On the Subject of Eating Meat
an excerpt from Spring Teachings 2013 by HH Gyalwang Karmapa
On the 11th day of the 1st month of the Year of the Water Snake, in the holy land of Sarnath, very close to the exact site where the Buddha Shakyamuni taught his first five disciples more than 2500 years ago and thereby set into motion the entire Buddhist teaching tradition, the Gyalwang Karmapa once again turned the wheel of dharma.
On the sixth day of his Spring Teachings the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, cut straight to the core of an issue that is vital not only for the sustainability of our contemporary world, but also within our individual lives as Buddhist practitioners. Exploring the topic from many different angles, the Gyalwang Karmapa discussed his views on whether Buddhist practitioners should eat meat or not, and if so, when and how it may be acceptable to do so.
"A few years ago at one of the Kagyu Monlams I spoke about the topic of vegetarianism, giving up eating meat. You could say it was an announcement, but it was really like making a suggestion. Since then many years have passed, and over the years I've heard people say various things. Some people have even said, 'Oh, Ogyen Trinley Dorje says that if you don't give up eating meat then you're not a Kagyupa.' Now, it actually wasn't me who said that. It was the 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje who said that. So it wasn't my idea, and it's not like I said you better give up meat or else you're not a Kagyupa."
In fact, there are different ways we can interpret the 8th Karmapa's advice, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa continued. If we take a looser interpretation of Mikyo Dorje's words, then by eating meat you can say that you're not a truly pure Kagyu practitioner. "There are many great Kagyu masters who have eaten meat, so it is very difficult to merely say that eating meat means that you have faults. But eating meat is something that all of us who practice the dharma need to think about very carefully."
The Gyalwang Karmapa, himself a pure vegetarian, then turned to his own life as an example. "When I spoke about this, I was primarily thinking about the way I lead my own life. I can't really do anything about how other people lead their lives, but in terms of thinking about myself there are some reasons for this." He then explained two key reasons that he personally does not eat meat. The first reason is the intense suffering that the animals who are killed go through. Every single day millions of animals are killed to feed us, and many are subjected to terrible conditions to provide us with food. Just a few days previously the Gyalwang Karmapa had shared a story of how, as a child in Tibet, when animals were killed for his family's food he felt unbearable, pure compassion for them.
The second reason he doesn't eat meat, the Gyalwang Karmapa continued, is because of his Mahayana training in seeing all sentient beings as his mothers. "We say I am going to do everything I can to free sentient beings from suffering. We say I am going to do this. We make the commitment. We take the vow. Once we have taken this vow, if then, without thinking anything about it, we just go ahead and eat meat, then that is not okay. It is something that we need to think about very carefully."
The Gyalwang Karmapa then acknowledged that there are some circumstances in which eating meat is allowed, or even necessary. He explained that within the Buddhist Vinaya, or rules for monks and nuns, eating meat is allowed mainly when one is ill, but only if three conditions are met: we must not have seen, heard, or thought that the animal was killed particularly for us to eat it. Meat is allowed when a person is sick, the Gyalwang Karmapa clarified, or for those people who need more nourishment and have great difficulty nourishing themselves without it.
"But when you eat meat in these situations you should not just eat it in an ordinary sort of way," he continued. "You first need to meditate on compassion for one session—compassion for all sentient beings in general, but especially for this particular animal whose flesh is in front of you. Then you should recite the mantras of the Buddha's name, as well as mantras that can help purify misdeeds. Only then should you start eating the meat."
Yet his guidance did not stop there. Returning to the Mahayana training of seeing all sentient beings as mothers, the Gyalwang Karmapa explained further. "When you start eating the meat you have to think about it in a particular way. You should think of it as being the meat of your mother or your father or your child. You should think of eating it in that way, and so it's when you think of it as being your mother's or your child's meat, then that is when you can eat it."
We must also have a pure motivation when we eat the meat, the Gyalwang Karmapa continued. "We should not eat the meat in order to enjoy it, because it is delicious. We should not eat it because we want to enjoy the great flavor and savor what we are eating. Instead we should eat the meat only in order to keep ourselves alive."
To avoid any misunderstanding, the Gyalwang Karmapa repeated the need for each individual to reflect deeply on the issue: "Now, I did not say that we need to immediately give up eating meat. I understand that it's difficult to give up eating meat. But I did say that we need to think about it carefully. When we eat meat, if we are someone who has entered the path of the Mahayana, someone who has begun to think of all sentient beings as their father, their mother, or their child, in terms of someone who practices in this way it's really something that we need to consider very carefully."
(for this and other teachings visit http://kagyuoffice.org)
The Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra
The Lord Protector Rangjung Dorje, The Third Gyalwa Karmapa
Namoguru, Gurus and yidams, deities of the mandala, Buddhas of the three times in the ten directions and your sons and daughters, Please consider us with kindness and understanding, and Grant your blessing that these aspirations may be accomplished exactly as we ask.
Sprung from the snow mountain of pure intentions and actions Of myself and all sentient beings without limit, May the river of accumulated virtue of the threefold purity Flow into the ocean of the four bodies of the Victorious Ones.
So long as this is not accomplished, Through all my lifetimes, birth upon birth, May not even the words "evil deeds" and "suffering" be heard And may we enjoy the splendour and goodness of oceans of happiness and virtue.
Having obtained the supreme freedoms and conjunctions of the precious human existence, endowed with faith, energy, and intelligence, Having attended on a worthy spiritual friend and received the pith of the holy instructions, May we practice these properly, just as we have received them,without obstacle or interruption. In all our lives, may we practice and enjoy the holy dharma.
Hearing and studying the scriptures and reasonings free us from the obscuration of not knowing, Contemplating the oral instructions disperses the darkness of doubt. In the light born of meditation what is shines forth just as it is. May the brightness of the three prajnas grow in power.
By understanding the meaning of the ground, which is the two truths free from the extremes of eternalism and nihilismAnd by practising the supreme path of the two accumulations, free from the extremes of exaggeration and denial, Is attained the fruit of well-
The ground of purification is the mind itself, indivisible cognitive clarity and emptiness. That which purifies is the great vajra yoga of mahamudra. What is to be purified are the adventitious, temporary contaminations of confusion, May the fruit of purification, the stainless dharmakaya, be manifest.
Resolving doubts about the ground brings conviction in the view. Then keeping one's awareness unwavering in accordance with the view, is the subtle pith of meditation. Putting all aspects of meditation into practice is the supreme action. The view, the meditation, the action-
All phenomena are illusory displays of mind. Mind is no mind-
Naturally manifesting appearances, that never truly exist, are confused into objects. Spontaneous intelligence, under the power of ignorance, is confused into a self. By the power of this dualistic fixation, beings wander in the realms of samsaric existence. May ignorance, the root of confusion, be discovered and cut.
It is not existent-
If one says, "This is it," there is nothing to show. If one says, "This is not it," there is nothing to deny. The true nature of phenomena, which transcends conceptual understanding, is unconditioned. May conviction be gained in the ultimate, perfect truth.
Not realising it, one circles in the ocean of samsara.If it is realised, buddha is not anything other. It is completely devoid of any "This is it," or "This is not it." May this simple secret, this ultimate essence of phenomena,which is the basis of everything, be realised.
Appearance is mind and emptiness is mind. Realisation is mind and confusion is mind. Arising is mind and cessation is mind. May all doubts about mind be resolved.
Not adulterating meditation with conceptual striving or mentally created meditation, Unmoved by the winds of everyday busyness, Knowing how to rest in the uncontrived, natural spontaneous flow, May the practice of resting in mind's true nature be skilfully sustained.
The waves of subtle and coarse thoughts calm down by themselves in their own place, And the unmoving waters of mind rest naturally. Free from dullness, torpor, and, murkiness, May the ocean of shamatha be unmoving and stable.
Looking again and again at the mind which cannot be looked at, The meaning which cannot be seen is vividly seen, just as it is. Thus cutting doubts about how it is or is not, May the unconfused genuine self-
Looking at objects, the mind devoid of objects is seen; Looking at mind, its empty nature devoid of mind is seen; Looking at both of these, dualistic clinging is self-
Free from mental fabrication, it is the great seal, mahamudra. Free from extremes, it is the great middle way, madhyamika. The consummation of everything, it is also called the great perfection, dzogchen. May there be confidence that by understanding one,the essential meaning of all is realised.
Great bliss free from attachment is unceasing. Luminosity free from fixation on characteristics is unobscured.Nonthought transcending conceptual mind is spontaneous presence. May the effortless enjoyment of these experiences be continuous.
Longing for good and clinging to experiences are self-
The true nature of beings is always buddha. Not realising that, they wander in endless samsara. For the boundless suffering of sentient beings May unbearable compassion be conceived in our being.
When the energy of unbearable compassion is unceasing, In expressions of loving kindness, the truth of its essential emptiness is nakedly clear. This unity is the supreme unerring path. Inseparable from it, may we meditate day and night.
By the power of meditation arise the eyes and supernormal perceptions, Sentient beings are ripened and buddha fields are perfectly purified, The aspirations that accomplish the qualities of a buddha are fulfilled. By bringing these three to utmost fruition-
By the power of the compassion of the Victorious Ones of the ten directionsand their sons and daughters, And by the power of all the pure virtue that exists, May the pure aspirations of myself and all sentient beings Be accomplished exactly as we wish.