Wednesday, April 1, 2015


The 17th Karmapa challenges us to practice an engaged Buddhism with a global community based on compassion, love, and justice. Below are some of his writings on vegetarianism, environmentalism and compassion.

Editors' Introduction to "The Heart is Noble": Even as the Karmapa calls on us to build the world we want to inhabit, he consistently reminds us that renovation work actually starts within. He traces the very real problems we see in the world - including rampant consumerism, religious intolerance, world hunger, oppression of women, and the degredation of the environment - to destructive emotions and habitual attitudes such as greed, anger, and selfishness. In this way, he points out that real social transformation is only possible when it includes personal transformation.

We may come to this book wanting to learn how to change the world, but we soon come to see that the change begins with ourselves - our attitudes, aspirations, and our emotional responses to the problems we wish to address. While the Karmapa strongly affirms the value of our wish to work for a greater collective good, he gently but consistently shifts us away from a purely outward orientation. In order to be most effective in our work in the world, we need to be willing to look within.

Excerpts from The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out by The Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje

As we look for ways to enact our vision of a more compassionate society, one area crying out for attention is our treatment of our natural environment. Protecting the environment that we all rely on for survival is an immediate way to care for all beings.

We have seen that the global culture of consumerism that has been so devastating to our planet stems from an emotional force that creeps into human hearts - the force of greed. In that and other ways, human attitudes and feelings are causing large-scale destruction of our physical environment. Therefore our efforts to protect the environment are best effected by making changes to our attitudes and feeling.

In recent years, we have gained a great deal of information about the impact of our actions on the environment. We humans beings have tremendous intelligence, but it is clear that there remains a big gap between the brain and the heart.

There are ways of thinking about the earth that go beyond just acquiring knowledge, and actually lead us to feel deeply for our physical environment. A sense of wonder and appreciation of the earth's beauty is a helpful place to start in developing strong feelings about the environment. I found great affinities between the study of the environment and Buddhism. Each helped deepen my understanding of the other; each enlivened my feeling for the other.

I have noticed that sometimes people speak of our planet as a thing. This attitude will not lead to the feelings of closeness and affection that would move us to take care of the earth. As we know, the earth is not a dead rock floating in space. It is a living system, in itself as a whole and in each and every part. I do not see the earth as an inanimate object - a lump of stone. I think of it as being alive. Sitting on the earth, I feel that I am resting on my mother's lap. It is thanks to her that everything exists. In this way, we could easily think of the earth as a goddess - a living, breathing, and constantly living goddess.

Compassion is central to environmental protection because it moves us to act to cherish and care for others. Caring for the environment is an important way to care for all beings that depend on it for their existence. Compassion involves more than simply knowing about a difficult situation.


Even witnessing pain directly does not necessarily prompt a reaction of compassion. I observed this for myself once while watching a documentary in which animals were being hung upside down to be slaughtered. As their throats were cut, blood spurted out and their legs jerked in terror and pain. It was extremely hard to watch - unbearable, really. But as the butchers sawed through the animals' necks to deprive them of life, the men were laughing and joking.

They could obviously see the animals' painful movements and hear their cries - the suffering was visible and audible - but they did not seem to recognize that these were signs of terrible pain. And even if the butchers did see that they were inflicting pain, the animals' suffering didn't amount to anything. They treated it as if they were watching a show.

In fact, some people even kill animals as a form of recreation. Hunting is considered a sport in some cultures, isn't it? Some people seem to believe it is courageous to kill animals. Unfortunately, nowadays we have developed the wrong kind of fearlessness - fearlessness in harming others. At some point, this "courage" in harming others is bound to turn on us. As people become habituated to taking the lives of animals with no thought for the pain they are causing, in the end it becomes easy to harm and kill humans. Even the pain of our fellow human beings can cease to catch our attention.

The real courage that comes from compassion is very far from this. When compassion is present, we do not overlook others' pain. Rather, there is a sense of urgency to end that pain, as if a fire has just been lit underneath you. When you have such compassion, as soon as you see suffering, you wish to jump up and act to end it at once. You have no fear and no hesitation in taking on the suffering of other people, animals, and even the planet itself. This is what I would call the right kind of fearlessness. This is the fearlessness of true heroes.

The fact that you have affection for your family members or pets is due to the compassion and love that is already within you. Even your wish to tend the garden outside your window is an example of love and caring.


Vegetarianism involves many ethical issues, but it is also an issue of environmental protection. Our reliance on meat is a major cause of climate change, deforestation, and pollution. There is no shortage of facts to demonstrate this to us. Roughly 20 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions are caused by animals raised for human consumption. The methane gas emitted by livestock contributes more to climate change than does carbon dioxide.

As vegetarians, we would also make far more efficient use of what our planet offers us. Vast quantities of feed, water, land, fuel, and other resources are required to sustain livestock - far more than what is needed to produce a vegetarian diet. Studies indicate that the land needed to produce food for one meat-eater could support 20 vegetarians. This demonstrates how much smaller our ecological footprint could be just by giving up meat.

When I came to India six or seven years ago, I stopped eating meat. This happened after I watched a documentary about the meat industry. Seeing the images of animals being slaughtered made it simply unbearable for me to continue eating their flesh. Of course, I had contemplated becoming vegetarian before that, but it was only after seeing this documentary that I was moved to act.

Apart from the desire for the flavor, most people have no real reason to keep eating meat.

Now compare that reason to all the reasons why one should not eat meat - the ethical reasons, the health reasons, the environmental reasons. These authentic reasons outweigh all others.

At our annual Kagyu Monlam gathering in Bodh Gaya, India, I said that the best way to protect life was to give up meat. Being vegetarian is a supreme act of saving lives, I reminded them. But I spoke very directly, and made a heartfelt appeal.

To my great surprise, between 60 and 70 percent of those listening took a vow that from that day onward, they would stop eating meat of any kind. Some of those who did so were old Tibetan lamas with a long lifetime of eating meat. I have met them since, and they have told me they were moved to break the habit then and there, once and for all.

Word of this speech - and I think maybe also recordings of it - reached Tibet. After that, we heard that meat sales dropped noticeably in the area around Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. The word also spread to my monasteries and even into the villages. Since then, many monks, nuns, and lay people have stopped eating the meat that was always considered integral to the Tibetan diet.

As I mentioned earlier, studies show that a single acre of land could feed one meat-eater or 20 vegetarians. This tells us that if we are serious about ending world hunger, I think this fact deserves very serious consideration.

We know a lot about the physical effects of adrenaline, stress, and fear, and we can imagine the sheer terror and panic in the slaughterhouse as animals smell the blood of those who were killed before them. When you eat meat, you injest not only the chemical substances that animals are full of, but also the emotional and physical stress that animals experience throughout their lives and at the moment of their slaughter. That stress is also part of your meat.

When we think seriously about the impact our food practices have on our body, on the environment, and on the animals themselves, it is clear that logic supports abstaining from meat.

Towards the end of his book "The Heart is Noble," the Karmapa stated: "I will make prayers that many good things will come from our meeting through this book. I will pray not only for our encounter to contribute to the well-being of all beings of this world, but so that our shared prayers for goodness reach even the stars."

 - by the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa (Ogyen Trinley Dorje)


Even with all the social progress we have had, it seems that in many parts of the world, women are still not fully treated as human beings. The violence committed against women suggests they are not seen as people, but as objects. Although gender constructs are mere concepts, we can see that they can be terribly powerful forces that shape our experiences and affect how we treat others.

Women's rights have to do with respecting the value of human life and freedom. This respectful awareness is not something that can be legislated or created by economic strategies. The problem goes beyond legislation or social policy. The solution must be rooted much more deeply within us, and the change has to take place at a much deeper level - the level of our attitudes.

- by the 17th Karmapa


Compassion is a powerful tool in our work to protect the environment.
We need compassion because it connects us personally to the issue, and sustains us over the long haul. Some people misunderstand this point, and say they don't want to feel compassion. They assume compassion will add to their own suffering, because they think it involves personally feeling the pain they see around them. This may happen especially when people contemplate the widespread destruction of our wildlife and the environment as a whole. "This is too much," they may say. "I have enough problems of my own. I can't take on any more."

This reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of compassion. Compassion is what we feel when we focus on the person or animal who is suffering, not what we feel when we focus only on the suffering. What is the object of your compassion? It is the being who is suffering. If you take an animal or person as the object of your compassion, you will not be overwhelmed by their suffering. If your attention is not directed primarily at the suffering, you can focus on them, and on what you can do for them.

Imagine if something you value and treasure were to fall into a fire. You would not focus on the heat and the flames that were consuming it. Keenly feeling the object's value and wanting to protect it, you would focus on the object, and immediately use whatever you found at hand to try to save it from the fire. You would not agonize over how hot the fire was, or how sad the situation was, or sit there contemplating whether you really had the right tool. Nor would you focus on yourself. Your concern to safeguard the object would prevent you from indulging in any self-interested thoughts. You would just take in the information that you needed in order to resolve the situation, and act.

The point is to care so keenly for others that you give rise to courage and determination to relieve them of their suffering. That is compassion. Another misunderstanding is that compassion is something you now lack, so you need to go out and get it from somewhere. When we are talking about compassion, we are not talking about something that is foreign to us, needing to be imported. Rather, compassion is inherent in every person, as an integral part of us throughout the day, every day.

The fact that you have affection for your family members or pets is due to the compassion and love that already lie within you. Even your wish to tend the garden outside your window is an expression of love and caring. Compassion is not something new that you need to acquire and plant. It is a question only of nurturing the seeds you already have.


Confusion can arise due to certain similarities between compassion and attachment. Both involve a kind of caring, although in other ways they are radically different. Attachment is aimed at our own interests, and involves caring about ourselves. Compassion is aimed at others' interests, and has to do with caring for others.

This similarity is something we can make use of in our spiritual lives. Here is a simple example: Let's say you have three pieces of fruit. If you eat them all yourself and do not share any with others, that is attachment or desire. It involves caring only for oneself. However, if you eat one and give the remaining two to others to enjoy, it can become compassion. Attachment or desire will have been transformed into caring for others. In this way, compassion is a sort of transfer of yourself to others.

It is true that we all have a certain measure of desire, or attachment, but we also have the ability to transform this into compassion. However, as an extreme form of attachment, the greed we were discussing earlier poses a serious obstacle to our cultivation of compassion. I hope it is clear by now how important it is for us to break the spell of greed that we have fallen under — and guard against its recurrence once the spell is broken.

To that end, we can actively heighten our awareness of our fundamental dependence on others and on the environment. As we recognize more and more clearly how deeply interdependent we all are on one another, our sense of closeness to others and to the earth can likewise deepen. A profound awareness of interdependence weakens our sense of separation and difference, and can ultimately eliminate it. This provides a powerful support for our efforts to transform attachment's caring about self into compassion's caring for the world. - by the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa (Ogyen Trinley Dorje)


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