An Interview with Tenzin Kunga Luding Phayul
Promoting Vegetaranism: An Interview with Tenzin Kunga Luding Phayul
December 19, 2004
« Where Tibetans go, butchers flourish, » they say. But this is soon to end if the efforts of a lone Tibetan youth are to bear fruit. Tenzin Kunga Luding, a Tibetan youth is on a mission to bring about vegetarianism in the Tibetan society. He agrees it is a gradual process though. But he believes every Tibetan will one day embrace vegetarianism. Phayul reporter Nilza Angmo caught up with him recently, excerpts…
Could you tell us a bit about yourself first?
I was born at the Sakya Tibetan Settlement in H.P., India, where my father, then Member of Parliament of the Tibetan government-in-exile, was also serving as the General Secretary of this settlement. He was one of the pioneers who introduced the Tibetan Green Book. Since my childhood I had always been very interested in helping the helpless and the needy like collecting funds for the Somalians affected by famine, raising funds for the Tibetans in Manali who were affected by the mob violence, etc. I have served as a General Secretary of Sakyapa Ngorgon Charitable Society and Samyeling GRS Welfare Association in Majnu-Ka-Tilla. I am happy to say that during our tenure with the Welfare association, we were able to obtain licenses for shops and restaurants in our colony, sponsor needy children, build gates for the colony, improve relations with police and concerned authorities, etc. For our hard work we received community service award from the Local Assembly and Welfare Office which was presented by Kungo Tashi Wangdi la, Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Delhi.
What prompted you to start this society?
As a child I was extremely fond of meat unlike my sister who rejected meat or its soup right from her infancy. I relished meat not knowing how it came about, till I was about 10-11 years old when someone narrated me for the first time how cattle were packed in trucks, unloaded, and mercilessly slaughtered. The suffering of these animals that were forced to be our food touched my heart right through. Since then I gave up meat. To make up for it, I used to consume lots of milk and eggs, as school books, movies, health magazines and everyone around my world believed these two things were healthy and necessary and I felt the same too. Then one day I read Maneka Gandhi’s book « Heads and Tails ». This book was the turning point of my life and it enlightened me about lots of ugly things that I knew for the first time. I realized that these foods (eggs, meat, and animal dairy products) were not only causing so much of unnecessary sufferings to animals but were harmful to our precious health and environment as well. I then chose to be a Vegan.
At that time hardly anyone had heard of this term and almost everybody opposed or was skeptical of it. But I had the full support of my family, even though they were concerned of my health. I knew what I was doing and I stuck firm to my belief. I knew that compassion and loving-kindness form the core teachings of our ‘Buddha Dharma’ and so propagation of vegetarianism was even more important in our community. I waited long time for a related group to come up in our community, but nothing surfaced. Finally, I took it upon myself to get things started and thus how we have the first Tibetan vegetarian and vegan group called « Tibetans For Vegetarian Society (T4VS). It is a registered non-profit charitable trust. I consider it as our community’s share of contribution for the development of a globally healthy, happy and humane environment. Everybody is welcome to join us whether vegetarian or non-vegetarian, Buddhist or non-Buddhist.
This society was founded in 1997, and it was registered in 2004, why?
The following were the chief reasons for the delay: In the initial stages, I was basically working all by myself and had very few people who could understand me. It was a daunting task and there were many skepticism, pressure, and economic problems. Everywhere I turned to, there were people who ate meat and thought it was just a fad on my part. Some thought I had gone crazy or fighting a losing battle. Since it was a new thing for our community I neither got any financial nor moral support. I literary had to dig into my own pockets or borrow money from my family to carry out activities such as to rescue animals, compile a magazine for free distribution, give an appeal in the Tibetan Review, etc. It was a gradual progress. Slowly my hard work seemed to pay off and I began to receive genuine appreciation or sympathy from people. Since this year our government was celebrating Tibetan Vegetarian Year. I felt it was the perfect occasion to strengthen our group and seek legitimate registration. I invited a few like-minded people to discuss the matter and they expressed their desire to join the organization. So, on the 6th August, 2004 we got ourselves registered as a non-profit Trust.
What is your opinion present dietary habit of the Tibetan community?
I can only comment on what I have seen in the Tibetan community in India especially the ones I have been to. I am happy to observe that our food variety has improved and people are getting more health conscious. Most Tibetans have now included legumes in their regular diet which is very important. More people are turning to vegetarianism, especially the younger generation, which is wonderful. We have now started to gift fruits and juices in place of eggs and butter which was in the past a regular feature when visiting a guest. In fact I feel we must introduce fruits on a daily basis. I would love to see Soya bean dairy products replace animal dairy products. It is not only healthier, and ethical, but also an environment friendly option. On the whole I think there is some awareness to remain healthy seeped in the minds of our people and we must continue to follow in the same direction.
What kind of activities do you organize to create awareness of the benefits of vegetarianism?
We wish to explore every possible means to reach people. So far we have shown documentaries to public and students, put up posters, given appeals in Tibetan Review, distributed pamphlets and stickers, sent video CD’s to every settlement and few big monastic institutions in India. We ran a signature campaign persuading all the Tibetan restaurants and meat sellers in Majnu-Ka Tilla and Budh Vihar colony to observe a meatless day on full moon’s day during the Saga Dawa month. Recently we organized a very successful concert in Majnu-Ka-Tilla as a part of celebration of the Tibetan Vegetarian Year (2004-2005) with the well-known Shambala Band, Pa-Tsering, Dhondup Tashi, etc.
Phuntsok Topden, a youngster of our board member, has also started a « Green Friday » movement in his settlement. On this day many people of his settlement abstain from eating meat. As we have already registered our domain i.e.www.t4vs.com we are now on the phase of developing a web site for it. Alongside this, we are working to make a new video documentary to be shown in year 2005. We also hope to organize the first Vegetarian congress in our Tibetan society in the nearby future.
Recently you had the honor of having an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, tell us about that.
Despite His Holiness’ tight schedule, he was kind enough to grant us an audience for about half an hour. We all felt so blessed and privileged. We were actually there to seek his blessings and capture his message on vegetarianism in video to show to people. His Holiness enquired what let me to start this group and was very pleased to know the ethical reasons behind it. During the conversation one significant thing he sadly noted was that in Tibet these days there are many meat sellers outside the Potala Palace which were never there before. His Holiness advised us to continue the efforts undeterred and felt it would be more helpful to expand the work to various parts of the world including Tibet. And just before we were departing I mustered all my courage and requested His Holiness to be our Patron-In-Chief which he has happily obliged. This is a land mark in the Tibetan history to have a Dalai Lama as Patron-In-Chief of a registered vegetarian and vegan organization. We will be showing the video recording of this message as planned in 2005 but now one can view it in Bod Gyalo’s monthly video news too. In all, the audience has motivated me and the board members to work harder and consolidated our belief.
(We wish to inform that majority of the financial assistance has been from the Private office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.)
A few words to the Tibetan community?
I would like our people to read the book, « The Food Revolution » by John Robbins, which will give an insight into the need for plant based diet and my belief. One can also visit some good websites like,www.vegsource.com,www.ivu.org, and www.peta.org. What I am doing is nothing new; it has always been there in our Buddhist scriptures. I am only trying to follow these teachings by propagating love and compassion with respect for nature. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, also stresses often the need to cultivate a good human heart for the benefit of all living beings. Therefore it would be nice to see people trying to give up or reduce meat for a week, month, or for whatever limit of time they could. Meat is no more a matter of survival for us. With exposure to large varieties of nutritious vegetarian food, improved technology, better transportation system, and advancements of knowledge in various fields it is so much easier for us to give up meat than our predecessors.
Lastly, I conclude with the favorite lines of His Holiness written by Shanti Deva which has always motivated me. I hope it does the same to you all.
As long as space remains,
As long as sentient beings remain
Until then, may I too remain
And dispel the miseries of the world.