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Have your momos and eat them, too
Sitting at breakfast with a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks at a monastery in southern
India, I am surprised to see a plate of chicken on the table. “Is vegetarianism not required
at the monastery?” I ask. Their reply is unexpected: Although no meat is served in the
monastery dining hall, individual monks can choose to eat meat elsewhere, including the
monastery’s guesthouse where I and my fellow scientists are staying.
On my previous visit to northern India, I was similarly surprised to find monks leaving
the monastery to eat Tibetan meat buns (“momos”) at nearby restaurants. At the time,
I thought this reflected the attitudes of the monks themselves; they liked eating meat
so much that they would leave the monastery to do it! But with this second trip and
the additional context, I realize that the situational flexibility of meat eating is part
of Tibetan Buddhism itself. When the monks are at the monastery, they eat no meat
because the monastery is vegetarian. But that doesn’t mean that they are unable to
leave and eat meat on their own.
This experience shed light on my research, an exploration of ethical issues in neuroscience with the monastics as part of the Science for Monks program. I had asked individual
monks for help solving ethical puzzles faced by scientists in the United States. Often
their responses would avoid the puzzle altogether. When I asked whether it was right for
people to augment their abilities with medication, they wondered why people would use
enhancement technologies in the first place if they were neither free of negative side
effects nor effective in the long term. What if people didn’t debate whether to eat meat or
not, but assessed how important it was to eat meat in each situation? The monks, happily eating their chicken for breakfast, seem perfectly content with this arrangement.
Laura Ellen Specker Sullivan
Center for Bioethics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.
not offer a solution to the problem, such
as better education by medical schools.
Furthermore, a reference cited by Ward
et al. does not, as they claim, show that
mandating vaccines increases anti-vaccinationism, but rather that citing
dangers of diseases is more effective than
arguing for safety of vaccination (5).
Ward et al.’s reasoning could be extrapo-
lated to argue against mandating car seats
for young children. Like car seats, vaccina-
tion mandates will likely save lives.
Stanley A. Plotkin,1,2 Paul Offit,3,4
1University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
19104, USA. 2Vaxconsult, Doylestown, PA 18902,
USA. 3Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia,
Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA. 4Perelman School
of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania,
Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA. 5Académie Nationale
de Médecine, Paris 75006, France.
1. Association Franc ˛aise de Pédiatrie Ambulatoire,
Obligation Vaccinale: Ce Qu’il Faut Savoir (2018); https://
afpa.org/obligation-vaccinale/ [in French].
2. Concertation Citoyenne sur la Vaccination, “Rapport
sur la Vaccination” (2016); http://concertation-vaccination.fr/la-restitution/.
3. L. Sun, “California vaccination rate hits new high after
tougher immunization law,” Washington Post (2017).
4. P. Verger et al ., Euro Surveill .27, 30406 (2016).
5. Z. Horne etal., Proc.Natl.Acad.Sci.U.S.A.112,
monks eat lunch in
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