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News 160, Vegetarian Era

Vegetarian Awakening in the Himalayas


By the Florida News Group, USA
(Originally in English)

In recent years many influential Tibetans have become vegetarians and have been encouraging others to do so as well. The following is a brief account of their activities.

Dalai Lama


On April 5, 2005, the Dalai Lama made the following statement before an assembly of Tibetan leaders: “Lately I have turned to a vegetarian diet. Today’s youth, particularly the ones who have come from Tibet and have a refugee status must inculcate these principles for their own development and to have peace of mind. The message from mahakaruna [Sanskrit: ‘great compassion’] has clearly asked us to follow and preach love and compassion for all living beings.” The Dalai Lama’s noble action is an inspiration to people around the world and is especially admirable because he changed his diet at the age of seventy. Actually, he had wished to be vegetarian from an early age but was hindered by the curious beliefs of his personal physicians.

Nowadays, however, Tibetan doctors increasingly recognize the benefits of vegetarianism, including Dr. Tenzin Tsephal, Director of Tibetan Medicine in one of the main Tibetan expatriate settlements, who states, “It is not necessary for [the Dalai Lama] to eat meat. I would never prescribe someone to start eating meat again. The Tibetan doctors who do so are a bit old-fashioned and aren’t aware [of] or open to the alternatives to eating meat. I think all Tibetans can and should stop eating meat.”

In 2004, Kentucky Fried Chicken announced plans to open chicken restaurants in Tibet, and in response the Dalai Lama issued the following public appeal: “On behalf of my friends at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), I am writing to ask that KFC abandon its plan to open restaurants in Tibet because your corporation’s support for cruelty and mass slaughter violate Tibetan values.” Thereafter, the KFC management abandoned its plans.

Before this event, the Dailai Lama had conducted many other vegetarian campaigns. For example, in 1993, he asked restaurants in Dharamsala, India, home of the world’s largest Tibetan exile community, to become vegetarian so that Tibetans could experience delicious vegetarian food and learn how to stop eating meat. As a result, several local residents became vegetarian, and because of these restaurants vegetarian foods such as tofu have become known to the Tibetan public.

Another Tibetan Vegetarian Pioneer


Another true vegetarian hero from Tibet is the monk Geshe Thupten Phelgye, who, after practicing in retreat for several years, founded the Universal Compassion Movement, ( in 1998. The Movement promotes vegetarianism and compassion for all sentient beings through various means, including distributing vegetarian flyers around Dharamsala.

In 1999, Phelgye was elected president of the International Gelug Society, which represents the major monastic tradition in Tibet, and managed to pass a resolution that all residents of Gelug monasteries and nunneries become vegetarian. The following year, the Gelug monks elected him their representative in the Tibetan Parliament In-Exile in Dharamsala, where he proposed a historic law declaring 2004 the Tibetan Vegetarian Year, during which all Tibetans would be required to be vegetarian. The Parliament subsequently passed the law, whereby vegetarianism was encouraged but not enforced, bringing vegetarianism to the forefront of Tibetans’ minds. This ruling may be considered the greatest such law since the Ashokan Edict of 200 B.C., which established vegetarianism in India.

The New Generation of Tibetan Vegetarian Advocates

In a 2004 Times of Tibet editorial, Bhuchung K. Tsering, director of the International Campaign for Tibet in Washington, D.C., discussed the new trend toward vegetarianism among Tibetans as follows:

The issue of meat eating has been a matter of public discussion in the Tibetan community in recent times. A subtle change in the Tibetan people’s mindset has taken place [as] comparatively younger Tibetans are opting for a vegetarian diet today. Even among the older generation there are efforts to change the age-old meat-eating habit.

One of the most dynamic of the young Tibetan vegetarian advocates is Rapsel Tsariwa, founder of Tibetan Volunteers for Animals. In early 2005, with the help of two friends and the financial assistance of the Dalai Lama, Mr. Tsariwa launched the “All India Vegetarian Tour,” during which he has traveled to remote Tibetan communities across India delivering speeches and showing documentary films about vegetarianism. During the Tour, many Tibetans and Western Buddhists have turned to vegetarianism on the spot, with 700 committing to a vegetarian diet by signing a document. In addition, Mr. Tsariwa launched Semchen, the first official vegetarian magazine in both the English and Tibetan languages. When someone recently suggested he take a break, he responded, “Time is running out; we have to save the animals now.”

Another inspiring young Tibetan is Tenzin Kunga Luding, who became a vegetarian at the age of ten after hearing about the suffering of cows used for meat. With his father’s help, he founded Tibetans for a Vegetarian Society (T4VS). Tenzin spends much of his time rescuing stray animals and hopes to purchase land in Delhi for an animal rescue and rehabilitation center.

The main mission of T4VS is to spread vegetarianism “by every possible means.” Tenzin has conceived a variety of ingenious ways to reach people, using pamphlets, stickers, posters, news articles and VCDs. T4VS is currently developing a website,, and producing a new VCD featuring footage of respected high lamas discussing vegetarianism, all with Tenzin’s own money and a small cash donation from the private office of the Dalai Lama. With regard to the Dalai Lama’s contribution, Tenzin said proudly, “His Holiness is the first Dalai Lama who is the Patron-in-Chief of the first Tibetan vegetarian and vegan organization. This is a landmark in our Tibetan history.”

Also, in recognition of Tibetan Vegetarian Year, T4VS recently held a rock music tour, which in Tenzin’s words was designed “to propagate love and compassion toward all, including meat-eaters. Vegetarians, non-vegetarians, Buddhist and non-Buddhists—everyone is welcome to join and support us.” This positive attitude, which is reflective of the entire T4VS tour, has attracted many non-vegetarians. Now Tenzin looks forward to working with other groups to promote the vegetarian lifestyle.

The Barefoot Yogi


Ninety-three year old yogi Chatral Rinpoche, a meditation master of the Nyingma school, Tibet’s oldest Buddhist tradition, has spent much of his life living alone in caves and wandering barefoot in the Himalayas. Regarding vegetarianism among his peers Chatral says, “[In] my experience I have come across many lamas in Kham, Amdo—all parts of Tibet—who don’t eat meat.” And to promote the vegetarian lifestyle the lama wrote On Flesh Eating, in which he states, “Knowing all the faults of meat and alcohol, I have made a commitment to give up meat and alcohol. I have also declared this moral to all my monasteries. Therefore, anyone who listens to me is requested not to break this Dharmic moral.”

And with respect to the myth that Tibetan Buddhists can transform the meat of animals they are about to eat into energy to liberate the animals and thus reach higher levels of enlightenment, he says:

“With supernatural power gained through certain meditations, it is true there are some who can revive animals from the dead and help them reach 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. I would be committing sin and getting negative karma. I don’t pretend as if I have some powers and eat meat. I just avoid it altogether.”

A Present-Day Milarepa


Drubwang Rinpoche, a meditation master from the Kagyu lineage of Milarepa, also spent many years in retreat and now teaches people to live a pure vegetarian life and meditate on holy names. At one retreat conducted by Lama Drubwang, seventy people vowed to become vegetarians, and after he visited several villages in Ladakh the residents promised to close their meat markets for one day a week. Regarding the basis for becoming vegetarian Drubwang states, “If one has strong determination, one [will] avoid doing evil deeds at all costs and under any circumstances. We certainly face difficulties in becoming full vegetarians. However, when such obstacles arise, we should remember how every sentient being had at one point or another been our parents.”


The cases of the noble Tibetan vegetarians discussed above reveal that humankind’s consciousness has indeed been uplifted. These righteous individuals are wisely changing a thousand-year long tradition, thus demonstrating that the Vegetarian Era is imminent.

For more information about Tibetan Buddhism and vegetarianism, please visit: or


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