This 101-year-old Nyingma lama and yogi, is the abbot of dozens of monasteries in India and Nepal.
He is extremely active, traveling constantly and helping sentient beings with his every action.
He has been a vegetarian since he came from Tibet in 1958,
and spends most of his money releasing fish from the Calcutta fish markets.
Meat is not allowed in any of his monasteries, and his wife estimated that 20% of
his several thousand disciples are vegetarian.
Question: Why did you decide to stop eating meat? How old were you when you made this decision?
“It is written in the Hinayana and Mahayana texts that one should not eat meat. There is also a Vajrayana text which says the same thing, that one should not enjoy meat or alcohol. Because of this I am following the instructions of Shakyamuni Buddha. Being a religious person myself I don’t take meat or alcohol and at the same time I try to tell other people not to take these things. This is my reason—I’m just trying to motivate other people not to take alcohol or meat. I was 47 years old when I went to Bodhgaya and made a vow to all of the Buddha’s and Bodhisattvas to give up meat and alcohol.”
Question: Why do you think vegetarianism is an important aspect of practicing the Dharma?
“If you take meat, it goes against the vows one takes in seeking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Because when you take meat you have to take a being’s life. So I gave up eating meat.”
Question: Some claim that one can help the animals one eats by praying for them, and thus eating meat is compassionate. Other than for the most accomplished yogis and lamas, what do you make of this claim?
“With super natural power gained through certain meditations, it is true there are some who can revive animals from the dead and help them reach higher rebirth or enlightenment by consuming small amounts of their flesh. But this is not done for sustenance, only for the purpose of helping that animal. I personally do not have that power and because of that I never eat meat. Eating meat in one’s diet is much different than eating flesh to liberate a being through super natural powers. I am just an ordinary monk who really doesn’t have these qualities. So, if I ate meat it would be the same if you or any other lay person ate meat. I would be committing sin and I would be getting negative karma. I don’t pretend as if I have some powers and eat meat. I just avoid it altogether.”
Question: What is your opinion on His Holiness the Dalai Lama's meat eating?
“Well, you’ll have to ask him yourself about meat eating. With regard to what he’s telling people about meat now and before, it is all dependent on the state of his mind and his spiritual development. After His Holiness came to India, I didn’t see him. So I never had the chance to meet him, so I have nothing to say. One should be very decisive of the things one talks about. You shouldn’t be ambiguous, but must say ‘This is it. This is what I believe.’ ” (He is referring to the Dalai Lama’s discouraging meat consumption, yet eating meat himself.)
Question: Do you know other lamas who are vegetarian?
“I know many of them from Tibet. There are Nyingma, Sakya and Gelukpa vegetarians in Tibet. Compared to the many meat-eating lamas, vegetarian lamas are very few though. I’m 88 and during my experience I have come across many lamas in Kham, Amdo—all parts of Tibet—who don’t eat meat. There are lamas who eat meat and those who don’t. At my monastery in Tibet there are also lama’s who take meat and those who don’t.”...
Question: Do you see Tibetan Buddhists in exile making a sincere effort to reduce their meat consumption and become vegetarian, or has meat eating become an entrenched aspect of Tibetan culture?
“In Tibet, there’s only meat and tsampa—there is no other staple food. Tibet is at a high altitude and the climate is like a tundra. There are not many vegetables and fruits. After getting here, you really don’t have to follow the Tibetan customs of meat and tsampa. There are fruits and all kinds of vegetables, nutritional supplements—all kinds of good foods. Everything is available. So there is really no need to talk about the customs of Tibet. It’s a different place. You can take vegetables and fruits here in abundance and it is not necessary to eat meat. If you don’t take meat, it’s very good from my experience. I’m 88 and ever since I stopped eating meat, I haven’t gotten any major sickness. If I sleep, I sleep well. If I get up, I can walk right away. If I read religious texts, I can see them properly. I have very good hearing and can listen attentively. I have had no major sickness. These are the qualities I have experienced from not taking meat. I didn’t get sick when I stopped eating meat. I didn’t die. Nothing came—no negative consequences came to me. I can travel by vehicle, airplane or train without a problem. I never vomit. I don’t get dizzy or get headaches. So these are all qualities of giving up meat. This is what I experience. I am also a human being formed with flesh and blood, and am proof that giving up meat does not make one ill, like many Tibetans seem to think. If there were negative effects from giving up meat, I would have felt them, which has not been the case. Only good things have happened to me from giving up meat. I’m telling this from my own experience.”
Question: Many Tibetans quote a Hinayana text that says that if meat is not heard, seen or suspected to have been killed for you, then it is acceptable to eat it. How do you respond to this?
“If the animal being killed is unseen, then it is something like stealing something without being caught. That is also allowed in this thinking. You can say something dirty without being heard, as if you need evidence to judge whether it is a sin or not. What they say is not right. Killing, stealing and other negative actions can never be gotten away with. Even if other people don’t see you do them, the deities and Buddhas and Bodhisattvas see you doing these things. There is a Tibetan saying that even if one does not get caught committing a sin, that the gods catch you every time. It is impossible to do anything without being seen. You’re always being watched by the deities. They see and understand what you did—they know that you helped to kill an animal by buying meat. This is my answer.”
Question: Some monks have told me that since insects are killed in the production of rice and other vegetables, then there is really no difference between eating those things and eating meat. What do you think about this?
“This would mean that you wouldn’t eat anything and let the people die. If you say you were going to go for a week without killing insects through the food you eat, then you would die. If you die, this precious human life is being wasted. So if you just let your body be destroyed, that means you are taking your own life, which is killing in itself. You can always take the insect from the rice when you see it and let it free outside. You don’t necessary have to kill beings to eat. Although, when we walk we crush many insects under our feet. We may not see them or observe them, but still we must be killing them. Not being aware doesn’t mean that we have not created any sin. Because after all, cause and effect are always there.
“Every year there was a festival called Yoray. It was a time of year that the Tibetans don’t travel so much. It was observed primarily to avoid killing insects by walking. But, now in this decadent age, hardly any people make the effort to stay in one place for this long. We are nearing the end of an era, where people who say they are followers of the Buddha steal, commit adultery, and run businesses that profit from dishonesty. They do all sorts of unrighteous things. There are some bad obstacles to the Buddha Dharma, and due to this people do these things they are not supposed to do. Because of this, there is a lot of war, weapons and all sorts of negative things happening. The big nations and small nations all have disputes with each other most all the time. There is unrest everywhere. All of the negative actions are running rampant and sins are frequent. Because of that there is no timely rainfall, which leads to droughts. Natural disasters are common. Whenever someone says something it is always tinged with negativities. Those who live in peace and tranquility are being robbed. Those who are giving teachings of the holy Dharma to other people are not given the proper respect and the sacred Dharma is wasted. The situation is becoming very bad. Both outside and inside, there are disputes—among families and nations. These are the results of our past negativities, and we must take responsibility for them.”
Pema—Student of Buddhism (Late Twenties)
I was fortunate to meet with the daughter of Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, named Pema. Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche is the most prominent Nyingma figure in the United States, and his daughter grew up in the U.S., studying at Berkeley. She considers herself to be close friends with Chatral Rinpoche.
“Most Tibetans in Tibet don’t eat eggs. When Chatal Rinpoche was offered crepes a while ago, he asked me if they had eggs in them. I shook my head yes, and Rinpoche was repulsed by it and refused to eat them. Meat eating is high on Chatal Rinpoche’s spiritual radar. Rinpoche is so connected with animals. He loves animals. He loves watching wildlife videos on T.V. His great compassion caused him to stop eating meat. He gives all his money to save 70 truckloads of fish in Calcutta. It is his most important yearly activity. He prays for every bucket-full he dumps into the ocean, trying to bring them to a higher rebirth. Tibetans have a guilt complex about their meat eating. When I say I’m vegetarian, they say ‘That’s great!’ as if it is an enormous sacrifice that they can’t fathom. In the Dharma, it is not just a matter of not doing something—not eating meat for instance—but actively protecting life. Rinpoche lives this. He is so connected on a vast level to sentient beings and their suffering.
“Rinpoche is drawn to dark, sinful, murderous places—to Hindu animal sacrifice areas. He took myself and his daughter Sera Sati to one once. It was beautiful on the outside, with flowers and carvings. He bought some birds in a cage and released them at the top of the roof. Then we came to the goat sacrifice place. At first I had my eyes closed, but then I saw it—innocent goats being murdered and blood everywhere. I was horrified. Rinpoche calmly walked all over the goat blood as if he was doing walking meditation. He wasn’t a bit fazed by it. I think he was trying to teach us the lesson of being fearless and patient in the face of suffering. Goats are very sensitive beings—they were very afraid. It’s so awful. Meat was such a turnoff to me at the cafeteria in Berkeley, where I went to school. Seeing it made me nauseous.
“Young monks who do not have good protein sources feel that meat is the essence of their diet. A small dollop of daal on their rice is about all they get without the meat. I can sympathize with this. I don’t think it is a common thing to recite prayers while eating meat, although there may be some kind of an apology for the animals they are eating. The key is for high-level lamas who teach compassion to not eat meat themselves. Instead of just talking, they need to show compassion through their actions. It is common for Mahayana practitioners to look down on Hinayana monks—who are mostly vegetarian. They often say that since they have taken the Bodhisattva vows, they are above the Hinayana vows not to kill. But, of course, the Vajrayana recognizes that all three schools are essential aspects of cumulative Dharma.”
Chatal Rinpoche wrote a piece called On Flesh Eating which I will re-produce in its entirety at this point. It was translated by my friend Geshe Phelgye, and is yet unpublished in English, but available in Tibetan at bookstores.
Meat, the sinful food, is never permitted in all the three vows: not in the vows of individual liberation, the Bodhisattva vows, nor the tantric vows. Thus Buddha stated “I have never approved, do not approve, and will never approve a meat diet.” He declared: “my followers must never eat meat.”
In general, both the butcher and the customer of meat will suffer in such realms as the burning and boiling hells. As Buddha said, “Killing animals for profit and paying for meat are both evil deeds; whoever does them will be reborn among the screams and cries of the hells.” Intentionally eating meat is violating Buddhist principles. “Even the so called ‘approved meat’ requires the effort of checking (if it is ‘approved’) and begging or some other means of attainment. Therefore, one should never eat meat. Both myself and other Buddhas say: an adept will not eat meat. Those beings which consume each other will be reborn as carnivores…they will give off a stench and be held in low esteem. Even after such miserable human births as these, they will descend lower, being reborn as such animals as cats and owls. Since the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and sravakas have all condemned meat-eating, one who still eats meat without shame will be reborn into insanity. Those who give up eating meat will be reborn as wise and healthy Brahmans. Meat which one has seen, heard, or suspected to have come from an animal slaughtered for meat is to be condemned. Dialecticians who are born as meat-eaters will not understand this. These close-minded meat-eating gossipers will one day blame me, saying that the Buddha has said that there is no sin in eating meat! An adept enjoys vegetarian food in appropriate quantity and views meat as unfit to eat as the flesh of one’s own son. Eating meat is a horrifying site and prevents progress towards Nirvana. One should not eat meat, for (practicing non-harm) is the victory banner of liberation.”
In the “Parinirvana Sutra,” Buddha speaks to Kasyapa saying, “Blessed son, those who have the mindfulness of the shravakas are not allowed to eat meat from now on. Even if one’s master offers one meat with genuine faith, one should see it as the flesh of his own son.” Bodhisattva Kasyapa asked Buddha, “Lord, why do you not allow the eating of meat?” Buddha replied, “Blessed son, eating meat hinders the development of compassion; therefore, whoever is mindful of me should not eat meat from now on. Kasyapa, wherever a meat eater goes, lies, sits, or walks other sentient beings become fearful upon smelling him. Blessed son, just as when a man eats garlic others will keep away because of his bad smell, likewise, animals, when they smell the meat eater, fear death.” Kasyapa asked Buddha, “Lord, as monks, nuns and novice monks are dependent for their food on other people, what should they do when they are offered food with meat?” Buddha replied to Kasyapa, “Separate the food and meat, wash the food, and then eat. You may use your begging bowl if it does not have the smell or taste of meat; otherwise you should wash the bowl. If the food has too much meat, one should not accept it. Do not eat food if you see that there is meat in it; if you do then you will accumulate demerit. There will be no end if I speak thoroughly about the reasons I do not allow meat-eating. I have given a brief reply because the time has come for my parinirvana.”
Buddha has further elucidated the faults of meat-eating in the “Angulimala Sutra” as well as in the “Siksammu Caya” compendium of precepts. Furthermore, the treasure teaching of Padmasambhava called “Rinchin Dronme” (“The Precious Lamp”)… clearly condemns the eating of meat for both lay and ordained people: “All the followers of Buddha: monks or nuns, novice or lay have seven main principles to follow. These are ‘the four root principles,’ and abstinence from alcohol, meat and evening food.”
If some people argue that Buddha’s condemnation of meat applies only to the seven classes of Vinya vows and is unrelated to the Mahayana and Tantrayana, then this clearly indicates their lack of proper knowledge. They have not even seen the following chapter from the Vinya sutra: “Meat-eating is the diet that vanquishes the three realms (desire, form and formless realms). It is the weapon that destroys the potential for liberation. It is the fire that burns the seed of Buddhahood. It is the shaft of lightning that ends rebirth in the higher realms or a precious human rebirth.” Since meat-eating is not approved for anyone, not for monks, nuns or lay-holders, those who are committed Buddhist practitioners are never allowed to eat meat. One who has taken the Bodhisattva vows will incur great sin in eating the flesh of sentient beings who were one’s parents in past lives. Even in Tantryana meat is not allowed until one attains the ultimate view and wisdom.
Tulshig Pema Dudul, speaking of a pure appearance, said: "The great compassionate one (Avalokitishvara) appeared in the sky in front of me and spoke 'You have attained generating stages and acquired some knowledge, yet you are lacking in love and compassion. Compassion is the root of the Dharma and with compassion it is impossible to eat meat. One who eats meat will experience much misery and illness. Look at the miserable ones! Every one is experiencing suffering according to their deeds…One who gives up meat will not experience this suffering. Instead, great guru Buddha's deities, Bodhisattvas, and dakinis will rejoice and protect you.’” Having heard this, Tulshig gave up meat forever.
Many more renowned adepts have condemned meat as a poisonous food. Machig Labdron, a renowned female practitioner of chod had said, "For me eating meat is out of the question. I feel great compassion when I see helpless animals looking up with fearful eyes." Rigzin Jigme Lingpa, a great yogi of the Nyingma tradition stated, "Just as in the story of Arya Katayana going to beg for food, I see that the animal which this meat must have come from was our mother in earlier lives. If so, can we eat our own mother’s flesh that was slaughtered by butchers? Imagine how much concern would arise! Therefore, if we concentrate honestly, there is no way we won't feel compassion for the animal."
Some people who claim themselves to be practitioners say, "At least some meat and alcohol is necessary to keep healthy, otherwise weakness or death may occur." This is not true. However, even if death should follow from engaging in the Dharma practice of abstaining from meat and alcohol, then it is worth it. As the great adept Tsele Rigzin said,
“From the bottom of my heart I pray Never to be with carnivores and drinkers in this and lives coming.May an ordained never be born where meat And alcohol are used without morality. If I should die Due to the absence of meat and alcohol That will be fulfilling of Buddha's wishes, Thus I shall be a most successful adept!”
Bodhisattva Jigme Chokkyiwangpa said, "As Buddhists we have taken the triple refuge. To take refuge in the Dharma, one must practice nonviolence to sentient beings. Thus, if we continue to eat meat which has come from the slaughtering of innocent animals, then is this not a contradiction of our Buddhist commitments?"
Knowing all these faults of meat and alcohol, I have made a commitment to give up meat and alcohol in front of the great Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya with the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions as my witnesses. I have also declared this moral to all my monasteries.
Therefore, any one who listens to me is requested not to break this Dharmic moral.
© Chatral Rinpoche