From Access to Insight:Are Buddhists vegetarian?
Some are, some aren't. From the Theravada perspective, the choice of whether or not to eat meat is purely a matter of personal preference. Many Buddhists (and, of course, non-Buddhists) do eventually lose their appetite for meat out of compassion for the welfare of other living creatures. But vegetarianism is not required in order to follow the Buddha's path.
Although the first of the five precepts, the basic code of ethical conduct for all practicing Buddhists, calls upon followers to refrain from intentional acts of killing, it does not address the consumption of flesh from animals that are already dead. Theravada monks, however, are clearly forbidden to eat meat from a few specific kinds of animals, but for reasons not directly related to the ethics of killing. Monks are free to pursue vegetarianism by leaving uneaten any meat that may have been placed in the alms bowl, but because they depend on the open-handed generosity of lay supporters (who may or may not themselves be vegetarian) it is considered unseemly for them to make special food requests. In those parts of the world (including wide areas of south Asia) where vegetarianism is uncommon and many dishes are prepared in a meat or fish broth, vegetarian monks would soon face a simple choice: eat meat or starve.
Taking part in killing for food is definitely incompatible with the first precept, and should be avoided. This includes hunting, fishing, trapping, butchering, steaming live clams, eating live raw oysters, etc.
And what about asking someone else to catch and kill the animal for me? On this point the teachings are also unambiguous: we should never intentionally ask someone to kill on our behalf. We should not, for example, order a fresh steamed lobster from the restaurant menu. The Dhammapada expresses this sentiment succinctly:
tremble at the rod,
hold their life dear.
Drawing the parallel to
neither kill nor get others to kill.
— Dhp 130
And what about purchasing meat of an animal that someone else killed? Is this consistent with the Buddhist principles of compassion and non-harming, a cornerstone of right resolve? This is where things get tricky, and where the suttas offer only spotty guidance. In the Buddha's definition of right livelihood for a lay person, one of the five prohibited occupations is "business in meat" [AN 5.177]. Although he does not explicitly state whether this prohibition also extends to us, the butcher's clients and customers, it does place us uncomfortably close to a field of unskillful action.
To summarize what the suttas tell us: it appears that one may, with a clear conscience, receive, cook, and eat meat that either was freely offered by someone else, or that came from an animal who died of natural causes. But as to purchasing meat, I am just not sure. There are no clear-cut answers here.
We are all guilty of complicity, in one way or another and to varying degrees, in the harming and death of other creatures. Whether we are carnivore, vegan, or something in between, no matter how carefully we choose our food, somewhere back along the long chain of food production and preparation, killing took place. No matter how carefully we trod, with every step countless insects, mites, and other creatures inadvertently perish under our feet. This is just the nature of our world. It is only when we escape altogether from the round of birth and death, when we enter into the final liberation of nibbana — the Deathless — can we wash our hearts clean, once and for all, of killing and death.
To steer us towards that lofty goal, the Buddha gave us very realistic advice: he didn't ask us to become vegetarian; he asked us to observe the precepts. For many of us, this is challenge enough. This is where we begin.
Theravada monks are forbidden to eat raw meat or fish, as well as the flesh of humans, elephants, horses, dogs, snakes, lions, tigers, leopards, bears, hyenas, and panthers. See the description of "staple foods" in chapter 8 of The Buddhist Monastic Code. A monk who eats any of those kinds of meat commits an offense that he must confess to his fellow monks.
See "The Economy of Gifts" by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
Monastics within some schools of Mahayana Buddhism do practice vegetarianism. See Buddhist Religions: A Historical Introduction (fifth edition) by R.H. Robinson, W.L. Johnson, & Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 2005), p. 213.http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... /bfaq.html