Why Avoid The Five Pungent Roots?

The below is a set of answers I helped to write for Makan Sutra (MS) upon request via a friend. MS is not to be mistaken as an actual spiritual sutra. In fact, it’s a very worldly guide for indulgence in all kinds of foods, including animals. It’s kind of an abuse of the word ‘sutra’ actually, unless you consider it being used in ‘Kama Sutra’ as alright too!

Question: Is it so that some vegetarians do not consume ‘aromatics’ such as garlic or onion? 

Answer: Yes, such as Chinese Mahayana Buddhist vegetarians and vegans, who often also exclude shallots, leeks and chives in their diet.

Question: What are the spiritual reasons for not consuming them?

Answer: They avoid these ‘five pungent roots’ (even if seen as ‘aromatic’ by some) as the Buddha taught in the Surangama Sutra that when eaten cooked, they can have aphrodisiac effects that increase craving for sense pleasures, distracting them from progress in spiritual practices such as meditation; and when eaten raw, they can cause irritability (anger). The effects might not be obvious to those who consume only a little, or who are not mindful enough to notice the effects – e.g. who do not do much meditative practices. With less giving in to sensual indulgence (greed) and anger (hatred) by abstaining from these roots, this is good for both physical and mental well-being.

In the same sutra, it is mentioned that protective gods dislike the smell of the roots and shun those who consume them, while hungry ghosts (some of whom might be potentially harmful) like the smell and draw near. With less protection during meditative practices and everyday life, there is the possibility of being urged by demonic beings to break moral precepts, and increase in greed, hatred and delusion. In the worst-case scenario, one might even join the retinue of demonic kings in the next life, thereafter losing blessings (after depletion of good karma) before falling into the hells (which are not permanent though; as negative karma created is limited in nature).