I have enduring recollections of my guest appearances on Oprah and Ellen, partly because their very public affirmations of animal protection made me feel our cause was ascendant. I had that same feeling today in Mumbai, as Humane Society International launched its India office at a jam-packed event keynoted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Grand Hyatt. He was joined by several major cultural and entertainment personalities from India, including “Slumdog Millionaire” star Anil Kapoor and poet and film producer Pritish Nandy.
This was the Dalai Lama’s first-ever event focused on the issue of animal protection, and he gave a wide-ranging 42-minute talk. “Animals deserve our compassion,” His Holiness said. “We must know their pain. We should nurture this compassion through education. Showing concern about animal rights is respecting their life.”
I opened the event with a speech about our responsibilities to animals and our efforts in India to help street dogs, to ban animal testing for cosmetics, and to turn around the growing factory farming problem in the nation with the lowest per capita meat consumption in the world. In a crowd that included business leaders, journalists, and others, I picked up a general resolve to put our principles into action and to gain ground in the world’s second largest nation.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, sporting the Humane Society International hat. You can see more photos from my trip here.
The Dalai Lama is a transcendent personality – he’s a citizen of the world, having fled persecution in Tibet decades ago, taken up residence in northern India, and now traveling the world to spread a message of compassion and tolerance. Today, in his extended public remarks on animal issues, he mentioned that he’s been back and forth on his vegetarianism through his eight decades, and is not a vegetarian now. But he condemned factory farming, and specifically the rearing of hens in battery cages. He said that being vegetarian is better for us and better for animals, and that South Indian vegetarian food is his favorite cuisine. Throughout his entire speech and in the question and answer session that followed, he wore a Humane Society International baseball cap, which delighted me even though it clashed with his Buddhist monastic robe.
Kapoor, best known to American audiences for his roles in “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” and the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire,” gave a fiery address about animal protection and also food and agriculture: “No one needs to sleep hungry, let alone die of starvation. Yet tens of thousands of children sleep hungry each night because the grains that could nourish these children [go] not into their bellies, but the bellies of the cows, pigs and chickens that form an essential part of a non-vegetarian diet….Our prosperity, enjoyment and progress are only deeply valued when they do not come at the expense of others.”
With journalists representing more than 100 press outlets at the event, it was a turbo-charged launch for Humane Society International – India. We hope it gives us momentum to grow our projects and to enhance our prospects for success. The Dalai Lama’s warm embrace and his reminder that all life matters helps root our cause even more solidly, especially in Asia where animal problems are so acute and action is so desperately needed.