“Coerced Vegetarianism and the Welfare of Tibetans” By Jamyang Kyi

2015 03 27 Coerced Vegetarianism 1

High Peaks Pure Earth presents an English translation of a blogpost against vegetarianism written by Tibetan female writer Jamyang Kyi. The English translation has been published with the kind permission of Tibet scholar Katia Buffetrille.

Jamyang Kyi’s blogpost was written in Tibetan and published on her Sangdhor-hosted blog on June 24, 2013 at the following URL: http://www.sangdhor.com/list1_c.asp?id=11861&a=menzhu Sadly neither the blog nor the Sangdhor website itself are accessible anymore.

Jamyang Kyi’s controversial blogpost was translated for and published in Katia Buffetrille’s essay “A Controversy on Vegetarianism” which examines Jamyang Kyi’s post in detail in the context of “a movement launched by high clerics in Eastern Tibet which is a firm desire to affirm, in what can be described as an emergent Tibetan Buddhist fundamentalism, a strong sense of Tibetaness.” It is a movement that Jamyang Kyi has also critically written about, see a previous High Peaks Pure Earth translation titled “The Impact of the So-Called Ten Virtues”. As Katia Buffetrille notes in her essay, Jamyang Kyi’s post was not well-received and Jamyang Kyi received numerous comments expressing strong disagreement. 

High Peaks Pure Earth readers are encouraged to read Katia Buffetrille’s entire essay “A Controversy on Vegetarianism” here: http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/ret/pdf/ret_31_09.pdf

“A Controversy on Vegetarianism” was included in “Trails of the Tibetan Tradition: Papers for Elliot Sperling”, a volume edited by Roberto Vitali and published by the Dharamsala-based Amnye Machen Institute in honour of the Tibetologist Elliot Sperling on the occasion of his retirement. Read Roberto Vitali’s speech at the launch event for the publication here: http://www.rangzen.net/2015/03/03/a-speech-for-the-release-of-trails-of-the-tibetan-tradition-papers-for-elliot-sperling/

Thank you very much to Katia Buffetrille for allowing High Peaks Pure Earth to publish this valuable translation.

“Coerced Vegetarianism and the Welfare of Tibetans”
By Jamyang Kyi


During these [last] years, there has been a lot of fuss in Tibet about a movement to stop eating meat. While vegetarianism may be appropriate for others, in a barren land of high mountains, where oxygen is scarce, conditions for livelihood are poor, and there are no vegetables, while yak and sheep meat are considered the best, this is more harmful than beneficial for the masses of Tibetan farmers and pastoralists who have to rely on their physical strength to do their work.

This is particularly so for Tibetan mothers. The reason is that once a child is conceived, the fetus stays at least nine months and ten days in the mother’s womb, and then she has to give birth in great pain. Even if the mother is able to rest for one month after the birth 1, she has to breast-feed the child ten times a day during that time, and to clean him as often as he defecates. If unfortunately the child has a calcium (kal) deficiency, or if he cries a lot, the mother has even less time to rest, like a worm wriggling in the fire. Not only that, but basically, mothers must breast-feed until the child is at least one or two years old, and have their periods every month as well, while Western medical science shows that calcium levels decrease once women reach their 30s. 2

Anyway, as a woman and a mother too, I well know from experience that during the nine months and ten days when the child is in the womb

1. for the first three months, the child is like a fierce poison

2. in the 7th, 8th and 9th months, the body is like a heavy load to carry

3. at the time of giving birth, the pain is like having nails driven into the lower back until it is about to shatter. Then, there is all the suffering of breast-feeding, and by night the torment of being woken from peaceful sleep.

I was 38 when I gave birth to my younger daughter, and not only did I rely on an abundance of medicines and oxygen at the hospital but, terrified by the pain of delivery, I had a cesarean. During postnatal leave, I was like a carnivorous wild yak, eating and drinking everything, milk, eggs, vegetables, fruits. For a while, my husband did the shopping and I lapsed into a state of undernourishment. From the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy, my heart was not well, and because of a deficiency of oxygen I could not sleep well. Then, the caesarean operation drained my reserves, and less than a week after delivery, I ran a very high fever and, unable to recover, I fell into a coma, and went a little deaf, as had happened to my mother. Thanks to my husband, who had prepared extra food in advance, I manage to slowly recover with good nutrition (‘tsho bcud) and vitamins, and because there was no delay in medical treatment, nothing serious happened to me. 3

When my mother was 40 years old, the Triple Gem gave her the only son she wanted and during most of the 9 months and 10 days [of pregnancy], she suffered as if the child was a fierce poison. Her body became very weak because of the intolerable pain of childbirth. After the birth, she was not able to eat well enough, her strength became depleted, she suffered from depression and became deaf in one ear. My mother suffered for 33 years from the humiliation of being deaf, without telling anyone. She lived and died so.

Those who advocate abstaining from meat had better take care, for there is no saying that one day someone in your family, your older sisters, younger sisters or aunts, will not become disabled.

The child in the mother’s womb has even more need of varied nutrition, vitamins and calcium. Fish and pulses are especially beneficial. However, even for someone like me who has gone to school 8, 9 or 10 years, and has lived 20 years in the city, it is difficult to become accustomed to such food, never mind for Tibetan villagers [who do not eat fish]. Still, we like our own food, and our yak and mutton has a lot of nutrients.

Yak meat contains vitamin B12, which has an important capacity to replenish the body’s cells. It has even more vitamin B6, which helps the body combat infectious diseases. Albumin (spri dkar gyi bcud) helps in [bodily] renewal. It also contains zinc (ti tsha), iron (lcags), calcium (kal), magnesium (mag), potassium (pod), and the 8 kinds of amino acid (em gzhi skyur) essential to the human body. Yak meat is said to be more nutritious than beef.

Sheep mutton contains most of the B vitamins, and plenty of B12, as well as albumin, zinc (ti tsha), folic acid (lo ma’i skyur rgyu), organic vitamins (skye dngos ‘tsho rtsi) and ? (skyur langs ‘tsho rtsi). Mutton also has important regenerative capacities, and its antibiotic properties have been demonstrated by modern medical research. 4

However that may be, with the policy of exterminating cattle, the sky-high market price of meat, and the system of enriching the state while impoverishing the masses, ordinary farmers and pastoralists face all kinds of hardship in making a living. For women, especially in pregnancy, this means calcium and vitamin deficiency and, after childbirth, given the lack of both the economic resources and concerned attitude needed to make up the deficiency, treatment is not given in time and children fall sick. In our village of only sixty- odd families, there are four children of this kind. On top of that, those with power in our own community are now forcing labouring farmers and pastoralists to give up eating meat, and proudly announcing this as an achievement in learned assemblies and other public gatherings. By depriving people of nutrition, what do you achieve for Tibetans other than exhausted fathers, sick mothers and handicapped children?

The suitability of yak and sheep meat to the Tibetan diet can be seen just from the fact that if the mother does not eat meat and drink broth after childbirth, she will not produce milk. I found this out myself when my two daughters were born. If the mother has no milk, the newborn baby looks here and there [in discomfort] and her face and eyes turn yellow. [In that case] the child needs to be given medical attention in time, and putting her in the sun is also very beneficial. If we delay, the jaundice increases and there is a great danger of the child falling sick. Generally, mother’s milk is much the best nutrition. Science has proven the necessity of breastfeeding for the first eight months. 5 Strangely, Chinese mothers are able to produce milk by eating rice soup and eggs and drinking milk. It is difficult to explain this other than as a result of the different eating habits of different peoples.

Nowadays, Tibetan children who come from agricultural and nomad areas [to study in urban schools] seem to be getting smaller year by year, while it is quite evident that when there is economic development and a high standard of living, as for example in Japan, young people get taller and taller. How does this come about, if not by increasing quality of life?

According to the gynaecologist Sonam Tso, rural women are increasingly suffering from high levels of salt in the body, mental anxiety and sleeplessness. This is said to be a condition caused by psychological disorders and nerves. In my view, it is because [rural Tibetan] women do heavy work, are quite anxious, have vitamin, calcium and nutritional deficiencies; because under the family planning policy, women are forcibly sterilized, which is a crime; and nowadays, most foods are adulterated with chemicals, and many of the commercial products that we eat and drink 6are fake and of poor quality.

Generally speaking, due to the limited variety of foodstuffs, we have become accustomed to eating yak meat and mutton for thousands of years, and if we are suddenly forced to stop, it goes without saying that Tibetans in general, and mothers in particular, will suffer protein, vitamin and calcium deficiency, which is even more damaging for the unborn child. When the child is conceived, the semen of the father and egg of the mother will be of poor quality, and then if the mother’s body is undernourished, she cannot produce the nutrients necessary for the child in the womb. Once this vicious cycle is set in motion, Tibetans will surely become physically weaker and mentally duller, [biological] inheritance will be diminished and procreation tainted, and gradually we will become more susceptible to various diseases and epidemics. We shall see.

Do the advocates of vegetarianism really and truly consider animals’ lives more valuable than those of humans? Or do they consider the suffering of those prevented from eating meat as a virtue or accomplishment rendered to them? Otherwise, they are simply making a fuss over following a fad inspired by Chinese Buddhists and Western vegetarians. Whatever the case may be, this wish to overcome one’s given circumstances with a single step, using authority to impose one’s own whims, with no consideration for the altitude and oxygen levels of the land one inhabits, and the customs and resources of one’s people, is a sign of mere foolishness. It is like the proverbial ‘pauper who tries to walk alongside a rich man but ends up breaking his leg’, or ‘picking up a corpse from the ground and carrying it on one’s shoulders’, 7and this should be understood by all, chiefly those among us who think they know best.

Katia Buffetrille

Published in “A Controversy on Vegetarianism”, in R. Vitali (ed.) Trails of the Tibetan Tradition, Papers for Elliot Sperling. Dharamsala, Amye Machen Institute. 2014: 113-128.

And: http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/ret/pdf/ret_31_09.pdf


  1. In some nomadic areas, it is not even customary for the mother to rest after birth
  2. Urban Chinese women who reach this age take calcium and vitamins (‘tsho rtsi) supplements. They compensate for the deficiency without needing so much rest. This is certainly why Chinese women look younger [than Tibetans], and the fact that pleasure-seeking young Tibetan men find Chinese women attractive can hardly be unrelated.
  3. The process of giving birth to a child brings so much difficulty for the mother. After recovering from the birth of my daughter Kargyen (Dkar rgyan), my husband told me that even he could not go through it again.
  4. If we Tibetans, who live with poor conditions of hygiene and no variety of foodstuffs, are not grateful for yak and sheep meat that make us healthy and strong, what else is there?
  5. The Tibetan medical system has shown that there is no benefit in breastfeeding a child for more than eight months, because the child loses appetite for more nutritious foods. By that time, the mother’s milk is no longer really nutritious.
  6. Analysis show that nowadays most commercial foodstuffs contain harmful ingredients.
  7. These proverbs mean taking on unnecessary burdens (note of the translator).