Ven. Geshe Thubten Soepa: Section Two: Question and Answer
The Udamwara Lotus Flower. Protecting the Life of Helpless Beings. Statements from Sutra Relating to Eating Meat.
The above booklet about eating meat was read through, cover to cover, by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. He told me: “It is well written. It would be nice if more equally useful texts were written for people to read”. I cannot express how pleased I was at these words. I would like to complement my composition by a few questions and answers concerning the topic.
Question: Don’t you need some meat for the sacrificial tsog ceremony? What do you do about that?
Geshe Thubten Soepa: In Dza Patrul Rimpoche’s lam-rim text it says: To that end it is appropriate to use meat from an animal that has not been slaughtered for eating. However, if you introduce meat that does not conform to this requirement into the mandala of offerings, all the deities and wisdom beings will vanish, that is what Gampopa said.
In the autobiography of the siddha Kunleg you will find the statement: “Now, when you make offerings, you should bear in mind the following points concerning the recipient of the offerings, the offerings themselves and your motivation: Each of the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) is fit as a recipient for the offering. The object to be offered should not be associated with theft, violent appropriation or killing and the motivation should consist in the aspiration to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. Offerings made in a different manner with masses of meat and alcohol are found among the earlier non-Buddhist religions, but not among Buddhists.”
The Dalai Lama’s statements regarding this point have already been presented above.
Question: What is the right approach to the so-called meat and blood tormas in protector rituals?
Geshe Thubten Soepa: That is evident from Patrul Rimpoche’s lam-rim text. It describes the protest of Guru Rimpoche, Shantarakshita and all the pundits contemporary with the Dharma King Trisong Detsen, at the Tibetan practice of sacrificing meat and blood according to the Bonpo custom: ‘If you continue this custom we shall go back to India’, they said. They stopped partaking of food and refused to give any more teachings.
It follows that these so-called meat and blood tormas should not be made up of real meat and blood. If you really make offerings of meat and blood, no deities and wisdom beings will come. You will only attract ghosts. As they feast on such offerings, they may become friendly and bring you short term benefits. If you then fail to continue giving them meat and blood, they will harm you. However, if you go on making offerings of meat and blood, you will be reborn among such ghosts or you will find yourself among wolves and birds of prey. That is what Patrul Rimpoche said about this topic.
These so-called meat and blood tormas symbolize the ignorance, harmful intent, selfishness and self interest in one’s own mind and that of others. These characteristics are meant to be visualised as tormas and offered in this form—not as external substances made up of real meat. The meaning of the secret mantra is not to be taken literally. It only opens up through an understanding of the six alternatives and four modes of explaining vajra expressions.
Question: How about offerings of the five kinds of meat and nectar mentioned in the texts of highest yoga tantra?
Geshe Thubten Soepa: A yogi practising highest yoga tantra needs some kind of realisation substance for giving up dualistic concepts of pure and impure. As Patrul Rimpoche makes clear in his lam-rim, this also requires meat from an animal that has died a natural death and rather than having been slaughtered. As a matter of fact this is not meant for people who carelessly indulge their craving for meat, but exclusively for yogis who can transform the five kinds of meat such as dog meat and human flesh as well as the five substances like feces and urine into nectar through the power of concentration. It is not meant for people like you and me.
Question: Are you suggesting that someone who has received empowerments for Highest Yoga Tantra should not offer meat and alcohol as part of a tsog offering practice?
Geshe Thubten Soepa: Many lamas do not really care and offer meat. However, some more considerate ones only offer meat of animals that have died from natural causes. During a teaching he gave in Bodhgaya, His Holiness stated that it is not nice if thousands of monks come together for tsog practice offering huge amounts of meat. Instead they should offer tea, water, fruit juice, coca cola and the like. Furthermore, Lama Atisha, during his stay in Tibet, used to offer molasses or honey instead of meat and milk or yoghurt instead of alcohol. Apart from that I found a quotation to the effect that Go Lotsawa was extremely pleased that many other masters i.e. Drigung Jigten Gonpo, Drigung Chenga Rimpoche, Taglung Tangpa, Pagmo Tugpa, Togme Sangpo41 used to substitute molasses or honey for meat and milk or molasses for alcohol.
Question: Is it true that offering meat to a monk results in merit being accumulated and that there is a benefit for the dead animal?
Geshe Thubten Soepa: Gelug Shamar Pandita, tutor of the 13th Dalai Lama, said in his lam-rim text: “some people of blind faith think it is beneficial to slaughter sheep and goats for the soup of monks or the food of gurus, however, in fact it is a grave harmful act due to confusion and wrong views and it is important to be clear about this.” He goes on to say in his lam-rim: “To buddhas each and every living being is as valuable as if it were their own child and to all beings, life is the most important thing. You, who dare inflict unbearable pain on such beings out of greed for a mouthful of meat, you think of yourselves as followers of the Buddha and call yourselves lamas and monks! Shame on you! You should judge yourselves harshly.”
Question: Monks and nuns have to accept meat that benefactors give them, don’t they? After all it says that you should eat whatever you are given when going on your alms round.
Geshe Thubten Soepa: In Panchen Deleg Nyima’s commentary on the Vinaya it says: If a monk is offered meat dishes by a donor on his alms-round, he should ask whether or not the meat has been obtained through killing. And in the commentary on the Vinaya called Rays of the Sun: “You have to ask whether or not the offering has been obtained through an action against the rules.” Numerous Vinaya scriptures point out that you should make sure the gift that is being offered does not contradict the rules of monastic discipline. They also mention 20 types of meat and other foods that must not be eaten at all, even though the creature may have died a natural death, for instance human flesh, the meat of monkeys or that of vultures.
Therefore, if in doubt about the origin of meat, you should definitely ask and decline anything inappropriate. Even if the gift is appropriate, it is important to ask whether eating or drinking it may have any drawbacks or deleterious effects on one’s health, for instance, if you are diabetic, whether it contains any sugar etc.
Apart from that, offering food containing meat constitutes impure giving: In the Sutra to Rishi Gyepa Buddha Shakyamuni taught about how the 32 types of impure giving should be abandoned and how to perform correct giving. Impure giving is divided into four categories: impure with regard to the motivation, the object given, the recipient of the gift and the manner in which it is given. In this sutra, giving meat originating from killed animals, alcohol offered to the careless, as well as weapons, poison and the like are enumerated as cases of impure giving with regard to the object.
Question: In Buddhism eating meat is allowed as the Buddha himself ate meat: The cause of his death was eating poisoned pork that an evil-doer had given him.
Geshe Thubten Soepa: This story circulates, however, looking at statements contained in the authentic scriptures it does not seem very plausible. As far as I know there is no reliable source for it. On the other hand indications that the Buddha rejected meat can clearly be substantiated with the above passages from the Lankavatara Sutra, the sutra Vinaya Foundations of Medicine and the Angulimala Sutra.
The reason why the Buddha could not easily be harmed by poison is that he did not manifest himself in an ordinary aspect. He appeared in the aspect of a buddha, both in essence and in his individual characteristics, which is why poison could not have harmed him. In the Kangyur we find a story where the householder Pelbe, belonging to a different religious group, offered poisoned meat to the Buddha, thinking he was not clairvoyant as he ate it. However, as the poison did not have any effect on the Buddha he deeply regretted his deed and confessed it. Afterwards he became a monk and attained arhatship.
There are also accounts in the sutras about how Devadatta set a wild, maddened elephant on the Buddha in order to kill him, but did not manage to do so, about how he shot at him with a sling-shot, but could not do him any harm. If the Buddha had indeed been as easy to kill as a normal being, dying from swallowing poison, I think he would have hardly been able to manifest one of his 12 deeds, such as the taming of Mara.
Apart from that the Hinayana presentation of the Vaibhashika abhidharma also deals with the 18 extraordinary qualities—exclusive features of a buddha’s body, speech and mind—and the 43 additional ones shared with arhats and pratyekabuddhas which include the 10 powers as qualities of the mind. In this context, the term “power” implies that whoever possesses it cannot be harmed by anything and that, on the contrary, such a person will overcome everything. The Buddha could not be harmed by either mental afflictions or the four Maras and the like.
As for his ability to overcome adversity, Vasubandhu makes clear in the seventh chapter of his Treasury of Knowledge that the Buddha’s powers over the physical realm arise from his mental powers and correspond to them. Consequently, poison cannot do any harm to the body of a buddha. Furthermore, in the Mahayana texts we find presentations regarding the attainment of the vajra body42 from the eighth bodhisattva ground and descriptions of the vajra body itself in the mantra system. The story about harm through poison does not take all these qualities of a buddha into account. In the Buddhist scriptures of sutra and tantra, eating meat of animals that have been killed especially is rejected. If you have eaten such meat, you should try to purify the harmful effect.
Question: Is food that contains meat suitable for offerings or not?
Geshe Thubten Soepa: If it is the meat of slaughtered animals it is not. If you offer meat that has been obtained through killing, you will be hard put to give a reason for not calling this a “red sacrifice”.43 As we learn from both sutras44 and commentaries, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all those whose nature is compassion are filled with sorrow rather than joy at such sacrifices. Therefore, instead of reciting the offering prayer before eating food containing slaughtered meat, it would be better to recite the Akshobya mantra or other mantras such as om mani padme hum and blow on the meat, as this might bring about a little bit of benefit.
And try to find methods for redressing the harm caused by eating meat. The best means of purifying it is to save the life of animals. We should strive to employ any available means to benefit beings, we should pray for that intention and do anything else we possibly can.
Two points should be considered over and over again: 1) the difficulty of redressing the negative action of taking the life and meat of others and 2) the fact that this is not a law that has been decreed by anyone, but a natural process of cause and effect. It really is of great benefit to realise this and reach a point where, moved by compassion, one gives up eating meat, liberates beings and saves their lives.45
May the life of His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso, be long. May this cause peace to spread on earth, the harmonious practice of all religions to be strengthened, the difficulties between Tibet and China to be resolved peacefully and the Buddhist teachings to bring universal benefit. May love and compassion grow. May all masters and holy beings of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana have a long life and see the fruition of all their endeavours. In particular, may Lama Zopa Rimpoche, spiritual director of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, live long and achieve all his goals, such as the successful completion of the Maitreya Project. May all sentient beings be freed from the suffering of being killed.
41. ‘bri gung ‘jig rten mgon po, ‘bri gung spyan snga rin po che, stag lung thang pa, phag mo gru pa and thogs med bzang po.[Return to text]
42. The term “vajra body” is used both in the general Mahayana and in the Vajrayana, but with different meaning: In the Vajrayana it signifies the inseparability of body, speech and mind, a meaning that is not implied by the general Mahayana (sutra system).
43. Blood sacrifice which involves the killing of animals—not accepted in Buddhism.
44. I.e. the Lankavatara and Angulimala sutras.
45. Liberating beings is of the greatest benefit because it results in the purification of negativities due to eating meat and the accumulation of karma for a long life in good health.