In the second part of Day 17, the 17th Karmapa continued to teach on the suffering of animals caused by eating murdered animal flesh and animal produce. He gave two examples of vegetarian masters within the Kagyu tradition, Jetsun Milarepa and Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye.
“In particular, in the 21st century most of the Tibetan monasteries in Tibet and exile have stopped making and eating meat. There are also many monastics that have given it up and vegetarian movements that encourage not eating meat and not slaughtering animals. There are many Tibetan scholars and meditation masters who taught about giving up meat and the faults of eating eat, despite the fact it was very difficult to be vegetarian.”
First, the Karmapa gave the example of a moving song composed by Milarepa after he witnessed a sheep butchered and dying miserably, while at a marketplace with his student Rechungpa (ras chung rdo rje grags pa, 1083/4-1161). This song is listed as The Departure of Rechungpa to U (re chung dbus bzhud kyi skor) in an edition of Milarepa’s Liberation Story Songs (TBRC W1KG4276:2:855, Shri Gautam Buddha Vihara, Swayambu, Nepal 2006).
In this post, is my own translation of the song (the English oral translation given was not so clear and hurried). In particular, I have stayed much closer to the original Tibetan and poetic repetition of Milarepa by using the word ‘custom’ to translate the Tibetan word ‘lugs’, which means ‘tradition’ or ‘custom’. The word ‘custom’ also has the double meaning in English of being a ‘tradition’ but also ‘buying something’. This Song can also be downloaded here as a free pdf file.
As I have written about here before, one of Milarepa’s main students was a Hunter (Khyira) whom Mila helped to abandon hunting animals. Milarepa also composed songs to animals he met, such as a dog and a deer who was being hunted. Milarepa’s Songs to the Hunter (which I newly translated with a foreword by the Newari living lineage holder of the ‘Hunter (Khyira Lineage’) can be read and downloaded for free here.
The Karmapa then spoke extensively about veganism and the massive detrimental effects on the environment, natural resources and personal health of animal livestock farming, fishing and consuming animal products for food.
Translated and compiled by Adele Tomlin, March 2021. Music? Meat is Murder by the Smiths (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78XuZ16uKAk)….’And the flesh you so fancifully fry, Is not succulent, tasty or kind. It’s death for no reason, And death for no reason is murder.’
Milarepa’s heartbreaking song to Rechungpa on the killing of animals for food
“If we think about Kagyu forefathers among such masters, there are innumerable ones who have given up meat. For example, among the three Kagyu forefathers, Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa, there is an example in Milarepa’s Collected Works about when he was in Nyanang Belly Cave.
At that time, he was staying with Rechungpa who often didn’t listen to him that much. It’s often said that he was criticized three times by his guru for that. Milarepa told him out must give up the eight worldly dharmas. So Rechungpa though ‘well I have given up my homeland so how can I have any issues with the eight worldly Dharmas?’. So Rechungpa told Mila that in the Dharma texts it says giving up the homeland is having done half the Dharma practice. Milas said these are just words, which is not actually that much benefit. This did not really benefit Rechungpa that much though.
On one occasion, they went to a town in Nynanang, where there were lots of butchers who sold meat there and they went there to beg for food. There were stacks of flesh, animal heads and blood all around in the market. There were many animals line up waiting to be slaughtered. In the centre of it all was a butcher. There are many different ways to slaughter sheep, one is suffocating them with a muzzle. Another way is to cut their stomach and reach inside and rip out their heart and arteries. The butcher made the cut and wound to do that, but before he could rip their heart out, the sheep suddenly escaped and was not tied down, so the sheep’s intestines were all hanging out, dragging behind it while it was bleeding to death. The sheep was shaking and came to Milarepa and Rechungpa for protection and he died right in front of them. Then, Milarepa sobbed uncontrollably with great compassion and did prayers and transference of consciousness for the sheep onto the Bodhisattva path. Then he wrote a song about it. For me personally, this song was really helpful[i].
MILAREPA’S SONG ON THE SORROWFUL SUFFERING OF THE MEAT-EATING CUSTOM
“Ema! Samsaric sentient beings
Look up towards the path of liberation!
Agh! Compassion for evil beings, those
Ignorant in the fog of karma
Coming along with a human body.
How hateful this murdering beings ‘custom’!
How hugely regrettable this self-deception ‘custom’!
How heavy a weight this killing parents ‘custom’!
How much wrong is done for these stacks of meat ‘custom’!
What is done with the masses of blood in this ‘custom’
However hungry, this eating meat ‘tradition’!
From where mental appearances of this delusional ‘custom’!
Such major evil of this zero compassion ‘custom’!
What dark ignorance and obscurations is this stupidity!
What is to be done about this evil ‘farming’!
Whose desires for pleasure cause this torture ‘custom’?!
Whoever engages in these ‘customs’, how awful!
What depressing sadness is born from this ‘custom’!
These selfish, evil-doers of this busy ‘custom’!
Afterwards, they won’t remember a single instant!
When I see such people, I fear for them!
Remembering appearances of such evil actions, is disturbing!
Rechungpa, remember the divine Dharma!
When remembering, let the winds of sorrow blow in your heart.
When meditating, go to mountain retreats.
When contemplating, think about the guru’s kindness.
When escaping, flee the root of non-virtue.
When letting go, give up worldly activities.
When holding, keep your commitments to practice.
When understanding, bring your human life to Dharma.”
By saying this, Rechungpa then generated huge sorrow and the wish to emerge from samsara[i] and sobbed profusely.
[i] This is often translated as ‘renunciation’ but it literally means certainty to emerge from [samsara].
(the Tibetan with phonetics is produced below).
The 17th Karmapa briefly explained the song:
“Mila is saying look at how we are fooling ourselves when we see parents being murdered and we don’t what to do about all this blood and stacks of flesh. We just eat this meat without any feeling at all. Rechungpa had many instructions before, which had not been so helpful but when he saw this sheep dying like that, he said to the guru that he would give up the eight worldly activities, give up wicked food and stay in the mountains. So he asked Mila where they should go, who replied that they should go to Lachi. Many people at the market gave them offerings, but as there were lots of butchers there it was mainly meat, so they didn’t accept the offerings and went to Lachi.
Also, if we think about the forefathers of Dagpo Gampopa and his student Je Pagmo Drupa and his disciples and so on, many of the Kagyu forefathers practiced vegetarianism. These students were called the students of the ‘vegetarian broth’ teachings (sdog dkar). This broth (sdog) here is a stock that you put in the broth, which was vegetarian instead of meat-based stock.
If we think about the Karma Kamtsang tradition, as I said before, from 4th Karmapa onwards until 10th Karmapa, there were strict rules against eating meat in the Great Encampment. Also, in the supplications of Kagyu, vegetarians were considered highly and praised.”
Roberts, Peter. Biographies of Rechungpa, Routledge, (2010).
Thrangu Rinpoche: Rechungpa: A Biography of Milarepa’s Disciple. Namo Buddha Publications, 2002.
Tomlin, Adele (2020):
TIBETAN TEXT WITH PHONETICS
ཨེ་མ་འཁོར་བའི་སེམས་ཅན་རྣམས། །ཐར་པའི་ལམ་ལ་ཡར་ལྟོས་དང་། །
ema khorwé semchen nam/ tarpé lam la yar tö dang/
ཨ་ཙ་མ་སྡིག་ཅན་སྙིང་རེ་རྗེ། ། ལས་རེ་རྨོངས ་མི་ལུས་ཀྱི་ཡོང་བ་ལ།།
a tsa ma dikchen nying ré jé/ lé ré mong milü kyi yongwa la/
ཞེ་རེ་ཕངས་སེམས་ཅན་གྱི་གསོད་ལུགས་ལ། །གྱོད་རེ་ཆེ་རང་མགོའི་སྐོར་ལུགས་ལ། །
zhé ré pang semchen gyi sö luk la/ gyö ré ché rang gö kor luk la/
ཅུག་རེ་དྲག་ཕ་མའི་འཆི་ལུགས་ལ། །ཇི་ལྟར་བྱེད་སྡིག་ཤའི་བརྩིགས་ལུགས་ལ། །
chuk ré drak pamé chi luk la/ jitar jé dik shé tsik luk la/
ཅི་རེ་བྱེད་ཁྲག་གིས་མང་ལུགས་ལ། །ཇི་ཙམ་སྟོསྣགས་ཤ་ཡི་ཟ་ལུགས་ལ། །
chi ré jé trak gi mang luk la/ ji tsam tog sha yi za luk la/
གང་ནས་བསམས་སྣང་བའི་འཁྲུལ་ལུགས་ལ། །སྡིག་རེ་ཆེ་སྙིང་རྗེ་མེད་ལུགས་ལ། །
gangné sam nangwé trul luk la/ dik ré ché nyingjé mé luk la/
ཇི་ཙམ་སྒྲིབས་རྨོངས་པའི་གཏི་མུག་ལ། །ཅི་རེ་བྱེད་སྡིག་པའི་སོ་ནམ་ལ། །
ji tsam drib mongpé timuk la/ chi ré jé dikpé sonam la/
སུ་ཡིས་སྤྱོད་འདོད་པས་གདུང་ལུགས་ལ། །གང་གིས་བྱས་ཡུལ་ལུགས་ཀྱི་ངན་པ་ལ། །
su yi chö döpé dung luk la/ gang gi jé yul luk kyi ngenpa la/
ཅུག་རེ་དྲག་སྐྱོ་བའི་སྐྱེ་ལུགས་ལ། །ཅི་རང་བྱེད་སྡིག་ཅན་གྱི་བྲེལ་ལུགས་ལ། །
chuk ré drak kyowé kyé luk la/ chi rang jé dikchen gyi drel luk la/
ཕྱི་མ་སྐད་ཅིག་མི་དྲན་པའི། །མི་འདི་འདྲ་མཐོང་ན་ང་རེ་འཇིགས། །
chima kechik mi drenpé/ mi dindra tong na nga ré jik/
སྡིག་སྤྱོདི་རྣམས་དྲན་ཞིང་སྣང་བ་འཁྲུགས། །རས་ཆུང་པ་ལྷ་ཆོས་ཤིག་ཨེ་དྲན་ཨང་། །
dik cho di nam dren shying nangwa truk/ réchungpa lha chö shik é dren ang/
དྲན་ན་སྐྱོ་ཤས་ཀྱི་སྙིང་རླུང་ལྡང་། །སྒོམ་ན་རི་ཁྲོད་ཀྱི་གནས་སུ་གཤེགས། །
dren na kyoshé kyi nying lung dang/ gom na ritrö kyi né su shek/
བསམ་ན་བླ་མའི་བཀའ་དྲིན་སོམས། །འབྲོས་ན་སྡིག་སྤྱོད་རྩ་ནས་བྲོས། །
sam na lamé kadrin som/ drö na dik chö tsa né drö/
tong na jikten gyi jawa tong/ dzin na drubpé damcha zung/
khé na mitsé chö la kyol//