Thursday, 2 December 2010

Yamas of Vegetarianism

As Christmas is drawing near, all yogis are given a new opportunity to remind ourselves of and practice the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga, as presented in Master Patanjali's Yoga Sutras - yama.

As yoga practicioners, we focus daily on asana practice and postural techniques, on breathing techiques, health, different scriptures and many other aspects of the great art of yoga.

As we refine our minds, bodies and spirit, we start focusing on widening our perspectives and our compassion, so that they not only aply to other humans, but also to other animals and to nature, as we should.

I stated in an earlier post that vegetarianism is a crucial aspect of the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. For many westerners, it is also one of the most difficult ones.
When ethical and enviromental aspects of meat-eater-diet versus vegetarianism/ veganism is brought up, I have noticed that arguments often get heated.

For the yogis amongst you, here is a short presentation of yamas, applied to compassion towards non-human (and human) animals:

AHIMSA - non violence

Don't hurt them. Abstinence from violence, ALL violence is one of the corner stones of yoga practice and of many other philosophies and practices that resemble it.
As much as we humans try to rationalize it, eating animals implies that we accept that other living beings are killed. Everything and everyone strives to have a long and healty and safe life. So do animals. There is no reason to believe otherwise. The same way we used to enslave other humans, the same way we kill and butcher when we wage wars against each other and we managed to create "rational" reasons for that, we imagine that we have rational reasons for killing animals. All of us have an opportunity to widen our compassion and enrich our and others' lives by respecting all life and abstainings from eating meat and using fur. This is really real non-violence. Ahimsa doesn't mean that we are required to abstain from violence solely when it is convenient. Prime-ribs, meat balls and other meat based foods are cooked parts of animals that were held in captivity and killed.
Even a shell, what many of us consider to be but a mindless muscle has enough consciousness to hold on tighter to the surface when we try to touch it. This is because they too want to be left alone. They want to live. So, leave them alone.

Let us practice ahimsa and take a real high road. When you enjoy a vegetarian Christmas dinner, don't see it as difficult. On the contrary, it is an opportunity to practice ahimsa and it will surely inspire someone else to consider a path of non-violence and compassion.

SATYA - Truth

Don't lie to them. We breed animals on farms, we feed them, we tend them only to kill them and/ or skin them in the end. This poses a problem and a conundrum, especially for those amongst us who hold the opinion that eating wild animals/ game and so called organic meat is more acceptable ethically.
Consider a possibility that allowing an animal a so called good life only to kill it afterwards is the same as lying to animals. Imagine - someone loves you, is kind to you, feeds you and then they take your life. Organic meat is most often produced only so that it will be heathier and more tasty for humans. These animals lead good healthy lives, at least by human standards, and then they're killed and hung on a hook.
To breed something, to give it food, to let it procreate and so on, only to slaughter it and turn it into food is lying. It is not the practice of satya. This is not a white lie. Lies that lead to killing are mean when applied to humans and they should be considered so when applied to animals and other aspects of nature as well.

ASTEYA - abstinence from stealing

Don's steal from them.

Taking meat, territories, skins and milk of other creatures can be seen as stealing.

Humans are one of very few animal species that keep drinking milk as adults and that drink the milk of other species.

In many western societies, young calves are taken from their mothers right after birth and the mothers are milked and the milk they produce for their offspring is used for human consumption. Consider the ethical implications of this and try to imagine the situation if the mother and child were human.

Many western societies use more than their "share" of meat and milk. In a world where millions of people suffer of starvation and malnutrition. This is not practice of satya. If USA alone reduced its consumption of meat with only 10% and the freed resources were used to feed the part of the world stricken by hunger, the picture of world hunger would be dramatically changed. If the whole world consumed 10% less meat and these resources were directed to feeding the hunger-stricken part of the planet, there would be no hunger in the world.
And consider this: If India, where close to 80% of the population is apparently vegetarian, started consuming as much meat as USA does (when we consider the ratio of meat consumption compared to the size of the US population), our planet would be stricken with a global hunger and polution catastrophy.
When you consume an animal, you consume the vegetables, fruits, wheat, earth and water it "consumed". A vegetarian diet is uncomparably gentler to the ecology of Earth.

Eating meat is stealing from both animals and from humans and the planet.

Practice non-stealing, asteya.

BRAMACHARYA - sexual continence

Don't abuse them sexually.

In order to breed animals, create new breeds of desired size, taste, shape, or with desired quality of fur, animals are genetically modified, inseminated against their will and bred with partners they wouldn't chose naturally.

Cows are often inseminated with large devices that are inserted into their vaginas.

To consider this as acceptable, you need to decide that animals are things. These animals often need to be restrained or sedated when this is done to them. This is because they don't want to be inseminated, touched and genitally penetrated by their "owners" and against their will.

Seen through a prism of loving kindness, this kind of treatment is both ignorant and can be seen as sexual abuse.

So, leave them alone. We humans are an ingenious species and for all we need to solve, we are capable of finding better solutions if the present ones are inhumane and less-than-gentle to the planet. We could when it comes to this matter. If we wanted to.

APARIGRAHA - non-grasping

Don't take more than what you need.

In the part about non-stealing, asteya, I have already written about several parts of the world taking far more than what they need. This results in an imbalance that causes hunger and suffering in other parts of the world and also an ecological imbalance. Aparigraha is about not taking more than you need. Also when it comes to milk/ dairy for the non-vegans amongst us.

Very few people in the world, especially on the western hemisphere, need meat to survive. Very many people in the world, and again, especially in the west, would be healthier to themselves and kinder to the planet if they didn't consume any meat at all. The same thing with fur.
To my great disappointment, I recently saw fur in an otherwise fabulous yoga studio, full of great and otherwise aware yogis. And then there was that fur on their floors and chairs. In a yoga studio. Such a pity. So unnecessary.

Take only what you need. You don't need meat. And you don't need fur. You probably don't need dairy either. If you do, how much milk do you need?

Yama is easy....

When we honestly do what we can. It is a start for all of us.

People imagine that going vegetarian is difficult. It is not. Educate yourself about what you need and start.

If you have an aware relationship with your yoga practice, then vegetarianism is something you need to consider. It is probably as important a part of the yogic lifestyle as your asana practice is.

Really, do consider to apply the practice of yama to more than the human world. It is all the same world and mess and cruelty at one place will resonate somewhere else, sooner or later. The practice of yama is meant to be universal, which means that it is about animals and nature too.

This Christmas might be a nice time to start a more compassionate and kinder practice and spread some awareness to your loved ones too.


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