Filed in Compassion

Taking Your Future Into Your Own Hands

Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche


©Mindy Gross

All sentient beings without a single exception have buddha nature, from the dharmakaya buddha down to the tiniest insect. There is no real difference in the quality or size of this enlightened essence between individuals. However, buddhas and fully enlightened bodhisattvas have cut the movement of dualistic mind at the very beginning. That is how they are different from sentient beings. Buddhas and bodhisattvas’ expression of mind takes the form of compassionate activity. This activity, through emanations and re-emanations, appears in all samsaric realms in order to teach other beings.

© Shinryu Suzuki

Sentient beings, on the other hand, have fallen under the power of dualistic thinking. An ordinary person’s attention strays according to any movement of mind. Suddenly there is the confusion of believing in self and other, subject and object, and this situation goes on and on repeating itself endlessly. This is samsaric existence. The buddhas and bodhisattvas were successful in getting up on the dry land of enlightenment. But we sentient beings became bewildered, and are now in the unsuccessful, unsatisfactory state we all find ourselves in. We are still in the ocean of samsara; we have not yet gotten our heads fully out of the water. We have roamed about in one confused state of experience after the other, endlessly. At the same time, we haven’t lost our buddha nature. Our buddha nature is never separate from our minds for even a single instant. Though we are not apart from it we do not know it, and thus we wander in samsaric existence.

Now is the time to free ourselves from samsara. Unless we do it in this lifetime, it is not going to happen all by itself. We have to take care of ourselves. Right now we have the ability to receive teachings and practice the Dharma. Isn’t this the right time? Wouldn’t that be better than continuing to act like an animal, concentrating only on eating and sleeping and letting the time run out? Why not take your future into your own hands?

From As It Is, vol. 1, ©1999 by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. Reprinted with permission of Rangjung Yeshe Publications.

Calligraphy by Shunryu Suzuki, reprinted with permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

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This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.'s picture

It was remarkable what you have written.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Time is important in Buddhism. It refers to a degree of awareness in people that arises at a certain point, allowing them to comprehend the Law. It behooves bodhisattvas to be mindful of this when speaking with others about Buddhism.

Migwell's picture

“Radicals keep on radicalizing” as would sings Stevie Wonder. We need guys like you.
If I were a wolf I’ll be a loner wolf because I just can’t stand such a kind of hierarchy. That’s all I was trying to say.
I should have said: we are in democracy not in theocracy; but it sounds flat and polemic.

tina_mccoy's picture

Great discussion. Thank you, candor, for your enlightening comments. I learned two things from you today.
(1) "Plants are not sentient, not even to a small degree." I'm a vegetarian, who recently learned that our enlightenment depends on sentient beings. I was beginning to worry what to eat if plants are sentient beings.
(2) "I’m not as concerned about the gray areas as the much clearer areas where we can have a high degree of certainty." I also like the thought of focusing on the "clearer areas" rather than spinning our wheels to worry about the "gray areas"...

candor's picture

I'm glad my comments were helpful to you, Tina.

candor's picture


Migwell's picture

"Wouldn’t that be better than continuing to act like an animal, concentrating only on eating and sleeping and letting the time run out?"
I'm sorry but this sentence shocks me. It’s maybe true, I don't know, but does someone can talk to someone else this way. We are human beings not animals.

candor's picture

"We are human beings not animals."

At the risk of shocking you more, we are animals as well as humans. Evolutionarily speaking, we're fraternal twins of the chimpanzee, sharing 98% of our genetic code with them.

Even if "animals" is meant figuratively meaning "brutish," we still more than qualify, being one of the most brutish species on the planet, and that is after removing technologically enhanced violence. When technology is included, human violence is on a magnitude that we cannot even comprehend with all our ability for abstraction. In addition to mass murders and genocides of groups of our own species, we murder close to 60 billion land animals annually, and hundreds of billions more aquatic animals annually (yes, annually). And yet 99.99% of this violence is unnecessary. In fact, diets high in animal products are harmful to our health.

All of this incredible violence is extremely brutish per se, but additionally, it is self-destructive and unwise in the long run. A primate species like the human should be living with chimpanzees on the food chain: about 98% or more of our diet should be plant foods. (Morally, given modern knowledge of dietetics, we should be on a 100% plant diet.) But humans live like the most intensive predators, which, with 7 billion of us, is ecologically and environmentally inefficient and destructive to the point of eventual collapse of the global environment and ecosystem. When they go, human civilization will go with them, if we don't kill ourselves off with WMDs over resource wars first.

So yes, we're animals, both literally and figuratively. In fact, I don't like insulting the vast majority of other species, who are incomparably less violent and stick to their ecological niche, by comparing them to humans. Humans behave much like cancer, making the planet ill with our aggressive population growth and aggressive violence, and pollution.

But no, I'm not a misanthrope. We're determined by genetics, culture, and environment, just like weather is determined by climate, sun, and general atmospheric currents. I don't get upset with tropical storms and their destruction, so why be upset with humans and our destruction? I just don't want to fool myself or anyone else into thinking that humans are somehow "above" nature or "better than" other animals. We're certainly not, no matter how we might be culturally influenced or might rationalize otherwise.

butterflystampede's picture

Thank you, candor, for your comments. I feel exactly the same way. As a species, we have the capability of being so magnificent.... but look at the chaos we continue to create.

candor's picture

You're welcome. Glad to hear from likeminded people. :-)

bryanvick's picture

I appreciate your comment candor, thank you for contributing. I have been
considering the topic of life eating life lately.

I interpreted your comment as suggesting that killing plants is somehow morally
OK, while killing animals is not, is that an accurate interpretation? If so,
what defines the line between life that is OK to take in order to feed other
life, and life that is not OK to take in order to feed other life? Is there
some level of complexity that a life form reaches at which point it is not OK
to eat?

As I understand it, plants do not consume other life forms for the purpose of
acquiring energy to sustain their life, but rather, they can gather that energy
from the sun. Animals need to eat other life forms to gather energy to
continue their own life. However, plants do fight for available sun light and
nutrients, so maybe it could be said that plants kill other plants?

The morals surrounding killing other life forms for energy confuse me.

candor's picture

Good question, Bryan. Sentience defines when killing or exploitation becomes a moral issue. Like all, or almost all, areas of ethics, there are gray areas. For example, a chicken is clearly and obviously sentient. A hen, like a human, has a life that can go well or poorly for her. But what about certain insects? I believe spiders are sentient, but I’m not sure if they’re as sentient as humans, for example. Nevertheless, I give the benefit of the doubt when it seems reasonable to do so.

I’m not as concerned about the gray areas as the much clearer areas where we can have a high degree of certainty. Cows, chickens, pheasants, pigs, and dogs have central nervous systems and are sentient to a degree quite similar, and probably identical, to humans. They are, as the philosopher Tom Regan has defined, “subjects-of-a-life.” They are also the species we _intentionally_ exploit and kill the most.

Plants are not sentient, not even to a small degree. They do “respond” to their environment through a hormonal process, but that process is several orders of magnitude too slow (like tens of trillions of times too slow) to generate anything like sentience or awareness. Plant “response,” at its quickest (e.g. the venus fly trap) is similar to unconscious animal digestion, where the digestive system “responds” unconsciously to the existence of food. Another analogy would be the unconscious wound healing of the skin of a live animal, or humans going through puberty.

The gray areas, like mollusks, certain insects, and certain other organisms on the border between plants and animals are interesting, but not nearly as important as animals who are clearly conscious, sentient, and aware of their environment.

bryanvick's picture

"I’m not as concerned about the gray areas as the much clearer areas"

I really like that thought. Sometimes I let the perfect solution be the enemy of the good enough solution, and reject a system that has loose ends. But your approach is refreshing to me. I suppose while I'm considering the gray areas, I might as well act correctly in the cases that are clear to me. Thanks again for the conversation candor.

candor's picture

Thank you for your intelligent question and reply, Bryan.

Migwell's picture

Happy to have initiated a conversation between you, guys. This was not the subject, but it doesn’t matter. I just try to say that teaching should be armless to be efficient if the listener is not convinced.
As human being I’m trying to practice humanism. I agree that we are animals evolved with the technological capacity to mess everything around. But if we didn’t, and in a way the majority of us didn’t, it’s because of humanism. That’s why I say we are not animals. Look closer to animal’s behaviour and you certainly could see that they are doing freely a lot of things that would put a man in jail if he did the same.
We are today on the 6 of June and I’m in living in France. So I know watching TV today that many people died in Normandy in 1945 in order to free Europe of fascism that is the “human-animal” behaviour.

candor's picture

My objective was merely to point out that not only are we animals, but we behave worse than the vast majority of them: 1) toward each other, 2) toward our species collectively (the height of stupidity), and 3) especially toward other species. The majority of other species are herbivores. Only a minority of species evolved as natural animal killers. Ecology does not function any other way. Further, humans have no need for animal products in our diet, so as I mentioned earlier, 99.99% of our violence toward other animals is unnecessary. When other animals kill, it is almost always necessary for their survival. That's a huge difference when we're comparing ourselves to ecological predators.

My objective was not to convince the decidedly unconvinced to become vegan; and after many years of experience in social justice advocacy, I would never embark on such a fool’s errand. After all, persuasion is a two-way street, especially in religion, politics, and ethics. Reason does not enter where minds are closed off to possibilities.

But I believe that vegans take humanism to its logical conclusion by dumping the unnecessary and harmful anthropocentric baggage it currently carries, and opening humans up to see our full potential. Such potential lies, at least in necessary part (if not entirely), in shedding all cultural prejudices (which are, by definition, arbitrary and without reason) against “the other,” to extend empathy and nonviolence to all who can benefit from it, regardless of their race, sex, sexual orientation, or species. At the very least, such potential lies in recognizing how intentionally and unnecessarily violent and exploitive we are to certain “others,” as encouraged by our culture, and take measures, at least in our personal attitudes, thoughts, and behavior, to avoid cultural prejudice and the intentional and unnecessary violence and exploitation that usually accompanies it.

When we limit humanism by combining it with anthropocentrism and speciesism (as most "humanists" presently do), it looks strikingly similar to the ideologies of racism, sexism, and heterosexism -- ugly and backward. When we expand humanism to be inclusive of all who can benefit from our empathy and nonviolence, humanism becomes magnificent.

Migwell's picture

“Radicals keep on radicalizing” as would sings Stevie Wonder. We need guys like you.
If I were a wolf I’ll be a loner wolf because I just can’t stand such a kind of hierarchy. That’s all I was trying to say.
I should have said: we are in democracy not in theocracy; but it sounds flat and polemic.

candor's picture

"We need guys like you."

Thank you for the compliment, Migwell. I think there are a lot of people like me. In one sense, I'm radical. In another sense, I'm moderate.

Let me explain. It would certainly be a radical change for the world to become vegan, especially quickly, like over a couple of decades. In this way, I certainly appear radical.

In another sense, veganism fits hand-in-glove with the Buddha's teachings on the four immeasurables, his rejection of the caste system, and his teaching of letting go of craving, aversion, and delusion (or having a deep sense of self/ego). Veganism also goes well (albeit not as well as with the Buddha's teachings) with what the (vast?) majority of people already believe -- at the root of our ethical thinking -- about unnecessary violence and the general innocence of animals.

Violent psychopaths aside, we don't like to see animals get hurt or killed, especially accidentally or for trivial reasons. That's why it's difficult to get people to watch videos like Earthlings. Most of us are simply following along with our culture and what we learned on our mother's knee. We hide the violence away. Slaughterhouse and animal labs don't have tourists or windows. We have division of labor in our industrial exploitation of animals, so nobody sees the entire life of a victim in the system. Slaughterhouse workers (with the exception of violent psychopaths attracted to such "work") don't last long, and often claim that slaughterhouse work messes you up psychologically, often to the point of needing professional help. They are victims like the animals killed are.

So veganism, when we look at our core ethical values (and especially when we look at the Buddha's teachings), is not radical at all, except for its radical consistency with what we already value: justice, nonviolence, protection of, or at least not intentionally harming, the innocent.

Advocacy is difficult. It's easier on a forum like this due to the deeper values here already fitting well with veganism. But we don't all need to be advocates. My partner, a vegan as long as I've been vegan, would never advocate on this forum or anywhere else. She has her own gentle way of talking to friends when the timing seems appropriate. She's also trained as a chef, and over 11 years, has dazzled my taste buds with incredibly delicious vegan food. There is a whole world of culinary adventure in vegan cooking to explore. With the Web, thousands of amazing recipes are available for no cost. Being vegan today can be fun and easy.

Unless I feel the need to clarify anything, I'll get off my vegan soapbox now. :-) I wish you the best, Migwell.

Migwell's picture

I’ve been vegetarian for 15 years when I was younger, I quit for health reason. Now my kids, as adults, are vegetarians, and I’m asking myself to do it again. Your post gave me a brand new energy to do it.
I get a question about cheese. Regarding the fact that a cow produces milk during one year (the calf is withdrew away in order to get the milk), each year or so a veal is killed. If I eat cheese I’m in the process. It’s an ethical dilemma. By the way, I don’t eat beef.

candor's picture

Glad to hear you’re considering being vegetarian again!

Yes, cheese and milk cause the birth and killing of calves. As vegans often say, there is a little veal in every glass of milk. Also, cows naturally live up to 20 years or so, but decline in milk production occurs within about 5 years. Dairy cows are almost always killed young after milk production gets too low.

I don’t know what alternatives to cheese there are in France. There are recipes for cheese alternatives on the web, though, and my partner makes her own alternatives to cheese and cheese sauces. In the United States and Canada, there is Daiya, which is an excellent, delicious alternative to cheese. In fact, Daiya is so good that many meat-serving restaurants and pizza shops in the United States offer Daiya as a cheese alternative. Here is a link to their website:

Also, I’d like to share an article written by a woman who went vegan after working on an organic, free range dairy farm in Italy. The story is sad, but also heartwarming. In fact, I highly recommend this website generally for lots of information on being vegan. Here is the link:

Finally, it might be helpful to find a vegan group in your area for support. Additionally, it’s good to learn about vegan nutrition. The first thing I did when I went vegan was to read a book called _Becoming Vegan_ written by two Registered Dietitians. You can find it easily in a web search. I highly recommend it.

If you have any questions, I’d be happy to help. Best of luck!

Migwell's picture

My daugther knew about the milk and the calf and she doesn't drink milk anymore.
Thanks for the tips. Have a nice day.

candor's picture