Vegetarianism in Buddhist Bhutan: Karma Dendup interviewed by Adele Tomlin (Dakini Conversations video/podcast Ep.1)

“3. To those who eat [meat] there are detrimental effects, to those who do not, merits; Mahāmati, you should know that meat-eaters bring detrimental effects upon themselves.
4. Let the practitioner/yogi refrain from eating flesh as it is born of himself, as [the eating] involves transgression, as [flesh] is produced of semen and blood, and as [the killing of animals] causes terror to living beings….
9. For profit sentient beings are destroyed, for flesh money is paid out, they are both evil-doers and [the deed] matures in the hells called Raurava (screaming), etc.”
–Shakyamuni Buddha, Chapter 8, Lankāvatāra Sutra

“We don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
— Native American saying cited by Karma Dendup

“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.”
— Sir Paul McCartney

Today, for the Meatless Monday global initiative to get people to reduce their meat consumption and hopefully, to stop eating murdered animals altogether, I am delighted to launch the first episode of a new interview/podcast channelDakini Conversations with Karma Dendup, founder of Jangsem Monday in Bhutan. This is the first in a series of interviews I plan to do with people whose work, or lives, I admire and get inspiration from. The format is not a strict interview Q and A only, but more a ‘conversation’ type discussion, hence the name!

The Youtube video in English (CC for English subtitles) is here:

The audio podcast is here on Spotify:

It is also available on Amazon Music and Apple podcasts.

Interview Overview and Chapters

In the first episode of Dakini Conversations, a new channel for interviews/podcasts, Adele Tomlin (Buddhist scholar-translator-practitioner and founder of Dakini Translations) interviews Karma Dendup, Bhutanese founder of Jangsem Monday (Meatless Monday Bhutan) and an advocate for a more compassionate planet. Karma Dendup is also a media producer who before becoming Head of Production at the Bhutan film and media company Reflection Films, was a TV host and producer with the Bhutan Broadcasting Service, where he was also awarded a national award for his documentary during the 2nd Annual Journalism Awards. He hosted a popular TV chat show called Bodhi Tree Bhutan.

In this interview, Karma Dendup talks about his life growing up in Bhutan, his background in Buddhist study and practice, his studies of film and cinema in India, his TV show and then about founding Jangsem Monday and the thinking behind it, as well as a more general discussion about being a Buddhist and eating animals.

We discuss the Buddhist three-fold rule of purity, that one should not eat an animal that has been deliberately slaughtered to eat, and how that applies in the 21st Century. As well as author and environmentalist, Jonathan Safran-Foer’s recent comments that it was not possible to be a genuine environmentalist and eat animals. We also discussed Paul McCartney (of The Beatles), an avid vegan campaigner, who famously stated that “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, no-one would eat meat” (something which PETA are now demanding in the construction of slaughterhouses) and the use of graphic videos showing animals being slaughtered for food. Here are the chapters of the interview:

00:00 Introduction
03:00 Education in Bhutan and first time studying in Delhi, India
06:00 Return to Bhutan and studying Buddhism and Ngondro retreat
07:00 Back to Delhi and film school
08:00 Reason for studying film and cinema
11:00 Favourite films and directors
13:00 Speaking, studying and teaching English
17:00 the Bodhi Tree Bhutan TV show
21:00 Empowering youth of Bhutan with greater knowledge of Buddhism 24:00: What is a Buddhist?
26:00 Including animals and the 17th Karmapa’s efforts on vegetarianism and the environment
27:00 Jangsem Monday (Meatless Monday)
30:00 Buddhist aspect of Jangsem Monday
34:00 17th Karmapa’s statement on meat-eating in Tibetan Buddhism
36:00 Geography of Bhutan and Tibet and 17th Karmapa in USA
39:00 Meat as a status symbol in Bhutan, and the ‘poor northener’
40:00 Eating Animals as a health issue
42:44 Eating animals forbidden in Lankāvatāra Sutra and not allowed for monastics unless begging for alms
44:28 “Meat is the new tobacco” and breaking addiction to meat one day at a time
0:47:00 Toxic effects of eating meat and speaking to a more ‘westernised’ Bhutanese youth
0:49:00 Buddhists in Europe, America and Asia still eating animals even though Buddha forbade it
0:50:00 Being an environmentalist and eating animals, a major ‘blind spot’ 0:53:00 Animal welfare, adopting pets, and turning vegan
0:55:00 Buddha’s three-fold rule as applied in the 21st Century, ‘not seeing’ is no excuse
1:00:00 No such thing as ‘humane’ slaughter and if ‘slaughterhouses had glass walls’
1:02:00 Meatless Mondays globally – Bhutanese influences and the Jangsem Monday song
1:03:30 Deliberately not showing videos of slaughtered animals

It was interesting to interview Karma Dendup who was clearly trying to address the meat-eating habits of Bhutanese society. Before attending the 4th Vajrayana conference in Thimpu, Bhutan last year, I emailed the organisers to kindly request they provide vegetarian food only, as many people attending were Buddhists. I did not get any reply, and was even accused by one regular attendee and presenter of being a ‘demanding troublemaker’ for asking as all the previous conferences had served meat. Nonetheless, if you don’t ask you don’t get (as they say), and I was pleasantly surprised that the food was only vegetarian that year.

I myself also grew up a meat-eater, and my family still eat meat, but I abandoned it shortly after going to India for the first time in 2005 to study yoga philosophy and practice there. Eating animals was not considered compassionate, healthy or part of an Indian yogic diet.  This vegetarian diet continued, especially after being present at the 17th Karmapa’s talk in Bodh Gaya in 2007 at which he told his followers to abandon eating animals, a it was not the Buddha’s way, nor the way of the Karma Kagyu. In addition, the 17th Karmapa, who was mentioned in this interview a few times, has not only requested all followers to not eat meat out of compassion for mother sentient beings, and for the environment, but also that it could shorten his life if they continue to do so!

Although the majority of vegans and vegetarians will no doubt wonder why only Monday/one day? Murdering animals for food is murder and unnecessary any day of the week, nonetheless, such initiatives are still very beneficial in getting people to consider whether or not eating animals is kind, healthy and good for the environment. Yet, it never fails to baffle and disappoint me how many Buddhists say they are environmentalists, animal-lovers, love and compassion for all beings and so on, yet regularly choose to have tortured and murdered animals on their plate. More on that in the future! 

In any case, whatever one’s diet, it is very clear that the Buddha never said it was OK to willingly murder defenceless animals for food for health, desire or pleasure.

Music? The Jangsem Monday song, Meat-Free Monday song by Paul McCartney, and  Meat is Murder by the Smiths.

Adele Tomlin, 3rd April 2023.


For more on Jamgsem Monday: Facebook and Youtube.

For original research and translations on Buddhism and Vegetarianism, see here.

For Chapter 8 of the Lankāvatāra Sutra, Buddha’s teaching on eating animals, see here

Interview with Jonathan Safran-Foer. Environmentalists who eat meat have a blind spot 

In particular, the teachings of the 17th Karmapa:
MEAT IS MURDER: ‘Tibetan Buddhist Vegetarianism: Ancient and Modern’ compiled teachings by 17th Karmapa

And the Three-fold purity rule Buddha taught on monastics eating animals:

RULES OF BUDDHIST CONDUCT (VINAYA) FOR MONASTICS (AND LAYPEOPLE) ON EATING MEAT: 17th Karmapa on the Vinaya rules on ‘offered’ meat and the three ‘tests’ of impurity


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