I have been particularly concerned with the sufferings of chickens for many years.”
HH Dalai Lama in a letter to KFC
Various Buddhist traditions advocate vegetarian diet on the grounds of compassion, with the notable exception of Tibetan Buddhists—due to the scarcity of plants and vegetables in Tibet. Since chickens are statistically the most butchered and abused animal on earth, they became the focus of a campaign to stop KFC from opening in Tibet.
Dalai Lama became a vegetarian after witnessing a chicken slaughter
The Dalai Lama himself is vegetarian, and became strict after witnessing the butchering of a chicken: “One day I chanced to see the slaughter of a chicken, which made me decide to become a vegetarian.” He explains that where possible, all killing should be avoided, but in particular smaller animals such as chickens and fish, because more of them must be killed to satisfy our hunger.
Killing is a prohibited act in Buddhism, but the argument arises as to whether animals and fish are included in the prohibition. Most traditions accept that the are, although Tibetan Buddhism and other cultures must make a survival exception due to the scarcity of vegetation. All beings are living beings, not just humans, and in most rebirth understandings we can be ourselves reborn as animals in future or past lives.
KFC slaughters 850 million chickens each year
KFC, who slaughters 850 million chickens each year (according to various sources, as of 2010) and has been accused of cruelty by PETA and others, received a letter from the Dalai Lama asking them to reconsider the move into Tibet.
“I am writing to ask that KFC abandon its plan to open restaurants in Tibet, because your corporations support for cruelty and mass slaughter violate Tibetan value,” wrote the Dalai Lama in a letter to KFC.
In Tibet, fish and chicken consumption is rare
Although KFC is in every area of China, and very popular there, the Dalai Lama explains, “It is considered more ethical to eat the meat of larger animals such as yaks… For this reason, consumption of fish and chicken are rare…”
PETA maintains that chickens “feel pain and have distinct personalities and intelligence.” They also state, through various statistics and investigations that “chickens are the most abused animals on earth, typically by “throat slashing” even in high volume butchers such as KFC.
Even though Tibetans don’t have the resources to be strict vegetarians, the Dalai Lama explained that “buying animals from the butcher and releasing them to save their lives was a common practice, and said that even in exile, many Tibetans continue this practice.”
Here is a letter from His Holiness the Dalai Lama written to KFC in June of 2004:
On behalf of my friends at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), I am writing to ask that KFC abandon its plan to open restaurants in Tibet, because your corporations support for cruelty and mass slaughter violate Tibetan value.
I have been particularly concerned with the sufferings of chickens for many years. It was the death of a chicken that finally strengthened my resolve to become vegetarian. In 1965, I was staying at the Government Guest House in south India. My room looked directly on to the kitchens opposite. One day I chanced to see the slaughter of a chicken, which made me decide to become a vegetarian.
Tibetans are not, as a rule, vegetarians, because in Tibet vegetables are scarce and meat forms a large part of the staple diet. However, it is considered more ethical to eat the meat of larger animals such as yaks, than small ones, because fewer large animals would have to be killed. For this reason, consumption of fish and chicken was rare, in fact traditionally we though of chickens as only a source of eggs, not as a food themselves, and even eggs were seldom eaten because they were thought to dull the sharpness of mind and memory. Eating chicken only really began with the arrival of Chinese communists.
These days, when I see a row of plucked chickens hanging in a meat shop it hurts. I find it unacceptable that violence is the basis for some of our food habits. When I am driving through the towns near where I live in India I see thousands of chickens in cages outside restaurants ready to be killed. When I see them I feel very sad, because in the heat they have no shade or relief, and in the cold they have no shelter from the wind. These poor chickens are treated as if they were merely vegetables.
In Tibet, buying animals from the butcher, thereby saving their lives, and setting them free was a common practice. Many Tibetans, even in exile, continue this practice where practically possible. It is therefore quite natural for me to support those who are currently protesting against the introduction of industrial food practices into Tibet that will perpetuate the suffering of huge numbers of chickens.
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Author | Buddha Weekly
Josephine Nolan is an editor and contributing feature writer for several online publications, including EDI Weekly and Buddha Weekly.