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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Gere backs vegetarian zone at site of enlightenment

January 11, 2010

By Andrew Buncombe
www.nzherald.co.nz - Jan 9, 2010

DELHI - Richard Gere the Hollywood actor who has spurned red meat for the
past 30 years, has thrown his support behind a plan to transform the site of
Buddha's enlightenment into a vegetarian zone to spread the message of
peace.

The activist, who is taking part in a five-day training session with the
Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist leader, in the Indian town of Bodhgaya,
took part in a candlelit march this week highlighting the campaign.
"Bodhgaya is a pious place and I want to come here again," the star of
movies such as An Officer and a Gentleman and Pretty Woman told reporters,
after joining around 500 monks and activists who took part in the march. "I
am with the people who have launched this campaign."

According to Buddhist tradition, Bodhgaya, in the state of Bihar, is where
Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment around 500BC. Starting in the 19th
century, the area gradually become a site of pilgrimage and is now visited
by Buddhists from all over the world, whose presence gives it a very
different character from the rest of north India's impoverished "cow belt".

Since the Dalai Lama's flight into India from Tibet in 1959, Bodhgaya has
become the winter pilgrimage destination for thousands of Tibetans who live
in India, and is the site of a large Tibetan market. While not taking life
is the first Buddhist precept, it is not essential to be vegetarian to be a
Buddhist. The Dalai Lama himself sometimes eats meat while he is away from
his purely vegetarian kitchen in Dharamsala. Indeed, because of the climate
and the difficulty of obtaining fresh vegetables and alternative sources of
protein, many Buddhists in Tibet are not vegetarian. Neither is Gere.

The plan to turn Bodhgaya into a vegetarian zone is the project of a group
called Tibetans for a Vegetarian Society that believes doing so would help
spread a message of peace. Speaking last night from Bodhgaya, the group's
founder, Tenzin Kunga Luding, said Gere's participation in the event had
been a morale booster for the activists. "We have been calling for this
since 2006 and slowly the campaign is building up," said Mr Luding. "He
really was very supportive and very good to us. It has helped the cause a
lot."

Mr Luding, born in India, was himself a meat-eater until the age of around
10, when he discovered how animals were raised and then slaughtered. He said
that in Tibet the climate worked against a vegetarian diet but he said
turning Bodhgaya into a meat-free zone would send a powerful message to the
world. "In such a sacred place as this, people come to promote peace and
non-violence and I think that if you kill an animal here and then sell it,
then the sanctity will be spoiled," he explained. "This most sacred land
will act as a model for other places to emulate and will impart more
positive influence for the well-being of all humans, animals and the
environment."

With the encouragement of Gere's support, the campaigners have also launched
a signature campaign near the Mahabodhi temple, the world heritage-listed
building said to sit on the precise spot of the enlightenment. They will
next submit a petition to Bihar's chief minister, Nitish Kumar, asking him
to order the city be turned into a meat-free zone.
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