The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) took place from 30 November to 11 December 2015 in Paris, France, attended by representatives and leaders from 195 participating countries. The historical “Paris Agreement” was negotiated, the consensus being to limit the increase in average global temperature to below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, while each party will engage their best efforts to keep within a 1.5 degrees C increase.
After Tzu Chi was invited to take part in the conference, which was widely seen as the best chance humanity has to save the earth, Master Cheng Yen advocated the promotion of vegetarianism as a way to reduce our carbon footprints. Tzu Chi USA subsequently initiated “Ethical Eating Day” on 11 January 2016. They hoped to reach the target of 11.1 million online pledges by getting residents of 111 cities to support the initiative, and proposed to the UN that 11 January every year be designated as “Ethical Eating Day”.
Vegetarianism is a Matter of the Mind
Tzu Chi Singapore, too, has been actively promoting vegetarianism in recent years. In its 2015 Year-End Appreciation ceremony held in January 2016, 25 volunteers, Tzu Chings (Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association members) and staff from the organization presented a sign language musical, “A Matter of the Mind《一念之间》”. After more than two months of rehearsals, the presenters put up an arresting sign language musical performance (accompanied by background narration) at each session of the ceremony, and this earned the warm applause of the 6,100 members of the audience.
The musical opened with scenes of lush natural beauty in the environment beaming across the big screen, accompanied by beautiful music. Against this backdrop, various living creatures co-existed in harmony. As the song item progressed further into its first of three segments, the scenery transformed dramatically. Avaricious hunters made their presence felt though chopping trees and taking animal lives, and as the world spiralled into destruction, mankind too, could not escape from doom.
“Vegetarianism is a matter of the mind......” the presenters sang, exhorting all to let go of desires and let the light fill their hearts, bringing peace within. After the presentation, they led the audience through the sign language song, “Observe Vegetarianism With Sincere Piety” to bring home the message that going vegetarian is the way to protect life and Mother Earth.
Youths Initiate Vegetarian Challenge
Among the presenters, four current and previous Tzu Chings, who had just returned from a Tzu Ching training camp in Taiwan, explained that feeling the urgency in saving the earth, they decided to promote the Ethical Eating Day campaign to the public through both online means and face to face interactions with others.
Tzu Ching Yan Ming De remembered that during a sharing session, his senior mentioned that young people should employ their own lively methods as a means to reach out to others, so upon coming back to Singapore, he set up a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/VegetarianOn111Challenge/) together with Tzu Chings from Johor Bahru. They decided to go the way of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” by calling upon friends and family to support the global vegetarian day on 1 January 2016. Those that were challenged would respond by uploading a picture of themselves having a vegetarian meal, use the hashtag “vegetarianon111challenge,” and further name three other friends to take on the challenge.
They described the challenge as a fight between mankind and the pollution created by man himself; one that cuts across race, religion and conflicts among communities. In the battle between good and evil, only the side with bigger numbers will win.
Advocating Vegetarianism With Courage
Yan had known of Tzu Chi since he was young but after a period in which he lost his direction in life (while in college), he finally re-entered the fold of the organization after participating in the Tzu Ching musical production, “The Profound Parental Love”.
After the passing of his father, the thought of what he could do for the earth entered his mind. In 2014, after being part of the Tzu Ching leaders camp, he decided to become a long-term vegetarian as it was the most direct means to protect the earth. Till now, the thought of stopping has never entered his mind.
While playing the role of a small animal about to be killed in the musical, Yan felt fear arise in his heart. This made him realize that not only must he uphold vegetarianism, he also had to encourage others to do likewise.
Chen Shao Hong, who also played the role of a small animal, recalled that since he was young, he had kept many pets and played with them often. In 2011, after his mother died, the family went vegetarian for half a year. After they began eating meat again, it suddenly struck him that meat tasted bad, and he is now gradually starting to go completely vegan in his diet.
The lyrics in the musical that touched his heart described how human beings, in their greed, waste food and find it hard to satisfy their palate. Chen feels that the greed of man has caused many lives to be reared and killed in cruel conditions. He tries to explain the benefits of vegetarianism to people around him and also has meatless meals with friends occasionally; with much pride, he said that he does not hesitate to proclaim himself a vegetarian.
Leading by Example
For Tzu Chi volunteer Ye Ren Hui, who played the part of a hunter, the action of flashing a knife and putting on a merciless expression on stage were not difficult as he liked watching movies. He only had to remind himself that between good and evil is a fine line. Before becoming vegetarian, he would prepare meat for meals and at that point, he would think: “How do I kill in an efficient manner and cook it such that it will taste delicious?”
After encouraging his whole family to be vegetarian five years ago, Ye now recalls his thoughts of killing and sincerely repents. Though his family faced a lot of pressure when they became vegetarian, they never gave up as they knew it was the right thing to do. Ye hoped that through his performance, more people would be influenced to be vegetarian.
Taking the Initiative to Advocate Vegetarianism
At the venue, there was a zone set up to spread vegetarianism and presenters from the musical were there with their handheld tablets, mobile phones and publicity materials, ready to educate the public about the issue.
Staff and volunteers carried lively handmade 3D publicity frames proclaiming “I love vegetarianism” in both English and Chinese, which were a hit with the crowd. Both young and old took pictures with the frames which they uploaded onto Facebook and other electronic platforms to share with others and exhorted them to show their support for the campaign online.
“Hi, did you know that vegetarianism is the most effective method to solve global warming?” At first, helpers at the event were a little nervous, but soon lost their inhibition as they took the initiative to approach the crowd which hesitated to come near at first.
Chen Shao Hong, too, persevered in his efforts to reach out to the crowd. Remembering the Master’s teaching that people are all different, he tried different ways to communicate with the people he met that day.
“……some get it the moment I explain, some need stronger persuasion, and others require a more humble and gentle approach,” he said, in explaining how he got his message across.
When he was rejected, Chen would encourage himself by thinking that he was not discouraged from the experience as he was focused on building positive connections with those he met.
At the close of the event, 10-year-old Lin Li Heng hugged his 3-year-old cousin close as they viewed an exhibit of the earth at the venue. Sharing his thoughts after watching the musical, he said that he would be frightened, too, if he was in danger of being killed, thus he really wished that animals would not suffer such a sad fate. Observing the sharp contrasts of a lush, green earth portrayed on one side of the exhibit, and a desolate, destroyed face on the other side, he expressed his hope that people will not kill animals and cut down trees, and that they will engage in green activities to protect the earth. At his request, his aunt immediately went online to register her support for the Ethical Eating Day campaign.
Huang Xiu Xiu, a first-time participant at a Tzu Chi event who had come at the invitation of her sister, fully agreed with the philosophy of vegetarianism. She helps out at her sister’s new vegetarian restaurant and both sisters were at the vegetarian awareness zone to show support for the campaign. Huang wants to accompany her sister to Tzu Chi’s recycling points to do her bit for the earth, and shared that she intended to use the restaurant as a platform to educate others about the benefits of vegetarianism to our health and the earth.
When the two days ended, more than 500 online pledges were received for the Ethical Eating Day campaign. On 1 January 2016, the number of online pledges received globally exceeded 39,000. Tzu Chi USA hopes to continue receiving pledges of support in hopes of putting forth a proposal for “111 Global Ethical Eating Day” to the UN before 11 January 2017.