from 18th to 25th October 2009 is vegetarian week in Thailand.
Thai cuisine is not known for vegetarian food, though there are some excellent places. Generally the veggie stuff is is Chinese or Indian. But they are coming round to the idea that meat, particularly red meat, is not really very good for you. Even ten years ago most Thai people felt that if you do not eat meat you will fall ill. In the temples in England where the fare was usually vegetarian, many of the Thais felt it was not good for them.
In Thailand, the Thai monks are also known for their fondness for meat, which is surprising to foreigners who associate Buddhism with vegetarianism. Both Western and Chinese derived Buddhism favour a vegetarian diet.
So far as Buddhism itself is concerned there are differing opinions. The Buddha told him monks to accept whatever was given, since it was gained on alms round. It would be a bit absurd to go on almsround but tell the people what kind of food you like. So long as the monk or nun does not suspect the animal was killed for them specifically, they can accept the offering.
On the other hand Devadatta, the Buddha’s cousin who tried to form a breakaway sect, demanded that monks be vegetarian. Faced with this the Buddha gave monks the choice, that they could be vegetarian if they wished, but he would not make it a stipulation.
From this we can understand that if you are veggie or not, you can still meditate, practise and gain enlightenment.
But do we know more now then they did then? For instance, the Buddha also allowed smoking. But we now know that it is not good for you, and is addictive. Hardly in line with the teachings (but remember there is an allowance for smoking in the monk’s code).
perhaps we now know more about diet too! In fact most meditators feel that diet and exercise are a vital part of the spiritual path. They feel it helps them. They also feel it is more in keeping with the practise of metta (loving kindness for all beings). Even many Thai temples now, according to our Thai friend Terry, are trying to encourage vegetarianism.
The arguments go back and forth. But what we are left with is a choice. There is no stipulation that Buddhists must be vegetarian, but no prohibition either. It is up to the individual to make an informed choice.