Why Be a Vegetarian

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (Archive #1935)

In these teachings, Lama Zopa Rinpoche asks students to abandon eating meat and become vegetarian. Rinpoche also discusses animal liberation and other ways to benefit animals, and explains the karmic connection we have with animals from past lives. Excerpted from teachings on August 24, 2013 and August 27, 2013, given at the 100 Million Mani Retreat in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Lightly edited by Ven. Joan Nicell.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche blesses a rescued goat, Maratika, Nepal, February 2016. Photo: Holly Ansett.
If Less People Eat Meat, Less Animals Will Be Killed 

Excerpted from a teaching on August 24, 2013

An announcement. When I was sick, when I got a stroke and was in the hospital, I was watching TV. On TV they talked about an Australian company that sold many goats and sheep to Indonesia. I think probably many years ago they sent many animals to be killed in Indonesia for their meat. I thought, “This I can’t stop. I don’t have the power,” but since I go around the world, even when teaching the subject of tantra, I thought to announce to eat vegetarian food, to abandon meat. I thought to announce to eat vegetarian food even if the subject is tantra. I thought to do that if I were to get better. There is no need for much discussion: if less people eat meat, there will be less killing of animals, so less suffering for animals, and less suffering for human beings due to less negative karma. Due to cutting down on the negative karma of killing, [there will be less suffering] for human beings as well as for animals. If there are less people eating meat, less animals will get killed. This means less negative karma for people and less suffering for animals. So there is no need for much talk.

For example, in Dharamsala I used to rejoice when His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teacher, Ling Rinpoche, [would eat meat, thinking,] “Oh, the goat meat that goes in his holy mouth will go to a pure land. It will be saved from the lower realms.” I used to think how fortunate those goats were. Of course, there are mantras to say when eating meat to save them from the lower realms, but of course everybody doesn’t know those mantras or doesn’t recite those mantras. The conclusion is that if there are less people eating meat, there will be less negative karma for people and less suffering for animals. That is the conclusion.

Animals don’t want suffering and they want happiness, exactly the same as yourself, but they can’t speak and so can’t express that. While human beings can advertise in newspapers and on TV, animals can’t do that. So I announce this for the happiness of animals, for the happiness of people, for the happiness of the world and for the happiness of animals. OK? [I am saying this now] as I had mentioned how important is the practice of taking care of sentient beings, of not harming them and of benefiting them. Thank you very much.

I myself have been vegetarian for so many years, even when I was in Tibet, but sometimes I had difficulties. Sometimes some gurus [would advise me to eat meat] for my health, but then I decided to not eat it because it is difficult to explain. In highest tantra, Secret Mantra Vajrayana, the tsog offering has bala and madana, which doesn’t even have the name “alcohol” and “meat” because it is not eaten as meat and alcohol. But we ordinary beings don’t have tantric realizations, the Six Yogas of Naropa or some other completion path, the realization of the clear light and illusory body, bliss. We don’t have these realizations of tantra. Of course, it is explained in the root tantra and in the Vajrayogini commentary. What I have seen is that you have to have those things, you can’t use juice or cheese. In the past some monks used those but that is not correct. In the root tantra it is explained in verses that bala and madana are necessary. The bala, meat, is to hook the illusory body realization, and the alcohol is to hook the realization of clear light, so as to achieve the dharmakaya and rupakaya, a buddha’s holy mind and holy body.

By achieving the clear light we achieve the dharmakaya and by achieving illusory body we achieve the rupakaya. So to achieve the clear light and illusory body, we use meat and alcohol which hooks the realizations. There is a quotation that says that if you don’t have the actual experience you should at least take them with the meditation trying to visualize bliss and voidness. You should try to think that, try at least to imitate that. Even don’t use their name so as to not eat them as meat and alcohol, that is why their names are changed to bala and madana. Thinking that people will stop eating meat is crazy. There is meat everywhere. So for tsog you need it, but just a tiny bit. You don’t need a huge piece of meat or many bottles [of alcohol] to drink, I think some people do that but that is not what it says. To do tsog and then drink many bottles and at the end fight, to manifest all the bad things—it is not like that. When doing tsog, take the blessing. Try to imitate, at least try to visualize like that, take the blessing like that. That is great preparation in your mind to achieve enlightenment. That is all. I will stop.

Bakula Rinpoche, as you all know, was vegetarian his whole life, but when he was old I saw him eat three pieces of meat on his plate. I think his doctors told him to eat meat for his health, so during lunch there were three pieces of meat on his plate. He took them like medicine, three pieces [the size of] my finger. If for a question of health, if you need to eat meat to practice Dharma, to practice Dharma for sentient beings, then it is OK.

In Vietnam, one person, I don’t know him, but that person heard I had had a stroke and then he became vegetarian for his whole life. I don’t know him, I never met him, but when he heard I got a stroke he became a vegetarian. Then one student in Singapore, she is a student but I don’t know her personally, she had gone to Kopan, when she heard I got sick she decided to take the eight Mahayana precepts all her life. She came to Kopan two times to receive teachings, and I told her it might be difficult to take for the whole life, especially when traveling, so I told her to take it easy.

Since I got a stroke so many people liberated animals. In Tibet so many sheep and goats were liberated. Also in Singapore I think one hundred million animals were liberated. Saving the lives of one hundred million animals was already finished several years ago, then the second time saving a hundred million is also maybe finished, I’m not sure. They have done the most number of saving animals lives, not only saving but they put the fish in a truck, then the truck goes around the center several times. When they liberate small animals they bring them inside the center and go around stupas and texts. How many times they go around brings enlightenment for the animals as well as for the people and children. Then they bless water by reciting mantras, and they wash or sprinkle [the animals]. If it is a big bag of shell animals, they pour water on them. The second is to do that. The third is to recite mantras loudly so that for those who can hear them, it plants the seed of enlightenment.

You should try to benefit the animals as much as possible, not only saving them from danger to their life. Not just that, but try in many different ways to benefit them. There are so many unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable benefits of mantras, as mentioned by the Buddha, so try to use them. In Singapore, our center Amitabha Buddhist Centre has liberated the biggest number of animals in the world. Many people have liberated animals. I think one of the best things to do is that—to cause long life for the animals and for others. Of course, there are pujas and different things that can cause long life for human beings as well.

Take Good Care of the Animals

Excerpted from a teaching on August 27, 2013

Since animals are so kind to you, how can you eat their meat? Normally I don’t relate eating meat to their kindness but as I announced the other night about becoming vegetarian, then how dare you kill them and eat their meat? No way, it is impossible. If you can’t repay their kindness even by sacrificing your life numberless times equaling the numberless atoms of the earth, how can you kill them and eat their meat? It is the same as killing your mother of this life and eating her meat. It is the same as that.

One time when Sharipu, the Buddha’s disciple who was supreme among the disciples for wisdom, was out begging, he saw a family through a door. The father had died and been reborn as a fish. The father used to catch fish in a pond behind the house, and when he died he was reborn as a fish in that pond behind the house. The son was still alive and had caught the fish who had been his father and was eating the meat and giving the bones to the dog in front of him. That dog had been his mother. The mother, who was attached to the home, had died with attachment and was reborn as the dog that was waiting to eat the fish. The dog, who was waiting for the fish meat to be given to it, was meanwhile being beaten by the son while it was chewing the bones of the fish. So the son was beating the dog who had been his mother, who had died with attachment to the home. The enemy, who had been attached to the son’s wife, had been reborn to him as his child. So he was carrying his enemy on his lap while eating the meat of the fish that had been his father. The whole family had changed and so Sharipu said, “Eating the father’s flesh, beating the mother, the enemy reborn as the child carried on his lap, I laugh at samsaric existence.”

The animals you have, the cows, the dogs, those that you have in the house, there is a reason why they are there with you. The reason is similar to the story: it is because you have a connection with them from past lives. That is the reason for them to be there. It is not that there is no reason for them to be there. Whatever karma you experience, whatever happiness or suffering, even a very small feeling, it is all due to karma. There is a reason for it. So, can you imagine? Can you imagine? If you could really recognize their mind, their consciousness, you would see that they were your brother, sister, father, mother, wife or husband who died and was reborn there. If you could see this, can you imagine how it would be? Much of the reason is a connection from not that long ago. A connection from the past, like in the story. Much is like that.

The conclusion is that you really need to take good care even of the dogs and horses. You need to really take good care even of the animals. Then, on top of that, there is karma. Depending on how you take care of them, then there is karma. Karma is involved, either negative karma or good karma. So how can you dare kill and eat them? But humans think that animals are just there to be eaten, which is very sad for the animals and shows a lack of understanding of Dharma. So here, they have been your mother numberless times from beginningless rebirths and have been kind to you. Kyabje Khunu Lama Rinpoche explained that all their kindness is integrated in the four kindnesses, which makes it simple to meditate, easy to meditate, on their extensive kindness. So, how can we eat them? That is reality.