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Western Buddhist Motivations for Vegetarianism

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Buddhist motivations for abstaining from meat-eating draw from a wide range of traditions. Theravada themes emphasize non-harming, Right Livelihood, and detachment; Mahayana themes highlight interdependence, Buddha-nature, and compassion; Tibetan themes consider rebirth implications for human-animal relationships. These and other contemporary themes overlap with traditional western arguments promoting vegetarianism based on animal welfare, personal and environmental health, world hunger, and ethical development. This paper surveys these themes, then discusses two studies based on survey data that indicate that western Buddhists and Buddhist centers have a wide variety of practices regarding meat-eating. The first survey reports on institutional food choice practices at western Buddhist centers. The second study reports on individual food practices among western Buddhists, with data on food choices and rationales for these choices. In both surveys, Buddhist principles interact with western arguments, leading to diverse decisions about what to eat. As interest in Buddhism grows in the west, Buddhist moral concerns regarding food could influence western food choices in a significant way.

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