While vegetarian recipes are seen as an integral element that pertain to the values attributed to Buddhism, views on vegetarianism vary within the religion. Some schools reject meat on the basis of the first precept, which requires Buddhists to “refrain from taking life” while other schools say this needn't be so.
Although there is some dispute, vegetarian recipes remain prevalent in Buddhist cuisine. Vegetarianism honours ‘ahimsa’, which means "to do no harm", an important doctrine in most Indian religions. How insistent Buddha was about the importance of vegetarianism is open to interpretation. There are a number of branches of Buddhism, with differing beliefs.
Theravada, the oldest surviving branch, believes that Buddha accepted any food given to him as alms, though in his seven years as an ascetic there’s no evidence he ate meat. Since then it’s acceptable for nuns and monks who follow the Theravadan way to accept meat, if it’s offered, so long as the animal was not killed specifically for them, which can result in bad karma. There is, in Buddhism, a distinction between killing and eating meat.
The Mahayana view, as charted in the Nirvana Sutra – a scripture that mentions some of Buddha’s last teachings – claims that towards the end of his life Buddha stated that no meat or fish of any kind should be eaten and even food touched by meat should be washed or rejected. Buddhists following the Mahayana traditions are strict vegetarians and some sects even avoid strong-smelling food such as garlic.
Other offshoots of Buddhism reject root vegetables – Buddhist ‘vinaya’ prohibits the eating of vegetables that will be ‘killed’. Onions, carrots and anything that’s dug up is off the menu, while plants that survive after being plucked, such as legumes, are acceptable to eat. For Japanese and Tibetan Buddhists, eating meat is now usually optional, whereas Chinese Buddhists monks are strict vegetarians.