A Great Society Based in Compassion

When I look back at my life, the time that I had in my childhood was the best in my life. Maybe everybody has the same thing, but my childhood in the monastery was the happiest period. There were little worries here and there, but those were not the worries of getting food and clothes, but the worries, whether I could be naughty here or there. That’s all. That was my suffering. Then, if you had been naughty, they would give you little punishments. That was all the suffering I had, until that huge thing happened. The Communist takeover. Many of you don’t even bother about communism, and don’t even know. But many of my age and my experience who have suffered tremendously under Communism, find that it is almost equal to the suffering experienced under the Nazis, if not worse. So in one way, we had to leave our parents, country, family and friends, teachers, monastery, companions and everything. It is almost like you are singled out completely. But on the other hand, there are the memories of great and wonderful things. Most importantly, now we realize, is the spiritual path.

Everybody in the society I belonged to, that old Tibetan society [benefitted]. That is no longer there today, even in Tibet proper. In that old society, everybody was engaged with spiritual activities. Everybody had hesitation to harm anybody, including little insects and so forth. Yes, we did have butchers and killed animals, but in a very limited way. It was not the mass production of today’s economized market. Now the vegetarians become extremely important, not only because of health alone, but it reduces demand and we have a demand and supply economy, that helps in a little way to reduce the killing. But in those days it was not like that. Maybe we got a couple of chickens per month in the whole city or maybe one or two yak for a family. That would be the meat we ate. So, yes, there was killing, there were butchers and they did sell meat, a lot of dry meat and fresh meat, but in the fourth month around Buddha’s death anniversary – also that of his birth and enlightenment – in that important month killing was forbidden completely.

That included the killing of insects, and everything, throughout the whole of Tibet, every year, sort of automatically. If you killed any animal in that period, you were punished by law. That society was a great society, a society based on compassion. That doesn’t mean there was no killing at all. We did kill animals for the need of survival, nothing excessive, not like the massive butchering. You roughly knew how many yaks were going to go this year. You could estimate how many yaks each family needed – or how many families shared one yak together. In that way it was very balanced. Killing was not completely forbidden, because it was needed for survival. But it was a compassionate, caring society. That was the good old society, which is gone and no longer there now. Tibet is still there, but today’s Tibet is very different from the Tibet pre-1959. Even the Tibetans in India or anywhere in the world now are very different from how it was in Tibet then. The good old spiritually civilized society is no more.

Whatever is left out of that is a few bits of spiritual information, Buddhist, Bon and very few Tibetan Christians, as well as a very small Tibetan Muslim community. They were all functioning in Tibet for hundreds of years together, in harmony. I am sure the Buddhists were bullying them, no doubt about it, because they were the majority, and they would try not to get into trouble, but whenever they got into trouble, they bullied them. It is not true, that Buddhists don’t bully others. They do. Even in Burma today, you can clearly see it.

–Gelek Rimpoche

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