For many years I have been railing against the Tibetans: for one thing the Dalai Lama is the only head of a religion who ate meat openly. The momos, dumplings sold on the street, by the Tibetans almost always had dog or cat meat. The entire smuggling of big cat skins was done by Tibetans. I saw a horrifying film made by Belinda Wright in Tibet where practically every Tibetan owned a big catskin and monks sold them openly on the road. For years I have wanted to throw the Tibetans out of our country. But things are changing for the better. The Dalai Lama has become vegetarian for the most part and he has asked the Tibetans to stop dealing in skins and never to wear them.

But it is not the Dalai Lama but the young Karmapa who has won my heart.

Orgyen Trinle Dorje (1985-) is the 17th Karmapa .The Karmapa is the spiritual head of the Karma Kagyu school, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, ranking with the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama in the Tibetan spiritual hierarchy.

Born in Tibet, Trinley Dorje was seven years old when he was recognized by a search party following instructions left by the previous Karmapa in a prophetic letter and hidden in a locket. He was installed at Tsurphu Monastery, the traditional seat of the Karmapa in Tibet . At the age of 14, he escaped to India through Nepal , arriving at McLeod Ganj in 2000. He resides at Gyuto Monastery in Sidhbari, near Dharamsala. His principal seat in exile is the Dharma Chakra Centre at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim , India . The Karmapas are the Living Buddhas belonging to the oldest line of Tibetan reincarnations, stretching back to the 13th Century.

The boy's parents said their son would often ride off on jackals and goats into the mountains alone.” He built toy monasteries and a throne of stone and earth, where he would sit and recite prayers. When others were killing animals, he would look at them with great compassion and shed tears." 

The Karmapa turned vegetarian in his teens and, unlike the Dalai Lama, was not afraid to become a proselytizing vegetarian endeavouring to change a community that is almost 100 percent carnivorous

Kagyu Monlam is an annual prayer ceremony in Bodhgaya, where Sakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment. This is the time when Buddhists from all over the world gather together for eight days to pray, meditate, and discuss teachings. At the event, the Karmapa gave a powerful speech on vegetarianism on January 3, 2007. He called for all who belong to the Kagyupa School to give up meat. He said that, with immediate effect, the buying and cooking of meat within his monasteries and centres would be stopped. No monk or student was to be involved in the business of buying and selling meat; there was to be no killing of animals on Kagyu premises and no monks would buy or sell meat. He ordered the slaughterhouse at Tsurphu to be closed.  He quoted spiritual masters from the past who had condemned the practice of using Tsok (offerings during a gathering) as an excuse for eating meat and drinking alcohol. Leaving absolutely no room for interpretation, Karmapa said that anyone who used meat and alcohol as Tsok was not part of Karmapa’s lineage. He said, “Any monastery that belongs to Kamtsang Kagyu, the monastery kitchen cannot and should not make any food with meat. And if you bring meat and cook it in the monastery kitchen, then that means that you are not taking me as your teacher, you do not belong to Karma Kagyu. And there is nothing to discuss about that. ” By quoting some of the Buddhist scriptures and discourses of past lamas, such as the Mahayana, the Vinaya, the Bodhisattvayana, Do Lanka Shepa, Na Nyen Le Depa Do and Mikyo Dorje, etc., he supported his point that eating meat is prohibited in Buddhist tradition.    

To help the attendees quit the meat diet step by step,  the Karmapa asked the thousands of devotees present to take vows on  whether they would be willing to eating meat only once a day, only once a week or only once a month, not eating meat on auspicious days, giving up eating meat for a period of time like one year or three years, or reducing the eating of meat slowing and then stop it completely.

At the next Kagyu Monlam, Karmapa again urged students to eat less meat. He said “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. All of us Mahayana practitioners, who accept that all sentient beings have been our mothers and fathers, need to think about this. Many monasteries in India and Nepal have done such great, positive things as giving up meat and cooking vegetarian food instead. 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." It is wonderful to witness a religious leader openly emphasize the importance of being vegetarian which used to be considered impossible in Tibet . The Karmapa speaks 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. The other Tibetan spiritual leaders have come to the same spiritual point. The Dalai Lama's World Peace Ceremonies, starting from the one in Amravati in 2006 only serve vegetarian food . The Dalai Lama criticizes factory farming and meat consumption, and urging Tibetans to stop the trade in wild animal skins. "These days there are many Tibetan groups in India working for vegetarianism and spreading compassion for animals, such acts are extremely good and something to rejoice. Most of the monasteries have also turned their kitchen into vegetarian which is really good.". His Holiness requested Tibetan monks and nuns become vegetarian. A group, Tibetan Volunteers for Animals (TVA) has converted over 14,000 Tibetans to vegetarianism. The group campaigns for vegetarianism in Tibetan settlements throughout India , Nepal and Sikkim . They are opening vegetarian restaurants in Tibetan communities.

The Dalai Lama's Spiritual Advisor HH Kyabje Lati Rinoche supports monasteries going vegetarian. At their public teachings in the US , Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso and Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche have asked their students to stop eating meat, following Karmapa's request.

Chatral Rinpoche, considered to be one of the most highly realized Dzogchen lamas, is an outspoken advocate of vegetarianism. 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. If the Tibetans can turn vegetarian, there is still hope for the world. More power to the amazing Karmapa. He is an important environmentalist and next week I will tell you about his environmental orders.

Maneka Gandhi

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