To celebrate World Compassion Day yesterday (Nov. 28) the Dalai Lama joined Wayne Pacelle, President of the Humane Society of the United States, for an event centered around animal welfare and vegetarianism. The conference, organized by HSI (the international branch of the HSUS) also marked the opening of the organization’s new India office.
While on stage, His Holiness explained why he initially decided to become a vegetarian – and why more must be done to educate youth on compassion towards all life.
“I was not vegetarian till about five decades ago, but when I saw hens being abused on an animal farm, I decided to become vegetarian,” he said. “The media must play an important role, and even the younger generation must be informed about moral ethics through education.”
When a student asked him for his views on meat, the 77-year-old said with a smile: “A vegetarian diet is the most healthy one for you. We must respect all forms of life.”
If you’ve followed this site for any length of time, you’ll know that while we’re big fans of the Dalai Lama and all that he does, we’re also often puzzled by his comments on the vegetarian lifestyle. Even Paul McCartney once wrote him when he discovered that he surprisingly was not a vegetarian.
“Then I found out he was not a vegetarian, so I wrote to him saying, ‘Forgive me for pointing this out, but if you eat animals then there is some suffering somewhere along the line’,” McCartney told Prospect Magazine in 2008. “He replied saying that his doctors had told him he needed it, so I wrote back saying they were wrong.”
In 2010, His Holiness expanded on his diet saying:
“In vinaya no prohibition in eating meat. So monks in Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, they take both veg and non veg food. One time I asked, discussed this subject with a monk from Sri Lanka about 40 years ago, he said Buddhist monks are neither veg nor non veg… he should accept whatever he gets, so that’s the principle. But vinaya clearly mentions that meat which was purposely killed for you was not to be eaten but in general was not prohibited, some books like langaavatarasutra prohibited any kind of meat, including fish etc but some other texts not prohibiting, so different case, I think practically in northern part of Tibet, no vegetables. Very difficult. So that’s practical reason.”
While some in the comments criticized the Dalai Lama as lazy, others wisely advised seeking a deeper understanding of Tibetan Buddhism.
“He means he didn’t chose an animal, and then have it killed specifically for him–rather it had been killed for someone else and who then offered it to him,” wrote one commenter. “It goes back to the Buddha traveling through northern India and accepting whatever was offered to him–and he did eat meat–dying from eating rotted pig.”
“Odd thing about all this is many Tibetans, even today, will have animals killed by the Muslims who live in Tibet, in order to avoid accumulating bad karma. Of course I have often wondered, in Buddhism, wouldn’t knowingly putting someone at risk for developing bad karma be equally as bad simply killing an animal yourself?”
In a blog on the HSUS site, Wayne Pacelle said the Dalai Lama is not currently a vegetarian, despite his belief that it’s the best diet.
“Today, in his extended public remarks on animal issues, he mentioned that he’s been back and forth on his vegetarianism through his eight decades, and is not a vegetarian now,” wrote Wayne. “But he condemned factory farming, and specifically the rearing of hens in battery cages. He said that being vegetarian is better for us and better for animals, and that South Indian vegetarian food is his favorite cuisine. Throughout his entire speech and in the question and answer session that followed, he wore a Humane Society International baseball cap, which delighted me even though it clashed with his Buddhist monastic robe.”
So – interesting. Of course, it’s this author’s opinion that the best kind of compassion is a vegan diet, but one step at a time.
“Animals deserve our compassion,” His Holiness said. “We must know their pain. We should nurture this compassion through education. Showing concern about animal rights is respecting their life.”
Sound off on your thoughts below!
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