Following are a number of questions often asked about Buddhism. The short answers are offered by teachers at Aryaloka and members of the Triratna Buddhist Order. More questions and answers will be added from time to time.
Is Buddhism a philosophy or a religion?
I think it depends on what one means by a religion. If a religion has to include God, then Buddhism is not a religion. But I think religions are essentially guidelines for finding an end to suffering and the dilemmas of human existence. Christians follow God’s commandments and go to heaven, while Buddhists practice ethics and meditation, and cultivate wisdom, and thereby gain enlightenment, or freedom from suffering and harmony with life and death. Although the conception of a state free of suffering differs, and the path to get there differs in many ways, there is a broad similarity of aims. I think it’s unwise to assume that philosophy and religion are mutually exclusive categories. All religions adopt philosophical standpoints, and Buddhism includes well-developed systems of philosophy. It is both a philosophy and a religion.
Are all Buddhists vegetarian?
Not all Buddhists are vegetarian, although Buddhist teachings would suggest that vegetarianism is the most ethical diet for Buddhists. The Buddhist first precept enjoins us to abstain from causing harm, and eating meat requires the taking of life. So for most people, the natural thing to do would be to abstain from eating meat. The exception has always been Buddhist monks and nuns. This may seem ironic, since you’d think that monks and nuns would be stricter in their practice! But traditionally monks and nuns begged for their food (a strict and demanding practice in its own right), and it would be hard for them to avoid eating meat that was put into their begging bowls. But if you don’t beg in the traditional fashion, and buy your food in a supermarket, then the ethical thing to do is to eat a vegetarian diet and reduce the amount of suffering in the world.