Manipulating the Memory of Meat-Eating: Reading the Laṅkāvatāra’s Strategy of Introducing Vegetarianism to Buddhism

  • Hyoung Seok HamEmail author


This paper examines vegetarianism in the eighth “no meat-eating” (amāṃsabhakṣaṇa) chapter of the Laṅkāvatāra with specific attention to how the sūtra confronts the previous dietary code (which allowed meat-eating) and combats Buddhist resistance to the new doctrine. This study corroborates previous observations that vegetarianism in Indian Buddhism was a response to outsiders’ censure, rather than an expression of a specific Buddhist doctrine. It goes on to explore how the Laṅkāvatāra introduces a new dietary norm, one that was incompatible with the preexisting monastic code that allowed monks to partake of meat pure in three aspects (trikoṭiśuddha). The Laṅkāvatāra replaced the three conditions for meat to be pure with the three modes of killing, thereby rendering the old regulation into a rule that makes any form of meat-eating impossible. In an effort to suppress intra-Buddhist resistance to vegetarianism, the sūtra prophesized the future appearance of anti-vegetarian Buddhists and identified them as heretics. Eliminating the past and future possibility of meat-eating, the Laṅkāvatāra defines Buddhism as a meat-free tradition.


Vegetarianism Meat-eating trikoṭiśuddha Laṅkāvatāra Timeless India 


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This study was financially supported by Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan (2015) and the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation (2018). I also express my sincere gratitude to the following people for their contributions to this study. Madhav Deshpande read several critical parts of the Lāṅkāvatāra with me at the initial stage of the project. Anna Johnson critically reviewed various versions of this paper over years and always shared her insights with me. Donald Lopez enabled me to be correct on details, and thereby, to complete this paper. Kei Kataoka provided me with his keen observations on the difficult passages dealt with here.

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Conflict of interest

There is no conflict of interest in this paper.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation in Buddhist Studies (Host Institution: Kyushu University)FukuokaJapan

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