My name is Thupten Phelgye. People call me Geshe-lak Phelgye here. I am a Tibetan Buddhist monk and I come from Serge Monastery in south India.
And I've been working on promoting vegetarianism and veganism, beginning from my monastery, through Tibetan society and worldwide.
The idea of universal compassion is that compassion is not something that belongs to the humans only. Compassion is universal.
All sentient beings, animals, bugs, those millions of types of those living in the ocean, in the water, are all included in the family of sentient beings.
They all deserve compassionate treatment.
So, it is to promote universal compassion to all sentient beings.
Buddhists realize that all lives are equal in terms of wanting peace and happiness, not wanting pain and suffering.
We are all the same sentient beings.
Just we have a different form of life, but in terms of living the life, it's the same, humans and all the animals, the same desire and right to live in peace and happiness.
So, we do not particularly say 'I love this and I do not love that.'
Love and compassion are for all equally, like ourselves, because our experiences are the same.
We humans, and animals, the birds, whatever life, we all experience the same.
When we have good time, we enjoy. When we have pain and suffering, we suffer. The same thing. Even from the insects, we all have the same desire of peace and happiness and we all have the same sense of not wanting pain and suffering, trying to protect ourselves from all kinds of harms from around.
It's quite clear, the way we all love peace and happiness. They deserve the same treatment and we are supposed to treat all with love and compassion.
There are many different quotes of the [inaudible] Buddha talking about different lives and not eating meat.
One of the very strong statements that Buddha had is, "I condemn meat eating in all means. I have never approved of meat eating. I will never approve of meat eating and I do not approve of meat eating for my followers, for all sentient beings are equal to me like my only son."
As Buddhists, we should have been vegetarians, but unfortunately, in our culture, in Tibet, because of the situation, altitude and all that, we ate meat. Without thinking, all monasteries and lay alike, people just lived on mainly meat, because the majority of Tibet, up in the northern and eastern side were nomads and all they had was animals, so their life was all about animals. So that was the unfortunate part about our culture.
As a child, I grew up with the same lifestyle, and then when I got into the monastery, we still had the same lifestyle. I had questions in my head, but, the whole culture, you know, lived in that lifestyle. I didn't have a clue of otherwise, but it was in 1984, I was taking some sick monks to the hospital. On the way, some of my friends asked me if I could buy some meat for him, because he was also sick, and I said, "Of course, I will." And then he said, "If you could go to the slaughterhouse early in the morning you will get fresh meat, the best meat." I said, "Of course, I'll do that."
So the next morning, I went to the slaughterhouse, the local Indian slaughterhouse and I was a little too early getting there, and this little slaughterhouse was just opened, and they were actually starting to slaughter the animals. Each little animal, the butchers and animals were actually wrestling back and forth and that's like the first time for me to see how animals are slaughtered. I realized the meat, the dishes that we eat without thinking, how painful and suffering to these voiceless animals, and I felt very helpless, very painful, seeing the reality behind our lifestyle.
I was crying. At the same time, I made a vow for the dying animals, "Okay, I have to do something for this. I will be your voice. I will speak for you."
So I came home. I went to the monastery library. I actually. one by one, pulled down, the original Buddhist teachings, the canons that we have translated from Sanskrit and Pali and I looked into [them] and I found how the Buddha had strongly condemned meat eating, obviously.
Normally, people have no idea what animals go through. It will only be realized when you get to see what actually happens in the slaughterhouses. Until then, you wouldn't realize. And when you see that, actually, you will feel if is really appropriate to eat them. It's really horrifying. Certain slaughterhouses have, like, the entire animals that they are supposed to slaughter for the day are standing in a corner out there and one by another being slaughtered in front, by the rest of the animals, and you can imagine how terrifying that experience would be. Just imagine yourself being out there and all your friends and colleagues are being slaughtered and you are in the line, just, you know, a step away from that terrifying thing.
According to most religions, talk about Hell, the most horrifying realm. But I can't imagine there is something more horrifying and painful than so-called Hell than those horrifying experiences when you are lined up in the slaughterhouse. It's just heartbreaking. So we need to actually see those things so that how we humans are actually causing so much trouble to other fellow sentient beings.
So, then it totally makes sense that as a Buddhist, when you take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, one of the principles by taking refuge in Dharma, is not harming other beings, not causing harm to other beings. That is the number one key principle that you are taking, by taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. But people are not really very serious about those things, kind of ignore it, in a way, and just eat, meat, and all that kind of thing.
So I started to bring awareness, writing in local newspapers and magazines and whatever way I could approach through, I tried to bring awareness about the pain and suffering of animals, and teachings of Buddha and good things about being vegetarian, and all this kind of thing. I've been working for and ever since.
And, obviously, I ran into many problems, because, when talking about vegetarianism, meaning that you are kind of going against your culture, 99% of people in your culture are meat eaters, and nobody really likes what I have to say, even though what I'm saying is the truth.
People have no argument to deny the truth, but then they don't like it. You know, they feel guilty about their lifestyle. I've run into many problems but I did not give up, I kept going whatever way I could, trying not too much to offend people but trying to get the message out.
Until 1996, I guess it was 1996, when I thought it is time for me, actually, to bring this issue up to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and I asked for a private audience with His Holiness for this, for my work, for my movement. And His Holiness the Dalai Lama was so very pleased about my work and he really appreciated, and he encouraged me to carry on. And he said, "Of course, I'm with you. My blessings are with you."
And that's when I got really encouraged and I felt more determined to openly come and speak forth. And then, yes, you will notice from there on, His Holiness has been speaking about vegetarianism or compassion to animals, more openly, more often in his speeches and teachings in the public. And that's like the biggest move that took place in our culture. People started to take it seriously when His Holiness spoke about it.
For the Buddhist community, my brothers and sisters, my appeal for you is that since we took refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and we took the basic principles of not killing, not stealing, not engaging in sexual misconduct, including [no] alcohol, not lying obviously. From among them, Number One is not killing. In terms of not killing, it does not necessarily mean that you go kill, but there's also causing the killing. Which means, when you eat other animals, you are the cause of that killing.
So, my appeal to you is try to learn about a vegetarian lifestyle. Try to learn about a vegan lifestyle, which is a very healthier more compassionate lifestyle. So, please try that because we have taken some certain principles, before the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and if we don't follow our principles, then we are just a name, 'Buddhist.' So try to live your belief, try to live your faith, and try to put Dharma into your practice. Thank you.
Venerable Geshe Thupten Phelgye
Directed by Keegan Kuhn
Music by xTrue Naturex
Filmed at Animal Place, a sanctuary for farmed animals