As I was researching veganism and Buddhism in North America, I came across the Celebrate World Vegetarian Day page at the website for the Guhyasamaja Center. Reading about the event itself made me so happy- an informative and empowering balance of prayer, discussion of scriptural advice concerning meat consumption, samples of vegetarian and vegan food, learning fundamentals of vegetarian cooking and more. I was excited to have the opportunity to pose a few questions to the hosts of the event via email and grateful for the thoughtful and interesting exchange with Venerable Tendrol that followed.
In addition to the following Q & A, we had a dialogue that included me expressing how I find it challenging at times to communicate in appropriate ways with others who may not appear to take well to my viewpoint. Venerable Tendrol responded with a single link she thought might be helpful, an article she had written published in the Washington post regarding suffering, the uncontrolled mind and practices (such as meditation) that can help us cultivate a “muscled and discerning kindness.” In this piece she also refers a specific piece of Animal protection legislation and how advocates working in the realm of animal rights can allow the negative feelings of revulsion that occur when hearing of atrocious abuses to not lead to further drama but rather create an “intelligent effort to create positive change.” Read Venerable Tendrol’s article here: Elephant Walk test the Buddhist principles of a trained mind and inner peace.
Thank you for your time Venerable Tendrol!
Annika: You are one of the hosts for the upcoming World Vegetarian Day celebration at Guhyasamaja Center on October 1, 2016 (this article will be published after that date). The celebration sounds like a very practical and fun way to share about the vegan lifestyle. Is this the first celebration of that kind your center is hosting?
Venerable Tendrol: Yes!!
Annika: Many North American Buddhist Centers were traditionally vegetarian but with the rise of interest in veganism and popularity of plant based diets, more Buddhists are becoming vegans. How do you feel Buddhist centers can play a role in expanding awareness of the compassion inherent in veganism and also practical skills to incorporate in one’s life to ease the path to veganism? What types of tips would you share for other centers who want to play a stronger role in sharing about the vegan lifestlye?
Venerable Tendrol: My guess is that less than 50% of the people who come to our Center are strictly vegetarian. A lot of people have reduced their meat consumption but still eat it occasionally.
As people learn about the karma associated with killing, compassion, and what the Buddha taught about eating animals, they may eventually transition to a vegan diet. This is the best approach. We can emphasize these points in our classes.
• Host events such as our World Vegetarian Day celebration – invite guest speakers from animal rights groups to talk
• Encourage Center social events (potlucks etc.) to only serve vegetarian -> vegan food
• Place an emphasis on hosting animal liberation events or fundraising for the animal sanctuaries, maybe volunteer together at a local animal shelter. All of this may indirectly encourage people to go vegan.
• Educate people on how to cook vegan – for me this is my stumbling block – so maybe make hand-outs available at the Center, or as a resource on the webiste, etc. Educate people on the health, environmental, and other benefits of going vegan
• Have vegan snacks available at weekly Center classes with the recipe (we would need a volunteer to do this)
Annika: What is the relationship of veganism and Buddhism in your life? Were you Buddhist before you were vegan (or vice versa)?
Venerable Tendrol: I stopped eating beef and pork when I was in college and taking classes in Buddhist philosophy. So I’d say around the same time. The combination of bad cafeteria food and the Buddha’s teachings helped steer me away from eating beef and pork. After college I moved to Taiwan for a few years and it was very easy to be vegan there because many of the restaurants are vegan. Then I returned to the U.S. where in some places (e.g., the mid-west, upstate NY) in the 80s and 90s it was difficult to find vegetarian entrees at a restaurant!
Annika: Coming to terms with my own ignorance about the meat and dairy industry and the suffering of the animals in it was traumatic but necessary . Gaining more knowledge was a liberation, as was renouncing those products and committing to a vegan lifestyle. How did the view of suffering affect your decision to become a vegan?
Venerable Tendrol: Absolutely! I watched several of the factory farming exposes on TV many years ago and after that, I lost my appetite for beef and pork – that was about 30 years ago. Then gradually, I stopped eating seafood and finally chicken about 16 years ago. I’m not vegan yet although I am fully aware of the horible suffering associated with milk and egg production. I have transitioned to soy butter and soy milk. Need to find replacements for egg in cooking baked goods and more protein substitues. Have tried to steer away from leather shoes and bags.
Annika: There can be a strong correlation between practice, belief and action for Buddhists who are involved in various issues of justice, acting as agents of change and seeking, in various ways to change hearts and minds. What are your thoughts on mindful advocacy and the relationship between dharma and activism as a vegan (i.e. animal rescue work, sanctuary work, production of media that informs and educates, kitchen activism)?
Venerable Tendrol: Dharma isn’t something that we just read about in books or contemplate in isolation. Rather, Dharma is being of service to others. Period! So yes, there is a very close relationship between practicing the Dharma and activism — and this ranges from social justice to political activism (free Tibet!) to animal rights. Guhyasamaja Center is part of a large parent organization – the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) under the spiritual direction of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. It includes an animal rescue sanctuary in Nepal. Several other Centers in Southeast Asia also have animal rescue sanctuaries. Animal liberation is a core practice — fish, worms, and other animals are set free.
The majority of Lama Zopa’s students are non-Tibetans. There are several Centers and study groups in the U.S. Also, one of the 5 pillars / guiding principles that an FPMT Center is committed to carrying out is community service so that could include animal rights.
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This interview is part of an ongoing project I began in late Summer 2016 to explore the connections between Buddhism & veganism for contemporary practitioners, I began reaching out to several Buddhist centers across North America to see if they had vegans in their community who would be interested to take part in the interview series aspect of this project. For more on this project visit this link.