentient creatures is tantamount to a form of self-killing and cannibalism. The sutras which inveigh against meat-eating include the Nirvana Sutra, the Shurangama Sutra, the Brahmajala Sutra, the Angulimaliya Sutra, the Mahamegha Sutra, and the Lankavatara Sutra, as well as the Buddha's comments on the negative karmic effects of meat consumption in the Karma Sutra. In the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, which presents itself as the final elucidatory and definitive Mahayana teachings of the Buddha on the very eve of his death, the Buddha states that "the eating of meat extinguishes the seed of Great Kindness", adding that all and every kind of meat and fish consumption (even of animals found already dead) is prohibited by him. He specifically rejects the idea that monks who go out begging and receive meat from a donor should eat it: ". . . it should be rejected . . . I say that even meat, fish, game, dried hooves and scraps of meat left over by others constitutes an infraction . . . I teach the harm arising from meat-eating." The Buddha also predicts in this sutra that later monks will "hold spurious writings to be the authentic Dharma" and will concoct their own sutras and falsely claim that the Buddha allows the eating of meat, whereas he says he does not. A long passage in the Lankavatara Sutra shows the Buddha speaking out very forcefully against meat consumption and unequivocally in favor of vegetarianism, since the eating of the flesh of fellow sentient beings is said by him to be incompatible with the compassion that a Bodhisattva should strive to cultivate. In several other Mahayana scriptures, too (e.g., the Mahayana jatakas), the Buddha is seen clearly to indicate that meat-eating is undesirable and karmically unwholesome.
Some suggest that the rise of monasteries in Mahayana tradition to be a contributing factor in the emphasis on vegetarianism. In the monastery, food was prepared specifically for monks. In this context, large quantities of meat would have been specifically prepared (killed) for monks. Henceforth, when monks from the Indian geographical sphere of influence migrated to China from the year 65 CE on, they met followers who provided them with money instead of food. From those days onwards Chinese monastics, and others who came to inhabit northern countries, cultivated their own vegetable plots and bought food in the market. This remains the dominant practice in China, Vietnam and part of Korean Mahayanan temples.
In Tibetan Buddhism, a strong emphasis was placed on number of esoteric tantrass which were transmitted from Northern India. In these tantras, it is clearly stated that the practice of Vajrayana would make vegetarianism unnecessary. A number of tantric texts frequently recommend alcohol and meat--though not all take such passages literally. Many traditions of the Ganachakra which is a type of Panchamakara puja prescribe the offering and ingestion of meat and alcohol.
The Tibetan position is that it is not necessary to be vegetarian if one practices Vajrayana, but that it is necessary to be vegetarian if one practices the Mahayana path. The 14th Dalai Lama and other esteemed lamas invite their audiences to adopt vegetarianism when they can. When asked in recent years what he thinks of vegetarianism, the 14th Dalai Lama has said: "It is wonderful. We must absolutely promote vegetarianism." The Dalai Lama became a vegetarian and promoted vegetarianism. In 1999, it has been published that the Dalai Lama would only be vegetarian every other day and partakes of meat regularly.  When he is in Dharamsala, he is vegetarian, but not necessarily when he is outside Dharamsala. Paul McCartney has taken him to task for this and wrote to him to urge him to return to strict vegetarianism but " [The Dalai Lama] replied saying that his doctors had told him he needed [meat], so I wrote back saying they were wrong."
On 3 January 2007, 17th Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje, strongly urged vegetarianism upon his students, saying that generally, in his view, it was very important in the Mahayana not to eat meat and that even in Vajrayana students should not eat meat:
There are many great masters and very great realized beings in India and there have been many great realized beings in Tibet also, but they are not saying, "I'm realized, therefore I can do anything; I can eat meat and drink alcohol." It's nothing like that. It should not be like that. According to the Kagyupa school, we have to see what the great masters of the past, the past lamas of Kagyupas, did and said about eating meat. The Drikung Shakpa [sp?] Rinpoche, master of Drikungpa, said like this, "My students, whomever are eating or using meat and calling it tsokhor or tsok, then these people are completely deserting me and going against the dharma." I can't explain each of these things, but he said that anybody that is using meat and saying it is something good, this is completely against the dharma and against me and they completely have nothing to
do with dharma. He said it very, very strongly.
Japan initially received Chinese Buddhism through Korea in 6th century. And in 9th century, Emperor Saga made a decree prohibiting meat consumption except fish and birds. This remained the dietary habit of Japanese until the introduction of European dietary customs in 19th century. Again around the 9th century, two Japanese monks (Kūkai and Saichō) introduced Vajrayana Buddhism into Japan and this soon became the dominant Buddhism among the nobility. In particular, Saichō, who founded the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism, reduced the number of vinaya code to 66. (Enkai 円戒) During the 12th century, a number of monks from Tendai sects founded new sects (Zen, Pure Land and Nichiren) of Buddhism, and de-emphasised vegetarianism - although Ch'an and Zen do tend generally to look favourably upon vegetarianism.
Buddhist views today
In the modern world, attitudes toward vegetarianism vary by location. In the Theravada countries of South East Asia and Sri Lanka, monks are obliged by the vinaya to accept almost any food that is offered to them, including meat unless they suspect the meat was slaughtered specifically for them; while in China, Korea and Vietnam, monks are expected to eat no meat. In Taiwan, Buddhist monks, nuns, and most lay followers eat no animal products or the fetid vegetables - traditionally garlic, Allium chinense, asafoetida, shallot, and Allium victorialis (victory onion or mountain leek), although in modern times this rule is often interpreted to include other vegetables of the onion genus, as well as coriander - this is called Su vegetarianism. Some Zhaijiao lay adherents do not eat any meat. In Japan, some clergy practice vegetarianism, and most will do so at least when training at a monastery, but otherwise they typically do eat meat. In Tibet, where vegetables have been historically very scarce, and the adopted vinaya was the Nikaya Sarvāstivāda, vegetarianism is very rare, although the Dalai Lama and other esteemed lamas invite their audiences to adopt vegetarianism whenever they can. Chatral Rinpoche in particular, has stated that anyone who wishes to be his student must be vegetarian.
Many followers of Mahayana Buddhism (including monks) also eat meat despite the emphatic denunciation of the practice found in some major Mahayana sutras. Part of the reason is that there are many hundreds of Mahayana sutras and the position on vegetarianism depends on one's position on the authority of any particular sutra. The Japanese Pure Land puts a heavy emphasis on the Pure Land sutras and aims to achieve enlightenment by reincarnating into the Pure Land where one's enlightenment is assured. Therefore, vegetarianism holds very little relevance for them, either. The Vajrayana of Tibet and the Japanese Shingon sect consider that tantric practice makes vegetarianism unnecessary. In the West, of course, a wide variety of practices are followed. Lay Buddhists generally follow dietary rules less rigorously than monastics. Overall, it can be said that the debate over whether Buddhists should ideally be vegetarian or not continues.
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