Tzu-Chi: Vegetarianism for a Good Cause
Vegetarianism lowers total carbon footprint, helping save planet
Buddhist Tzu-Chi is a humanitarian non-profit founded in 1966 and based in Taiwan. Dharma Master Cheng Yen studied as a disciple with Venerable Master Yin Shun. The Buddhist organizer and teacher claims that her inspiration came from seeing how Catholic nuns performed good works for society such as setting up nursing homes, orphanages, and hospitals. She reasoned: If Christians could organize and perform charitable deeds, should not Buddhists do so as well?
Tzu Chi Foundation focused on charity, but has expanded its mission over the past 50 years to include medicine, education, humanistic culture, and environmental protection. By teaching and encouraging everyone to take personal responsibility and perform voluntary works, it has captured the hearts and minds of housewives, the elderly, school teachers, students, medical personnel, politicians, media, and civic society. Starting with the Bamboo Bank analogy, a small bit of change every day adds up to make a big difference in the end. Historic photos reveal that in the 1960s, Taiwan had at least one million people living below the poverty line.
Master Cheng Yen has promoted the idea of helping others by eating 80% full and leaving the balance of 20%. —Tzu Chi Foundation
Today Tzu Chi is recreating its mission around the world, helping people improve their situation after disasters such as earthquakes, typhoons, famine, and wildfires. Their trained volunteers have set footprints in over 72 countries worldwide, and it is recognized as a special consultant at the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
However Covid-19 (aka Novel Coronavirus) has filled the Buddhist nun with an overwhelming sense that Earth is being ravaged under a great crisis. Recent media themes emphasize the need to observe the vegetarian fast and repent deeply. A logical reason is that the virus comes from eating wild animals, but it transmutates from one animal to another, such as from within domestic animals to within human beings. Today, Master Cheng Yen will not uncommonly state:
The only way to ease the pandemic is by protecting all life, and practicing self-discipline and vegetarianism. —Life Wisdom lecture, “Practicing Vegetarianism to Ease the Pandemic”
In fact, Tzu Chi credits vegetarianism with helping contain the spread of SARS. When the deadly SARS epidemic broke out in 2003, Tzu Chi began a campaign of vegetarian observance. It gained much popularity within the organization, and even today, members and volunteers promote vegetarianism. It is the basic homeopathic way to be kind to the planet while conserving resources and fostering local community farms, in keeping with cultural and historic Asian traditions.
“We need only to realize that changing what we eat and consume can be very beneficial to our body and mind. Vegetarians have a milder temperament. Vegetarians are less prone to getting angry and are less likely to lose their temper. This is what it means to be a vegetarian. They have a milder disposition and get along better with others, making for a more harmonious society.”
Even if you cannot believe this entirely, there is the associated memes of the fossil-fuel Western-based industrialized process of raising livestock, along with the unmanageable volumes of waste produced. Historically, the butchering of meat was long regarded as an unclean profession in India, but today, the hazards of the profession have greatly increased due to the speed of the production-line slicing. Workers injured on the job are dismissed, left without fingers.
We must practice vegetarianism and extend our love to all life so as to purify our body and mind. ––Dharma Master Cheng Yen
The raising of livestock, as many experts note, vastly increases the amount of farmland needed to grow the soy, corn, hay, and other grains they consume. Whether organic or kept in fattening pens, cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, bulls, fish, and ducks lives are often unnaturally short, and they tend to be overmanaged in ways that require pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, agri-industrial methods require vast amounts of fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides which kill the soil and make wasterwater treatment impossible.
According to Ohio cooperative owner Pat Murphy, author of Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change:
Raising livestock generates 9% of all CO2 emissions, 37% of methane emissions, and 65% of nitrous oxide emissions on the planet. Methane has 23 times the global warming potential of CO2, and nitrous oxide has 296 times the potential. When methane and nitrous oxide are measured in CO2 equivalents, livestock are responsible for 18% of the total greenhouse gases that cause global warming worldwide—more greenhouse gas emissions measured in carbon dioxide equivalents than that generated by transportation. —Pat Murphy, “Food, Feed, Fuel, and CO2“
Aside from pollution, the numbers of sentient lives lost each day to satisfy human consumption are enormous. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s statistics from 2018, every second 2443 animals are slaughtered. A full day consists of 86,400 seconds, meaning over 211 million animals are butchered every day. In a year’s time over 77 billion animals are slaughtered. These facts are backed up by PETA, which states more than 20 billion animals are killed for food in the U.S. each year.
Of course while Ethical Eating Days, vegan diets, and veggie cuisine have made inroads among Western urbanites, there is also the danger of enforcement by zealots. People are repulsed by faux eco-feminist gatekeepers who militantly proclaim we MUST do this because it is the ONLY way. Even the dark mole of the shadow government has a vested interest in divisive vitriol whether “meat-is-good-for-you” polemic or “must-do-vegan” martial law.
Ultimately Tzu Chi believes our choices elevate our sense of humanity, and ability to do good, by living in harmony with the Earth and protecting the planet with our hands.
All these crises are interconnected because we cannot curb our desires. —Life Wisdom lecture, “Curbing our Desires for a Peaceful World”
AGN‘s dietary transition began during cancer remission in 2010. As an instructor, AGN even developed an English composition course called “Food-for-Thought” still readily available and free online. This reporter’s personal experience indicates that it takes several years to become completely acclimated. There is no question that one becomes much more capable in appreciating cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, bulls, fish, and ducks as living creatures in their own rights. This sense of compassion willingly extends itself to all living creatures great or small, on land or in ocean, in air or hibernating in deep lakes.
Even if it has not cured a proclivity for bad temper nor eliminated poor health, there are all the signs of improvement in both. More important than mere virtue signaling is the awareness of the panoply of healthful foods which tend to be ignored, and the creativity with which foods are produced, developed, and prepared. In fact, Plan C recounts that the genesis of a localization movement in Cuba was the embargo intended to cripple the small island nation. Instead, the people rallied and overcame their odds, even if there were immense life-style sacrifices in the beginning.
The difference in the fossil fuel energy required to sustain a meat-based versus a vegetarian diet is surprising. David Pimentel [Cornell University researcher] calculates that providing a 3,600 daily Calorie diet with 1,000 Calories coming from animal products requires about 35,000 Calories of fossil fuel energy whereas a 3,600 Calorie vegetarian diet (with more than sufficient levels of protein) takes about 18,000 Calories of fossil fuel energy—-about half that of the non-vegetarian diet. —Pat Murphy, “Food, Feed, Fuel, and CO2“
If from the standpoint of conservation of resources and putting human capital to work, localization and vegetarianism makes sense, there are also the economic benefits for a society through a variety of community supported open markets and food stalls, such as available in Singapore and Malaysia. Many Americans, including myself, find it hard to believe that legumes can supply much of our protein needs. The meat-industry lobby working with the USDA often convince us otherwise; nevertheless, the science and traditions dispute their facts:
The US consumes a disproportionately large amount of the world’s grains and oil seeds but consumes far fewer beans than other nations. Only .7% of the harvested acreage in the US is allocated to beans, peas and lentils. Historically beans have been a staple crop for protein in much of the world. Only in recent times has meat replaced them as the primary source of protein in many countries. Figure 12.4 below shows that the same weight in beans provides more protein but much less fat than meat. —Pat Murphy, “Food, Feed, Fuel, and CO2“
In other words, we grow huge amounts of subsidized grains for ethanol, and to feed livestock, even when this chart unearthed from a USDA search indicates that kidney beans provide nearly 3 times as much energy in kilocalories, and more protein than beef per 100 grams. Furthermore, kidney beans provide 60 grams of carbohydrates and 25 grams of fiber per 100 grams, whereas beef provides zero. Only in total lipids (fat) does beef provide over 4 times that of kidney beans.
The arguments over health and consistency in diet may continue for decades, but the Buddhist perspective is that the taking of life produces irreparable karma, and this bad karma is what is wreaking havoc in the world today. Everyday, countless animals (not to mention humans) are consigned to death and living in utmost misery. These humans and animals cry out for help and mercy in their pain and suffering as they are being led to slaughter, yet there is no recourse. When they harbor anger, animosity, and want to retaliate, can they rest in peace?
In a somewhat apocalyptic statement, again, Master Cheng Yen states:
An earth-shattering disaster has befallen us, but we’ve yet to reach a world changing awakening. We just keep creating karma. This is very worrisome. —Essence of the Bodhi Mind lecture, “Go Vegetarian Now”
Many religious laity and leaders are indeed worried about the post-Industrial Artificial Intelligence culture being foisted upon us, a sort of amoral Brave New World dystopia in which the common man is branded, processed, and forced to exchange his independence for a pittance in security. Worse, a world in which true spirituality and empathy becomes policed and, as Youtube broadcaster Dayz of Noah suggests, replaced with the “United States of Technocracy.” Many religions, from the ancient Jains to today’s Lental Christians observe fasts and dietary laws in order to increase their sense of faith and piety, deepen their spiritual commitment, and sharpen their awareness of the universality of life.
We need to ensure everyone grow spiritually hence everyone needs to repent, reform, and abstain from meat. —Tzu Chi, Mission of Humanistic Culture
How much of the current world crises, the sixth mass extinction, the gross pollution, the climate change, the depletion of resources, will be chalked up in the geologic annals of the Anthropocene Era remains to be seen. Yet traditional indigenous culture, such as the Native Americans, always advised trying to live in harmony with Nature so as to not put ourselves in danger. Each seed was planted with krill or smelt to enrich the soil and nurture the seedling. While it’s undoubtedly easy for the privileged and powerful career ladder climbers in the urban jungle to forget that we are all biologically related, we must harbor more gratitude toward Mother Earth, and the best way for doing so is by minimizing future retributions.
Citations and Notes:
Tzu Chi Foundation. “Go Vegetarian Now.” Da Ai Video. Essence of the Bodhi Mind. Youtube, May 30, 2020, https://youtu.be/imnvkq0xxbw
Murphy, Eugene R. “Pat”. Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2008.
Dayz of Noah. “The Future of Humanity: Trauma Bonding and New World Religion.” DayzofNoah.com, July 3, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SEY4EYeJSQ
Kroll, Christine. “Food for Thought Thematic Modules.” August 25, 2010, http://rappispell.columbiapress.org/
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Peta Vegan Starter Kit. PETA.org