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Food for thought – to be or not to be vegetarian

You are what you eat?

We have all heard the above saying but is there any truth in it? What is the Buddhist perspective on food?

A T.E.S. friend has suggested it might be useful to others to offer some ‘food for thought’ about Vegetarianism, being a vegetarian and the buddhist perspective on food.

For some, it can be a very emotive subject. Personal observation seems to show that overtime, most individuals begin to see the benefits of a more vegetarian diet quite naturally but here is a view or two for you to digest :-).

The Ayurvedic view is that all energy comes from the the Sun, not the daily rag 😀 , but the big one at the centre of the solar system. Without the Sun life as we know it would not exist. Ideally we would be able to find all the energy we require directly from the sun and we do to some extent. It is from this perspective philosophers, Mystics and the like have suggested that we are each, in our essence, bodies of light. However, it is also true, the body requires other materials, nutrients and minerals that are obtained through acquiring and incorporating them into the bodily form through eating and drinking.

The view I was introduced to on an Ashram in southern India proposed that the more direct the absorption of energy the more efficient the process is i.e. some foods cost as much energy to absorb as they give, some give a better return and some actually cause a deficit. So foods that offer a better return on the energy invested to absorb them are preferred. You have heard the term super foods no doubt.

So sunlight directly on the psycho-physical organism is hugely efficient and has no trade off. We can experience this directly. We stand in the sun and it warms us immediately with no real effort. Generating heat through eating requires a chemical reaction in the mouth, stomach and intestines and as such requires a degree of energy. Have you noticed how much less you need to eat when in a warmer country?

To follow this Ayurvedic view to its conclusion eating fruit and vegetables has a higher degree of energy than eating other animals that have ingested fruit and vegetables. This secondary energy from meat requires more energy to absorb, is hugely wasteful and has all manner of health issues. So just on a physical level there is a strong argument for a more vegetarian based diet.

Then we have the ethical implications.

Again, some people get really hot under the collar, maybe, with good reason but how helpful is that? Self righteous indignation rarely, if ever, sways opinion.

Education seems key. If you are not aware of or have never considered your own death or the conditions you grow in it is unlikely you will be able to empathise with life as it manifests in other ways. As we become more aware of the suffering caused through mass production of meat, poultry, fish, the cost to the environment in the pursuit of such food stuffs, it is quite likely we will naturally want to reduce our intake of such produce. Also one has to be open to and aware of genuine alternatives that not only feed the body but the palate and mind to.


The facts surrounding the production of meet etc and its effects on the environment are now readily available to anyone with and Internet connection. If you want to know and are prepared to accept the data then you will find it but the vegetarian society is a good place to start https://www.vegsoc.org/.

Buddhist perspectives on being a vegetarian vary. Within Triratna it is considered almost a must however, It is only relatively recently that some principal figures of Tibetan Buddhism have taken up a vegetarian diet which may, at first glance,seem incongruent with the generally accepted view of Buddhists. The reason for this, at least in part, has already been mentioned, specifically ‘conditions’.

Conditionality is the principal teaching of the Buddha.

That all things arise in dependence upon conditions that those conditions give rise to actions and that those actions have consequences. It is the deepening awareness of this truth that will, over time, stimulate and propagate the sense of connection with all life and the unwillingness to do what you wouldn’t want done to you to others. Most individuals see their own lives as being most important, a precious gift and would not wish to have it taken away. As one grows to see all life has this drive, conscious or not, it becomes increasingly difficult or even impossible to take the life of another even, dare I say, at the cost of ones own life.

However, if you live in conditions that do not support a range of vegetarian options then meat, fish or poultry are likely to be your only options for survival. Give the dharma to a starving man and he is likely to hit you with it 😀 .

Do you have to be a vegetarian to be a Buddhist? No… But it helps! And you probably will want to become one overtime anyhow.

So coming full circle are we what we eat? Of course we are. If you eat rubbish food the psycho-physical organism is put under stress and eventually will break causing illness, disease and ultimately death. Our mental states are clearly affected by what we imbibe, drink a cup of coffee on an empty stomach, you’ll get the drift. Over and under eating effects the form of the body and our stories about it giving rise to depression, anxiety or brashness. We have all heard the term comfort food, power foods, the effects of refined sugars etc, dare I mention the ‘C’ word… Chocolate?

So, accepting that we are, at least in part, what we eat and If you are thinking of becoming vegetarian moderation is a good place to start. Seek advice from a nutritionist to ease the transition and take it slow, allow the psycho-physical organism to acclimate. Even if you are not interested you could still join in with ‘Meat free Mondays’ and do the rest of the planet a favour http://www.meatfreemondays.com/recipes/.

A little food for thought for the insightful, if you aren’t what you eat, what are you?… Zen slap 😀

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