Home » general » nope, not all buddhists are vegan: the struggle between compassion & attachment

nope, not all buddhists are vegan: the struggle between compassion & attachment

A young Tenzin Ösel Hita, from the FPMT photo galleries.

I am not Buddhist. I do not align myself to any belief system—I was brought up to question belief as it is quite often the death of thought. If you know an answer (or the answer), why keep looking and learning, right?

However, Tom is Buddhist. In fact, he’s the Director of Education for FPMT, the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. The funny part of this is that he’s said I’m more Buddhist than a lot of the people he comes in contact with through the organization. That’s right, in spite of the fact that I recite no mantras, make no offerings, and do not practice formal meditation, I do seem to accidentally think, speak, and act with truth, compassion, and positivity. Huh.

One aspect of a compassionate life that just seems like a gimme is veganism. I totally get it that long ago, in sparsely populated regions, animals were raised in very humane ways, were not artificially inseminated, were not forced to live in filthy, confined spaces… The world’s early religions were not born in our modern society, so their texts and traditions do not reflect the reality we live with today. Interestingly, when I saw the Dalai Lama last month, he spoke to this, recognizing a changing reality and pushing one’s thinking to reflect that. He also spoke of ecology and our duty to preserve our world for future generations. All signs point to veganism, no?

As part of the Dalai Lama’s visit, FPMT had a big ol’ meeting, so the board members, other lamas, associated publishers, and longtime friends of the foundation also came to town. Oddly, it was a novelty to encounter a vegan among these folks. The two confirmed vegans were older men, and they were just as excited to learn Tom and I were vegan. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t persecuted or anything in this crowd, and we all sat together at meals and shared vegan cookies.

I find it hopeful that there was a bit of talk throughout the visit, both in and outside of official meetings/talks about how the foundation should be encouraging Buddhists (and the Buddha-curious) to go vegan. FPMT does have the Animal Liberation Fund as part of its charitable projects, in an effort to illustrate animals are still sentient beings with feeling and inherent value. Tom’s office strives to ensure all their provided meals are vegan, and the two vegans of 10-ish in-house staffers are pushing for a vegan office kitchen—small scale, to be sure, but it’s walking the walk.

FPMT’s Mandala magazine just published a piece from FPMT fixture (he’s held several positions there and currently heads the Wisdom Archive) Nick Ribush about his path to vegansim, which danced around a bit on his Buddhist path. I love the perspective he has, having spent so much of his life in the organization—and has no reservation questioning the foundation leaders about why they don’t officially promote veganism. There’s politics involved, to be sure, in that they don’t want to turn folks away from the Buddhist path with the scary V-word, but also, Buddhism allows acceptance and workarounds for meat eating. Nick mentions that there are mantras you can recite to “bless and benefit the dead animal.” Not acceptable in my proverbial book, but it’s a helpful explanation.

I do hope that Mandala readers take Nick’s story to heart and start to examine their attachment to animal products, from meat to eggs, to wool, to test subjects. A piece like this in such a publication is really meant to inspire that first baby step, to initiate the internal examination. Nick’s reflections on his path are likely pretty easy to relate to and could illuminate that vegan path for readers.

If you’re part of a spiritual/religious circle—Buddhist or not—how do you reconcile your tradition’s failure to extend compassion to nonhuman beings? And how do you push for change?

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11 thoughts on “nope, not all buddhists are vegan: the struggle between compassion & attachment

  1. I’ve always felt that veganism should be a given as well when it comes to Buddhism. It seems that non-human animals somehow always just sit outside the moral community no matter how compassionate a person, group or organization is. Traditions and taste are hard to give up I suppose.

    • Subscribing–or devoting yourself–to a tradition or religion doesn’t make you any less human, with desire and the capacity to rationalize.

      We had a monk staying with us once, and he told me he couldn’t be vegan because in his tradition he’s not allowed to refuse anything offered to him. (OK, I get that.) When we ordered dinner, three of us ordered tofu dishes and he got chicken–what? I missed something in that logic.

  2. Some Western religions emphasize that God gave man dominion over animals to justify the poor way some animals are treated. I disagree with the way “dominion” is defined in this context.

  3. Hi great post !!!! I have lived in Thailand amongst many Buddhists and also some Buddhists monks. When I explain to them about veganism and stance on non-violence I found all of them were very impressed. They said they strived to be like me however they found it difficult. One of my Thai friends became vegan and felt he was a better Buddha because of this. I like the Buddhist religion compared to many other religions.

    • Most of the Buddhists I come in contact with are Westerners–even the Tibetans obviously fled as infants and grew up elsewhere. It would make sense that someone growing up where their religion is just part of their heritage/national fabric, it’s a lot easier to grow lax, like American Christians who go to church on Christmas and Easter, maybe don’t eat meat on Good Friday, but don’t go to confession or follow ALL the commandments.

      An outsider coming into a new religion/tradition is going to be drawn to it for a reason, so they’re probably more likely to think about the foundations of that system and strive to follow them more closely.

      Or something.

      • Yes that’s very true and good point. I am looking forward to going to some Buddhist temples in Thailand next week and also talk to some of my Buddhist friends. Very inspiring people and a calm peaceful atmosphere too….

  4. Pingback: meditator’s delight: gettin’ by in kathmandu | Vegtastic Voyage

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