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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
The Great Compassion: Buddhism and Animal Rights
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on January 6, 2014
This book sat around the house a long time before I finally read it. Don't make the same mistake. Read it now. The first part of the book, which briefly describes the incredible suffering we inflict upon animals, is depressing, sad, and otherwise difficult, but at the same time the author's description is precise, concise, and absolutely necessary. Given the subject matter, anything less would be glossing over the reality of the situation. The truth hurts, but without the truth, improvement is unlikely. No writer could have done better and all animals, humans included, should thank him for this book. The author, in my humble opinion, is also a great essayist, of Wendell Berry or Edward Abbey magnitude. And if that wasn't enough to make a great book . . .

As a lay practitioner of Buddhism, I found this to be one of the most personally relevant books on Buddhism that I've encountered, and I've encountered a bunch. It's rejuvenated my practice. Mr. Phelps' insights and perspectives have actually given me something "to do" with my Buddhism--a proactive way to practice compassion, i.e. by being vegan.

I've been vegetarian, but it didn't really help my mental state. This book brought me out of a selfish perspective, one of meditation and reflection, and into a more comprehensive perspective. It's not about our suffering. It's about their suffering. (This might be a direct quote from the book.) This perspective seems to be exactly what I needed and my "practice" now feels much more relevant. I seem less concerned about my own state of comfort, which once made facing animal abuse head-on difficult for me. I simply was unable to dwell upon it for long without feeling utter despair, but I find that being proactive is a subtle but important coping technique. Don't waste time worrying. Find peace through action. I have difficulty comprehending how any of us can ever have absolute peace when so much suffering is occurring, but the only hope would seem to be in actively seeking to eliminate as much of it as we can. All Buddhists should take a long hard look at animal suffering and this book is the place to start.
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on April 25, 2014
This book is or anyone interested in Buddhism or religion or anyone interested in animal rights and environmentalism. I have read quite a bit by Buddhists and/or about Buddhism, yet I learned A LOT from this book about the religion and the practice. The author clearly stated the long list of reasons for animal liberation and how animal rights are intrinsic to Buddhism. A must-read for anyone who wants to live a more compassionate, loving, kind life - and shouldn't that be everyone?
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on January 15, 2017
This book should be read vegan Buddhists and those who believe that animals are not food! Definitely a must read.
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on March 21, 2017
Good reading to develop more insight into a compassionate bonding between human and animal beings.
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on February 12, 2011
I bought this book because I did a search on ahimsa. I am vegan and the Buddhist lifestyle is appealing to me, though I have not yet converted. I learned so much from the author on Buddhism and was shocked to hear that some Buddhists eat meat! He makes a good argument and tells it like it is. I recommend this book even if one is not a Buddhist. If you care about the world around you and the beings that we share it with, then this is the book for you; one does not need to be a Buddhist to read this book and enjoy it.
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on May 3, 2013
My favorite quote from this book is, "Thinking like a lawyer or an academic logician and claiming that it is acceptable to harm another sentient being for our own selfish benefit based on hair-splitting distinctions and nimble logic is contrary to the teaching of the Buddha."
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on January 16, 2011
The Great Compassion is one of the best books I have ever read. It's beautifully written by a man who really knows about animal rights as they relate to Buddhism, and vice versa. Norm Phelps has a true gift, and I'm so glad he's chosen to share it with the world.
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on October 7, 2017
I do not believe that we have many lives and can reach Nirvana, but I really liked the thinking of why we should not be eating animals or consuming animal products. This book was very readable and when I read it again, I will underline significant passages.
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on August 20, 2004
The Great Compassion: Buddhism & Animal Rights joins Roshi Philip Kapleau's To Cherish All Life and Bodhipaksa's Vegetarianism as the only readily available books on this subject matter. However, the breadth and scope of The Great Compassion mark it as a truly groundbreaking work in this field, indeed, in western Buddhism.

Compassion author Norm Phelps leaves no stone - or excuse - unturned. His book takes us through moving and horrific descriptions of the treatment of animals in factory farms, and the biological foundations of pain and pleasure - evidence of pain perception, including fish and amphibians - and on to the inseparable link between vegetarianism and compassion. He compares the compassion of Buddhism as it stands against other religions and philosophies and offers concise descriptions of compassion, loving-kindness, and the Five Precepts. Phelps dives deeply into the confusion over the transcribing and translation of the Buddha's words and thoroughly discusses the over-rated "three-fold rule" of meat eating. The author has a strong grasp of Buddhist theology and history, and he relates all this information, which is sometimes quite upsetting, with a sense of wit. He thoroughly and convincingly tears apart all the ridiculous arguments held by Buddhists that are attached to flesh foods, like the attachments to vegetarianism (how can one be attached to compassion?), "the Buddha ate meat, so why can't I?" (a claim that has now been widely discredited by historians), and other cloaks behind which meat-eating Buddhists hide.

Compassion's complete dismemberment of all the myths and arguments regarding vegetarianism in Buddhism can only be ignored by the blindest of practitioners. The simple truths contained in these pages can not be discounted, even by the teachers Phelps takes to task for their disparaging remarks on vegetarianism and compassion.

Above all there are two resounding, important ideals that emanate from this work. The first is the ideal of ultimate truth, for which all Buddhists strive, vs. relative truth, in which we all reside. Not only has this been a stumbling block for Buddhists through the ages, but it has provided an excuse for people to defend their bad behaviors. The shallow understanding of Emptiness that says "there is no animal being eaten or person eating the animal" as a loophole to eat animals is as ludicrous as saying "there is no rape victim and no rapist" as a defense for rape.

The second ideal is that "It's not about us; it's about the animals." This statement is not only true in the context of vegetarianism, but in Buddhism as a whole. We do not help the homeless for ourselves, we do not save animals for ourselves, we do not volunteer and give money to charities for ourselves. We are offering service for those who are served. It is the Bodhisattva ideal.

The Great Compassion is thoroughly researched and extremely well-written and despite the descriptions of factory farms and my disappointment over seeing so many Buddhist teachers and students disparaging our precious scriptures with their anti-compassion remarks, it is, in fact, a pleasure to read. This book gives me renewed hope that western Buddhism will evolve into a religion of compassion, foresight and beauty that Buddhism has always been destined to become.
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on February 21, 2006
I love Norm Phelps. Really. As a vegan who was drawn to Buddhism because of its philosophy of interconnectedness and compassion, imagine my dismay when I discovered that some Buddhists ate meat. Phelps has helped me to understand the social and historical context of the various forms of Buddhism, as well as the excuses of Buddhists when it comes to eating animals. Rather than throw up his hands in disgust, he encourages the reader to think 'OK,this is wrong - but that doesn't mean that Buddhism is to blame'. There is a phrase called 'idiot compassion' in Buddhism, but Phelps doesn't indulge in that. He is reasonable, fair but firm, pulling no punches when it comes to examining the ethical 'loopholes' that some Buddhists create to justify their diet. However, he offers hope also, in the form of compassionate alternatives. There is a better way, a way that liberates animals from suffering as well as liberating ourselves from cruelty and self-seeking behaviours. All animals, including us, deserve no less - so read this book, be thankful for this big-hearted, compassionate and inspiring writer - and hopefully you too will take a few brave steps towards a kinder way of life. There are a million and one good reasons to be veggie - or even better, vegan. With a wealth of great recipe books (and gorgeous food), benefits to the animals, your own health, the environment and the world's hungry, it's never been a better time to make the change.
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