Peace on earth Through Ahimsa by Sharon Gannon
Who will be the happiest person? The one who brings happiness to others.
– Swami Satchidananda
In the Yoga Sutras, written several thousand years ago, author Patanjali gives us five recommendations called yamas for how we should treat others if we want to attain Yoga—the realization of the oneness of being. The first yama is ahimsa, which means non-harming.
What happens when you practice ahimsa long enough to become established in it?
Ahimsapratisthayam tat sannidhau vaira tyagah, PYS 11.35: When you stop harming others, others will cease to harm you.
Compassion is an essential part of ahimsa. Through compassion you begin to see yourself in other beings.
This helps you refrain from causing harm to them. Developing compassion does something else, however, which is of special interest to the yogi. It trains the mind to see past outer differences of form. You begin to catch glimpses of the inner essence of other beings, which is happiness. You begin to see that every single creature desires happiness.
To develop compassion, examine the motives for your actions. Are they selfish or unselfish? Proclaiming that it is right to eat meat because it makes you healthier, for example, is himsic, or harmful, because it is an action stemming from a selfish motive. When you recognize that cows and chickens want happiness, just like you do, you recognize kindred souls. The distinction between you and other beings wears thin, as awareness begins to dawn.
In truth, we all share consciousness, and harm inflicted on one being, be it animal or human, is felt by all, sooner or later. Some meat eaters like to advance the argument that vegetables have feelings too, so what does it matter if we eat chickens or carrots? The answer is simple: Patanjali gives ahimsa as a practice, meaning you do your best to cause the least amount of harm. The yogi strives to cause the least amount of harm possible, and it is clear that eating a vegetarian diet causes the least harm to the planet and all creatures.
Generally speaking, the “disease of disconnection” plagues the human condition. As a species we are not at ease with ourselves – with our bodies, with our minds, our feelings. We are not at ease with others; human beings as well as other animals.
We can be nervous, competitive, fearful, worried; we crave respect and approval while simultaneously seeking dominance and power. We certainly aren’t at ease with our environment and are constantly altering it to suit our needs or wants, with little regard for how our actions impact others or the Earth. This dis-ease causes all sorts of problems. We are destroying ourselves, as well as other animal species and the planet, in a misguided quest to find happiness or ease of being.
By enslaving other animals and abusing them through lifelong torture and degradation, we deprive them of freedom and happiness. How can we ourselves hope to be free or happy when our own lives are rooted in depriving others of the very thing we say we value most in life – the freedom to pursue happiness? If you want to bring more peace and happiness into your own life, the method is to stop causing violence and unhappiness in the lives or others.
We tell our children that “Might is not Right” and yet we throw the idea out the window when it comes to the everyday reality of using might to torture, humiliate and kill the enslaved and confined animals we raise for food.
Maitri-adishu balani PYSIII.24: Through kindness strength comes
This is a radical concept because it challenges our enculturation, which tells us that strength comes from weakening another. The fork can be a powerful weapon of mass-destruction or a tool to lead a movement of peaceful co-existence. Eating a compassionate vegetarian diet will stop war, create peace in one’s body, peace with the animal nations and peace on Earth.
Excerpted from Yoga and Vegetarianism © 2008. Published by Mandala Publishing.
All rights reserved. Used with permission. http://mandala.org/
Sharon Gannon, along with David Life, teaches Jivamukti Yoga Method, which offers a path to enlightenment through compassion for all beings. She is a pioneer in teaching yoga as spiritual activism. Sharon has authored several books with David Life, and has produced numerous DVDs and Music CDs.