Founded in the sixth century BCE by Siddartha Gautama, Buddhism became the state religion of India in 250 bce, though it is now a minority religion there, Buddhism has been the most influential of religious forces in spreading the practice of vegetarianism and has developed in different ways in many parts of the world, especially Southeast Asia, Tibet, China, Japan, and Korea.

Buddhism championed the concept of Ahimsa— noninjury to all living creatures—and had a profound influence on the subsequent development of Hinduism through its stand against cruelty toward animals and animal sacrifice. Buddhists refrain from eating meat or from harming any living creatures, though the prohibition is observed strictly only by monks and the devout laity. Lay Buddhists may eat meat or may raise meat for sale to non-Buddhists. Animals found dead may be eaten, as may fish (which are not 'killed' but merely removed from the water).

In contrast to other religions, Buddhism places emphasis on wrongful killing rather than wrongful eating. Thus flesh may be eaten if it was not procured for eating purposes or supposed to have been so. Monks personify the ideal. Food is obtained through begging, and it is meritorious for the laity to voluntarily provide food to the monks, thereby assisting in their own spiritual progress.

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