SHOULD BUDDHIST PRACTITIONERS EAT MEAT?
SPRING TEACHINGS DAY 6
27th Feb –Vajra Vidhya Institute, Sarnath
the sixth day of his Spring Teachings the 17th Gyalwang
Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, cut straight to the core of an
issue that is vital not only for the sustainability of our
contemporary world, but also within our individual lives as
Buddhist practitioners. Exploring the topic from many
different angles, the Gyalwang Karmapa discussed his views
on whether Buddhist practitioners should eat meat or not,
and if so, when and how it may be acceptable to do so.
few years ago at one of the Kagyu Monlams I spoke about the
topic of vegetarianism, giving up eating meat. You could say
it was an announcement, but it was really like making a
suggestion. Since then many years have passed, and over the
years I've heard people say various things. Some people have
even said, 'Oh, Ogyen Trinley Dorje says that if you don't
give up eating meat then you're not a Kagyupa.' Now, it
actually wasn't me who said that. It was the 8th Karmapa
Mikyo Dorje who said that. So it wasn't my idea, and it's
not like I said you better give up meat or else you're not a
fact, there are different ways we can interpret the 8th
Karmapa's advice, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa continued. If we
take a looser interpretation of Mikyo Dorje's words, then by
eating meat you can say that you're not a truly pure Kagyu
practitioner. "There are many great Kagyu masters who have
eaten meat, so it is very difficult to merely say that
eating meat means that you have faults. But eating meat is
something that all of us who practice the dharma need to
think about very carefully."
Gyalwang Karmapa, himself a pure vegetarian, then turned to
his own life as an example. "When I spoke about this, I was
primarily thinking about the way I lead my own life. I can't
really do anything about how other people lead their lives,
but in terms of thinking about myself there are some reasons
for this." He then explained two key reasons that he
personally does not eat meat. The first reason is the
intense suffering that the animals who are killed go
through. Every single day millions of animals are killed to
feed us, and many are subjected to terrible conditions to
provide us with food. Just a few days previously the
Gyalwang Karmapa had shared a story of how, as a child in
Tibet, when animals were killed for his family's food he
felt unbearable, pure compassion for them.
second reason he doesn't eat meat, the Gyalwang Karmapa
continued, is because of his Mahayana training in seeing all
sentient beings as his mothers. "We say I am going to do
everything I can to free sentient beings from suffering. We
say I am going to do this. We make the commitment. We take
the vow. Once we have taken this vow, if then, without
thinking anything about it, we just go ahead and eat meat,
then that is not okay. It is something that we need to think
about very carefully."
Gyalwang Karmapa then acknowledged that there are some
circumstances in which eating meat is allowed, or even
necessary. He explained that within the Buddhist Vinaya, or
rules for monks and nuns, eating meat is allowed mainly when
one is ill, but only if three conditions are met: we must
not have seen, heard, or thought that the animal was killed
particularly for us to eat it. Meat is allowed when a person
is sick, the Gyalwang Karmapa clarified, or for those people
who need more nourishment and have great difficulty
nourishing themselves without it.
"But when you eat meat in these situations you should not
just eat it in an ordinary sort of way," he continued. "You
first need to meditate on compassion for one
session—compassion for all sentient beings in general, but
especially for this particular animal whose flesh is in
front of you. Then you should recite the mantras of the
Buddha's name, as well as mantras that can help purify
misdeeds. Only then should you start eating the meat."
his guidance did not stop there. Returning to the Mahayana
training of seeing all sentient beings as mothers, the
Gyalwang Karmapa explained further. "When you start eating
the meat you have to think about it in a particular way. You
should think of it as being the meat of your mother or your
father or your child. You should think of eating it in that
way, and so it's when you think of it as being your mother's
or your child's meat, then that is when you can eat it."
must also have a pure motivation when we eat the meat, the
Gyalwang Karmapa continued. "We should not eat the meat in
order to enjoy it, because it is delicious. We should not
eat it because we want to enjoy the great flavor and savor
what we are eating. Instead we should eat the meat only in
order to keep ourselves alive."
avoid any misunderstanding, the Gyalwang Karmapa repeated
the need for each individual to reflect deeply on the issue:
"Now, I did not say that we need to immediately give up
eating meat. I understand that it's difficult to give up
eating meat. But I did say that we need to think about it
carefully. When we eat meat, if we are someone who has
entered the path of the Mahayana, someone who has begun to
think of all sentient beings as their father, their mother,
or their child, in terms of someone who practices in this
way it's really something that we need to consider very
Karmapa’s Advice on Vegetarianism
December 24, 2007,
Translated by Ringu Tulku Rinpoche & Karma Choephel,
Now we are finishing the
25th Kagyu Monlam in a very auspicious way, and there is not
a whole lot for a fool like me to say. A great crowd of
monks and nuns from the different Kagyu monasteries have
come here. Similarly, there are many people who have come
here from Ü, Tsang, and Kham in Tibet. A great number of
people from foreign countries, both East and West, have also
come. For all of you to come here is, as I have already said,
a wonderful great fortune for all of us, for myself and for
you, and I am very happy about this.
Last year on the final day of the Kagyu Monlam, I said a few
things on the subject of giving up eating meat. Almost all
of you probably already know this. It seems some people did
not completely understand what I said. For example, some
foreign students seemed to think it meant that once you
become a student of the Kagyu, meat is not allowed to pass
your lips. They told all the meat-eating Kagyupas, “You
can’t be a Kagyupa if you eat meat.” I did not say anything
that inflammatory. If a Mahayana practitioner, who considers
all sentient beings to be like their father or mother, eats
the flesh of another being out of carelessness and without
any compassion, that is not good. So we need to think about
this and pay attention to it. All of us Mahayana
practitioners, who accept that all sentient beings have been
our mothers and fathers, need to think about this. For that
reason, it would be good to decrease the amount of meat that
we eat. That is what I said.
I certainly did not say that you are not allowed to eat meat
at all. That would be difficult. Whether it is because of
previous karma or their present circumstances, some people
cannot do without meat. This is how it is, and there’s
nothing to do about it. It’s not a problem.
If you have to eat meat, there is a proper way to eat it. Do
not just grab it and stuff it into your mouth as soon as it
is put on your plate. If first you think carefully about it,
meditate on compassion, and recite the names of buddhas or
mantras before eating, then it has some positive effects.
When I was explaining this last year, I said that one reason
to give up eating meat was for the long life of the lamas.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, passed through
his “obstacle year” according to Tibetan astrology, so it
was for his long life. Next year will be his post–obstacle
year. I also brought up my own name. On one hand, it may
have been out of desperation that I said, “If you do this
for my own long life, that would be good.” Some people have
asked how it is that their giving up eating meat could bring
me a longer life. It’s difficult to give a direct answer to
But if we don’t eat meat, even if we don’t live longer, I
think we will live happier lives. If we enjoy the flesh and
blood of other beings, then at the time we have to go, we
might feel as if this life didn’t turn out so well. We will
have carelessly consumed the flesh and blood of other beings.
That might happen, right? If we don’t eat meat, life might
not be longer, but there is a possibility we might be more
Many monasteries in India and Nepal have done such great,
positive things as giving up meat and cooking vegetarian
food instead. This is a good example for Buddhism in
general, and I think it especially becomes Mahayana practice.
In our eyes, such high lamas as Jamgon Rinpoche and
Gyaltsap Rinpoche are the living presence of Manjushri and
Vajrapani. Out of care for sentient beings, they intend to
refrain from eating meat and to become vegetarian. I think
that for them to have such an intention is actually a great
fortune for all of us sentient beings; it is good fortune
for all of their followers.
Some of the other high lamas who are here, Thrangu Rinpoche
and Tenga Rinpoche, were present during the time of the
previous Karmapa, and they are like the pillars of the
teachings. Throughout their lives they have developed strong
habits of eating meat. However, out of their concern for
beings and the Buddhist teachings, they have taken great
steps in this direction. For that reason, all of us who call
ourselves their followers need to think about this.
Everyone is really trying their best. For example, in Tibet,
in the old days there was no way to live without eating
butter, cheese, and meat. Now maybe because of better
environmental conditions, or because Tibetans have such
strong faith, or because they are stubborn, the monasteries
even in many remote places have promised to give up meat.
When we think about it, there are many people here in India
who generally do not like eating meat. So when those of you
who live here give up meat, it is not really anything novel.
For people in Tibet, however, to give up meat is a big deal.
I would like to say thank you to all of them. We need to
keep doing everything we can.
We should contemplate the Mahayana teachings and the
precious teachings of the Kagyus. The earlier Kagyu masters
gave up meat, took up a vegetarian diet, and developed pure
love for sentient beings. If we ourselves can take up even
the smallest aspect of this sort of action and start with
something small, it will turn out extremely well, I think.
So that is what I have to say about giving up meat.
Instructions on not eating meat from
His Holiness 17th Karmapa (notes)
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 travelled from many countries including Tibet, Nepal,
India, Taiwan, Korea, Burma, USA, Canada, Russia and all
parts of Europe.
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.
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.
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
– for all of His followers this practice must stop
There is to be no killing of animals on Kagyu premises – the
slaughterhouse at Tsurphu must be closed
He is aware of monks in robes going to buy meat and does not
want to see this ever again.
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
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.
quoted spiritual masters from the past who had condemned the
practice of using Tsok as an excuse for eating meat and
absolutely no room for interpretation, He said that anyone
who uses meat and alcohol as Tsok is not part of Karmapa’s
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!
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
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
were made available and we were asked to raise our hands to
indicate our choice of commitment and to witness each
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 for ever
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 up completely.
speech it was obvious that His Holiness wanted everyone
connected with His Lineage to make some commitment for two
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.
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?
9th January 2007