Buddhist Ex-Vegetarians Describe Their Experiences
With Vegetarian and Non-Vegetarian Diets
I was a vegetarian for 15 years, until the age of 40. I became a vegetarian after being introduced to buddhism and yogic practice because it seemed like that was one of the things I was supposed to do. Back then it made sense to me that eating meat means killing animals which directly breaks the basic buddhist precept of nonharming. Now, I see that this kind of thinking is onesided but for several years vegetarian, or to be exact, dairy-egg-vegetarian diet worked fine for me. On the other hand, these years were ”easy” for me as I didn't have a lot of responsibilities.
I always ate a balanced diet of vegetarian food. However, for a period of 7-8 years at the end of my 15 years as a vegetarian, my life got really hard and stressful. I was badly burnt out for 3½ years, we had two children with my ex-wife, I had to work overtime every day and I was the one who had to earn enough money to pay the bills. During this time, which also coincided with metabolical change that comes around the age of 30, I had to eat big heaps of vegetarian food to meet the demand of energy but already an hour later, I was hungry. Veg food just didn't have the nutrition and energy my body needed so I was hungry most of the time. I was also going to the toilet 2-5 times a day. It just came through without providing sustaining energy. I got so much carbohydrates from grains (bread and pasta) that I gained a lot of weight. At the end of my vegetarian days (in 2019), I weighed 115 kilograms which is way too much for someone my height (173 cm).
By 2019 I was completely fed up having to eat so big portions while being hungry all the time, while getting fatter and fatter. I had taken iron supplements for 2-3 months that helped a bit but made not big enough difference. It was at this point when my good friend Lama Karl, who himself had suffered of constant tiredness and hungryness, told me that his problems stopped by eating meat. I was also aware of Dr Jordan Peterson's and his daughter's amazing accounts in favour of carnivore diet.
I started eating meat in July 2019. From my first burger, my energy levels went up to make me feel normal. I felt very natural, grounded, clear minded and well, and was surprised when I didn't need to eat but a third of the meal size I did before. I didn't feel constantly hungry anymore and I could, if necessary, stretch the interval between meals up to 7-8 hours. That was revolutionary! Meat was precisely what my body had needed for many years but my unquestioned religious ideas kept me from even considering eating meat.
I admit that in the beginning eating meat was a bit like the second challenge of Fear Factor where the contestants compete on eating gross things. But then I developed appreciation about the fact that a being, such as a lamb, pig or a cow had given their lives for me to get proper nutrition. I didn't (and don't) take that lightly.
Ever since my first meal of meat I have prayed for the animal or animals that have given their bodies. I always ask Buddha Amitabha's blessings for them and all production animals around the world. Everytime I do that I perceive that blessings reach these spirits and change their presence and future. Because I am a practicing tantric yogi, eating their meat is a great blessing that directly affects them. When it gets personal, me eating their flesh, the outcome of the prayer becomes much more powerful than if I just prayed for any or all animals without personal connection.
I believe it is for these both reasons, 1. proper nutrition for a layman with work and many responsibilities and 2. directly helping animals who are on the lower spokes of the realms of existence according to buddhist theory, that tantrics of history have typically eaten meat. Like some other things in buddhism, I think that vegetarian diet is something that the monastic establishment pushed into buddhism and by doing so made an idealistic disservice for those, who require more energy than monastics do.
Writing this, I am 41 years old. I eat meat on all meals and have never felt better. To finish my account I would like to share simple instructions about how to pray for the dead animals.
- If you make your meal yourself, you can chant a mantra of your choosing for the animal while preparing the meal.
- When you have the plate in front of you, look at the meat and try to sense a connection with the animal spirit who inhabited the meat before. Then in your mind or aloud, chant the mantra of Amitabha Buddha at least three times,”Namo Amitabha, Namo Amitabha, Namo Amitabha”
- You can do more than three but three repetitions is enough and gets the job done. Chanting of the mantra brings in or reveals Amitabha Buddha in your mind. This energy is then automatically projected through the meat into the animal spirit, and because of this, if you have the sensitivity, you can directly see or sense how Buddha Amitabha's blessing changes the whole karmic destiny of the animal. Now you have done a dharmic deed that greatly helps the animals and blessed your food.
Thank you for reading. May all beings be free,
Kim Rinpoche, 15.5.2020
My good friend Kim Katami has asked me to write a little piece about my journey to an ancestral diet . . . eating meat. I’ve never met Kim in person, but I have a strong feeling of kinship with him; we are very similar people, and I admire his work in presenting a practical Dharma system for Westerners.
Like Kim, I was a vegetarian for the better part of 15 years because of spiritual motivations, and the guidance of many great teachers, and most recently was a vegan for 3 years. Being a vegan simply destroyed me. You could say that the 3 years of veganism quickly finished off what few reserves I had left from the slow starvation of vegetarianism. I didn’t know it at the time, but 100% plant-based diets are worse than total deprivation of nutrients for people of my genetic heritage; I know this because I have found fasting to be very healing. I bought into all the happy feel-good propaganda of the Vegan SJWs and their Marxist vision of a world without suffering, where every animal is worshipped and divine, and humans are the monsters.
As a vegetarian I noticed that I tired more easily, and that I was always tired to some degree; low in energy, and placid in mind; the sort of placidness that tends to mental laziness rather than alert vigilance. This developed into chronic fatigue after some years. The first 6 – 8 months of 100% plant-based diet was relatively good; I got some positive results with weight loss, and a temporary boost of energy, but a year later the weight began to come back, the energy levels plummeted, and I began to have other problems such as sleep apnea and fibromyalgia, with high levels of joint and muscle pain. I also felt very smug in my new peak of ethical behaviour; oddly enough, I did not then draw a connection between my diet, and the flood of new health problems coming to me, or the constant mental fog.
Let’s be clear about mental fog . . . it is a physical condition caused by systemic inflammation and the deprivations of fatty acids, contributed heavily to by a gut-biome that is very unhealthy. It is also known as depression. Vegans have one thing in common across the world: more than half of long-term vegans have clinical depression and anxiety.
Some will question whether I did veganism properly. The answer to that is that I have a couple years of university level nutritional education, and that I have eaten what is commonly understood to be an almost ideal diet for most of my life. As far as veganism goes, I did everything right; I took supplements, ate nutrient dense foods, stayed away from the vegan faux-meat/cheese products, and took in plenty of greens, and whole vegetables in large variety. I had an ideal vegan diet, and had great discipline in maintaining it. None of this protected me from the consequences of veganism.
Earlier in my life, in periods that I was not fully vegetarian (but held it as the ideal to be attained) I noticed that whenever I consumed a large medium-rare steak, that for the next few days I would have more energy and zest for life. At the time I simply did not understand why this would be so. For me, my departure from veganism coincided with my discovery of the Marxist takeover of animal rights groups and the major Vegan movements. When I saw through all their propaganda and coercion, along with all the collusion and corruption coming from big Agra, I was fairly furious. It was then that I began to examine the facts about environmentalism and a traditional farming model. I quickly realized that almost nothing cited by the prominent voices of environmentalism and a plant-based diet were true. Sure, big factory farming meat production is horrendous and not as healthy as it could be, but even at that . . . meat from these sources is still far healthier for you than eating an Impossible Burger/Beyond Meat, or any of the other highly processed manufactured protein meat-imitations. I made a decision to put animal-based foods back into my diet. At this point a lot of things started to get better slowly. But then I began to pay attention to various voices talking about the ancestral diet, and why one simply cannot go against thousands of years of specific regional evolution.
Our ancestors ate specific foods that worked for their region and weather patterns for tens of thousands of years, and one person coming from a genetic stream is not going to change that in just 50 years of their life. One is literally trying to swim up a water fall, if you will. I would go so far to say that if you have a significant amount of genetic heritage from Northern Europe or Asia, you simply cannot be healthy without meat. During one of my elimination diets, used to determine food reactions, I found that I could handle butter, and cheese from Europe (but not North American cheese). This was odd. Why no cheese or milk from North America? (I can get into that later if anyone wants to know.) I found out that I could not tolerate any processed vegetable oils. I discovered that bread, pasta, or anything produced from wheat was completely intolerable. I found out that all processed sugar is slow suicide; and in the end I discovered that virtually any packaged (frozen, canned, in a box, or pre-prepared) food was uneatable. This brought me to an anti-inflammatory diet, composed of just whole, fresh prepared food from a limited list of options. At this point I was feeling much better, and I knew I was on to something great. Then I discovered that the more meat I ate, and the less vegetables, the better I felt . . . more energy, better mood, sharper mind, more strength, etc. Here is where I began to seriously listen to proponents of the ancestral diet, those who advocated for a keto-genic diet, and the carnivore advocates. I have adopted most of their guidelines. Now I eat mostly meat (beef, lamb, some pork, foul, and fatty fish) with some fermented vegetables and small amounts of well-cooked greens. During periods of several days when I eat nothing but meat I notice a big difference. Why is this true? I have no doubt that it is because this is the way my ancestors ate for eons of time. Humans were never plant-based eaters.
Humans evolved into what we are because they began to eat large amounts of animal fat; our brains evolved to have higher functions, and developed greater size and capacity because of heavy protein and fat intake. Humans are naturally carnivores, who in some scenarios developed the capacity to ingest limited amounts of plants as a survival strategy (for when wild game was scarce). For most of us Europeans and Asians, we have a surprising amount of Neanderthal genes, along with some Denisovan, and Homo Heidelbergensus genes (otherwise called “an unknown species”). All of these ancient ancestors were exclusively carnivores. One does not go against nature and win. Genetic science and paleo-anthropology trumps ideas held to be sacred. There may be people in the world who can be on 100% plant-based diet for many years and appear to do well, but most of us cannot. Vegans say you can survive on a plant-based diet, and that may be true for a period of time, but you cannot thrive on it. This does not even figure in all the chronic health problems that arise from nutrient deprivation, or the major diseases that can precipitate from inflammation and a glucose burning metabolism. Human metabolism is naturally a fat-burning metabolism, but we have developed the ability to shift to glucose burning, for survival during times of scarcity. Even at that, being in glucose burning metabolism is less than ideal, and is not conducive to exuberant vitality and long-term health.
Today, with the modern industrialised diet, systemic inflammation has become the root of all modern diseases. Some call it the S.A.D. (standard American diet) but the truth is that this is endemic to all modern industrialised nations. Most packaged foods have enormous amounts of refined sugar, unhealthy salt, and ridiculous amounts of processed vegetable oils. This appeals to human instinct because we are genetically programmed to go after nutrient rich food, with high fat and salt. Salt was often scarce in ancient diets, so much so that salt was as valuable a precious metals. Fruits, berries, and honey were seasonal treats, so sweet foods were coveted. This hunger for fat, salt, and sweet is the formula for all junk food; only now food is being produced using refined sugar and highly processed vegetable oil. Both are highly inflammatory to the body and generate disease. Now here is the conundrum: if you eliminate all processed foods, and eat only whole fresh foods that are seasonal and regional, what do you have left to eat that will build health, and heal illnesses? The answer is meat, and butter fat. Meat heals; butter and fat heals. Our bodies and especially our brains and nervous system craves high quality fat. Meat and animal fat is the only super-food there is. This presents a dilemma for someone who believes that abstaining from meat is required to live an ethical life in harmony with standard Dharma teachings, to attain enlightenment.
How did I reconcile the spiritual dimension of food, with the fact that my body requires animal fat? My reasoning may not satisfy the rigour of some people’s expectations or demands. I can only honestly present how I understand and approach it. First, it is a given for me that science trumps religious claims (yes, veganism is a religious cult). The facts of genetics and paleoanthropology are clear that up till the dawn of specialised agriculture (9,000 years ago) and the early appearance of cities, humans were dominantly carnivore; especially the human races who lived closer to the Arctic Circle, i.e. my ancestors. The genetic group that my body hails from were Mammoth hunters, and then moved on to auroch herd predation. Just at the beginning of the end of the Ice Age some of them moved north, and over the next 8,000 to 10,000 years became the people that we are now. This is where my genetic heritage comes from . . . from hundreds of thousands of years of eating mostly meat, probably with seasonal berries, some herbs and small amounts of non-cultivated fruit, some honey occasionally, and . . . 8 to 9 months every year with preserved and fresh meat during the long cold winters.
This is the body I was born with; it requires meat to be healthy and vital. A plant-based diet has proven to me that it does not work. It produces fatigue, low energy, joint and soft-tissue pain, low mood, and depression with anxiety. Proper meat intake healed those problems. As long as I eat plenty of fatty meat and offal (nose to tail), fatty fish, eggs and lots of butter, I have energy, I don’t get tired, depression fades away, and I have the mental clarity and sense of well-being to function as a normal human being. My meat based diet has also healed other serious chronic diseases that I’m not specifying, but could talk about later. My noetic practices (meditation) are richly benefitted, as I don’t automatically descend into a lethargic state of mind that I have to fight to rise above. The mental clarity and quality of awareness shining through my synapses now is brilliant!
From a Dharma point of view, is it immoral or unethical for a tiger to eat only meat? No. A tiger is designed to eat the deer and gazelles. I was designed to also eat like a tiger. The wolf is the same. Interestingly, by categorisation humans fit the definition of a cursorial predator; with our eyes set forward (like wolves and large cats), and our capacity to run prey down – our ancestors used to hunt just like wolves, running the animals in large circles, tag teaming them until the prey was exhausted and then taking the game. Our so-called closest cousins by genetics, the chimpanzees and bonobos also hunt, and require meat, and they hunt in teams just like we used to.
I recognise that my body is a part of Samsara, that it is an integral aspect of the endless cycle of relativity, that has arisen through dependent origination, and that its nature is not changeable to a more ideal standard set by beliefs. It is what it is. I also recognise that the samsaric nature of suffering is not effected by anything that we do, no matter how ethical or pure we think it may be. We can only eradicate the sources of suffering in ourselves, and act with the hope that we can aid other suffering intelligent beings who have made themselves receptive to our aspirations.
Being a part of the cycle of nature, I understand that the animal’s body is given to me for sustenance, because that is its purpose. Its death is not in vain, or meaningless, or even a tragedy, but fulfils its own dharma, or reason for being. If we understand the cycle of life and nature, accept it as it is, if we honour and value the animals we eat, if we give thanks for their lives, appreciate the depth of the cycle of nature, and pray for their liberation, there is no moral or ethical issue at all. The sin/error is in being mindless consumers devoid of any thoughts about the ethical, and with no regard to optimising our bodily health. People who follow the ancestral diet contribute positively to the health and balance of the planet’s ecology, and diversity of species in ecosystems. Ruminates prevent soil-erosion, contribute to diversity of species in their ecosystem, and restore land to health – they even effect weather patterns positively.
For all the SJW types out there who will be outraged by what I have said, there are only a few solutions that will work to heal the earth from the devastation of the industrial revolution, and mass consumerism: 1) encouraging grass-fed, free-range ruminates for food; 2) a massive campaign to plant trees of all differing species across the earth, and planting industrial hemp in the arid regions; 3) and the intelligent and compassionate decision to bring human populations down to manageable levels, to live in perfect harmony with our ecosphere – not by systematically destroying ourselves with an unnatural diet of just plants.
The irony of veganism is that it is only highly privileged first-world people who can meet their ideal of an animal free diet, and most of them do it by filling their guts with faux foods made with intensive industrial processes (anything but natural). Their primary sources of food such a beans, rice, and soy products are derived from industrial agricultural operations that are highly destructive to the environment. They fill their stomachs with exotic fruit and vegetables that do not grow where they live, but have to be transported by aeroplane. The greatest destruction is from the sugar and oil industries. But the person who eats close to the land, produces his own food, and raises his own beef, pork, lamb, and foul is actually helping to regenerate the environment. I think at this point that the most ethical and positive thing we can do for the world is to embrace our true biological nature and requirements, and to eat what our bodies are meant to eat, and insist that our food comes from grass-fed ethically farmed sources.
Finally, years ago, I remember one Buddhist teacher saying in response to a question about eating meat, that these animals we eat, came into the world with this purpose, and that they fulfil their dharma by giving their lives for us, and thus move toward liberation. I agree. There is no ethical problem at all . . . unless we fail to appreciate this, and offer thanks and gratitude. The stories about high Lamas and Rinpoches having a special fondness for double-cheese burgers, and washing them down with vodka comes to mind. Many of them publically teach the necessity of a vegetarian life for serious practitioners, but in private life they don’t believe it at all. It’s no wonder . . . Tibetans for tens of thousands of years have depended on a diet composed mostly of yak meat and butter. There’s not much that can grow in Tibet besides a few herbs and animals. One cannot go against nature and win. Even Guru Rinpoche had no compunction about eating meat, drinking wine, and . . . a few other practices we “moral” people consider as vices. Did this negatively affect his outstanding achievement, and the attaining of the Rainbow Body? No. Case closed.
Matt: I'm half-Finnish and was vegetarian for ~2.5 years total due to my Buddhist practice. I no longer wanted to eat factory-farmed animals, which are raised in conditions of extreme cruelty, or even any living thing that had been killed for meat. I was careful to get enough protein and other nutrients. During my vegetarian phases, I generally gained weight, felt bloated & slightly nauseous, and was never completely full or satiated no matter how much or what types of vegetables I ate. These symptoms would disappear as soon as I ate meat. I have greater mental clarity when eating meat as well. I finally came to the conclusion that I’m constitutionally best suited to an omnivorous diet. It was easier to accept this knowing that the Dalai Lama is apparently the same way--he had health problems that only abated when he stopped practicing vegetarianism. I primarily eat meat and vegetables with no starches and few carbohydrates in general. I also incorporate long periods of fasting (with appropriate electrolyte supplementation). This diet has produced the best mental and physical health for me overall.
I'm glad this has been raised. I don't think all vegetarians suffer from low energy. Some people are suited to it but I wasn't. My daughter and her partner are vegans and persuaded me that eating meat was unethical. I also went off the texture of meat and felt giving it up was the right decision at the time.
I only did it for a year and got severe anaemia. I lived on iron tablets and extra spinach and kale, all the while having mad cravings for red meat, usually steak. I even dreamt about eating red meat, steak pies covered in gravy, or oxtail stews where the meat falls of the bone. Much to my disgust, at the time.
I had brain fog and just limped through that year. I was tired all the time and put it down to age. On my days off I could sleep in and still nap again in the afternoon then sleep through the night. I thought my days of high energy levels were over. I went to stay with Lama Karl at the sangha house in Birmingham. The smell of pork chops grilling made me salivate and cravings for meat were at an all time high. I'm certain my body knew what it was lacking, just as it did when I was pregnant. I would crave certain food types that my body required and reject others.
Once I made the decision to eat meat again, a few weeks later, my energy levels rose really quickly. I wasn't tired all the time. Consequently my skin improved. I no longer had dark shadows around my eyes. The ideal diet for me includes meat, fish, vegetables and full fat dairy. My digestive system is at it's best then.
Carbohydrates also have a negative impact on my body, although I still eat them. I try to listen to my body though. I was sick for a year.
In fact, the idea seemed so to me so integral to spiritual practice that I would probably never have questioned its validity if it hadn’t been for the fact I am a long time sufferer of various chronic health problems. These problems include digestive issues, more specifically IBS, as well as systemic inflammation of the body manifesting most notably as an array of skin problems.
I have always believed these problems to be related to diet somehow, and therefore I have experimented with many different ways of eating throughout the years. Diets I have experimented with range from high-meat/low carb, such as the Paleo diet, to fruit-based raw veganism. Because of this experimentation with a wide selection of diets, I have gained a pretty good picture of what works for my body and not. Nevertheless, I must admit that despite my personal knowledge, the ideology of the “spiritual” plant-based diets skewed my thinking for years, leading me to go back to diets I knew were not optimal for me.
In fact, it was quite early on in my experimentation that I realised the benefit of a high meat diet. Regardless, it took me years and years of going back and forth between eating meat and not eating meat until I simply had had enough and started trusting my own experience.
I remember driving back from the Pemako Buddhist Spring Retreat of 2019, dealing with severe bloating and stomach pain, as well as badly inflamed skin, having eating the high-carb vegetarian diet that was the standard for our retreats back then (ironically I was the cook!). It was then, in the midst of my physical pain, that my teacher casually mentioned something about tantric practitioners always having eaten meat.
Now, a few weeks prior to this I had come across a particular diet called The Gut and Psychology Diet (GAPS), which had seemed promising in dealing with my particular ailments. The only problem was of course that it was highly meat-based, including very little plant foods at all. Nevertheless, when I heard my teachers comment something clicked in my mind and I said to myself: “Fuck it! I am done with this veggie bullshit!”
So when I got back I started the diet. Now, the GAPS diet is an elimination type diet where you eliminate all foods but bone broth, meat and maybe one or two vegetables for up to a week. Then over a longer period you introduce more and more foods like eggs, fermented dairy, some veggies and fruits until you have a relatively normal diet that is high in nutrient dense ingredients that are supposed to be healing for the gut.
The reason I mention that is that during the first few weeks of primarily eating bone broth soups with meat and a perhaps a carrot or squash, I saw major improvements. This was especially the case with my digestion but also to a certain degree regarding the skin problems. However, interestingly enough, as soon as I started introducing more plant foods into my diet my problems started flaring up again. It was then that I started wondering whether perhaps plant foods were a major contributor to my worsening health.
Subsequently, I went full carnivore, eating a diet consisting only of meat, fish and eggs, salt and water. What happened after I made the switch was way beyond my expectations. Not only did my IBS completely go away within a week, but my skin healed fully as well. No more itchy eczema on the face, no more dandruff, no more weird red dots on my forehead.
Furthermore, after a few more weeks a whole array of problems that I didn’t even know I had started lifting. My frequent headaches, my bad breath, flaky skin on hands and feet, the body odour, all went away within a month. Even my mood swings balanced out and my energy levels improved. When working out I felt like I had an extra gear that I hadn’t previously been aware of and my body’s ability to deal with lactic acid build-up improved greatly. In short I felt great for the 4-5 months were I strictly ate animal products only.
Importantly, I saw absolutely no adverse effects on my meditation practice from eating meat. On the contrary, the positive effects it had on my body and mind actually made me better able to practice due to having more energy and a clearer mind.
Unfortunately, because I travel a lot and because I am not the most disciplined person in the world, I eventually started cheating here and there, eating “normal food” at restaurants etc. This would always lead me into a spiral of eating more and more carbohydrates as they are highly addictive by nature. Interestingly, what happened whenever I did this was that my symptoms come back right away. On the bright side, as long as I eat enough meat, it doesn’t get as bad as it used to be, but nevertheless, the carbohydrates and plants in general seem to affect me very negatively and I always start healing again when eating animal foods only.
In short, over the past year it has become obvious to me that “spiritual” vegetarianism/veganism is little more than ideology. Unexamined beliefs passed on from one person to another, spreading like a virus. And while I have nothing against people who eat in this way or that way, I believe it is highly problematic when certain diets are presented as being more in accordance with spirituality than others. To me, such notions are nothing but religious fundamentalism and, as such, quite contrary to authentic spirituality. Thank you.