As I was beginning research for a project to explore the connections between Buddhism and veganism for contemporary practitioners, I came across the Celebrate World Vegetarian Day page at the website for the Guhyasamaja Center.  I was excited to have the opportunity to pose a few questions to both hosts- Venerable Tendrol and Victoria Foote Blackman. At the outset of my communication with Victoria, she  remarked that the project sounds thoughtful, noting that “the issue of veganism and Buddhism is complex, though evolving.” It is precisely from exchanges like this one with Victoria below that, I feel, an understanding of how vegan ethics and a Buddhist viewpoint can be seen to have a profoundly natural synergy and expression in daily life.
Thank you for your time Victoria!
Annika: What inspired you to host the upcoming vegan/vegetarian event at the Guhyasamaja Center?

Victoria: Tendrol proposed helping them to do something interesting on World Vegetarian Day because she knew I was vegan.  I had been going to the Guhyasamaja Center to study the Dharma for several months, but then moved to Silver Spring so I go much less frequently. But I really appreciate what they are doing so was very happy to help them, and of course to help the cause of redressing the immense suffering of animals.

Annika: What type of work do you do within animal advocacy?

Victoria: Currently I write translations for French animal rights organizations I used to militate with in France. But I also participate in marches, and protests at embassies, or slaughterhouses.  And I spend a certain amount of time leafleting.  I am also the founder and organizer of Vegans of Fairfax, a meetup for vegans and vegetarians living and working in and around Fairfax County.  

Annika: How has vegan ethics and lifestyle influenced your interest in Buddhism  (or vice versa)?

Victoria: Veganism, and the death of my father last December, led me to Buddhism. My brother is a long-time practitioner and dharma teacher for a Kagyu center in New York State. While taking care of my dying father I read a passage from a book in my brother’s vast library of Indian philosophy and Buddhism. In “The Sutra of the Wise and Foolish” Shakyamuni describes sacrificing his body to nourish a starving mother tiger and her cubs, and in some ways even more extravagant, when asked why he would do such a thing he explained that he had helped the tiger in an earlier life and so it was natural to help her in this next one.  The Buddha’s spirit of compassion for this fearsome but desperate animal, and his self-sacrifice for her on two occasions, startled my Western thinking. Then I started reading a lot and meditating and the whole process was transformative. Though there are indeed many Buddhists who still eat meat, many do not and for me extracts from the Mahayana Sutras, and even parts of the Pali Canon make it clear that the Buddha believed in compassion for all living beings, not just other humans. I am interested in several Buddhist traditions, especially the Mahayana, and deeply moved by the commitment of monks like Thich Nhat Hanh and Matthieu Ricard to work so hard for the liberation of animals from their extreme suffering. For me, being vegan is a moral baseline, but I am pleased when people diminish their animal product consumption or become vegetarian. Everything is a help; every gesture counts.

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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

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