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3 fold rule

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According to one passage in the Tipitaka, the Buddha allowed eating meat for monks, if it is clear that the animal was not killed on purpose, especially to provide the meal.

Majjhima Nikaya 55.5

The passage reads as follows: "I say that there are three instances in which meat should not be eaten: when it is seen, heard, or suspected that the living being has been slaughtered for the bhikkhu. I say that meat should not be eaten in these three instances. I say that there are three instances in which meat may be eaten: when it is not seen, not heard, and not suspected, that the living being has been slaughtered for the bhikkhu."

Lay people

The threefold rule specifies conditions under which meat could be eaten by monastic monks and nuns, but there is no indication if this rule applies to lay people. Thus, there has been controversy over if Buddhists should eat meat or not. The context of the passage and who it is addressed to indicate that the rule was meant for monastics only. The First Precept further stipulates against killing or causing to kill and lay people do make a decision when purchasing meat from a butcher or grocery store.

Therefore, the threefold rule does not necessarily rule out vegetarianism as a suggested or recommended diet and in fact many Buddhists have adopted the vegetarian diet to better practice the First Precept.

It is possible that the Buddha wanted to gradually phase out the consumption of meat as it should be noted that when the Buddha began teaching, the majority were still not Buddhist and thus, may not have had vegetarian food to offer the monks and nuns. This would be an example of skilful means.

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References

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