Animal Suffering and a Kadampa Buddhist’s Musings

I noticed a few festivals ago that Geshe Kelsang Gyatso talked briefly about animal suffering in comparison to human suffering. He stated at that time that (dispelling) animal suffering was more important than human suffering. Prior to this I have thought about this subject and have thought that, other than my feeling instinctively a stronger wish to protect animals (than humans), dispelling their suffering is more important from the point of view of numbers. What I mean is that when working to dispell the suffering of animals or even praying for animlas to be free of suffering, one is at that time acting (or wishing) to dispel the suffering of unimaginably huge numbers of living beings. Whereas even when genuinly feeling cherishing towards all humans you are cherishing only a tiny number of beings (in comparison). Anyway, putting my own musings aside (for the time being), this was not the reason Geshe Kelsang gave at the teaching I referred to above. He said that alleviating the suffering of animals is more important (than that of humans) because when humans suffer they have some opportunity to do something with that suffering, for example to learn from it or transform it by increasing their endurance, or their compassion. In contrast, when animals suffer they do not have this opportunity and all they can do at that time is just suffer. This is a very clear reason and seems to me to be all about the over-ridding importance of protecting the protectorless.

       While I am on this subject, let me refer to a post on another blog – A Meat Eating  Buddhist – which I find hard to come up with reasons against thier argument. It reminded me of another thing Geshe Kelsang said on the subject more recently which was that humans abuse animals, and we talk about human rights but we abuse the rights of animals. He said that if they (the animals) had a lawyer then they could sue humans, yet almost no-one protects their rights except for a few small groups. I looked at some figures on animals killed for human consumption. The figures were nearly 60 Billion. Bear in mind that there is less then 7 Billion humans at present. So that means that in just over a month humans kill (just for food) a number of animals equal to the human population. So let me set up a scenario. If you convinced evryone in the world to just avoid killing animals for food for one month – This would be equal to an action of saving every single human being alive from being slaughtered. I find this a bit staggerring. I’ve got another scenario, Lets imagine if one country were to make war on all other countries and as a result enslave, imprison and then brutally kill every other human in the world one by one. This would be some feat, and take some time and I think everyone would agree that such a thing would be unimaginably horrific, and create untold amounts of negative karma. The collective negative actions of the country in my example however does not even equal the collection of negative actions that the animal trade (for human food) accrues in one year. It does not even get close. Why? – just look at the numbers.

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Mixing Traditions -by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

There is much speculation on Geshe-la’s stance with respect to mixing traditions and sectarianism. I think this section summarizes Geshe Kelsang’s opinion very well.

In the chapter on effort in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life Shantideva advises us that before we commit ourself to engaging in a practice we should investigate it carefully to see whether it is suitable and whether we can sustain it; but once we have committed ourself to it we should never turn back but continue until we attain the final result. Switching from one practice to another unrelated practice not only prevents us from fulfilling our wishes in this life, but also makes it difficult for us to accomplish our goals in future lives. Moreover, it is often the cause of breaking our commitments and severing precious relationships, such as those that exist between Guru and disciple, and between spiritual friends.

We must be careful not to misunderstand the effort of non-satisfaction. Practicing this effort does not mean that we should become dissatisfied with our tradition or with our main practice, and try to follow many different traditions or mix together many different practices. Every Teacher and every tradition has a slightly different approach and employs different methods. The practices taught by one Teacher will differ from those taught by another, and if we try to combine them we shall become confused, develop doubts, and lose direction. If we try to create a synthesis of different traditions we shall destroy the special power of each and be left only with a mishmash of our own making that will be a source of confusion and doubt. Having chosen our tradition and our daily practices we should rely upon them single-pointedly, never allowing dissatisfaction to arise. At the same time as cherishing our own tradition we should respect all other traditions and the right of each individual to follow the tradition of their choosing. This approach leads to harmony and tolerance. It is mixing different religious traditions that causes sectarianism. This is why it is said that studying non-religious subjects is less of an obstacle to our spiritual progress than studying religions of different traditions.

Once we have decided which tradition to follow and which practices to do, we should engage in them wholeheartedly with a joyful mind. This is the power of joy. Whether we are listening to Dharma teachings, reading Dharma books, reciting prayers, contemplating, or meditating, we should do so with a light and happy mind, like a child at play. If we enjoy a practice we shall naturally have enthusiasm for it. (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Understanding the Mind: an Explanation of the Nature and Functions of the Mindpp. 161-162, © 1993, 1997, 2002)

Some experiences with Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Also on the internet there has been much criticism regarding Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (Geshe-la) and his intentions, so I wanted to put forward a few small encounters with Geshe-la of my own, which I at least know to be true. First of all although Geshe-la is very busy, whenever I have written and asked something of him I have always received a response. Most of these were questions about emphasising different practices and understanding various practical points to do with meditation. On a few occasions I have been in meetings with Geshe-la regarding issues surrounding Dharma centres, such as for change of location etc… however when I saw Geshe-la after I had been away on a retreat I did see a different aspect. When beginning to talk about the retreat, Geshe-la’s eyes absolutely lit up (in a way I had not seen in previous meetings) and he eagerly leaned forward and said “Tell me your experience”.  This meeting always stuck in my mind. It highlights for me what Geshe-la is really about (in my opinion) which is the actual practice of Dharma, practising the meaning of Dharma and nothing else. After all these years and with the NKT becoming a large organisation it still seems obvious that Geshe-la regards all the other things as merely a necessity – a necessary condition.

               On another occasion I remember privately giving Geshe-la a cheque for several thousand pounds on behalf of someone else. Geshe-la accepted this cheque, but then a few days later I received the cheque back, and crossed out – because Geshe-la wanted the money instead used to help the local Dharma Centre. Over the years everyone can see that the NKT has grown a huge amount, and yet Geshe-la remains as he always did, without accumulating possessions or houses or cars. It is very rare even amongst spiritual teachers for their organisation to become so widespread whilst themselves they remain with very little, as Geshe-la has done.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

I will start this section by giving a couple of short quotes I have found which have been given within Geshe Kelsang’s books.

These quotes are by two Lamas, Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche. 

Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche was senior tutor to the Dalai Lama and the 97th Ganden Tripa (holder of the Ganden throne and head of the Gelugpa tradition)

Trijang Rinpche was also appointed Ganden Tripa and was the junior tutor to the Dalai Lama.

 

In the foreword to Geshe Kelsang’s book, Clear Light of Bliss, Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche says:

This excellent commentary on the joyous Mahamudra

Derived from churning the essence of the ocean of Tantric scriptures

That arose from the heart of this most precious Spiritual Guide

Is published with a pure wish to benefit migrators.

He goes on to say, “I am very happy that Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has given extensive teachings on Secret Mantra based on Protector Manjushri Je Tsongkhapa’s great treatises and on other authentic commentaries on Mahamudra, including the first Panchen Lama’s root text.”

 

In the foreword to Geshe Kelsang’s book Meaningful to Behold, Venerable Trijang Rinpoche says:

The excellent expounder, the great Spiritual Master Kelsang Gyatso, who studied myriad Buddhist scriptures at the famous Je College of the great monastic university of Sera, Tegchen Ling, practised the meaning of the teachings he received, and became a wise, serious and realized Teacher. From the rain of profound and extensive Dharma that he has bestowed upon his fortunate disciples, he has recently given comprehensive instructions on the great Bodhisattvacharyavatara (Guide to The Bodhisattva’s Way of Life).

In the prayer for the long life of the Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Trijang Rinpoche says:

You who are skilled in the wisdom that unties the sealed knots
of the profound meaning of the Sutras and Tantras of the Fourth
deliverer of this fortunate aeon,
who possess an abundance of good qualities like a thousand petalled lotus,
O peerless, great Spiritual Guide, may you live for a very long time.

Published in: on September 11, 2008 at 1:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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