Gere serves up a haven for vegetarians

Actor and Buddhist activist backs campaign to make Indian town a meat-free zone

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.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk