What Does a Buddhist Eat?

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Buddhists commit to not harming sentient -- conscious -- beings and their dietary standards generally embrace vegetarianism. Like much of Lord Buddha's teachings, though, Buddhists apply common sense to their eating habits. If, for example, a Buddhist has no other choices for food, he should eat what he can.

Aside from meat and fish, Buddhists eat whatever they like -- in moderation.

The Noble Eightfold Path

The Buddha taught that following the path to enlightenment included recognising and ending the causes of suffering. That path is the Eightfold Path, a system of views, actions and thought that supports making wise and ethical choices in all aspects of a person's life. Right Action, the Fourth point on the path includes abstaining from causing harm to sentient beings and to abstain particularly from taking life. This point is the key to Buddhist eating. Animals are sentient beings and people must kill animals to eat them.

Buddhist Monks

Buddhist monks observe stricter dietary rules than lay persons do. Eating habits relate to a monk's discipline, his commitment to Buddhist principles and lifestyle. Buddhist monks consider food fuel to keep the body alive as they perform Buddhist meditation and other rituals. According to the London Buddhist Vihara website, Buddhist monks eat one meal a day before noon so that they are not overfed for evening meditation. Buddhist monks eat what they are served, an ancient practice dating to Lord Buddha. Eating discipline earns Buddhists, monks or not, good karma and right action.

Lord Buddha's Advice

The Enlightened One, the Buddha, experienced the extremes related to food consumption. As a prince, he had his fill of whatever he desired. As a practicing Jain, legend says he was so starved that a person could feel his spine by pushing on his stomach. While he taught the Middle Path for all things, including eating, he advised certain meats, such as human, horses, lions and boars, that monks should never eat.

Buddhist Schools

Different schools of Buddhism follow different dietary guidance. The Mahayana school allows adherents to eat meat and fish. Some Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists abstain from eating the Five Pungent Spices, including but not limited to garlic, scallion and chives, which arouse lust and anger. Tibetan Buddhist refrain from eating fish and prefer not eat fowl, which cause negative emotions and conditions like desire and ignorance.