Food of Bodhisattvas by Shabkar

Shabkar. Food of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings on Abstaining From Meat. Transl . by the Padmakara Translation Group. Boston, Mass.: Shambhala, 2004. Paperback, xi + 144 pp.

I confess I have always been puzzled by the fact that Tibetan Buddhist monastics, including the Dalai Lama, are in the habit of consuming meat. I can excuse this omnivorous practice in Tibet itself, which does not have the climate for growing all the ingredients of a balanced Vegetarian diet. But why do the monastics of the Tibetan diaspora continue to eat meat regularly when alternative sources of vital nutrients are readily available certainly in the West?

I perceive a discrepancy between the non-Vegetarian diet of the Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns and their solemn vow to tread the bodhisattva path of nonharming and benefiting all sentient beings.

Finally, there is a book that looks at this issue from the viewpoint of one of the great Tibetan yogis, Shabkar, who lived and taught in the nineteenth century. The translated exerpts from two of his works clearly explain why meat eating has no merit. Shabkar quotes from the classic Lankavatara-Sutra, which states that “the smell of meat is no different from the stink of corpses.”

Noble folk, we learn from the same Sanskrit scripture, abstain from meat because it is neither wholesome nor meritorious. Not least, its production is attendant with much suffering to animals.

Shabkar, for whom the teachings of Mahayana supersede those of the Pali canon, dismisses those passages of the Hinayana scriptures that appear to allow the consumption of meat as unapplicable to practitioners of the bodhisattva path. He was an uncompromising idealist, and while he tolerated meat eating among his thousands of disciples, he was thrilled at the several hundred who abstained from this habit.

I can heartily recommend this long-overdue book to anyone who is serious about the bodhisattva perspective, which asks us to regard each being as one’s mother.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
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