Saturday, February 10, 2007

Another Buddha bites the beans

As heartening as the Dalai Lama's adoption of a vegetarian (well, flexitarian) diet is, eating meat continues to be commonplace among Buddhists who, like devout omnivores of all religions, continue to find clever ways to reconcile the higher teachings of their faiths with their addiction to the salty fruits of violence to animals.

Well, it just got a little harder for Buddhists to keep that balancing act going.

Last month, Orgyen Trinle Dorje - a Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader who is to the Kagyu lineage what the Dalai Lama is to the Gelugpa lineage - read the riot act to his followers. No meat allowed.

The 22-year-old 17th co-Karmapa of the Kagyu lineage (the other one, alas, is not vegetarian) has been vegetarian for several years. Now he wants his followers to get with the program. Among other things, the Karmapa decreed:
  • 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 students this practice must stop.
  • There is to be no killing of animals on Kagyu premises.
  • Karmapa is aware of monks in robes going to buy meat and does not want to see this ever again.

My friend Eileen Weintraub, a Seattle vegan, animal activist and author of the "Life as a Vegetarian Tibetan Buddhist Practitioner," is overjoyed.

"I began the Buddhist path with the 16th Karmapa - who was a bird lover, and I tended his birds," Eileen writes in a message to the listserv of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians.

Noting that this now gives two of the four Tibetan Buddhist lineages a vegetarian leader, Eileen continues:

"This news comes 30 years later than I wanted, but turns a kitchen in a major monastery where I lived in the late 70's vegetarian, finally. I hope all of you working directly with animals get this feeling of joy each time you save a life, and now I feel some peace as well. Keep the faith, and amen."

Norm Phelps, another veteran vegan Buddhist and author of The Great Compassion: Buddhism and Animal Rights seconds the emotion.

"It’s a joy to see this great bodhisattva showing by his own example what it really means to have compassion for all sentient beings. This is the best news I’ve heard in a long time."

Other religious leaders take note. What kind of example are you setting with the food you put on your plate and on the plates of your congregants?

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