Letter from Thich Nhat Hanh

December 4, 2007

image - Plum Village logo - from www.plumvillage.org[Layne sent us the following excerpts from a Letter from Thầy]

UNESCO reported that each day about 40,000 children die because of hunger or lack of nutrition. Meanwhile, corn and wheat are largely grown to feed livestock (cows, pigs, chickens, etc.) or to produce alcohol. Over 80 percent of corn and over 95 percent of oats produced in the United States are for feeding livestock. The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equivalent to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people, more than the entire human population on earth.

In 2005, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) began an in-depth assessment of the various significant impacts of the world’s livestock sector on the environment. Its report, titled Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, was released on November 29th 2006. Henning Steinfeld, chief of FAO’s Livestock Information and Policy Branch and senior of the report, in the executive summary, asserts that: “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change, air pollution, water shortage, water pollution and loss of biodiversity. Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and its potential contribution to their solution is equally large. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency.”

Land degradation: Presently, livestock production accounts for 70 percent of all agriculture land and 30 percent of the land surface of the planet. Forests are cleared to create new pastures, and it is a major driver of deforestation. For example, in Latin America some 70 percent of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing. From these figures, we can see that the livestock business has destroyed hundreds of millions acres of forest all over the world to grow crops and to create pastureland for farm animals. Moreover, when the forests are destroyed, enormous amounts of carbon dioxide stored in trees are released into the atmosphere.

Climate change: The livestock sector has major impacts on the atmosphere and climate. It is responsible for “18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in carbon dioxide equivalent, which is a higher share than transport.” This means that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. The livestock sector accounts for 9 percent of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. It also emits 37 percent of anthropogenic methane, most of that from enteric fermentation by ruminants. This is an enormous amount, because every pound of methane is twenty three times as effective as carbon dioxide is at trapping heat in our atmosphere (23 times the global warming potential [GWP] of carbon dioxide). The meat, egg, and dairy industries are also responsible for the emission of 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide, most of that from manure. Nitrous oxide is about 300 times more potent as a global warming gas than carbon dioxide (296 times the GWP of carbon dioxide). It is also responsible for about two-thirds (64 percent) of anthropogenic ammonia emissions, which contribute largely to acid rain and acidification of the ecosystem

Water scarcity and water pollution: More than half of all the water consumed in the U.S. is used to raise animals for food. It requires 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat. Meanwhile, it takes only 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of grain. Livestock in the United States produce an enormous amount of animal excrement, 130 times more than human excrement; each second the animals release 97,000 pounds of feces. “Most of the water used for livestock drinking and servicing returns to the environment in the form of manure and wastewater. Livestock excreta contain a considerable amount of nutrients [nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium], drug residues, heavy metals and pathogens.” These waste products enter streams and rivers, polluting water sources and causing disease outbreaks that affect all species.

Buddhist practitioners have practiced vegetarianism over the last 2000 years. We are vegetarian with the intention to nourish our compassion towards the animals. Now we also know that we eat vegetarian in order to protect the earth, preventing the greenhouse effect from causing her serious and irreversible damage. In the near future, when the greenhouse effect becomes severe, all species will suffer. Millions of people will die, and sea levels will rise and flood cities and land. Many life-threatening diseases will result, and all species will suffer the consequences.

Both monastic practitioners and lay people practice vegetarianism. Even though the number of lay practitioners who are 100 percent vegetarian is not as many as monastic practitioners, but they practice eating vegetarian meals either for 4 days or 10 days each month. Thầy believes that it is not so difficult to stop eating meat, when we know that we are saving the planet by doing so. Lay communities should be courageous and give rise to the commitment to be vegetarian, at least 15 days each month. If we can do that, we will feel a sense of well-being. We will have peace, joy, and happiness right from the moment we make this vow and commitment. During the retreats organized in the United States this year, many American Buddhist practitioners have made the commitment to stop eating meat or to eat 50 percent less meat. This is a result of their awakening, after they have listened to the Dharma talks on the greenhouse effect. Let us take care of our Mother Earth. Let us take care of all species, including our children and grandchildren. We only need to be vegetarian, and we can already save the earth. Being vegetarian here also means that we do not consume dairy and egg products, because they are products of the meat industry. If we stop consuming, they will stop producing. Only collective awakening can create enough determination for action.

This December 2007, Deer Park will have 100 percent electrical power generated from solar energy for the monastery use. All of our monasteries, in the Plum Village tradition in Europe and North America, have also been practicing no car day once a week, and thousands of our friends are also practicing with us. We have begun to use less cars and to use electric cars and vege-cars (run on vegetable oil). These cars can help reduce 50 percent the amount of carbon dioxide released. Buying a Prius Toyota, which uses half gas and half electricity, we can prevent about 1 ton of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year. However, according to the University of Chicago, “being a vegan is more effective in the fight against global warming; a vegan prevents approximately 1.5 fewer tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year than a meat-eater does….You could spend more than $20,000 on a Prius and still emit 50 percent more carbon dioxide than you would if you just gave up eating meat and other animal products” (Fight Global Warming by Going Vegetarian). Do you see that, my dear spiritual family? Being vegetarian is already enough to save the world. Who amongst us has not experienced the delicious taste of vegetarian foods? Only when we are too used to eating meat we cannot see this truth.

Our mother, The Earth, the green planet has suffered from her children’s violent and ignorant ways of consuming. We have destroyed our Mother Earth like a type of bacterium or virus destroying the human body, because Mother Earth is also a body. Of course, there are bacteria that are beneficial to the human body. Trillions of these bacteria are present in us, especially in our digestive systems (known as intestinal normal flora). They protect the body and help generate enzymes necessary to us. Similarly, the human species can also be a living organism that has the capacity to protect the body of Mother Earth, if the human species wakes up and knows to live with responsibility, compassion and loving kindness. Buddhism came to life, so that we learn to live with responsibility and compassion and loving kindness. We have to see that we inter-are with our Mother Earth, that we live with her and die with her.

Mother Earth has gone through re-birth many times. After the great flood caused by global warming takes place, perhaps only a very small portion of the human race will survive. The earth will need over a million years to recuperate and put on a new whole, beautiful green coat, and another human civilization will begin. That civilization will be the continuation of our civilization. To the human species, one million years is a very long time, but to the earth and in geological time, one million years is nothing at all; it is only a short period of time. Ultimately, all birth and death are only superficial phenomena. No-birth and no-death are the true nature of all things. This is the teaching of the Middle Way in Buddhism.

[please read the original letter]


4 Responses to “Letter from Thich Nhat Hanh”

  1. John Mooter Says:

    I am pleased that Thay is encouraging a vegan diet for lay followers. I know that he encourages abstaining from alcoholic beverages 100 per-cent. My hope is that he will eventually encourage 100 per-cent veganism for the planet, the animals, and our health, May all beings be happy and free from suffering.

  2. Mili Says:

    please, lets spread this message throughout the spiritual communities

    I changed to a vegan diet over one year ago. I am periodically watching my blood values, weight,BP, mood, etc and can say that it helped me so much on my yoga path and that I believe that many spiritual and normal people underestimate the power of right nutrition.

    To understand healthy nutrition I can recommend Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s book about nutrition “the china study” (http://www.thechinastudy.com)

  3. Louche Says:

    I was so happy when I got to TNH’s monastery in New York and discovered it was vegan. 🙂 Curious that he doesn’t use the word, but I guess he’s “old school.” “Vegan” was certainly a word in use at Blue Cliff.

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