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dalai lama vegeteriandalai lama vegeterian

Dalai Lama: 'It's Best to Go Vegetarian'

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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!

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

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  • Allison’s Gourmet

    Thank you for this thoughtful piece, Michael. I don’t know much about the lives of Buddhist monks. I do wonder if they ever prepare their own food. And if they do, is it always vegetarian? To me, having Muslims butcher animals on their behalf is no different than buying it in plastic at a store. Both involve murder at another’s bidding.
    While I appreciate the intention of wanting to accept what is given, I expect more leadership from spiritual leaders. Call me an idealist. You won’t be the first.
    Check out Dharma Voices for Animals (http://dharmavoicesforanimals.org/), a much-needed new organization that speaks out and educates Dharma (Buddhist) communities about the inherent conflict between causing animal suffering by consuming and using their bodies and excretions and vowing to end suffering.

  • Never thought I’d say this but the Dalai Lama should have a bit more integrity. We are humans, primates, frugivores. Everything about human physiology, from our nutritional requirements to our trichromatic colour vision to our lack of uricase, logically proves that we are evolved to suit a vegan diet of sweet juicy tropical fruits and refreshing greens. Educate yourself so you can make informed decisions. Dr Doug Graham’s book ‘The 80 10 10 Diet’, T. Colin Campbell’s ‘The China Study’ and 30bananasaday.com are good places to start.

    • LV6

      This is the first time that I have heard of trichromatic color vision and uricase. Thank you!!

  • disqus_kqwx5rE9lO

    What an outrageous hypocrite. The Lama’s karma’s well and truly soiled…

  • frank

    Hail Michael Destries Mr. Perfect ! …feeling holier than thou and easy to judge…incite and spread negativity… Lets see you write something like that for Pope, Obama, or Queen…
    It could have been been a positive and inspiring story but you could see only negativity.

    • TinyTrader

      Dear Frank, living a truthful life is accepting everything for whatever it is…this is NOT a negative article. Just one attribute does not define a man. I would rather have more Dalai lamas in this world than more vegans with hatred. I am a vegan, but I will not get offended by anyone else who eats meat…I will finish my comment with the quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

      • Kelly

        I’d still rather have a vegan Dalai Lama. I have to admit I’m struggling with this. Leading by example is the best way to lead… do as I say and not as I do, is not so great. It’s easier to make an exception because he obviously has so many other virtues, but it still is what it is.

  • Cornelia van Huyssteen

    The ‘rotted pig’ that the Buddha ate was a type of mushroom, it’s a bad translation. The Buddha did not eat meat ever. He was an fully enlightened master how could he stand the suffering of anything to satisfy his hunger? It is illogical, and just another trick of the maya to fool people into believing that in any way possible is it okay to cause the death of a living being.

  • Kelsang Pagpa

    The Dalai Lama is a hypocrite, plain and simple. He’s endorsed animal experimentation, refused vegetarian meals that were cooked for him and eats veal so his words are empty because, as usual, he doesn’t walk the talk.

  • tbabbbldot

    Justification is only the weak aspects of the human. I did not see it killed and slaughtered, so I don’t take responsibility for the dead flesh that I put in my mouth. Meanwhile, the desensitization increases with each bite. Be Vegan and Smile, for the Life, of the Life, of the Life, of all Life, for all LIfe.

  • Tharun

    If we treat compassion as a circle where the things we’re compassionate towards go in the circle then our circle can expand or shrink.. One can be compassionate to yourself, to family/friends, to your community, city, country or even all humans. Then it’s a separate question as to whether animals are in that circle..?

    One can do a lot of good (or bad!) for people/society.. One can also do a lot of good (or bad) for the environment.. Ideally we would do good for both.. We’re realising (this century?) that we can’t do bad for the environment and good for society for too long without one feeding in to the other..? E.g. damaged environment damages society later on..?

  • Vinny Paranjpe

    Lost my respect for Dalai Lama today.

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