Kirin : Vegan Protector

Japan Adventures (15) : Kirin – the Legendary Vegan

img-history04At Nishi Honganji Temple in Kyoto, you can see the intricately carved and coloured Karamon Gate – which is reserved for entry by royalty. One of the special features of the gate is the carving of the Kirin on it (as above). According to our guide friend, the logo of Japan’s most famous beer (Kirin) was inspired by its design! This branding is so successful that the mention of Kirin probably calls to mind the beer more readily than the actual Kirin! So, what is a Kirin? As summarised from Wikipedia, the Qilin (or Kirin in Japanese and Korean) is a mythical hooves Chinese creature known throughout various East Asian cultures, and is said to appear in conjunction with the arrival of a sage. It is a good omen that brings serenity or prosperity. It can walk on grass yet not trample the blades and it can also walk on water. Being a peaceful creature, its diet does not include flesh. It takes great care when it walks never to tread on any living thing, and it is said to appear only in areas ruled by a wise and benevolent leader. (I once heard that Kirins only appear in places where the people are so virtuous that they refrain even from stepping on grass.) The Kirin is normally gentle but can become fierce if a pure person is threatened, spouting flames from its mouth and exercising other fearsome powers that vary from story to story. In the Post-Qin Chinese hierarchy of mythological animals, the Qilin is ranked as the third most powerful creature (after the dragon and phoenix), but in Japan, the Kirin occupies the top spot.

It stuck me that the imagery of the Kirin can be used as a powerful symbol for veganism and the spirit of non-harm in general. While meticulously sensitive to the welfare of sentient beings, the Kirin is righteous and courageous too, manifesting its wrathful persona towards the wayward who deserve a good lesson. Maybe that’s how human vegans should conduct themselves too – not to be seen as meek and weak, but ‘sweet’ yet strong!

Isn’t it ironic that the temple’s Kirin design became a beer company’s emblem? Would the Buddha or the Kirin endorse this in person? Unlikely… because the Buddha was the world’s greatest promoter of the importance of mindfulness. He famously uttered that ‘mindfulness is helpful everywhere’. Also, it is only with perfected mindfulness that enlightenment can be attained. The Buddha also ruled the production of intoxicants as an unskilful livelihood.

As ‘defined’ above, the Kirin is obviously a symbol of great mindfulness of the need to be harmless. If so, Kirins would be unlikely to support the promotion of intoxicating drinks using their name! With the loss of mindfulness by drinking too much, all unimaginable forms of harm can be done to oneself and others. Just the tragedy of drink-driving that causes accidents is already horror enough. Now that we know the Kirin is vegan, is beer vegan? Not always, as we can see at For vegans who value both harmlessness and mindfulness, it is easier to simply abstain from drinking totally.

So much said, is the Kirin for real? What’s more important is the spirit embodied by the Kirin! Okay… a slight disclaimer here… By the title of this article, I’m assuming the Kirin is not just vegetarian, but vegan. Though already a fantastical creature, I can’t imagine the Kirin stealing milk from cows, eggs from chickens and honey from bees…! You get the idea! Surely, the Kirin is meant to be much more noble – to transcend being a petty thief of animal produce!

Related articles:

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Alcohol : (Non-)Wisdom Soup?

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