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Posts Tagged "veganism"
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In early November, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Tenzin Ösel Hita ate at a vegan restaurant in Santa Cruz, California, where they discussed the menu. According to Rinpoche’s assistant Ven. Roger, Rinpoche is creating his own cook book.
Rinpoche has been strongly encouraging students to become vegetarian. In a letter published in the FPMT Annual Review 2011, Rinpoche reflected:
When I was in the hospital [after manifesting a stroke in April 2011], I saw a program about animals that were sold to be killed in Indonesia and other countries for live export … It didn’t show how they were killed, but it showed one cow that was on the platform, with the head tied, being pulled down to be killed. The cow didn’t want to go and the man was pulling it. I thought, ‘I don’t have power to stop all this killing, but what I can do is to try to inspire people to become vegetarian.’
More information, photos and updates about FPMT spiritual director Lama Zopa Rinpoche can be found on Rinpoche’s homepage. If you’d like to receive news of Lama Zopa Rinpoche via email, sign up to Lama Zopa Rinpoche News.
ADVICE FROM A SPIRITUAL FRIEND
Over the years, Mandala has explored the issue of vegetarianism and the question of whether or not to eat meat. But with a growing awareness of issues of animal cruelty and environmental concerns connected to the production of dairy products and eggs, many FPMT students have taken up the practice of veganism, including Nicholas Ribush, director of the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive. In this issue’s online edition, Nick explains his motivations for his decision in “On Becoming a Vegan.”
At the 2009 CPMT meeting in France, Nick asked Rinpoche about veganism, to which Rinpoche gives an expansive and motivational response.
Nick Ribush: Rinpoche, how do you feel about FPMT promoting a policy of not only vegetarianism, but also veganism, because of the cruelty to animals inherent in the production of dairy products and so forth?
Lama Zopa Rinpoche: The reality is that we cannot live without harming others. There’s no way we can survive without others being harmed, killed. We can’t survive for even a day without causing suffering to others.
This is how life is in samsara and that’s why the ultimate answer is to get out of samsara, to be liberated from it. Only when you free yourself from samsara by actualizing the remedy, the true path, the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness, which directly terminates the delusions, the disturbing thought obscurations, and the negative imprints, the seeds of delusion, will you no longer have to reincarnate, no longer have to go through the cycle of death and rebirth, experiencing all the sufferings of the six realms, one after the other.
It’s only when you’re liberated from samsara that others don’t have to suffer for your happiness, only then that others don’t have to be harmed or killed in order for you to survive. Therefore, actualizing the path is of the utmost urgency; that’s the emergency.
Otherwise, even if you’re eating a plate of vegetables, it’s likely they were sprayed with insecticide when they were grown. And if you eat unsprayed ones, there may be many tiny green insects on them under the leaves and so forth that you don’t notice because the leaves are green too. So when you prepare food, you have to check each piece very carefully and put those with insects outside gently so that the insects can continue to live on them, not just throw them in the trash.
Many times I’ve seen vegetables brought in from the garden with many tiny insects on them. You really have to inspect them carefully inside and out, because if you’re unaware, if you haven’t seen them before, you wouldn’t think there were insects there since they blend in so well. Of course, if they didn’t have a mind, if they didn’t have feelings, it wouldn’t matter, but they do; so you have to be careful with unsprayed vegetables and put those with insects on them into a separate container and take them outside.
Also, of course, many insects die in the growing of food itself. When gardens are dug and fields are plowed, so many insects get killed. As I always say, think how many die for even one grain of rice. Paddies are dug, flooded and drained; many sentient beings die at each stage of growing one crop of rice. And that rice came from a previous crop, and that from the one before and so forth back to the time when rice began to be harvested, perhaps thousands of years ago. So how many beings have suffered and died during that incalculable period? And how many people have created negative karma harming others in that way? These are unimaginable numbers. For one grain of rice.
So now think of the whole plate of rice. How many sentient beings suffered and died for that? Think back to when rice began to be grown in this world. When you contemplate all this carefully there’s no way, no way, you can eat the rice without wanting to do something meaningful to benefit all those numberless sentient beings who died for each grain of it. You feel it’s impossible to eat just for your own happiness; eating for yourself, completely ignoring all those beings who died and who created negative karma for that rice, becomes the most difficult thing, most painful thing, to do.
This is just to give you an idea of how many sentient beings have to suffer and die for your happiness, for your life. They’re numberless. Wow!
Then there’s water. The water we use is full of sentient beings that can be seen only through a microscope and that have to die for us.
It’s the same with the clothing we wear. Whether it’s made of fiber that’s grown or derived from animals, it has a long evolution and there’s a huge amount of fear, suffering and killing for the many sentient beings involved. Think, for example, of the silkworms that are boiled alive so that we can make silk thread from their cocoons. Can you imagine the pain they experience?
Then there are the buildings we live and work in. Many beings get killed and many others create negative karma during their construction.
So you can see, there’s basically no pleasure or comfort we enjoy that does not involve numberless sentient beings’ suffering, death and negative karma. That’s why it’s so urgent that we practice Dharma. It’s the most important thing we can do, more important than anything else.
If you don’t attain liberation from the ocean of samsara or enlightenment in this life, then you need to get an upper rebirth in your next life, meet and practice Dharma, develop your mind, and in that way achieve liberation from samsara and eventually the full enlightenment of buddhahood.
So achieving liberation from samsara is the main answer, the most important thing for your own sake and that of other sentient beings, for them not to suffer or die. Freeing yourself from samsara is the solution to all that. And then, of course, on top of that, achieving enlightenment so that you can liberate numberless sentient beings from the ocean of samsara and bring them to full enlightenment too. This is your greatest purpose and the best way to benefit others: achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings.
Thus you can see how achieving enlightenment in order to liberate numberless sentient beings from the ocean of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment is of the greatest urgency, the most important thing in daily life. Wow!
In order to do that you need to attain the path, which starts with the three higher trainings or the gradual path of the lower capable being, taking refuge and following karma. That means abandoning negative karma and practicing good karma, avoiding the ten nonvirtues and living in the five lay vows. That allows you to avoid a lower rebirth and get a higher rebirth so that you can continue developing your mind on the path to liberation and enlightenment by practicing bodhichitta and the six paramitas and then the tantric path.
The fact that we have met the teachings at this time shows that we are the luckiest, most fortunate people in the world. Not only have we been born human, which is extremely rare, but we have also received that rarest of human rebirths, the perfect human rebirth, with all the freedoms and opportunities that brings. However, such a life does not last long and can stop at any time. This incredible, wishfulfilling opportunity where we have met the entire Dharma – sutra and tantra – can finish at any moment.
Therefore, the most important thing we can do with our life is to learn and practice Dharma and actualize the path. That’s more important than anything else in life. Along with that we can engage in many other activities to give other sentient beings the opportunity to meet the Dharma, thereby bringing happiness to many others. We can give others the chance to study and practice Dharma so that they can learn to overcome suffering and escape the cycle of death and rebirth and not have to continuously go through the sufferings of the six realms, one after the other, and eventually achieve enlightenment.
Thus for both ourselves and others, attaining enlightenment is the ultimate thing. But of course, the basis of that, the basic practice of Buddhism, is not harming others, and on top of that we try to benefit others as much as possible. The more we reduce the harm we give others, the more we benefit them.
Excerpted from a question and answer session with Lama Zopa Rinpoche at CPMT 2009, Institut Vajra Yogini, France. Edited by Nicholas Ribush, Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.
TEACHINGS AND ADVICE
Veganism is not just a diet. It is not just a “lifestyle.” It is a nonviolent act of defiance. It is a refusal to participate in the oppression of the innocent and the vulnerable. It is a rejection of the insidious idea that harming other sentient beings should be considered a “normal” part of life. It represents a paradigm shift toward a new default position that violence for pleasure, amusement, or convenience can never be justified. – Gary L. Francione
By Nicholas Ribush
After my first Kopan meditation course (October-November 1972), I decided to stay on at the monastery and became a vegetarian by default, since meat was not on the general menu. Lama Zopa Rinpoche was a vegetarian and didn’t even eat eggs (“the seed of desire”). Lama Yeshe sometimes ate meat to sustain his body.
In January 1974, most of Kopan went to Bodhgaya for the Kalachakra initiation and the ordination of 10 of us Westerners. Despite the bliss of it all, the physical conditions were far from ideal and I finished up with worms, ascaris lumbricoides, the giant roundworm. Yes. Giant.
I lost a lot of weight and was pretty grumpy, but as a new monk, I didn’t want to kill the worms. “Rubbish,” said Lama Yeshe. “Your life more benefit sentient beings than worms. Take medicine.” So I did. He also told me to eat meat to regain my health and ordered the Kopan cooks to prepare it for me.
Over the next two or three decades, I had an on-again-off-again relationship with vegetarianism, convincing myself with the usual arguments that eating meat was OK. The Buddha didn’t expressly forbid it; there were just three types of meat you should definitely not eat. Most Tibetan lamas ate meat; most of my many gurus did. You can bless and benefit the dead animal by reciting certain mantras over the meat. Even if you eat rice, dal and vegetables, many sentient beings die in the production of those foods. If you eat only large animals, where one can feed many people, it’s better than one person eating many small ones, like shrimp or poultry. In 2007, Mandala ran some articles on vegetarianism elaborating on several of these points and more [“Vegetarianism: A Healthy Debate” and “The Case for Not Eating our Friends”].
After my initial Kopan course, I did a short lam-rim retreat during which I became increasingly excited about the Dharma and wrote to my family and friends back in Australia, encouraging them to come to Kopan. Consequently, over 20 of them showed up at the fourth course, March 1973, including my mother. She became a Buddhist and immediately became a lifelong vegetarian, often chastising me for my meat eating, impervious to my arguments justifying it. But I was too attached to meat to give it up and too unaware of what went into its production to follow her lead.
In 2004, Kopan’s Khen Rinpoche Lama Lhundrup asked FPMT students to go vegetarian for as much of the year as they could and to dedicate the lives saved to the long life and health of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. He said that His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Private Office was encouraging all Tibetans to go vegetarian and to dedicate the lives saved to the long lives of their gurus, and that all the monks and nuns at Kopan were going to comply. As a result, FPMT students pledged tens of thousands of vegetarian days and some 50 students became vegetarian for life. At first I committed to be vegetarian a few days a week, but then I did some online research into the way animals are raised and killed for food and immediately decided to become a fulltime vegetarian for life.
I wrote about this briefly in the December 2004 LYWA e-letter, saying that I didn’t know why it took me more than 30 years of Buddhism to come to this conclusion. As Rinpoche often says, the nature of attachment is such that it obscures the shortcomings of attachment. My attachment to meat prevented me from looking at the issue objectively. I hid behind my ignorance. But since the advent of YouTube, there’s really no excuse, nowhere to hide. Search for videos with the terms “meat cruelty,” “animal cruelty,” “beef cruelty,” “pig cruelty,” “chicken cruelty” and so forth and you’ll see.
The experience of watching these was what I imagine a realization must be like. Of course, I have no Dharma realizations; this was kind of a worldly one. A sudden, deep, life changing understanding that led me to declare to my wife, Wendy, “I’m never eating meat again. I want no part of this entire process.” I defy you to watch these videos and not be moved.
After a couple of years as a vegetarian, I went back to YouTube and looked at several dairy-cruelty and egg-cruelty videos. Another realization, not quite as strong as the first one, but definite nonetheless. And again, incredulity at how ignorant I was. Milk and eggs come from the female of the species. What happens to the males? They are brutally killed, of course; usually soon after birth.
You can’t have any dairy products – milk, cream, butter, cheese, yogurt, ice cream – without the deaths of billions of male calves. Often these are raised in tiny cages for the first few months of their lives before being slaughtered for veal. Look at the veal-cruelty videos. And look at how dairy cows are treated. The contented cow grazing in a lush green pasture story is a myth. A dairy industry lie, actually. Most are raised on factory farms standing in mud and excrement, milked by machine and forcibly impregnated on what some in the industry call a “rape rack.” At birth their babies are torn away from them, causing great suffering to both. The milk meant for the calves is then stolen for human consumption. Do we have here the three non-virtuous actions of body: killing, stealing and sexual misconduct?
Eggs are not much better. Nearly all the billions of male chicks born annually are killed almost immediately by being ground up alive or smothered or gassed in large plastic bags with thousands of others. I could not bear to be part of this any longer.
Finally, I looked at the cruelty of the wool and leather industries, the incredible exploitation of bees in the production of honey, the torture of animals in medical research and circuses and their misery in zoos and decided to become a vegan, to distance myself completely from the animal slavery business. I mean, the essence of Buddhism is “if you can’t help others, at least don’t harm them.” All this is just so contrary to the Dharma.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche once said how fortunate were those who truly felt compassion for others. For the first time, I felt that I might be one of those people. Becoming a vegetarian is a good start, but it’s nowhere near enough. There’s probably more suffering in a glass of milk than a pound of steak. And these days there’s no need to consume animal products to survive. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that it’s far healthier for most people not to.
At the last CPMT meeting, France, 2009, in a question and answer session with Rinpoche, I suggested instituting an FPMT policy promoting veganism. I wasn’t surprised by his reply, fitting the issue into his vast perspective. Nevertheless, for me, his final paragraph, reminding us that the basic Buddhist practice is to not harm others, vindicated my decision to go vegan. As long as we use animal products of any kind, we’re far more involved in their enslavement, torture and suffering than if we don’t.
And I think the reason that the Buddha, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Rinpoche can’t just come out and tell their followers to be vegetarian, much less vegan, is that not everybody can do it from the start, and to do so would be to drive many potential students away. Like me, we have to be brought along gradually.
The reaction many people have when you tell them you’re a vegan is funny. Right away they become defensive, as if you’re judging them. Even Buddhists; perhaps especially Buddhists. You’re immediately labeled pious or militant or self-righteous or something like that. I would have thought that living in a way that clearly decreases animal suffering is the most Buddhist thing you can do. But people do seem threatened by it. It’s that attachment at play again.
And veganism is not only good for the animals; it’s also good for the planet and, as I said, good for one’s own health. Do some research; check it out. Vegans advocate for an end to animal slavery, an end to the selfish and callous exploitation of others, an end to speciesism. I wonder if people advocating for the end of human slavery were seen the same way. They probably were … and look how right they turned out to be!
There are more vegan websites than you could ever read. Some are better than others. The Abolitionist Approach is one of the best, but there are plenty of others. And there are loads of vegan food pages, such as Vegan Yum Yum. Google will take you there. Please, with an open mind, for the sake of mother sentient beings, for the sake of the planet and for the sake of yourself, investigate what I have said.
Dr. Nicholas Ribush arrived at Kopan 1972, the beginning of a four-decade career within FPMT. Since then, he has, on behalf of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, founded and directed Wisdom Publications, Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre, Kurukulla Center and the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, which he has run for the past 16 years.
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