A raging controversy over meat consumption and crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses in the Hindi heartland resonated hundreds of kilometers away in Arunachal Pradesh during an interaction between the 14th Dalai Lama and local elites on Wednesday.
Should food habit be an issue in India and does Buddhism, a religion professing peace and non-violence, endorse non-vegetarianism? Replying to this question from a woman, the Dalai Lama cited a Sri Lankan monk he had met years ago to say Buddhists are neither vegetarian nor non-vegetarian.
“But it is all right to have meat of dead animals, not those slaughtered or purposefully killed for meat,” he said. The comments come days after a man was killed by cow vigilantes in Rajasthan and an ongoing drive against illegal abattoirs in Uttar Pradesh that many meat sellers say is targeting Muslim-owned shops.
The Dalai Lama arrived in Bomdila, the headquarters of West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh, despite strong Chinese objection on April 4 and will end his tour in Tawang on April 12.
The 81-year-old spiritual leader pointed out many in the Buddhist world are vegetarians because they believe it is wrong to slaughter any creature. The Dalai Lama, though, is non-vegetarian. An American journal had in 2010 quoted one of his aides as saying that the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader does a balancing act by adhering to a vegetarian diet in Dharamsala and having meat dishes when offered by his hosts elsewhere.
Many Buddhists in Tawang and West Kameng districts of north-western Arunachal Pradesh are vegetarian, but some eat the meat of yak, a high-altitude bovine animal that Buddhists consider sacred.
“But yak meat eaters make it a point not to slaughter animals themselves. They occasionally engage people from other communities to do the job,” a local yak researcher said.
India best country to uphold religious harmony
In a world drifting towards majoritarian, sectarian and dictatorial rule, the Dalai Lama feels India is still the best country to uphold religious harmony and tolerance. “Religious harmony is very essential at a time when the sense of responsibility is lacking. But despite niggles it is possible in India, the most populated democratic country. This country has shown the way for thousands of years,” he said.
Professing more interaction among adherents of different religions, the Dalai Lama said faith is not a necessity for becoming a good human being.
“Pope Francis once said it is better to be a non-believer than a stupid Christian. Similarly, it is better to be a nice non-believer than a stupid Buddhist,” he said, adding that large swathes on earth were being consumed by intra-religion conflicts. “Shia-Sunni conflict from Syria to Pakistan is assuming dangerous proportions as had Protestant-Catholic differences in the recent past. Political killings are troubling Tibetan Buddhists too,” the Dalai Lama said.
Religion, he felt, should be about kindness without complicated philosophy. “My religion is kindness. All religions have serious scope for promoting harmony.”
The spiritual leader also said he was disturbed by terrorism in the name of religion.
“We hear a lot about Muslim terrorists and of late Buddhist terrorists (Myanmar). But as soon as anyone indulges in terrorism, he is no longer a Muslim or a Buddhist. Come to think of it, Chinese officials describe me as a terrorist too,” he said.
The Narendra Modi government’s push for Sanskrit has found support from the Dalai Lama.
“In 58 years of living in this country, I have deep respect for ancient Indian knowledge. Indians should pay more attention to ancient knowledge and the rich Sanskrit tradition,” he said.
Tibetan language is closest to Sanskrit, both ideal for explaining philosophy and spirituality easily, he said. “I retired from a political role in Tibetan affairs in 2011, and my focus since then has been on preservation of Tibetan culture and language,” the Dalai Lama said.
India, an older civilisation, should similarly respect and nurture the Sanskrit tradition, he felt.