“Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures”. – His Holiness the Dalai Lama
I practice and teach Yoga because it makes me happy. Not fleeting, momentary happiness, but happiness that is lasting. Since quitting my “real job” to be both a Yoga teacher and lifelong Yoga student, I experience a happiness that isn’t as disrupted as it used to be by life’s challenges. There’s no doubt that Yoga practice helps create a strong and healthy body and mind, but with this refinement comes a deeper reward – freedom from suffering. Suffering may manifest as physical, mental or emotional but it’s all suffering within our small self, bound to our ego. We have the choice whether or not to attach to this suffering, to let it define us, or to look to something more. Yoga practice frees us from the limits of our small ego-self and we awaken to our greater Self, whose nature is limitless potential, unconditional love and pure joy. With practice we see life as how it truly is and we gain power in the realisation that we have a choice to live our lives aligned with this happiness – in doing so we also have the potential to ease suffering and create more happiness in the lives of those around us.
In the Yoga Sutras, author Patanjali gives us five guidelines, or Yamas, for treating others that result in attaining lasting happiness. The first is Ahiṃsā, which means non-harming.
Ahimsapratisthayam tat sannidhau vaira tyagah, PYS 11.35
When you stop harming others, others will cease to harm you.
Simple enough – when we stop harming others, we end our own suffering and increase our happiness.
Compassion is an essential part of ahimsa. Through compassion you feel another’s suffering yourself which helps you refrain from causing more harm to them. That is, you begin to see yourself in other beings. Compassion trains the mind to see past outer differences of form so you start to get glimpses of the inner essence of other beings, their soul, which is happiness. You begin to see that every single living creature has a soul that desires happiness and love, just like yours.
One of the most obvious reasons for adopting a vegan diet is that you make others happy if you don’t eat them. But furthermore, when you see that cows, pigs, lambs, chickens, ducks, fish, horses and all animals want happiness and love, you recognize kindred souls. A vegan lifestyle is an informed, intelligent and conscious way to act peacefully. Importantly however, ahimsa applies to a vegan that is critical of a non-vegan, just as much as it applies to a non-vegan about to tuck in to a steak dinner or buy some new leather shoes. No one listens to a holier-than-thou, self-righteous vegan. Patanjali give ahimsa as a practice, as a universal ethic that applies in all situations, meaning we strive as Yogis to do the least amount of harm possible. To be critical and judgmental ultimately creates more harm.
Many people choose to adopt a vegetarian diet for health reasons, of which there are countless studies of support. For me personally, the more I learned about the treatment of animals reared specifically for food, clothing or entertainment in our own country, together with the very real statistic that animal agriculture is the leading cause of global warming, deforestation and species extinction, the more I realised that my choices didn’t just affect me. The way we choose to spend our money may cause harm or lack in another region of the globe, or further degradation of the planet for future generations. What we choose to eat has the same effect. My wish to see a thriving, happy world caused me to adopt the more peaceful vegan diet. I understand that this may not make sense to everyone. Animals will most likely continue to be killed for food, fashion and entertainment and the environment may continue to be degraded…but not because of me.
Consciousness is a process and it begins with education. I’ve never seen myself as an activist, but I am educated and continue to be so. Educating people (when asked) on the real issues behind ingesting or enslaving animals better arms them with the knowledge to make the right decisions for themselves and for the wellbeing of our planet. Ultimately, everything comes down to respecting every life on the planet, be them non-vegan, vegan or animal.
And there’s good news if you do want to stop climate change, get healthy, or cease animal cruelty – it is actually in your hands. You don’t have to wait for governmental organisations. All it takes is a shift in consciousness to cause a shift in habits. The revolution has already begun in my family, what about yours?