Natalia Sander: Vegetarianism in Tibetan Buddhism. Message of Chatral Rinpoche

His Holiness Chadral Rinpoche’s

 

heart advice on vegetarianism

 

Natalia Sander

Interview by Sri Kamakoti Mandali

Chatral rinpoche

 
Chatral Rinpoche, Sangye Dorje (born in 1913) is a Dzogchen master in his mid-90s. He is a reclusive yogi known for his great realization and strict discipline. Rinpoche is one of the few living disciples of Khenpo Ngagchung and is widely regarded as one of the most highly realized Dzogchen yogis. In addition to his relationship with Khenpo Ngagchung, Chatral Rinpoche also studied with some of the last century's most renowned masters, including Dudjom Rinpoche, Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro, and the famed dakini Sera Khandro. Rinpoche is one of the primary lineage holders of the Longchen Nyingthig, and in particular the lineage that descends through Jigme Lingpa's heart son Jigme Gyalwe Nyugu and then on to Patrul Rinpoche.
 
Rinpoche currently divides his time between Salbhari, India, and Kathmandu, Nepal. He has two daughters, Tara Devi and Saraswati, with his wife Kamala.
 
Rinpoche has shunned institutional and political involvement his whole life, choosing instead to live the life of a wandering yogi. To this day, despite his great age, he continues to move about, rarely remaining in one place for more than a few months. A lay yogi, he is also greatly concerned with maintaining strict discipline in the context of the Dzogchen view.
 
I was the first to become vegetarian since we came to India. The first year of the Nyingma Monlam in Bodh Gaya was non-vegetarian. In the second year I came there and spoke at a meeting of all the high Nyingma Lamas. I told them that Bodh Gaya is a very special place which is holy to all Buddhists, and if we say we are gathered here for the Nyingma Monlam and yet eat meat, this is a disgrace and the greatest insult to Buddhism. I said they should all give up meat from now on, during the Nyingma Monlam. Even the Tibetan lamas and monks eat meat! What a shame if even the lamas can't give up meat! First the lamas should commit themselves to being life-long vegetarians. If the Lamas become vegetarian, and then you can address the lay people. Then also you should urge the monks to become vegetarian. Otherwise if knowledgeable religious people eat meat, how can one expect the ignorant public, who follow along just like sheep, to become vegetarian?
 
Earlier in the Sakyapas, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo abstained from meat and alcohol. From then on gradually in the Nyingmapas there was Ngari Pandita Pema Wangyal, an emanation of King Trisong Detsen. He was a vegetarian all his life. Also the non-sectarian Lama Zhabkar Tsogdrug Rangdrol: he was born in Amdo and was a heavy meat-eater, but when he went to Lhasa and saw the many animals being slaughtered in the butchers' district of Lhasa, he became vegetarian for the rest of his life. Many of his disciples also became vegetarian. Many others - Sakyapas, Gelugpas, Kagyudpas and Nyingmapas - have done like this and become vegetarian.
 
In Kongpo, Gotsang Natsog Rangdrol told his monks to abstain from meat and alcohol. Because the Kongpo Tsele Gon monks wouldn't obey his orders, he became angry with them and went to Gotsang Phug in lower Kongpo, and stayed there in isolated retreat for 20-30 years. Abstaining from non-virtuous actions such as eating meat and drinking alcohol, he attained realization and became known as Gotsang Natsog Rangdrol, a highly qualified teacher. Similarly, Nyagla Pema Dudul abstained from meat and alcohol. He meditated in isolated hermitages for 20-30 years, not relying on people's food but rather nourishing himself on the essence of rocks and earth, and attained rainbow body. He is known as "Pema Dudul who attained rainbow body." He lived at the time of Nyagke Gonpo Namgyal. It happened like that.
 
When I was in Bhutan, sometimes meat would be served during big ceremonies or pujas for dead people. This killing of animals for the dead person is an obstacle for the spiritual evolution of the dead and an impediment on the path to liberation. It is of no benefit to the dead person.
 
The people in the Himalayan region are all Buddhist. Some of the Tamang and Sherpa lamas are ignorant. Because they want to eat meat and drink alcohol, they say that it is necessary since they are followers of Guru Rinpoche, who ate meat and drank alcohol. But Guru Rinpoche was born miraculously, not like those Lamas who were born from human parents. Guru Rinpoche is known as the Second Buddha. The teacher of the Sutras is Shakyamuni and the teacher of the tantras is the omniscient Guru Rinpoche, who prophesied exactly what will happen in the future.
 
Abstaining from meat is a means of attaining world peace. I have given up meat, and I also don't eat cake since it contains eggs. Eating meat and eating eggs is the same. An egg will hatch into a chicken. A chicken is a sentient being. For example, there is no difference between killing the unborn fetus in a pregnant woman and killing the child after it is born; the killing is the same negative action. This is the reason why I don't eat eggs.
 
Your work is not useless - it is very useful. This message is not just for Buddhist; everyone who thinks and reasons can understand it. Especially all the learned scientists and doctors should think about this: are smoking and meat-eating beneficial? As an indication of this, who has a longer life span, smokers or non-smokers? Who has more illnesses, smokers or non-smokers? You university students can think about all the reasons and figure it out. I only speak Tibetan; I don't speak other languages. But I have studied the Buddha's outer vinaya and inner vajrayana teachings. Especially I have studied the Dzogchen writings of many scholars and yogis. They all say that abstaining from meat is good for longevity.
 
If I consider my own family, there is no one else who has lived beyond 60; all my relatives are dead. But because I left my homeland and abstain from meat and smoking, I am now 93 years old. I can still walk, sit and get around everywhere by car and plane.
 
A few days ago I went to Lhakhang Gon in Helambu, where they are building a new Sherpa monastery. You asked me to talk about the reasons for becoming vegetarian, and what I have told you may be publicized. What I have told you is all true, not a lie. It is based on the Buddhist scriptures, the teachings of the gurus, and on my own experience, not on the words of a few people who claim to be scholars. That is why you should publicize this message. I also rejoice in your virtue. Your actions are definitely virtuous. You should continue your campaign to educate the lay people, and also the ordained people. You should tell it to the lamas and Tulkus who sit on high thrones and think they are important, and also to those of the lowest rank, to the monastic communities and also to the public, to those worldly people in high position with common sense who can reason for themselves and also to those without common sense.
 
This is what I have to say. You have asked this frail old man to speak, so I have told you my heart advice.
 
There is a need for this message and the reasoning to be publicized; there is nothing in this message that should be withheld.
 
Dedication of Merits:
May all sentient beings be happy.
May all the lower realms be empty forever.
Wherever the Boddhisattvas live,
May this prayer be realized
 
This heart advice was given by H.H. Chadral Rinpoche on 29-th May, 2005 to the Tibetan Volunteers for Animals, which subsequently published this in their official journal SEMCHEN, Vol.2, 2006.
 

An Interview with Chadral Rinpoche

 
Question: Why did you decide to stop eating meat? How old were you when you made this decision?
 
Rinpoche: It is written in many Theravadayana and Mahayana texts that one should not eat meat. There is also a Vajrayana text that 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, I don’t take meat or alcohol and at the same time I try to tell other people not to consume these things. This is my reason — I’m just trying to motivate other people. I was forty-seven years old when I went to Bodhgaya and made a vow to all of the buddhas and bodhisattvas to give up meat and alcohol.
 
Question: Why do you think vegetarianism is an important aspect of practicing the Dharma?
 
Rinpoche: 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 it up.
 
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?
 
Rinpoche: With supernatural powers gained through certain meditation practices, it is true that there are some realized beings who can revive animals from the dead and help them reach a 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 supernatural powers. I am just an ordinary practitioner 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 a sin and I would be getting negative karma. I don’t pretend as if I have special powers and eat meat, I just avoid it altogether.
 
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?
 
Rinpoche: In Tibet, there’s only meat and tsampa [roasted barley flour] — there is no other staple food. Tibet is at a high altitude and the climate is tundralike. There are not many fruits and vegetables. After coming to South Asia, you really don’t have to follow the Tibetan custom of meat and tsampa. There are many types of fruits and vegetables, nutritional supplements — all kinds of good foods. Everything is available. So there is really no need to talk about the customs of Tibet as an excuse for eating meat. From my experience, not eating meat has many benefits. I’m eighty-eight and ever since I stopped eating meat, I haven’t had any major sickness. When I sleep, I sleep well. When I get up, I can walk right away. When I read religious texts, I can see them properly. I have very good hearing and can listen attentively. These are the qualities I have experienced from not eating meat. I didn’t get sick or die when I stopped eating meat; no negative consequences came to me. I can travel by vehicle, airplane, or train without getting nauseous or dizzy and I never get headaches. I am a human being formed with flesh and blood like anyone else and am proof that giving up meat does not make one ill like many Tibetans seem to think. I’m telling you from my own experience; only good things have happened to me from giving up meat.
 
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 in eating those things and eating meat. What do you think about this?
 
Rinpoche: This would mean that you wouldn’t eat anything and would starve to death. If you say you were going to go for a month without killing insects through the food you eat, then you would die. If you die, this precious human life is 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 necessarily 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 haven’t created any sin, because after all, cause and effect are always there.