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Food of Sinful Demons: Meat, Vegetarianism, and the Limits of Buddhism in Tibet

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Tibetan Buddhism teaches compassion toward all beings, a category that explicitly includes animals. Slaughtering animals is morally problematic at best, and, at worst, completely incompatible with a religious lifestyle. Yet historically most Tibetans--both monastic and lay--have made meat a regular part of their diet. In this study of the place of vegetarianism within Tibe Tibetan Buddhism teaches compassion toward all beings, a category that explicitly includes animals. Slaughtering animals is morally problematic at best, and, at worst, completely incompatible with a religious lifestyle. Yet historically most Tibetans--both monastic and lay--have made meat a regular part of their diet. In this study of the place of vegetarianism within Tibetan religiosity, Geoffrey Barstow explores the tension between Buddhist ethics and Tibetan cultural norms to offer a novel perspective on the spiritual and social dimensions of meat eating. Food of Sinful Demons shows the centrality of vegetarianism to the cultural history of Tibet through specific ways in which nonreligious norms and ideals shaped religious beliefs and practices. Barstow offers a detailed analysis of the debates over meat eating and vegetarianism from the first references to such a diet in the tenth century through the Chinese invasion in the 1950s. He discusses elements of Tibetan Buddhist thought--including monastic vows, the Buddhist call to compassion, and tantric antinomianism--that see meat eating as morally problematic. He then looks beyond religious attitudes to the cultural, economic, and environmental factors that opposed the Buddhist critique of meat, including Tibetan concepts of medicine and health, food scarcity, the display of wealth, and idealized male gender roles. Barstow argues that the issue of meat eating was influenced by a complex interplay of factors, with religious perspectives largely supporting vegetarianism while practical concerns and secular ideals pulled in the other direction. He concludes by addressing the surge in vegetarianism in contemporary Tibet in light of evolving notions of Tibetan identity and resistance against the central Chinese state. The first book to discuss this complex issue, Food of Sinful Demons is essential reading for scholars interested in Tibetan religion, history, and culture.


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Tibetan Buddhism teaches compassion toward all beings, a category that explicitly includes animals. Slaughtering animals is morally problematic at best, and, at worst, completely incompatible with a religious lifestyle. Yet historically most Tibetans--both monastic and lay--have made meat a regular part of their diet. In this study of the place of vegetarianism within Tibe Tibetan Buddhism teaches compassion toward all beings, a category that explicitly includes animals. Slaughtering animals is morally problematic at best, and, at worst, completely incompatible with a religious lifestyle. Yet historically most Tibetans--both monastic and lay--have made meat a regular part of their diet. In this study of the place of vegetarianism within Tibetan religiosity, Geoffrey Barstow explores the tension between Buddhist ethics and Tibetan cultural norms to offer a novel perspective on the spiritual and social dimensions of meat eating. Food of Sinful Demons shows the centrality of vegetarianism to the cultural history of Tibet through specific ways in which nonreligious norms and ideals shaped religious beliefs and practices. Barstow offers a detailed analysis of the debates over meat eating and vegetarianism from the first references to such a diet in the tenth century through the Chinese invasion in the 1950s. He discusses elements of Tibetan Buddhist thought--including monastic vows, the Buddhist call to compassion, and tantric antinomianism--that see meat eating as morally problematic. He then looks beyond religious attitudes to the cultural, economic, and environmental factors that opposed the Buddhist critique of meat, including Tibetan concepts of medicine and health, food scarcity, the display of wealth, and idealized male gender roles. Barstow argues that the issue of meat eating was influenced by a complex interplay of factors, with religious perspectives largely supporting vegetarianism while practical concerns and secular ideals pulled in the other direction. He concludes by addressing the surge in vegetarianism in contemporary Tibet in light of evolving notions of Tibetan identity and resistance against the central Chinese state. The first book to discuss this complex issue, Food of Sinful Demons is essential reading for scholars interested in Tibetan religion, history, and culture.

31 review for Food of Sinful Demons: Meat, Vegetarianism, and the Limits of Buddhism in Tibet

  1. 4 out of 5

    Marsha Altman

    A very good look at the history of vegetarianism in Tibet from the introduction of Buddhist to the modern era. If nothing about the last sentence excited you, don't try it, because it's readable but it's a very serious and academic book and requires some knowledge of Buddhism and Tibetan history. A very good look at the history of vegetarianism in Tibet from the introduction of Buddhist to the modern era. If nothing about the last sentence excited you, don't try it, because it's readable but it's a very serious and academic book and requires some knowledge of Buddhism and Tibetan history.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lesley

  4. 5 out of 5

    Adam Di Filippe

  5. 4 out of 5

    Xing Jin

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alex Rhea

  7. 4 out of 5

    Olive

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jennie

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kim Martin

  10. 4 out of 5

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  11. 5 out of 5

    Alison

  12. 4 out of 5

    Vicki

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mark Robison

  14. 4 out of 5

    Roxy

  15. 5 out of 5

    John Eliade

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  17. 4 out of 5

    Todd

  18. 4 out of 5

    L

  19. 5 out of 5

    V.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Suzie Diver

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kavya

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly Sylva

  23. 4 out of 5

    Catie

  24. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Pellizzari

  25. 4 out of 5

    Antonio Marcos Pereira

  26. 5 out of 5

    Patty Ann

  27. 5 out of 5

    Karolina

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tocotin

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alex Ankarr

  30. 5 out of 5

    An-Dân Nguyễn

  31. 5 out of 5

    Marcin Piatkowski

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