In many of his books and public conferences, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama explains that every individual has a precise responsibility towards the human race and towards the planet, and says that words and good intentions are not sufficient to guide the global family in the right direction, so everyone must actively and personally commit themselves to working towards this end.
These teachings fit closely with the themes outlined in the Milan Charter, and likewise Tibetan Buddhism’s attitude to food and the ideas expressed in the Charter share the same perspective.
Our tradition holds that adequate nourishment for everyone is deeply important, not least because it offers people the physical wellbeing which can allow them to focus on the kinds of prayer and meditation that lead to spiritual wellbeing.
The act of sharing food is deeply valuable both from a lay and a religious viewpoint, and this has always been so: it is the foundation of all relationships and helps to nourish fraternal feelings. Food is a potent factor of cohesion between individuals and can contribute to aggregation in moments of difficulty. This is demonstrated by the project “Go green & Go organic”, in operation for over a year now in Ladakh, in the Jangthang region in the foothills of the Himalayas where, thanks to the initiative of the monks, the inhabitants of ten villages have united to cultivate trees and vegetal products in a natural way, using them to satisfy the needs of their families and then selling the rest on the market at low prices.
We should not forget that this type of natural cultivation has a positive effect on the ecosystem because – due to the law of interdependence – a tree is not only useful to mankind but also to animals, birds and insects and also, as we know, produces life-giving oxygen.
Buddhism teaches that the human body is a vehicle of awakening. This is why the production and consumption of food are always accompanied by spiritual practices such as blessing, thanksgiving to those who have produced the food, dedication of merits and ceremonial offerings. From the origins of Buddhism, when monks take their vows they promise to respect the environment, and in particular the purity of watercourses, and to be moderate in their food consumption.
Equanimity and equality in producing, distributing and consuming food in the world, as the Milan Charter proposes, can lead to a harmony which will only become real if basic human rights are respected, if people are correctly nourished physically but also coherently nourished with spiritual values. The concrete implementation of the Milan Charter can certainly encourage people to find a new awareness, and the defense of the right to food is one of the key rights which need to be promoted by everyone through a serious investment of faith and energy.
While it is true that the principal solution of the problems of the near future will lie in making of food available to everyone, it is equally true that the right kind of education on moderate and healthy consumption of food will be indispensable for encouraging conscious growth on the part of the world’s new citizens.
In order to develop towards a better future for coming generations, issues like educating to encourage respect for the environment, moderation in consumption and elimination of waste must occupy a fundamental space in the way people live, but if we wish to help children and adults achieve concrete aims we must also educate them in harmony and loving kindness. And here we would do well to remember that among the social actors in this educational process, a notable role needs to be assumed by the mass media, whose influence on public opinion is universally acknowledged.
In this context, the role of religions becomes important, because wherever there is a person of good faith there will be morality, love and care for others. Valuable inspiration can grow from the encounter between different religions, aimed at activating everyone’s sensibility towards ideals based on human solidarity. Religions, therefore, have the potential to act as a priceless resource in constructing a future where spirituality provides nourishment for the mind and the body.
Since we believe that a world without hunger is possible, and that a fair distribution of food can be the foundation for a path of freedom and peace, we who are part of the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition – driven by our own altruistic interest in the Earth and the beings which inhabit it – are happy to sign the Milan Charter, in faith and with conviction, because we share its underlying project.