Gyalwang 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 that question.

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 satisfied.

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.