A Great Lesson of Our Times

National Headquarters  |  July 6, 2020

Teachings by Dharma Master Cheng Yen
Translated by Dharma as Water Development Department, Tzu Chi USA

Over the past several months, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to spread, silently, without a trace, despite all efforts to control it. So what can we learn from this disease? That we need to right our past wrongs and manifest our sincere faith in our daily living. People of different religions need to work together to protect innocent lives in the name of love, whether it is the love of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism or any other religion. Then, all humans and animals can live in peace and harmony on Earth.

There is a wish that I have kept buried in my heart for more than half a century. Even today, I still cannot tell everyone I encounter, “You have to become vegetarian.” It would be useless to say this, so I would rather not say it for fear of making people feel uneasy. However, this pandemic is giving humanity a great lesson, and now is the time for everyone to awaken.

Anyone who listens to my teachings should be familiar with this card and these statistics. Every second, more than two thousand lives are consumed by humankind. Every day, more than 200 million panicked, miserable creatures are killed because of human beings’ craving for the taste of meat. Every year, more than 77 billion lives are lost; this is nearly ten times the human population of Earth! Isn’t this shocking? This means that on average, each human being is responsible for the loss of ten lives. What people are not taking into account is that we will have to pay this debt with interest when it comes due in the future.

Every day, these 77 billion living beings are living in terror, sensing it will soon be their turn to be slaughtered. The cries of misery and hatred from these innocent animals will be carried along by their spirits, wherever they go. Like vengeful ghosts, the karma of all this killing accumulates to bring about our collective retributions. I keep saying this again and again, hoping everyone can truly comprehend the pain that comes with the loss of each life. Just as we love ourselves, we should also love all living beings. Only humans have the power to protect life on Earth.

If humankind does not accept the warning from this pandemic, the next wave will likely be even more severe. Many people nowadays are highly educated and have a strong sense of figures and numbers. If all of us could adopt a vegetarian diet, how many fewer animals would need to be bred? Furthermore, as livestock populations are reduced, the environment will become cleaner as well.

Human activity has already polluted the earth, and on top of that, we raise an amount of livestock that is ten times greater than the human population. All of this results in the pollution of the air, the water, and the land. Experts have said that vegetarianism is the most effective way to protect the environment. Moreover, the Buddha taught us to respect and cherish all life. This means not only protecting our own health and our own lives, but also cherishing the lives of animals as well.

The Buddha’s teachings place a great emphasis on the law of karma. The Earth Treasury Sutra teaches that it is due to our past karma of killing that we suffer from illnesses in life. I am repentant every day, because I do not know how many living beings I consumed or harmed in my previous lifetimes. Fortunately, in this lifetime, I made a vow to become vegetarian when I was still young.

I encourage everyone to have the confidence to promote vegetarianism, to protect the earth, and to protect your own physical and spiritual health. In the past, without the right causes and conditions, it was difficult to encourage people to promote a vegetarian diet. Now we must make use of this situation to speak up.

This pandemic has brought us a great lesson, but it is a lesson that can bring great benefit. This lesson, if we can learn it, is beneficial to all sentient beings. I hope for everyone to have deep faith in the law of karma. For Tzu Chi volunteers, having great love not only means cherishing ourselves and all people, but respecting, protecting, and cherishing the lives of all living beings.

Compiled from Master Cheng Yen’s Dharma teaching at the Global Tzu Chi Faith Corps and Commissioners Camp on May 3, 2020, a conversation with volunteers from China on May 30-31, and a conversation with volunteers from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on June 5.

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