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15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
Delhi/Bombay/Madras/Calcutta, India

MESSAGE FROM BUDDHIST ARCHBISHOP OF LATVIA

In many parts of the world animals flee from man as from a ruthless demon, because man spreads terror and agony among the animals. Man exploits them pitilessly. But Our Lord Buddha Gautama Shakyamuni, the World-Honoured One, said that such conduct is evil and is unworthy of a decent man. And it is not enough that you yourself do not directly injure animals : You should neither cause injury through an agent or indirectly approve of the behavior of others, when they indulge in acts of cruelty to poor animals.

The idea of kindness and humameness to animals is a very fundamental concept in Buddhism. Maitri (in Pali Metta). love in the sense of loving-kindness, to the brute creation is plainly inculcated in a great number of Buddhist sacred texts of both Pali and Sanskrit Canons.

It is good for us to remember that Our Lord Buddha Guatama Shakyamuni, who had unfolded the way to perfection and who found the answer to the problem of suffering, while practising Paramitas (the perfections) in his Bodhisattva-existences, was himself born as a hare, a swan, a fish, a quail, an ape, a woodpecker, a deer, and an elephant. Already for this reason the Buddhists will not regard the animal world with disdainful contempt.

Buddhism teaches that for sinful deeds done in one life, men and women may be reborn in another life as animals. The Karmic pendulum will bring them the suffering, which their previous acts have caused. Sins and transgression of different kinds lead to rebirth as an animal.

Therefore. those who are not kind to animals, would do well to develop the feeling of love and compassion for animals. Remember that the animals have feelings of pleasure and pain, of joy and sorrow, like all of us. It is not possible to escape the consequences of one's deeds. Remember, therefore, that some of your own relatives or friends may by the process of the inexorable law of Karma be reborn in this state of woe, and so even yourself, if you are not sufficiently virtuous.

Buddhism teaches infinite compassion to all the sentient beings - men, animals, fishes and birds ( and even plants) "situated above and below and crosswise." KARUNA, or pure compassion, is the quintessence of our religion.

A virtuous Buddhist, whether priest or layman, is consumed with grief on account of the sufferings of animals and therefore he condemns animal sacrifice, hunting, and flesh-eating. He loves all beings, as a mother loves her only child (VIDE METTA SUTTA). Assiduous in cherishing the life of another as his own by thought, word or deed. a devout Buddhist entertains the feeling of deep sorrow at the sight of meat, which is always blended with blood and the secretions of the animal's body, and is obtained by killing. He knows that all beings hate pain, and so he censures slaying, torture, and heartless exploitation of helpless animals.

It is a fact that one who is kind to animals lives happily, sleeps soundly, and dies peacefully.

A certain event favourable to the general welfare of animals in many lands took place last year. It was the Fourth Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists held in Kathmandu, capital of the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal, in November, 1956. The Kathmandu Conference was attend by more than 450 delegates and observers from 43 lands. I was fortunate to take part in it as Delegate of Latvia, and my deputy was Delegate of Estonia, The Conference was opened by His Majesty Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Deva, the King of Nepal. We all discussed many problems of the modern world. The consensus of opinion at the Conference was entirely in favour of vegetarianism.

As the actions of a Buddhist should be in harmony with his vows, it was agreed in principle in Kathmandu that the conscientious Buddhists of all countries should refrain from eating meat of any kind in order to live up to the spirit of Buddhist Precepts (Sila) of which the first is :

Panatipana Veramai Sikkhapadam Samadiyami.

i.e,. "I undertake the rule of training to refrain from injury to living things."

When in 1923 I was elevated to the position of the Head (Sangharaja) of Buddhists in the three Baltic States. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, with the Episcopal seat at Riga, the capital of Latvia, I was given the official title of the Buddhist Archbishop of Latvia, I was happy in the knowledge that, though the Buddhists in Latvia were only a small minority, the Buddhist spirit in the country was strong. Cruelty to animals was severely punished. Killing of storks, herons, beavers, squirrels, lynxes. and deer was strictly forbidden all over Latvia. Destruction of birds' nests was also a criminal offence, and when punishment was to be meted out, the killed nestlings were counted, and punishment increased in the same ratio as the number of nestlings who had lost Life. Protection was afforded in Latvian rivers to many kinds of fishes, eels, and crayfish.

In winter, when the Latvian countryside is covered with snow and rivers are frozen, the birds experience great difficulty in obtaining food. So the municipalities of larger Latvian cities were providing birds (finches. sparrows, pigeons, and others) with specials seeds, of which several kinds had even to be imported from abroad, food for birds not being uniform. Such was kindness shown to birds in winter months.

Elks, hinds, and hares living in forests were also given some food in winter by the Authorities, for which the citizens, of course, had to pay. The use of catapults, even to scare away birds, was strictly forbidden. Moreover, there were Homes for Aged Dogs and Cats.

Gigantic trees, hundreds of years old, in parks and forests, mere marked by the State for preservation, and no one would even think of cutting them.

Prevalence of the Buddhist spirit among the Latvian people is a sign of good augury for the Buddhist missionary effort in the West, in general. Anyhow, one who has heard me will have to admit that many, more important, countries in the world are far behind Latvia in legislation for the protection of the helpless animals.

The Latvian people, who are Aryans and were Buddhists in ancient time, inhabited the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea for more than 5,000 years. The language of the Latvians, rich in inflexions, is very closely related to Sanskrit. In ancient chronicles Latvia is known as "Amber Land."

The people of Latvia are familiar with the name of God Indra, the Chief of the Celestials. There are many villages and farms in Latvia going by the name of Indra, and many Latvian families carry the surname of Indra.

I will finish my message with astory from the Jatakas of God Indra, of the Devas

Having well practised meritorious, actions, Our Lord Buddha Gautama Shakyanluni in one of his Bodhisattva existences became Indra, the Lord of the Devas. He ruled the heaven and earth with righteousness, and his splendid glory pervaded the whole world.

On the assumption of Indra's position by the Bodhisattva, the majesty of the Ruler of the Devas shone in a higher degree. And so the Demons, the spirits of darkness (Daityas, the sons of Diti, Danavas or Asuras ) became very jealous and waged war against him.

The Demons marched against Indra with an enormous army of elephants, chariots, horsemen and footmen.

Indra mounted his excellent golden chariot drawn by a thousand excellent horses and met the forces of the Demons on the border-line of Ocean.

Then a great battle took place.

At the end, the army of Indra took to flight, scared by the fiery swords and arrows of the Demons. Sensing danger, Mavali, the charioteer of the Lord of the Dovas turned the mighty chariot to make the timely ascent to Indra's residence.

Now when they were making the ascent, all of a sudden Indra, the Lord of the Devas, caught sight of some eagle-nests which were placed on a silk-cotton tree exactly in the line of direction of the chariot-pole, so that they must needs be crushed by it. Seized with compassion, Indra said to Navali :

"The birds' nests on this silk-cotton tree are filled with not yet winged young ones. Drive my chariot in such a manner that these nests will not fall down crushed by the chariot-pole ".

Mavali replied excitedly that in such case the Lord of the Devas will be overtaken by the hosts of Demons, and that nothing short of turning the chariot can save the young birds.

Said then Indra moved by the utmost compassion : ''Well then, turn the chariot. Take proper care in avoiding these eagle-nests. Better is it for me to die by the terrible club-strokes of the chiefs of the Demons than to live blameful and dishonoured, if I should have murdered those poor terror-stricken creatures."

Now the foes, the spirits of darkness, who had witnessed Indra's heroism got into confusion and fled in terror. Then the overjoyed Devas saluted their Lord, the noble Indra, who was so beautiful by the radiance of victory.

In this way Our Lord Buddha Gautama Shakyamuni, as a Bodhisattva, did long ago protect animals even at the risk of his own life and at the risk of the loss of the Celestial sway...

Injuring animals by deed, word or thought never tends to bliss. Selfishness never leads to prosperity. Therefore be kind to animals by not eating them.