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Radishes, Turkeys and Pigs -- Oh My!

Once, the Mahasiddha Saraha Arrow-maker [Eng.: Fletcher] a.k.a. Rahulabhadra -- "Scourge of Rahula," meditating while his consort cooked for him, went into profound samadhi while waiting for a bowl of radish curry.  He did not return to normal consciousness for twelve whole years, but when he did, the first thing he asked about was the food.  His wife skillfully wondered aloud at the value of such a samadhi.  (Saraha went on to became abbot of Nalanda University and was the one who ordained Nagarjuna.)

We know the Buddha was not exclusively vegetarian.  Any person living the life of a monk or a renunciate in ancient India generally begged for food.  That is the first purpose of the bowl that is seen in many images of Buddha Shakyamuni. 

The rule for those who live in communities where begging is practiced is that you must accept whatever is offered/put into the bowl whether it is meat or vegetable, fresh or not, appealing or not.   This practice helps reinforce and lend support to an attitude that will eliminate attachment or craving, as in the Third Noble Truth.  

We all have to eat, but Buddhism advocates a mindful awareness of craving or hunger which is expressed in some groups as restraint in, and the regulation of eating.  The more austere communities eat only twice a day, the second time around noon.  In some groups, especially when/where it is cold and since medicine is permitted in the evening, tea, broth or other light food may constitute an evening "treatment." 

According to the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, it was devoted follower, Chunda the Silversmith, who presented the Buddha with his last meal.  Legend has it that the Buddha died as a result of eating some meat -- many think it was pork -- that did not agree with his digestion.  However, pork is not a forbidden food.   There are some kinds that are, though. Monks and nuns in the Theravada are forbidden to eat the flesh of human beings, or of special animals such as elephants, horses, dogs, snakes, lions, tigers, leopards, bears, hyenas, and panthers.   And in those regions where certain animals aid in disposing of the dead, their meat is also forbidden, eg. Tibetans do not generally eat the flesh of large birds.

Also, the Pratimoksha Rules or Monastic Code stipulates that a monk is forbidden to eat raw fish or meat, or the flesh of any animal that he sees, hears, or even suspects was killed specifically for his or her use.

If this rule is broken, then an offense has been committed that requires confession to the sangha (fellow monastics.)  Some schools of Mahayana Buddhism are vegetarian following the strictest observance of the "suspects was killed specifically" clause. 


The Fourth Truth concerns the best way to live in order to diminish suffering.  That entails being mindful, determined and energetic, among other qualities.  We should pay attention to what and how we eat to keep healthy to keep to a minimum any harm we may do to other beings, and also to our environment.

Tibetans eat meat, but they also have a saying to the effect that eating meat is like eating one's relatives.   

Karma and Killing

. . .   .    "As Traleg Kyabgon states in "The Practice of Lojong" (Shambhala 2007, pp.111-115):
"Buddhism doesn't entertain the notion of any kind of moral law. The reference to a "karmic law" is a Western concept that has been introduced into Buddhist thinking."

The idea that if you do something good or bad then something equally good or bad will happen is just an idea that people have made up. Or, if you kill a mouse you will be reborn as a mouse. If that were true, then if you wanted to be a lama in your next life, all you would have to do is kill a lama in this life. But do you think that is the case?

Your cat's response to small moving things is to catch them and if possible, eat them. This is an instinctive trait. It is not the same as premeditated killing. And the desire and ability to overcome this instinct (a completely stupid idea to a cat) would be very difficult. So really, it is a very different kind of thing. Transposing some sort of karmic value system from one realm to another is very tricky business. That is what makes one realm different from another.

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche used to remind people that killing only one cow can feed a lot of people, but when you grow vegetables, you are killing millions of beings through watering, digging and so forth. So being a vegetarian or vegan doesn't automatically let you off the hook. That's why it is also good to do things like buy worms and crickets from a bait store and let them go, so you are giving some beings a life. You could do that and dedicate the merit to your cat.


HH the 17th Karmapa's Request

Full moon day 3rd January 2007 was the last day of the 24th Kagyu Monlam.

In the shade of the Bodhi Tree, seat of Enlightenment of One Thousand Buddhas, Ogyen Trinley Dorje the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa gave this teaching on the benefits of not eating meat.  Over 6,000 people were present. The teaching was heard by Lineage Holders, Rinpoches, Lamas, Ordained Sangha and lay practitioners who had traveled from many countries including Tibet, Nepal, India, Taiwan, Korea, Burma, USA, Canada, Russia and all parts of Europe.

The teaching was translated into various languages simultaneously and transmitted by FM radio. In this way it was possible to hear the meaning and at the same time to connect with the clarity and passion of the Karmapa's roaring voice. The English translation was made available by Ringu Tulku.

I made no notes at the time and perhaps at a later date the full transcription will be made available. However, on a few occasions during the Monlam teachings, His Holiness said that as the Kagyu family we should not be over concerned with precise details at the expense of the meaning of His message. For all practical purposes I am confident that this is a true account of what was said and offer it now with a sense of urgency.

Towards the end of the teaching His Holiness specifically asked those present to make it available to others since he considers the subject to be of such importance. He joked that the Tibetans should translate it for those from Amdo in case they claimed not to have understood His dialect.

Throughout the Kagyu Monlam, His Holiness spoke often of his childhood as a poor nomad in Tibet. It was the practice of nomads at a particular time of year to gather together the animals that were to be slaughtered.  At these times He was completely distraught with concern for the suffering of the animals. Whatever his family tried they could not contain his sorrow. Since then He said that He has studied so much of the Dharma and practiced so diligently and yet in all of the study and practice He has never found anything that could be created that was more precious than this naturally arising kindness towards other beings.

He urged us all to connect with that innate goodness in ourselves.

On one occasion whilst living in Tibet someone had interpreted the lines on the hands of His Holiness and indicated that there are potential obstacles to his life in his 23rd and 24th years. Since leaving Tibet His Holiness himself had a dream regarding the same issue. He said that whilst he is not normally afraid of death, He woke from the dream deeply concerned. It was in response to this that He has concluded that the best remedy to the obstacles to both His life and the life of the Dalai Lama will be for his followers to preserve life and specifically to have less involvement with the killing of animals and the suffering that results from eating meat.

It was very clear that the Karmapa was not making a polite request.

As head of the Lineage, He was investigating faults, making a diagnosis of obstacles and prescribing a remedy that must be followed.

With immediate effect:
   No meat is to be prepared in the kitchen of any Kagyu Monastery or Centre

  No one is to be involved in the business of buying and selling meat -- for all of His followers this practice must stop.

  There is to be no killing of animals on Kagyu premises -- the slaughterhouse at Turphu must be closed.

  He is aware of monks in robes going to buy meat and does not want to see this ever again.

His Holiness said that he knows that lamas and practitioners have always justified eating meat by saying that they make prayers for the beings that they are eating.
This is not good enough.
He asked how many of them can truly liberate beings in this way?

Now we really do have a Karmapa and He is starting to make Himself heard.

The use of alcohol and meat for Tsok offerings is also not acceptable.
His Holiness quoted spiritual masters from the past who had condemned the practice of using Tsok as an excuse for eating meat and drinking alcohol.
Leaving absolutely no room for interpretation, He said that anyone who uses meat and alcohol as Tsok is not part of Karmapa's lineage.

If the practice is at the level where Mahakala really comes and actually drinks the alcohol and eats the meat then it may be justified but otherwise we should use fruit!

Throughout the Kagyu Monlam, many people took the Sojong vows at 6am each day. This took place beneath the Bodhi tree, presided over by either His Holiness or other masters. Early in the Monlam, His Holiness had explained the meaning and purpose of the Sojong precepts and at that point indicated that eating meat was a big subject and would be dealt with later.

Apparently He had originally intended giving people a week to consider before making their commitment. As events worked out He gave us the time during tea break to decide what we felt able to promise. He said that sometimes it is better to be spontaneous.

Several options were made available and we were asked to raise our hands to indicate our choice of commitment and to witness each others' decisions.

His wish for each of us to make an individual vow was clear and  decisive. It applied just as much to the Tibetans who historically had little else available to eat. His Holiness said that now "thanks to the kindness of the Chinese" (this is an exact quote) the Tibetans have vegetables and other food available. The choices offered were:

Eating no meat one day per week

Eating no meat one day per month

Eating no meat on special days such as moon days, Guru Rinpoche and Tara days

Eating meat for only one meal per day

Give up eating meat forever

Give up eating meat for a specified period of time such as one, two or three years.

Reduce eating meat with a view to giving it up completely.

Throughout the speech it was obvious that His Holiness wanted everyone connected with His Lineage to make some commitment for two main reasons:

The teachings of Lord Buddha require that we act with kindness and preserve all life.
Because of our connection to His Holiness, by improving our conduct we can reduce obstacles to His life.
When we consider the unshakable Bodhisattva activity of the Karmapas, how can we not be pleased that for once we have been given a simple and practical opportunity to help?

        ~  Submitted to the Kagyu email list at Yahoo! by Vin Harris, Scotland.


Dedication Before Eating a Meal [in Tibetan]

Tun pa lamay sanjay rinpochay

Cheu pa lamay tamchu rinpochay

Dren pa lamay gendun rinpochay

Chap ni kun chok sum la chu pa bul.

Nagarjuna said that we should care for, and offer food to, all beings.

Killing to Eat

In the past, most societies ate very little flesh.  Poverty and limited resources contributed to a diet in which meat played a minor role.  If you read Shogun, or saw that television series about Japan of the fifteenth century or so, you remember the incident in which the European left some game to hang from the eaves of his house so it could "ripen."  The revulsion felt by the villagers was not due entirely to the smell of rotten pheasant, though.  

The first Buddhist precept is not to take lives and deprive other beings of opportunities for enlightenment.  However, without any intention of doing so, we take thousands of lives every day, with every step and with every breath.  But Buddhism does not see species of animals as arranged in a hierarchy where the life of a larger animal is of greater value than that of a smaller one.

The mantra said for overcoming the fault of meat-eating and also helping the beings whose flesh it was be reborn in a happy realm is:  

Om, ahbirakay tsara, hung!  (To be said over the meat seven times. )


Buddhism emphasizes the inter-relatedness of all beings.  Even a lowly shrimp is another shrimp's child.  Because of the belief in reincarnation, the shrimp may even have been your mother in a former existence.  

According to Buddhist doctrine, no eternal element such as a soul transmigrates from one body to the next.  Still tendencies and aspects of beings tend to coalesce or intertwine a result of the laws of karma, and so maintain relatively constant arrangements.

Karma, that is activity and the way in which it operates in conformity with the universe {a push here causes movement there] determines one's future, both in the short term [this life] and in the long term [in the series of lives to come].  

In order to adapt to certain environments, physical, economic and cultural, we may have to consume the flesh of fish, and four-legged animals.  The general principle of the Buddhist community is to try and diminish the harm we do as much as is possible. In the urban milieu we do not kill for food, and we should not encourage the killing of animals for their meat.  In other words, do not let someone kill a chicken or a goat in order to throw a party for you.  Do not ask a butcher to obtain a cut of meat especially for your consumption, either. 

This does not go very far in diminishing the general demand for meat in western society, though.  Perhaps the Dalai Lama's public comment that we should try to lessen the number of meat meals eaten during the week, will encourage people to be mindful about their diet

They will then buy less meat at their grocery stores.  The number of animals killed will certainly diminish.  The price of meat will certainly go up, and so more people will learn how to prepare meatless meals. The trend will continue to improve.

The story is told of a boy who found fish stranded
on the shore, as the tide receded. He started to pick
them up one by one, and threw them back into the sea.
A passer-by said, "There are millions of fish stranded
on the shore as far as the eye can see. What does it
matter if you save a few?"

The boy replied, "It matters to the ones I threw back."

More about vegetarianism vs. meat-eating from the kagyu list:

Barry: "Tibetans eat meat, if they actually grew up in Tibet, because there are not enough (especially, fresh) vegetables for that to be the basis of their diet.  That is also why they eat tubers such as potatoes, beets, and onions, because [in that harsh environment they are foods that are grown] beneath ground level. They have always eaten meat. [Strict Hindu vegetarians do not eat onions or garlic.]

... my (Gelugpa) Teacher ... .  adds that there is no direct Karmic repercussion from eating meat per se. It is obviously the killing of the animal that is at issue. Geshela says that if the animal was not killed by you, or expressly killed for you, that you can freely eat the meat, prefaced by a prayer of gratitude for the life of the animal. He adds that, especially in the West, ... animals were killed previously for whomever and the meat is there waiting, already prepared. The same holds true for restaurants.

In most Tibetan cities of any size, there is a special part of town which is the butcher area. This is also the Muslim area of the city, and the Muslims are engaged in the activity of preparing meat. This is accepted practice.

I have been to Dharma centers where, at group meals, the meat dishes were deliberately badly prepared and terribly presented, while vegetable dishes directly adjacent were made to be very appealing. This is usually accompanied by thinly veiled disdain for those who opt for the meat anyway. This type of activity should be beneath the dignity of a good Dharma center, especially when the Lama is present. All offerings should and can be made beautiful. I am the vice-president and public relations person for a Tibetan Buddhist center which is blessed by the presence of our resident Lama. I would never even consider preparing a dish which he would not himself eat. He does not care what others around him eat, unless it is obviously bad for them. 

There is also good reason why meat is among the ritual offerings at Tsog [a ritual feast.] And, as those who have received initiation well know, meats are also a part of the "Inner Offering".  There is a well known anecdote in the Life of Milarepa, where, after living for a long time on only nettles, to the point where he had taken on a greenish pallor, The Guru was offered fresh meat by a visitor.  Upon eating the meat, Milarepa had spontaneous visionary experiences which revealed to him the reasons for previous blockages in his practice."

Lhamo: "Even in Tibet, where vegetables are scarce, and people have to eat meat to survive, they told me that they consider it bad to eat a fish because a fish can only feed one person, or two at the most, so it's considered to be worse karma."

Ani Trinlay: " ... there is a strong vein of vegetarianism in the Drikung Kagyu. Unlike virtually all other well-known Tibetans, the founder of the lineage was vegetarian. Many of the prominent lamas (such as Drupwang Rinpoche, Garchen Rinpoche, and Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche) eat no, or very little, meat. 

At a retreat with Drupwang Rinpoche here last year, more than 70 people took a pledge never to eat meat again; whole villages in Ladakh promised to shut down their meat markets for one day a week after he visited there. 

We do not use meat or alcohol at tsok/ganachakra -- "not necessary" is what our text says. Our center (Tibetan Meditation Center in Frederick, MD) is meat-free.  Even when there are meat-eating residents at the center, they go elsewhere to cook and eat meat out of respect for this practice. 

Vegetarianism is not required of anyone, but it is strongly advised by our spiritual leaders. (Besides, it causes disease and makes us fat!) 

I guess this is why there are all those different schools and sub-schools and branches and sects and lineages -- something to fit everyone's disposition and mental capacity!

Skip: "There are varying opinions about this. HH Dalai Lama has said that it is karmically much preferable to be a vegetarian, though he himself was unable to tolerate such a diet (he became jaundiced, and his Tibetan physician advised him to discontinue).

And Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, for one, has said that eating meat does carry some negative karma. I don't see how it could otherwise, really. Karma (as I poorly understand it) is about cause and effect. Eating meat does in fact cause people to kill animals -- it's a simple supply-and-demand question. If there is causation, there is effect, which then applies specifically to the being(s) responsible for the cause -- Buddhist scriptures are pretty clear on that point. It is also said that negative karma performed by a group is not "distributed" over its members proportionately; rather, if a group does something negative, the full weight of the karma rests on each individual of that group. I would interpret the above that to mean that eating meat carries a significant karmic burden, even if one isn't responsible for the killing per se.

Mitigating this, there is the concept of the 3 components of cause -- that to get full karmic effect, you have to (1) plan/premeditate the act, (2) do the act, and (3) be glad you did it afterwards. I remember hearing a teacher say that if you go to a restaurant, it's worse if you plan to have meat beforehand. And it's better if you express some regret thereafter, rather than "rejoicing" in having eaten meat. ... .

As for lamas eating meat -- well, no one's perfect. And for some who are actually realized beings, it may actually be neutral or even productive of good karma. Kind of like Tilopa liberating the fish by eating them. As I learned recently in a teaching by HE Garchen R., the reason it's so hard to get out of the lower realms is because it's hard there to create a cause (accumulate merit) for higher rebirth. But an animal can create such a cause by giving itself to the Three Jewels -- in this case, by feeding a teacher of dharma, or better yet, a bodhisattva or buddha."

Tamra: " ... some are uncomfortable with my being a vegetarian. I don't know why, just that it's so.

My response to [the argument that the animal is]... already dead, has been to say that [someone who hires] a hitman is responsible for those he pays to have killed.  That's just how i see it with economic considerations. And i see their attempt to have me eat it as aggressive, so [I tend to ] answer in more blunt terms than i would if just sharing points of view. Once or twice, someone has said that deer are starving, so it is compassionate to kill them. My response was that children are starving too. 

The monks in Buddha's time were permitted meat only if it wasn't slaughtered 
for them. In other words, if it was being prepared for the family whose home 
they begged at that morning. We now have grocery stores and a demand-driven 
market. All meat is killed for the one paying for it, so we might translate 
that to 'as long as the meat wasn't bought for you.' 

In the early 90s, wisdom showed me that there are no separate selves and in essence, no death. So all of my dos and don'ts [went] out the window. In fact, all of 'reality' as I knew it was out the window. ... . [That] state of awareness was [one in which there was neither] good vs bad [n]or harmful vs helpful. It's all essence changing forms. At some point, I ate a shrimp and drank some kind of alcohol (wine i think)  since it didn't matter either way. And since it didn't matter, that was the end of that. [However,] I returned to not drinking or eating critters with eyes. 

... .

All survival has [at its foundation ] life consuming life. In the case [where there is] no food, some have eaten human flesh. In religious ritual, some have eaten flesh as taking the other's spirit and goodness into themselves. How we interpret life consuming life varies, but we all do it. And i guess that's why one shrimp was enough for me to see where i naturally draw the line. ... . Although i know that ultimately it doesn't matter (or that there is no harming another), it conventionally does matter that we follow 'do no harm' as we understand it at the deepest or most sublime level. For some, that may be eating everything without preference and i'd say that's right action. For others, it may be accepting meat only when it's offered and i'd say that [too is] right action. In a plane crash into snow covered mountains, what would i eat? I don't know. But i would choose then and there, and leave it then and there. 

I'm reminded of that story about the [celibate] monk [who did not hesitate to embrace a woman in order to carry her] across the river and his fellow monk being upset for hours, finally saying something about him having touched a female. 

The monk said, "i left her there. You're still carrying her." 

Eating is like that for me and i suspect it is like that for many, whether the plate has meat or veggies."

... . Follow "do no harm" in the truest way you know it. ... and remember that it can harm others to try to make them see or do the same. 

A lama never would ask you to eat meat just because he does, but some people do exert pressure ... as if agreement determines the right or wrongness of an action ... . 

For me, right action springs from right intention and right intention springs from (and leads to) right view. For me, exerting pressure on another not to eat meat would be just as aggressive as eating a piece. Why?
Well, because it seems to me that the heart-eye of each of us sees what it does, and action comes from that vision (to a greater or lesser distortion). Some live far removed from their own inner truth, but I would still be taking something vital if succeeding in molding their action contrary to their heart-mind's knowing. It would be taking something of the vital connection with the lifeforce within. 

[That is ] much like how i see taking the flesh of an animal to satisfy hunger. We crave consensus like a hunger. It [conjoins] us into societies and religious views. But it's not necessary.  In my opinion, living 'do no harm' to the deepest possible level is all one can do amid various [lifestyles] where a common denominator is that life consumes life for survival of  beings/aggregates

Some argue that killing is ok because one is only killing aggregates. 
Compassion brings transcendent wisdom into the conventional though, so i find fault with that logic just as i did with the hunters telling me deer are starving and they [by shooting them, are] compassionately  prevent[ing] that suffering." 

So Now Hear This, Compassionate People


Not Eating or Fasting

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition there is a short fast called Ningne (pron. nyin-nay) and a longer Nyungne (nyungnay) type of fast. The first is a general Mahayana practice with the objective of avoiding future existence in any lower realm.  The second, longer one, is a Vajrayana practice with the objective of healing the body. 

No special permission is required to undertake the first one, which is actually a half-day fast.  On the designated or chosen day, the practitioner takes 8 vows with the intention of keeping them for a 24-hour period.  No breakfast is taken, and the meal for the day, usually vegetarian, must be finished by 1 o'clock.  In the afternoon, liquids are permitted, but with absolutely no solids such as sugar in them.  This follows the daily practice of monks and nuns in the south Asian tradition.

This is a shorter form of the virtually three-day fast associated with the thousand-armed form of Chenresi [bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara] called Nyungne. There most be permission to do either of these practices, and usually a lama leads them.

In the West, a Nyungne is often held from Friday evening to Monday morning.  It begins in the manner of the Nyingne, but no drink or other food is permitted from the evening of the day the vows are taken until 24 hours have passed.  During the second day, except for the chanting of the mantra there is no talking, either. 

To accommodate the demands of the Western work week, on the morning of the third day, the chant leader [Tib.: Umze ] or the lama may take the responsibility of breaking the vows to enable the others to drink or eat before going to work.


Not eating after noon

Sojong is a practice observed by some Buddhists that was instituted among the general population  by Vasubanda, sometimes referred to as a Second Buddha.   A quotation from Supreme Master Padmasambhava goes:       

        To fully restore all positivity,
        To clear away all negativity;
        To replenish (
so) virtue and purify (jong) harmful deeds;
        The Tathagata has taught the practice of

From Erin Riddle who used to prepare the Snow Lion calendar: 

"On sojong days the observance of the Eight Vows of the Mahayana, the Sojong of the practice of Narak Kong Shak, is recommended.  These are:  to refrain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication; not to take a high or luxurious seat, not to sing, dance or wear ornaments, and not to eat after midday."

More about the place of meat as part of Vajrayana practice:

From BB:  " ... we will all attain Enlightenment one day, as long as we practice the whole of the Dharma with diligence and faith.

"... there are generally 4 levels of Tantras in the Vajrayana:  Kriya, Charya, Yoga and Anuttarayoga.  ... some general examples of them. Annutarayoga Tantras
include Cakrasamvara, Kalacakra, Hevajra, Guhyasamaja, Mahamaya, Yamantaka, as well as the Nyingma practices of the Eight Herukas, Dakinis and so on. The examples for the other three [known as Outer Tantras] include Green Tara, White Tara, Chenrezig, Manjushri, Amitayus and many ... peaceful deities.

For practitioners of the Outer Tantras, especially of the Kriya and Charya classes, a vegetarian diet is generally necessary, especially in retreat situations, e.g., in the 2-day retreat of Nungnye, even for the first day when one may eat, it must be vegetarian.  Even when one does these practices on a daily basis, it is necessary to abstain from meat (as well as onion and garlic) UNTIL one has completed the daily practice. This is because these two classes of Tantras emphasize purification -- Tibetans of yore [and many still] would actually limit their diets to the "three sweet and three whites." White being the color for pacification and purification.

In many of the Yoga Tantra practices, and definitely all of the Anuttarayoga, meat is not proscribed. In fact, as part of Anuttarayoga, eating meat -- as a result of having been [shown] the essential non-differentiation of Nirvana and Samsara, as well as the primordial purity of all -- is essential [to the] practice, as emphasized in the Tsok Khor [Skt. gunachakra].  ... ."

About smoking.

A story about the fifth precept concerning intoxication.


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