By Shyamal Sinha
Tibetan monks are known to eat a diet high in vegetables and fruits, limiting their intake of proteins, fats and starches. Their approach to the consumption of foods such as eggs, butter and cheese? Eat the bare minimum, only enough to meet the body’s needs. For this reason, healthy individuals who have their nutrient requirements met go without these richer foods for periods of time, only returning to consuming them when need be.
The question of whether or not eating meat is acceptable is a perplexing one because there is no clear cut answer. Many Buddhist monks abide by vegetarianism, but then there are some, particularly those of the Yoga Tantric branch, who believe it is acceptable to dine on “clean meat,” especially since some regions of Tibet have sparse availability of fresh produce. For meat to qualify as clean, the individual who is to eat the flesh cannot have seen the animal from which it comes been brought to its death. In this same vein, the eater must be certain that the animal was not sacrificed directly for him- or herself.
Also of note, those who opt to eat meat will only consume cloven-hoofed animals (read: deer, antelopes, goats, sheep, cattle and gazelles), and will only do so when they can purchase them directly from the market.
Typical staples of a Tibetan monk’s diet include salads, beans, lentils, noodle soups, and stir-fried or steamed vegetable dishes. Simple and always seasonal, as they believe that which is presently growing on this earth is the exact food we are meant to be eating at this time of year for optimal nourishment.
Speaking at the Vidyaloke Talks, a two-day event in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) dedicated to rekindling appreciation for ancient Indian spiritual traditions, His Holiness the Dalai Lama on Sunday emphasized the importance of adopting a more plant-based diet on a global scale for reasons of environmental sustainability and out of compassion for the suffering of sentient beings.
The event, organized by the Vana Foundation and which ran from 11–12 August, was divided into two mains sessions. Day one, titled ”Courage and Compassion in the 21st Century,” was aimed at young professionals and students, while day two was held under the theme “Indian Wisdom in the Modern World.”
The Dalai Lama, who turned 83 last month, was responding to a question from an audience member on human cruelty toward nature and animals in particular. “We are consuming too much meat,’’ he observed to the gathering, underscoring the need to be sensitive to the suffering of all living beings. “However small they are, they too experience pain and pleasure,” he said. (The New Indian Express)
His Holiness has long-advocated the adoption of a compassion-based diet and has spoken extensively on the subject of eating meat and vegetarianism on various occasions. While not strictly proscribing the consumption of meat he has openly spoken on the necessity of a global shift toward a more plant-based diet.
Mainly vegetarian himself, the Dalai Lama is known to eat meat from time to time. He has revealed that his doctors encourage him to consume meat occasionally for health reasons, and he has also said that he does not refuse meat dishes then that are offered by his hosts when he travels, while acknowledging last year that “many in the Buddhist world are vegetarians because they believe it is wrong to slaughter any creature.” (Deccan Chronicle)
“In the Vinaya [there is] no prohibition on eating meat. So monks in Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, they take both veg and non veg food,” the Nobel Peace Price laureate told India’s NDTV. “One time I . . . 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 the Vinaya clearly mentions that meat which was purposely killed for you was not to be eaten, but in general was not prohibited, some [texts] like the Lankavatara Sutra prohibited any kind of meat, including fish, etc., but some other texts do not prohibit, so different case.”
The spiritual leader also noted over the weekend that he harbors a firm commitment to reviving the ancient wisdom of India’s spiritual traditions and learning as they contain a valuable kowledge about life and the universe that could be used to address many modern crises.
“Indian traditions and texts contain material to tackle modern-day stressors, but modern India is not paying enough attention to their immense treasure and knowledge,” he said, adding that Indian meditative practices can provide peace of mind and inner strength. Ancient Indian knowledge, he emphasized, needs to be revived in this country by one and all, regardless of religious or spiritual affiliation. (Deccan Chronicle)
“I’m a practitioner of the Buddhadharma, a follower of the Nalanda tradition, and our main practice is to focus on the welfare of all sentient beings—bodhichitta,” His Holiness said. “We pray for the benefit of all sentient beings, but there’s not much we can do for beings in other galaxies. Even on this planet there are limitless insects, birds, and animals, but there’s little we can do to teach them. In practical terms the beings we can help are human beings because we have language and we can communicate and share our experiences.
“When there is too much emphasis on secondary differences of race, religion, nationality, or whether you are rich or poor, the only recourse is to look back at a deeper level to how as human beings we are fundamentally the same. We are mentally, emotionally, and physically the same—which is why my first commitment is to promoting the idea of the oneness of all human beings.” (The Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama)
The Vana Foundation describes itself as an organization with a vision to “revive Indian wisdom. We will focus on Indian wisdom, Indian farming, and Indian culture through our initiatives and activities, with an aspiration to benefit all, especially India and its youth.” Vidyaloke, meaning wisdom and light, is an initiative of the Vana Foundation to inspire the study and practice of the Buddha’s paths to enlightenment. It aims to help practitioners and this approaching Buddhism for the first time to find their path among the 84000 paths taught by the Buddha.