Nirvana Sutra

Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra"

"Nirvana Sutra" on Vegetarianism



  MPNS Vegetarianism


      In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha gives his final instructions on the matter of vegetarianism, insisting that his followers should not eat meat or fish and that even vegetarian food that has been touched by meat should be washed before being eaten. If a meal is offered to a Buddhist monk or nun which contains a lot of meat, then it is not permissible for the monk or nun just to pick out the non-meat portions and leave the rest: the whole meal must be rejected -  so strictly does the Buddha wish his injunction against meat-eating to be upheld.


     Some Buddhists claim that eating meat is acceptable according to the Buddha, and that even the Buddha himself ate meat. But this claim is gainsaid by the Buddha in this final of his Mahayana sutras. If one wishes to cultivate Great Loving-Kindness and not frighten sensitive sentient beings by the stench of death which meat-consumption causes to linger about one’s person, one should refrain from eating all and every kind of meat. This is the Buddha’s final Mahayana pronouncement on the matter. 


     Here is the whole relevant section – a mini-seminar between the Buddha and his Bodhisattva follower, “Maha-kasyapaika-gotra” - on vegetarianism, from the Tibetan version of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra:


     Then Maha-Kasyapaika-gotra asked, “If it is very important to uphold the

     impropriety of meat-eating, would it not then be wrong to give meat to those

     who do not want meat?”


     [The Buddha replied:] “Excellent, noble son, excellent! You have understood

     my intention. One who protects the authentic Dharma should not do that.

     Noble son, henceforth I do not permit my sravakas [disciples] to eat meat. If I 

     have said that [one should view] the country’s alms-food as the flesh of one’s 

     son, how could I permit the eating of meat? I teach that the eating of meat

     cuts off Great Loving-kindness [maha-maitri].”


     “Blessed One, why did you permit the eating of meat that was blameless in

      three respects?”


     “Because I stipulated these three types of blameless as a provisional basis of

      training; I now discard them.”


     “Blessed One, what was your intention in talking of the ninefold great benefit

      and the abandoning of the ten types of meat?”


     “Because those pronouncements were stipulated to restrict the eating of

      meat; they are also withdrawn.”


     “Blessed One, what was your intention in stating that meat and fish are

      wholesome foodstuffs?”


     “I did not say that meat and fish are wholesome foodstuffs, but I have said

      that sugar-cane, winter-rice, ordinary rice, wheat, barley, green lentils,

      black lentils, molasses, sugar, honey, ghee, milk and sesame oil are

      wholesome foodstuffs. If I have taught that even the various garments for

      covering the body should be dyed an unattractive colour, then how much

      more so [i.e. undesirable] attachment to the taste of meat foods!”


     “In that case, does it not follow that the five milk products, sesame, sesame

      oil, sugar-cane sap, conch-shell, silk and so forth also violate the precepts?”


     “Don’t cleave to the views of the Nirgranthas [Jains]! I have imposed the

      bases of training upon you with a different intention: I stipulate that you

      should not even eat meat blameless in the three respects. Even those

      meats other than the ten [previously forbidden] kinds should be abandoned.

      The meat of corpses should also be abandoned. All creatures sense the odour

      and are frightened by meat-eaters, no matter if they are moving around or

      resting. If a person eats asafoetida or garlic, everybody else feels

      uncomfortable and alienated – whether in a crowd of many people or in the

      midst of many creatures, they all know that that person has eaten them.

      Similarly, all creatures can recognise a person who eats meat and, when they

      catch the odour, they are frightened by the terror of death. Wherever that

      person roams, the beings in the waters, on dry land or in the sky are

      frightened. Thinking that they will be killed by that person, they even swoon

      or die. For these reasons, Bodhisattva-mahasattvas do not eat meat.

      Even though they may appear to eat meat on account of those to be

      converted, since they do not actually eat ordinary food, then how much less 

      so meat! Noble son, when many hundreds of years have elapsed after I have

      gone, there will be no stream-enterers, once-returners, non-returners or

      arhats. In the age of the Dharma’s decline, there will be monks who preserve

      the vinaya and abhidharma and who have a multitude of rituals, but who also

      look after their physical well-being, who highly esteem various kinds of meat,

      whose humours are disturbed, who are troubled by hunger and thirst, whose

      clothing looks a fright, who have robes with splashes of colour like a cowherd

      or a fowler, who behave like cats, who assert that they are arhats, who are

      pained by many hurts, whose bodies will be soiled with their own faeces and

      urine, who dress themselves well as though they were sages [munis], who

      dress themselves as sramanas [ascetic wanderers], though they are not,

      and who hold spurious writings to be the authentic Dharma. These people

      destroy what I have devised – the vinaya, rites, comportment and the

      authentic utterances that free and liberate one from attachment to what is

      improper, selecting and reciting passages from each of the sutras according

      to their inclinations. Thus there will appear [bogus] sramanas, sons of

      Shakyamuni [the Buddha], who will claim that, ‘According to our vinaya, the

      Blessed One has said that alms of meat-stuffs are acceptable’ and who will

      concoct their own [scriptures] and contradict each other.


     “Moreover, noble son, there will also be those who accept raw cereals, meat

      and fish, do their own cooking and [stock-pile] pots of sesame oil; who

      frequent leather-makers, parasol-makers and royalty …

      The person I call a monk is one who abandons those things.”


     “Blessed One, what should be done by monks, nuns, upasakas [male lay

      followers of Buddhism] and upasikas [female lay followers of Buddhism],

      who depend upon what is offered to them, to purify alms-food that contains

      meat in such places where the food has not been verified?”


     “Noble son, I have taught that it does not contradict the vinaya in any way if

      they wash it [i.e. the non-meat food] with water and then eat it. If it appears

      that the food in such places contains a lot of prepared meat, it should be

      rejected. There is no fault if one vessel touches another but the food is not

      actually mixed together. I say that even meat, fish, game, dried hooves and

      scraps of meat left over by others constitute an infraction. Previously,I taught

      this in cases arising from the needs of the situation. Now, on this occasion, I

      teach the harm arising from meat-eating. Being the time when I shall pass

      into Parinirvana, this is a comprehensive declaration.”