The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has become a well recognized face that has far outreached his country. He is the head of state and the spiritual leader of Tibet, while also filling the role of spiritual guide for many throughout the world. The Dalai Lama is an advocate for non-violence, religious tolerance, is the first Nobel Laureate to be recognized for his concern for global environmental problems, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and most of all he is known for his advocacy and dedication to compassion.
“But however the tea is prepared, the primary ingredient is always water. While we can live without tea, we can’t live without water. Likewise, we are born free of religion, but we are not born free of the need for compassion.”
It is interesting to know that the Dalai Lama is not vegan or vegetarian. It actually surprised me to find out that he eats animals.
In the following CNN interview Piers Morgan asks the Dalai Lama about his eating habits.
MORGAN: Your Holiness, I want to get into your life and the kind of lifestyle that you lead because you’re a fascinating man in many ways. First of all, you were a vegetarian. But then you got bored with that and went back to meat. Is that right?
DALAI LAMA: Yes, right. Of course, my early part of my life as in — under Tibetan, you see, our main diet non-vegetarian. Then after I came to India, 65, I give up eating meat and eggs and fish. Pure vegetarian. So, next, about 20 months, I remain that. Then some illness. The gallbladder, jaundice problem. So, I — my sort of face become yellow. And nails and eyes become yellow. So later, I jokingly telling people, at that time, I truly become living Buddha.
(LAUGHTER) DALAI LAMA: Yellow, yellow person.
(LAUGHTER) DALAI LAMA: So I really making sort of — making effort to promote vegetarianism, but I myself remain non-vegetarian.
Many leap to the conclusion that the Dalai Lama is hypocritical in his actions of eating meat, but looking a bit deeper you will find that is not the case. Living in Tibet is quite different from many other places in the world where meat alternatives, fruits, and vegetables are wildly available. The Tibetan high altitude environment is also not conducive for sustaining fresh crops, and as it is now, the Tibetans include meat in their diet as a means of survival. Many monasteries that opt for the vegetarian lifestyle take measures to import their foods to sustain their eating habits.
The evidence shows again and again that eating a vegetarian or vegan diet is healthy and an optimal way to eat, but some cultures may not be as up to date on this information or able to eat in this fashion. It may also be that the knowledge of Tibetan doctors is outdated when it comes to eating a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, “Turns out the Dalai Lama tried strict vegetarianism for a year and a half in the 1960s and developed hepatitis, at which point his doctors advised him to go back to his omnivorous ways. (He’s been criticized by some in the vegetarian community for having been an unhealthy vegetarian, possibly damaging his liver that way—he subsisted on a high-fat diet of mostly nuts and milk—and thus the medical necessity of his meat-eating has been questioned.)”
The Dalai Lama still eats meat but limits his intake, in other words he does the best he can. At the same time he plays a critical role in advocating for animal rights and welfare. He has worked with the Exile Tibetan Government to create “non-violent and environment-friendly farming practices” for a small scale farming industry. He has given speeches about ending animal experiments, has openly criticized factory farms, written letters opposing businesses that use harmful slaughtering practices, and talks freely about how vegetarianism is a positive way for people to live.
It is always dangerous to ignore the suffering of any living being, of whatever species, even if we think it necessary to sacrifice an animal for the benefit of the majority. To deny the suffering involved, or to avoid thinking about it, is a convenient solution, but such an attitude opens the door to all kinds of excesses as we witness in wartime. It also destroys our own happiness. As I often say, sympathy and compassion always end up proving beneficial.
So what does this mean for us? Do the best you can.
Know that doing the best you can to make the world a better place is worth a lot more than doing nothing at all. Living in the states we have ample opportunities to eat fresh vegetables, fruits and many animal alternative foods. We actually have so many food sources becoming obese is a very real problem. In the US we can easily relieve animals from harm while choosing to eat healthily and in an environmentally friendly way. Doing the best you can by aiming for a plant-based diet is an real step we can take towards compassion and a truly aware lifestyle.