Buddhism Your Questions Answered (171 FAQ)

Q&A 27. Vegetarianism and the five pungent spices

Q: Master Lu, what should we be aware of as Buddhist vegetarians? Can we drink milk or take fish oil supplements?

A:

  • There are five “non-vegetarian foods” within the vegetarian diet known as the five pungent spices, including onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, scallions (green onions) and chives. You should not consume them if you have adopted a vegetarian diet while practising Buddhism. These five pungent spices can be commonly found in many foods.
  • The five pungent spices are considered stimulants as they affect our brain cells and trigger desires.
  • The five pungent spices can also cause bad breath. It is best to avoid consuming products that contain them before reciting sutras and mantras, otherwise the merits and virtues of performing recitations will be reduced to almost nothing, and the effect will be greatly diminished.  This then prevents Buddhist practitioners from accomplishing their spiritual practice. Consumption of the five pungent spices is also one of the reasons why some people do not experience positive results from performing recitations.
  • If you have made a vow to have a fully vegetarian diet on certain days, you must not consume even traces of onion, garlic or any of the pungent spices on those days.
  • If you have made a vow to adopt a fully vegetarian diet, you cannot take cod liver oil or fish oil.
  • There are three “not strictly vegetarian” foods that can be consumed by vegetarians: milk, cheese and eggs.
  • Please also refer to Q&A 115: Consuming vegetables in a non-vegetarian dish.
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