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Famous Vegetarians - His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama of Tibet (1935- ) ??

As of May 15, 2007, it seems that the Dalai Lama in NOT vegetarian - again.... he was served veal at a meal in Madison, WI, USA. See

In 2004 it seems he was vegetarian - again. . .. (see- article from BBC News - suggesting that he was supporting Veg*ism again at that time, but his personal diet was not made clear). He was certainly vegetarian for a while in 1967, but then was not for a long time....,

The following was received on April 20, 2001: I have had the privilege of being a Buddhist student of His Holiness and he stated that on doctor's orders he does eat meat every other day. He does not eat much as it is against the precepts but he has been working on being vegan. - Kelly, California

A rather different accout appears in the extract below from 'Olga - the memoirs of Olga La Marquise de St. Innocent' published in 1974. Olga was the wife of Woodland Kahler, President of IVU from 1960-71:

[this item refers to 1960] Before the Victoria landed in Bombay we got a cable from the secretary general of the Bombay Humanitarian League [Jay Mankar], saying the Dalai Lama wanted to see us.

Upon our arrival in Bombay, Woody [Woodland Kahler] immediately arranged for our trip to see His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, who had been forced out of Tibet the previous year [1959] and was now in exile at Dharamsala in northern India near the border of Kashmir.

[the journey is described in some detail] Presently His Holiness came in with several monks, among them his private secretary who spoke very good English. His Holiness understood English but did not speak it. We had a long and interesting conversation. We talked directly to the Dalai Lama and his responses were translated by the private secretary. At that time the Dalai Lama was a young good-looking man, only twenty-five years old. He wore an orange coloured robe and one of his shoulders was bare. Woody and I each had on three or four sweaters, and we still felt cold. But soon we were served hot tea and cookies which warmed us up nicely.

His Holiness had become a vegetarian, and that was why he had invited Woody to Dharamsala. He wanted to know what to eat in order to keep healthy in a cold country. He was the first Dalai Lama in thousands of years to become a vegetarian. There were very few vegetarians in in the cold Himalayas of Tibet, although they were almost all Buddhists. His Holiness had become a vegetarian since his arrival in India out of gratitude to the Indian people who had befriended him and sixty thousand other Tibetan refugees. Woody knew all the proper vegetarian answers, and from there we went on to talk about Buddhism and the Chinese. [the item comcludes with description of other discussions].

- the following summary should help to clarify the situation.

Despite common Western beliefs, Tibetans, including Tibetan monks, are generally not vegetarian. There is an argument that the high cold mountain region makes it impracticable to grow sufficient plant food, which readers will have to judge for themselves. Apparently there is a tradition of praying for animals before they are slaughtered and not taking any more than are necessary, similar to stories that have been told about Native Americans.

In the mid 1960s the Dalai Lama was in Kerala, Southern India, where a high proportion of the local population have always been vegetarian. Their tradition, as with other parts of India, is of lacto-vegetarianism, using a modest amount of milk products (but not eggs). Whilst there the Dalai Lama had decided to become vegetarian but at this time lived on a bizarre diet consisting entirely of milk and nuts. If this is true, and it seems to be well documented, it would have been an extremely high fat and very unhealthy diet by any standards. After 18 months he became very ill and his doctors, unsurprisingly, blamed it on the lack of meat rather than advising a better balanced vegetarian diet. He was persuaded to return to meat-eating and has done so ever since.

Meanwhile in November 1967, during the Dalai Lama's brief vegetarian period, the IVU held its bi-annual World Vegetarian Congress in India, only the second time outside of Europe since the congresses started in 1908. The Dalai Lama gave a speech at the opening ceremony - a report in The British Vegetarian, Jan/Feb 1998, included the following:

18th November. An impressive inauguration was held at the Mavlankar Auditorium in Delhi and the Patron-in-Chief, His Holiness The Dalai Lama, gave his blessing. He paid tribute to the I.V.U. and the Congress Organisers for their commendable efforts to popularise the vegetarian way of life as a forerunner of universal peace and the brotherhood of all created beings: and said that when there are so many substitutes for meat he could not see any reason why animals should be slaughtered for human diet. There is no justification for such brutality.

Left to right: Smt Rukmini Devi Arundale, Shri Morarji Desai (Deputy Prime Minister of India), His Holiness The Dali Lama, Shri J.N.Mankar and Shri S.M.Mehta. Innauguration of the XIXth International Vegetarian Congress, Mavlankar Hall, New Delhi, India. November 18th, 1967.

His Holiness The Dalai Lama at the Congress

IVU Congress Food Fair
Tibetans at their stall in Delhi at the Food Fair after the Dalai Lama had opened the Congress.

Later, in 1985, an extended version of the above speech, taken from the Congress booklet The Vegetarian Way, was quote by Jon Wynne-Tyson in his book 'The Extended Circle' - unfortunately without the background story explaining the context of the quotes. The book is a collection of quotes from throughout history, many of which have since been used in huge variety of other publications. The lack of context has caused considerable confusion, made worse as subsequent uses of the quote have often not given the date, making it appear more recent. Wynne-Tyson quoted:

I do not see any reason why animals should be slaughtered to serve as human diet when there are so many substitutes. After all, man can live without meat. It is only some carnivorous animals that have to subsist on flesh. Killing animals for sport, for pleasure, for adventures, and for hides and furs is a phenomenon which is at once disgusting and distressing. There is no justification in indulging in such acts of brutality.

In our approach to life, be it pragmatic or otherwise, the ultimate truth that confronts us squarely and unmistakably is the desire for peace, security and happiness. Different forms of life in different aspects of existence make up the teeming denizens of this earth of ours. And, no matter whether they belong to the higher group as human beings or to the lower group, the animals, all beings primarily seek peace, comfort and security. Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to a man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not to die, so do other creatures.

- The Vegetarian Way, 19th World Vegetarian Congress 1967



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