Volume 29, 2022
Taking Animals Seriously: Shabkar’s Narrative Argument for Vegetarianism and the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Rachel H. Pang
Shabkar Tsokdruk Rangdrol’s (1781-1851) collected works present one of the most sustained treatments of vegetarianism and animal ethics in Tibetan literature. His arguments for vegetarianism adopt two main formats: philosophical prose and narrative. In this essay, I analyze Shabkar’s implicit argument for vegetarianism and the ethical treatment of animals in the narrative passages of his autobiography that describe his interactions with animals. By including animals as significant interlocutors in his autobiography, Shabkar reframes the relationship between animals and humans to be less anthropocentric and more based on the ideal of impartiality (phyogs ris med pa). In turn, this serves as an implicit narrative argument for the adoption of a vegetarian diet. This mode of argumentation differs from the majority of arguments for vegetarianism in Tibetan Buddhist literature which tend to be more philosophical in nature. Shabkar’s narrative mode of argument is an example of the “act of social imagination” first identified by Charles Hallisey and Anne Hansen in South and Southeast Asian Buddhist narratives. These types of narratives cultivate an ethical ideal in an audience by prompting the audience into an “act of social imagination” that in turn forms the foundation for moral agency.