Yoga and Vegetarianism

The Yoga and Vegetarianism thread contains highlights from the original “Yoga and Vegetarianism” discussion that occurred between September 8 and October 12, 2000.
If I may indulge in a bit of shameless self-promotion, the piece at the bottom is one of the best things I’ve ever written for e-Sutra. It is my response to John Robbins’ comments, which appear a few posts above it.

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The double dotted lines (like the ones above) mark the division between postings from a single day.
9/8/2000

From: Leslie Kaminoff

I’d like to know the views of e-Sutra members on the subject of Yoga and Vegetarianism–specifically: “Is a Vegetarian lifestyle essential to the practice of Yoga?”

Let’s hear from you…especially the “lurkers” ๐Ÿ™‚
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From: Leslie Kaminoff

Thank you to all of the people who responded to my question….especially those of you posting for the first time. As I hoped, this thread has inspired many of you to send in thoughtful, heartfelt responses.

The original idea for this thread came from a passage in the first draft of a book I’m helping to edit. The book is about ancient healing systems, and the chapter about yoga therapy is based on the work of my teacher, T.K.V. Desikachar. At one point in the chapter, the essential qualities of the yoga teacher are being discussed:
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Only the student matters. The teacher must have no predetermined ideological, or religious agenda — nothing that might engender conflicts. One recurring issue in schools of Yoga concerns diet. There have been sincere protests to Desikachar’s point of view that strict vegetarianism is not an imperative prescription, either ancient, or modern, for serious students of Yoga. “To be a vegetarian may indeed be essential to health for some individuals — or a matter of taste, environmental conviction, philosophy, or religious belief. But it is not a commandment embedded in Yoga.” For some, he suggests, strict vegetarianism might even be unhealthy. The teacher of Yoga seeks no disciples, only the well-being of the student.
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I agree with Desikachar in this matter.

Personally, I was a veggie for many years, but now I go through cycles with my diet, based on the time of year, and what my body is telling me it needs. I enjoy a guilt-free steak every so often with no ill-effects…but right now, I’m predominantly going for a raw food, sprout-heavy menu.

I believe that the practice of AHIMSA must start with oneself. If I neglect to include myself in my practice of ahimsa, the only way to non-hypocritically follow that doctrine to it’s logical conclusion would be to commit suicide. That way, instead of killing other living things in order to survive, once in the ground, I’d become nurturing food for them—instead of draining resources from the earth, I’d actually contribute a few pounds of minerals and trace elements back to it.

I will not dispute the fact that there are some good health reasons for certain people to avoid animal products, so the health argument may be valid for some people. I also know that most confirmed vegetarians are sincerely trying to be moral, good people by following their beliefs, but as to the animal-rights argument, it is based upon the same faulty ideas as the pro-life movement. As much as I know this will upset many people, it needs to be said because it’s true and it’s important: Animals don’t have rights–only people do. Any arguments to the contrary require one to confuse the essential nature of humans with that of non-humans. Assigning rights to anything that, by nature does not possess them (animals, plants, embryos) necessarily compromises the rights and freedoms of those who do possess them.

I welcome any further responses–positive or negative.

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From: Shirley

Thank you, Leslie, for all the time and effort that you spend on ESutra. I
have enjoyed the lively discussions about certification, yoga as therapy,
and many other subjects. Thanks also to all those who have shared their
articulate opinions and viewpoints, and for the spirit of respect and
open-ness to other ideas that characterizes the conversations on this list.
And finally, thanks for the invitation to “lurkers”, which I have been for
several months.

Let me introduce myself before I comment on Yoga and Vegetarianism. I
began practicing yoga in earnest about 17 years ago. At first it was
“hatha yoga–just physical exercise.” After a couple of years, it started
becoming apparent that it was more, and my teacher recruited me as a
teacher (now, I think, far before I was ready to teach!) After a few
workshops with famous and not-so-famous teachers, the principles of yoga
gradually became a guiding force in my life.

The best-trained teachers all told me that the desire for meat would drop
away, and I believed them. They told me that eating meat made them feel
stiff and lethargic, and I decided to find out if dropping meat from my
diet would make me feel more lithe and energetic. I became a strict
vegetarian, and maintained that diet for ten years. I also became anemic,
in spite of best efforts to maintain a balanced, nutritious diet and taking
supplements. (There is a history of pernicious anemia in my family).

I began reading Ayurveda, and found that meat or fish is sometimes
recommended to balance the doshas, and I began to question whether a
vegetarian diet is really necessary for a yogi. I began eating meat again
(*after* I had conquered the problem with anemia) a couple years ago, when
I was a guest at a meat dinner at a friend’s home. It was not just a
casual dinner; it was a “feast” sort of meat, specially prepared to honor
their guests. I felt that to refuse their gift would insult and hurt them;
I decided that to do so — especially since I was not a lifelong
vegetarian, but had eaten meat in the past — would be a greater harm than
eating the meat. I thought of the advice I heard Baba Hari Das give to a
yogi farmer years ago, who was having a hard time growing enough food for
his family without harming the rabbits and others who seemed to be getting
first pickings. He said, if it comes to a choice between the life and
health of your children and the life and health of the rabbits, if you must
choose, you have a right to choose your children.

I still practice yoga. I have come to believe that it is not so much
whether or not I eat meat, but rather that whatever I eat, I eat it with an
awareness of where it comes from, how it nourishes me, where it goes, and
how its gift of nourishment allows me to serve other beings. What I gained
from my experience as a vegetarian–and the resulting friendships and
conversations with other vegetarians and ethical vegans–was the gift of
thinking very hard about the value of life and the meaning of killing and
eating. About the differences and similarities between sentient life and
vegetable life. About the ways I feed other beings (mosquitoes and other
insects, and tiny organisms inside my body and on my skin). About the many
ways that all lives on earth are interconnected.

I still generally choose vegetable life over sentient life as my food, and
I am much more aware that it is a choice, not a habit and not a prescribed
rule. Like going to the mat each morning (or not), like choosing the
practice for the day (hard work or restorative), it is a choice that I make
again and again. I think of yoga as an experimental science, myself as the
subject. The only “control” is changes over time… in a few years, I may
decide that eating meat has not been so great for my practice and my life,
and go back to a strict vegetarian diet. One of my favorite early famous
teachers, Judith Lasater, once described yoga as a smorgasbord. What a
delicious analogy! We can choose asana, or meditation, or service, or
devotion, or intellectual inquiry, or all of it (if we have enough energy).
There is no dogma. There is no one right way. It is truly a “pathless
land”.

May all beings be happy.
Shirley

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From: Leela Bruner

hum, non-violence if is the issue for being a vegetarian. Just think if you
eat an animal that has been killed it only hurts once, but people can hurt
with their words and actions and that can hurt over and over again.

I used to be a vegetarian but I had to give it up because of a death in the
family. My ego. If I went in a grocery store and was offered a sample of
food, I would see what it was and instead of just saying ‘no thanks’ I
always had to add, ‘no thanks, I’m a vegetarian!’…. as if I was some sort
of do gooder and because they weren’t a vegetarian, they weren’t. Pretty
disgusting.

If my father fixed a meal for my family when we came to visit and it was
meat and if I didn’t eat the meat he was upset – again because he thought I
felt less of him because he hunted with bow and arrow and killed the animal.
When I was born he made his living as a butcher. Lord Krishna says that
even the child of a butcher can be an enlighten being. Dad did what he had
to do to provide for his family. We had a wonderful discussion when I asked
for a deer skin for my meditation seat… and then he learned that it was
not a personal offense……. but just think of how my simple act of not
eating the meat created modifications of the mind for him.

For the several years that I was a total vegetarian, I did not feel any
different than when I ate meat. I had the same energy level and the same
flexibility. However, I do think I messed up my metabolism and gained much
weight during that time.

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From: britt bruce

“Is a Vegetarian lifestyle essential to the practice of Yoga?”

Certainly most of us have been aroused by the practice of ahimsa-thou shall do no harm. As a counselor, this is echoed in my daily work as well with clients. For me, personally, the practice of yoga and deep spiritual work within myself and the world around me prohibits me from eating dead flesh. It is as if there is a block between my lips and the food of animals that have passed. In fact, my sensitivity is so heightened that it is difficult to view dead animals in any state: on the road, cooked, etc.

I wonder if those who practice different types of yoga feel similarly. I know many friends and other teachers who do not partake, but some people feel it is necessary for their lifestyle/blood type.

It is a beautiful goal in my opinion, to refrain from meat-eating, but the practice of yoga is so peaceful and beneficial that I am glad it is not restricted to vegetarians/vegans alone.

p.s. I stopped eating meat before I began the practice of yoga, but would be off-again/on-again until i started daily devotional practice.

peace!!!

britt bruce
astralyogi@yahoo.com

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From: Paula Tepedino

I eat fish once a week and would like to eat more.
I was a strict vegetarian and didn’t have a lot of energy
during that time.
My hair was turning gray and my overall health
wasn’t optimum.
Vegetarianism at that time of my life helped to
detox, cleanse and get me on the right track
after having left a decadent life style on Wall Street.

Eating animal protein has only furthered my commitment
to growth in Yoga and in life.

Now I like integrating some animal protein such
as whole foods market fish. I totally honor
the situation and have only gratitude to the fish
for giving me the energy that helps me live.

Paula Tepedino
The Energy Center

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From: MAS

Given that I have fibromyalgia and dietary requirements that are above and

beyond what I need to live from a Vegan diet, the answer is a resounding

“NO!” I think that one has permission from the “universe” to first do no

harm and that begins with self. ((LK: Thank you. This is an essential point to remember about AHIMSA.))

One can enter into what happens to the animal source prior to its arrival at my table. I honor that. But I try to keep it down to a low level, and try to eat minimally processed meats and fish, none that are red, etc so that it is as low impact as possible.

If that gets me karmic demerits, then so be it. Otherwise I would literally

starve as soy alone, etc. does not and cannot do it for me metabolically.

With no apologies and rationalizations-

Namaste-

MAS

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From: Arya

Am I a lurker? Don’t know….((LK: Not any more…. ๐Ÿ™‚ ))

On vegetarianism and yoga, seems to me that practicing yoga requires
developing mindfulness, consciousness, whatever you might want to call
it–awareness?

As we practice, we become more sensitive both to our own needs and feelings
and the needs and feelings of those around us. Over time I’ve noticed a
willingness to do without things I enjoyed decades ago (french fries,
milkshakes, cheeseburgers) and a development of a taste for fresh vegetables
(unlike those canned and frozen ones Mom, bless her heart, used to cook).

Since I was raised as a milk and cheese consuming meat eater, I continue to
eat dairy products happily (though going without rBGH whenever possible) and
occasionally choose consciously to eat fish (very occasionally, like once or
twice a month). I believe that choosing vegetarianism can be a good health
decision for some, and not for others. The bodymind will tell you whether or
not it is a good choice for you.

As a teacher, I NEVER guilt-trip students into considering vegetarianism
because it’s thought that a whole grain, fresh food approach is better for
yoga practice. I encourage them to explore with their tastebuds as their
practice develops and just see if their tastebuds change. I’ve had many
students over the years who notice that their cravings for cokes or beers or
cupcakes or whatever diminishes, and that their taste for fresh, whole food
increases naturally. Even ayurvedic doctors would advise giving meat to some
types depending on their prakruti!!

So, in answer to your question, Leslie, NO, I don’t think vegetarianism is
necessary for the practice of yoga, but I DO think conscious eating IS.

Namaste,
Arya

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Yes.
Baxter Williams
yoga_astanga@yahoo.com

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My Answer is YES. Ishwari@erols.com
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From Matt Lerner

Hi Leslie. I’ve been “lurking” a while, so I thought I would reply to your

interesting question: “Is a Vegetarian lifestyle essential to the practice

of Yoga?”

My thoughts: I don’t think so. Even Astanga Yogis working on ahimsa

(non-hurting) have to make choices. I do not interpret ahimsa as an

absolute – just to be alive on the planet will cause hurt to some other life

forms. To me, ahimsa is making choices that cause the least amount hurt. At

times, ahimsa might even require eating meat – it might even require eating

human flesh in order to save life. I hope none of us are ever faced with

such a choice…

On a practical basis, does vegetarianism support spiritual development?

Again, a personal choice, but I suspect it does, if one is knowledgeable

enough to stay healthy without eating meat. I have heard it said that the

hormones and chemicals in the bodies of animals can cause disturbances to

the subtle states of meditation, but I have no personal experience of this.

If I do notice it, I will probably eliminate that distraction from my

lifestyle.

Actually, to me, that is the heart of yoga – observing how things affect

you, and then making choices that help you reach your goal. In the case of

Yoga, the goal is union…

Matt

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From: Linda

I get asked this queston all the time…once in awhile a teacher will

confess to having eaten shrimp, etc. I think back to the aborgines
who telepathically contacted their prey before killing, asking

for permission, and giving thanks, and taking only what they needed….seems

sacred and respectful of life to me. I also think that even plants have

consciousness…..if anyone has worked with flower essences, they probably

know what I mean. So do we need to get to the point where we can live on

air as the old masters did??? ((LK: It’s never been proven that this is possible. All the recent people who have claimed to be breatharians have turned out to be frauds.))

Then I think about Iyengar’s answer to this question which was basically that people who were vegetarians are nicer, gentler in nature and less agressive, and think to the carniverous nature of some meat eaters I have met. Then what about Donna Fahri???? ((LK: Actually, I’ve seen many vegetarian animal-rights people get extremely aggressive when confronting meat-eaters or fur-wearers. It’s not diet that makes you peaceful or aggressive, it’s ideas and belief systems. I don’t understand the reference to Donna here…))
I don’t have any judgements here, but look forward to hearing from others.

Namaste,

Linda in Florida

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wendy green
bradley beach nj
Om,

Ahimsa…nonviolence, that abouts sums it up in my book. It is the Jains who wear masks over their noses and mouths, so they do not inhale any insects and also sweep the dirt in front of their holy men, so they do not step on a living thing…….obviously, vegetarianism is a natural observance of the first yama.

((LK: Yes, it’s true. The Jain monks usually have a lower caste, bent-over, human servant walking in front of them sweeping away bugs from their path…))

More importantly, is the raising of ones energy. In order to obtain a space of miracle making, enlightenment, samadhi, we must “raise” our energy, consciousness. We do this through asansa, diet, meditation, and karmic action. meat is heavy. It slows the body down. It putrefies in our long digestive system. That causes disease. Period.

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From Carl Horowitz

Vegetarianism and Yoga:

I think the answer to this is similar to how I feel about how yoga should be
taught and practiced. Everyone is different, lives under different
circumstances, and needs different things from their practice. I understand
that the way animals are bred is really not very good for the planet, and in
a different world it would be great if everyone could obtain the benefits of
a vegetarian lifestyle. However, there are people who actually do harm to
their systems by embracing vegetarianism without a proper understanding of
their dietary needs. Being able to have a complete and balanced diet is
especially important for a vegetarian. Environment, lifestyle, profession,
every aspect of a person’s life determines what is right for that person.
And there are times when a person’s situation determines that a vegetarian
diet could end up being more harmful than beneficial to their system. Can
that person continue to eat red meat, poultry, and fish and still get the
benefits of improved health and well being that can be obtained through the
practice of yoga? Of course. Will a practice of yoga make somebody think
more carefully and clearly about what they put into their body? Most
likely. Does change happen? Do people who practice yoga make changes in
their lives that help bring them towards a more balanced healthy lifestyle?
Sometimes! But not always!

Meeting the practitioner where they are, I would never tell someone that
they should stop practicing yoga because they cannot and will never be able
to perform padmasana; and I would not deny somebody the benefits of yoga
because of their diet. Yogascittavrttinirodhah (yoga sutra 1.2) really does
not have to do with what you had for dinner and in the end tasyapi nirodhe
sarvanirodhannirbijah samadhih (yoga sutra 1.51), the mind reaches a state
when it has no impressions of any sort. Even impressions of what yoga is
supposed to be come to an end. And when the mind folds up, then you
experience yoga. So in the end a person’s ideas about vegetarianism can get
in the way of yoga happening.

Leslie, thanks for the format to express these issues.

Peace

Carl

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FROM: CHARLIE STEEHLER IN ROCHESTER,N.Y.

“WHERE’S THE BEEF”

NO I DO NOT BELIEVE THE VEGETARIAN LIFESTYLE AND YOGA NEED TO GO HAND IN

HAND. I STARTED THE ATKINS DIET APPRX. 2 YEARS AGO AND CONTINUE TODAY.NO HEADACHES OR FATIGUE ANYMORE.

THIS IS WHAT “MY” BODY NEEDS.WITH BEEF IN MY DIET I STILL FEEL ALL THE

ENERGY MOVING THROUGH OUT MY BODY FROM MY PRACTICE.MATTER OF FACT MY

PRACTICE TOOK OFF WHEN I CHANGED MY DIET.YES, I HAVE THOUGHT OF

EXPERIMENTING WITH CUTTING OUT THE MEAT TO SEE WHAT MAY HAPPEN IN MY BODY

AND MY PRACTICE:I’M NOT READY TO MAKE THAT CHOICE YET.

MARK AND CARRIE HAVE ASKED ME TO TEACH FOR THEM,MY PRACTICE IS GOING WELL-SO

DON’T MESS WITH IT IF ITS NOT BROKEN. ((LK: Mark and Carrie Sandler, Directors of Yoga Wellness Center in Rochester, NY.))

BOTTOM LINE EVERYBODY NEEDS TO EAT WHAT IS GOOD FOR THIER BODY,IT WILL TEEL

YOU WHAT IT DOESN’T CARE FOR.

CHARLIE–
YOGA RULES!!!

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From: Laura Miller

I was vegetarian for ten years before I started practising
Yoga, so _ahimsa_ was an “of course” to me. I think
vegetarianism is essential for an honest pursuit of Yoga.
My vegetarianism is ethics-based, and interweaves very
closely with my Christian religious principles of mercy and
compassion toward the powerless. I realise that animals do
not belong to me and that it is not within my rights to
take their lives away, or to pay to have others (an
economically oppressed underclass) kill animals for me.
Eating animals involves a culturally institutionalised
violence.

My own health is not an issue in my decision. I wouldn’t
care if not eating animals made me pallid and sickly and
weak; I still wouldn’t eat them. I enjoy some health
benefits from being vegetarian, but they are of far less
concern to me than the health of the animals I don’t eat!

I have noticed in my readings (especially in _Yoga
Journal_) and in some classes I’ve taken how often this
_particular_ discipline is glided over or apologised for,
because it really goes up against culturally accepted
consumptions. I guess we are afraid that people might get
turned off of Yoga if it actually requires that they make a
sacrifice.

I am not a teacher, yet, but I wonder often how I will
bring ahimsa up in my classes. I know that David Life and
Sharon Gannon are very upfront about vegetarianism, for
which I respect them immeasurably. I wonder what the
response is of their students when they are introduced to
the animal-rights aspect of Jivamukti — from the immense
success of their school, it can’t have hurt them too
terribly!

Namaste,
Laura Miller

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From: Robin Reich, Seattle

As a vegan and Yoga practitioner and teacher, I feel very strongly
that one make every attempt to be vegetarian. As the first precept to
both Yoga and Buddhism is Ahimsa, I think we must be truly conscious
of our relationship to what we eat. I switched to veganism from
vegetarianism when I visited an animal farm sanctuary where abused
chickens (their beaks off), cows (left on a dead pile because they
didn’t produce sufficient milk), pigs, goats, turkeys and other
animals had been rescued from the horrors of factory farming. And
quite frankly why do we take animals to be our rightful food in the
first place? I never understood this one. For health issues certain
people can not be vegetarian 100% of the time, including the Dalai
Lama, but as he says he is vegetarian 6 monthes of the year as every
other day he is vegetarian! For certain climates as well, it is not
always possible, but at least indigenous people seem to have a
connection to the animal before killing it, in many ways with the
least one being they do the dirty work themselves! I think the basis
of Yoga, Buddhism, and all spiritual practices should be compassion.
In the end it is love and compassion that truly matter. In terms of
vegetarianism, we should do the best we can to do the least harm
possible.

PS. Thanks so much for having these discussions, and by the way, what
is a “lurker”! ((LK: A lurker is someone who prefers to just read postings on a list, rather than contributing them. ))

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From: Coeli Carr

No matter how pure our intent to practice yoga, our
work with the asanas has the best chance of succeeding
when we are physically strong and vital.
I’d like to address the growing body of scientific
literature that addresses the need for animal protein
to stimulate an underactive thyroid. Since the
thyroid produces cholesterol used to manufacture
progesterone in the body, the health of the thyroid
gland is key, especially for women. When the thyroid
gland functions poorly, one is always cold and tired –
not good conditions to motivate one’s practice.
For anyone whose temperature tends to be lower than
normal (a key indicator of hypothyroidism), eating
certain animal products may improve one’s health and
therefore enhance one’s practice.
A good book on this subject is “The Enzyme Cure” by
Lita Lee, Ph.D., who is quoted in Yoga Journal’s 25th
Anniversary Issue.
Vegetarianism and Yoga have become proverbial
bedfellows, but the stereotype may not fit one’s
biochemical individuality.

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From: Kali Ray

Namaste’

The heart of the ageless teachings is AHIMSA….non-violence.

A pure vegetarian diet, is important not only for the practice of Yoga,
but for the health of the animal, the planet, the human.

Kali Ray
TriYoga

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VEGETARIANISM AND YOGA
by Sharon Gannon

When you are Self-confident the need to hurt, humiliate or kill another being is absent from your personality. Only a person with low self-esteem would harm another to feel better about themselves. Self-esteem and Self-confidence are the results of yoga practice, and they have their highest manifestation in Samadhi.

Samadhi is the aim of the Yoga practice. It is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘same as the highest’. It is the identification of the individual with the Absolute supreme consciousess which is Truth, Knowledge and unending Bliss. What keeps us from that Supreme Realization is our own selfishness; thinking that we are separate from the Divine Source.

The great yogi Jesus said that if you want to know yourself as one with the Source then follow this practice: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Notice that he did not specify the gender, color, or even the species of “others”. As long as you perceive others and not the One, then treat those “others” with kindness, respect and compassion. In other words, “love thy neighbor as thyself” and you will realize that “I and my father are one.” In other words, you wil realize Samadhi.

The first step in Patanjali’s system of Yoga is Ahimsa, which means the practice of non-harming and nonviolence. This is the reason vegetarianism is a main tenet of Yoga. You simply cannot eat another being without harming them first. The practices of Yoga are meant to be practices, meaning you work toward the attainment of perfection, knowing that perfection may never come.

As long as we are living in physical bodies we will continue to cause some harm to others on this planet. So the practice of Ahimsa becomes one of trying to cause the least amount of harm. Everyone knows that eating a vegetarian diet uses up the least amount of natural resources and so causes the least amount of harm to the whole planet.

As you get better at Ahimsa, you get closer to the realization of your True being as that which is Peaceful and free of debilitating internal conflicts. Many people have difficulty with accepting a vegetarian lifestyle as intrinsic to the practice of yoga asana. Perhaps we can clarify that by examining the Sanskrit word “asana”. It means “seat.” Seat means connection to the Earth. Earth means all things: animals, plants, minerals, all existence. To practice asana really means to practice your relationship to Earth and all of her manifestations.
Yoga has been called the perfection of action. All actions originate as thoughts, so a perfect action must come from a perfect thought. What is a perfect thought? A perfect thought is one that is free of selfish desire, anger and hate. We return to Ahimsa as the means to perfect action. See yourself in others, all others, and then go beyond seeing. BE yourself in others until there are no others, until there is only Love, only One.

The single most important part of your yoga practice is the strict adherence to a vegetarian diet, a diet free of needless cruelty, harm and injustice. Ahimsa is not an optional part of the program, it is the first step.

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I don’t think the practice of Yoga is dependent on a vegetarian lifestyle; however, I don’t think the results will be nearly as good as those achieved while on a vegetarian diet. It’s about opening up your energy channels and this is more easily done on a cleaner burning diet, one with fewer toxins and more easily digested and assimilated. That being said, I’ve seen lots of people get too caught up in the food/diet trap and miss the point. Sri Yukteswar said, “Eat a diet that suits you and then forget it.” It’s one part of a complex practice, important, but not worth “chewing on” for too long.

Thoughts from a “lurker”,

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From: Collyn Rivers

Re Linda’s quoting BKS Iyengar (in the Yoga and ‘Vegeterarianism” debate)

that not eating meat “”makes one nicer, gentler, and less aggressive” –

maybe someone should feed him a hamburger..

Collyn Rivers

Broome

Western Australia

(collynr@bigpond.com.au

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From Nancy (Namita) Freedom:

How do you know that people have rights? How do you know that non-humans have no rights? What are rights? Is the notion of rights an illusion?
I’m eager to hear anyone’s thoughts on these matters.

I posed the (above) questions about rights because I read a message which I thought was from you saying only people had rights, animals didn’t. ((LK: That was me.))The message didn’t say why the writer thought so. I want to know why the writer said that.

What I think the answers to my questions are: One of the meanings of “rights” is a human idea, not a cosmic one. I do not have a right unless I have the strength & vigilance to assert it & stop infringements against it. Therefore, there could be rights I could defend FOR animals, but they only have those they are powerful enought to defend– as in rights to water, prey killed, territory, a mate, etc.

Another meaning of the word “rights” is what I can hardly survive without–as in the Margaret Riddle book from the 1950s, The Rights of Infants, which had a chapter on the right to suck. By this definition we can say all humans & many animals have rights to air, viable temperature, food, water,
clothing, shelter, space to stand, swim or fly, etc.

A third meaning of “rights” is what the legal rights in that jurisdiction are.

Therefore, my answer to whether the idea of rights is an illusion would depend on how the term was defined.

Sincerely, Nancy
——————–
Leslie responds:

I agree with Ayn Rand’s definition of “Right” as being: “a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context…..which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a *rational being* for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)…..Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law.”

Rights are possessed by *individual people* by virtue of their fundamental nature as beings endowed with a volitional consciousness. This is what Jefferson was referring to when he wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men were “Endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”

This is the key distinction between people and animals. The concept of rights has no application to a creature that cannot exercise the faculty of free will. Note that certain humans who fail to exercise their faculty of free will, or who willfully violate the rights of others (criminals), lose certain of their rights as a consequence. Of these people, we tend to say; “They acted like animals.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-animal…..I just keep the distinction clear between animals and humans. I know that when I eat a steak, I haven’t deprived a rational being of its right to life.

I’d like to hear the views of list members who believe in protecting animal rights, but who are also in favor of a woman’s right to abortion. I’d like to hear the reasoning that gives rights to an animal, but denies them to an embryo.
==========================
============================
From: MariAnne

Leslie,

Great reply. I cannot even begin to “go there” when it comes to ahmisa and

feeling guilty of depriving animals of their lives so that I can live. I’m

not sure who has rights to what, but in some things I am certain. If I do

not eat a diet w/ animal protein in it, I am hurting myself. I have studied

much about Nutrition and understand very clearly that I have a medical

condition that causes me to suffer greatly when I do consume carbs, fiber

and a little fat w/ no animal protein.

We should all live in a perfect world where the politics of food is a

non-issue and that no animal should have to suffer or person or plant.
((LK: That’s not a perfect world–that’s a world where there’s nothing to eat.))

I do not consider myself any less of a humane person because of my diet nor

do I consider myself less of a practitioner of Yoga. I just am trying to do

the best I can and to live it off the mat and refrain from judgement about

what others are doing.

As a digression, I am pro-choice. Karma is Karma and free will is free will

and we all make the choices that get us on/off the wheel. Maybe next time I

I’ll be privileged to come back in a less high maintenance body and have

fewer lessons. My life at this point as I know it is about learning to honor

my limits and to graciously take care of myself as I have nothing to give

when I am not a well vessel. But am I less because of what I do? I hope no

one would EVEN presume to call themselves spiritually evolved and then

pronounce me so (i.e. less).

MariAnne
===========================

((I’d like to hear the reasoning that gives rights to an animal, but denies them to an embryo. ))

From: Jodi Taylor

Hmmmmmmm………’Tis all about choice. I can choose to join PETA or not. I can choose to have an abortion or not. Animal rights? Embryo rights? Hell, those are MY rights.

Let me start out by stating that I am a vegetarian who has gone through many phases for many different reasons. First I wouldn’t eat anything that had a face. Then I changed that and decided that I wouldn’t eat anything that had a mother. Then I changed that to not eating anything that defecates. Currently, I only eat meat if I personally know the individual who killed it. That is how I choose what goes into my body.

I chose to have a baby come out of my body 4 years ago and I feed my 4 year old son as much soy-meat as I can but don’t deny him the meat that doesn’t fulfill my vegetarian reasoning du jour. He can make his own decisions as he grows older.

I think the distinction between “animal rights” and “embryo rights” is that they can only be compared if one is talking about the “rights” of an animal that one has chosen to cultivate and the “rights” of an embryo that one has chosen to cultivate.

In other words, I buy a calf, I can choose to feed her, breed her or chop her up into bite sized morsels. Or I can choose to bathe her in lavender and put a bow in her fur and invite her to sleep in my home. She is my calf. Any “rights” I grant her or deny her are my CHOICE, as caretaker of said calf.

Same goes for embryos. I don’t have a “right” to walk up to some pregnant lady and yank her placenta out of her. But I do have the right to yank it from myself as host of said embryo.

OK, I can hear the cries “How selfish! What about the greater consciousness? What about karma and ahimsa?……Man that chick clearly has a non-evolved sense of ego to think that only HER choices matter.”

Here’s my response. I certainly don’t think that I am “enlightened” enough to speak for all animals and zygotes. It takes a pretty inflated and indulgent sense of self to appoint oneself as speaker, keeper and emoter of all other species and “beings”.

But I feel pretty comfortable making choices for my own body – what goes in and what comes out. ((LK: Amen.))

Om,
~Jodi

===========================
From: Trisha Lamb Feuerstein

Namaste,

Leslie writes in response to my comment:

(( Whatever one’s reasons might be for eating other beings, I think it is important to become informed about the conditions under which the vast majority of the 44+ billion beings slaughtered worldwide each year for human consumption are raised and killed. (Please note that this figure does not include aquatic beings.)
((LK: Trisha’s use of the word “being” in this context is misleading. My dictionary defines being as “person”….not “creature” or “animal” or “living thing”.))))

My Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines the term “being” as “a living thing,” and Georg Feuerstein adds that in Hinduism and Buddhism all humans, nonhumans, spirits, etc., are referred to as bhuta–or being.

((LK: Bhuta is “Being” in the sense of having some existence–of being real–from the root “bhu”; becoming, being, existent. That’s the primary definition. “Creature in general” is the third definition down the list in my Sanskrit Reader.))

Leslie further comments:

((LK: Trisha raises a valid concern about the conditions in which animals are raised and slaughtered. I am in favor of making those conditions as sanitary and humane as possible. Apparently McDonald’s shares this concern, as they have recently made a committment to not use eggs from producers who de-beak their chickens. ))
))

Even though McDonald’s has agreed (after a campaign conducted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to ask suppliers to make certain ameliorative changes in the conditions under which chickens are factory farmed, the changes do not begin to constitute reasonable or natural conditions. Again, I would encourage ESutra readers who consume chickens as well as eggs to become well informed about the conditions under which factory-farmed chickens are both raised and killed.

In addition, McDonald’s suppliers are thus far refusing to meet McDonald’s demands, saying it will put them out of business because the changes would not be “cost-effective” (once again leaving the chickens’ needs out of the equation). Thus it remains to be seen if even the small changes requested will ultimately be made.

Kind regards,
Trisha
———————————-
Trisha Lamb Feuerstein
Yoga Research and Education Center
mail@yrec.org
===========================
From: Barbara Benagh

I was glad to see that I’m not the only one who was startled by
some of the earlier comments made on this topic. I’ve been a “lurker”
until this point but have thought about this topic quite a bit. Might as
well write it down.

I, too, noticed a self centered tone to some discussion of ahimsa.
The message seemed to be that non-violence is fine as long as I take care
of number one, ME, first. What does non-violence to myself mean? Phillip
Moffett’s essay in the Sept/Oct Yoga Journal is timely. I think this topic
could be an interesting “thread”, Leslie. ((LK: Go for it…send in a separate post.))

I have also thought about Leslie’s provocative comments regarding
rights – as I suspect he intended. Talk of claiming our inalienable rights
and free will aside, rights are largely bestowed by government.

((LK: Not actual rights..the proper role of government is to protect individual rights–not bestow or create them.)))

We, in democratic countries benefit from contemplating how lucky we are, since
rights can be lost in a heartbeat. Examples abound. ((LK: Rights can be violated, but never lost–they are an intrinsic part of human nature; as necessary to humans life as thinking and choosing.))

Abortion and birth control, killing of animals for human
consumption, our responsiblity as consumers,the death penalty, and any
number of other topics are BIG questions relevant to an examined life in
Western society. As yoga practitioners we are not only taking care of our
bodies we are awakening our spirit. It is spirit, the Consciousness that is
in each of us but that is bigger than the individual, that makes us care
about these and make considered, moral choices. From this viewpoint and
after having read the postings, I am contemplating these questions:

Do we humans, because we have free will, have an obligation to develop
empathy and respect for other living things. In other words can we bestow
rights on those who suffer from our hubris?

How often is vegetarianism abandoned for convenience sake? Most of us were
raised eating meat so its a habit and it can seem anti-social not to
participate in family feasts. Sometimes we may just crave a familiar taste
– like a burger.

How often do we blame a vegetarian diet for ill health instead of
considering other factors? It can take more time and effort to make a
nutritious veggie meal and our palates must adjust to different tastes.

Knowing that animals suffer terrible lives and deaths (especially veal
calves and chickens) isn’t it a joke to talk about thanking the animal who
gave his life for my dinner, like I’m a Native American of old? Knowing
that the planet suffers greatly (Clare Fleming’s comments were well taken)
to support the meat demands of a growing population, should we try to be
“low impact” in our own meat consumption as well as by-products such as
eggs and cheese by only eating organic and free range?

Do I, as a yoga practioner, have the obligation to take this seriously and
consider that by taking care of the planet I am taking care of myself?
Should I think of the repurcussions of my actions not just on my health but
the health of the planet in my food choices and make every effort to be a
vegetarian? Doesn’t this support both the ancient teachings of Yoga as well
as the urgent need for conservation of the planet,which is after all,our
home?

Thanks, Leslie, for the work you do in keeping this discussion
group going.

===========================
From: Chris Holmes

Hi Folks:

Yoga and vegetarianism: to eat meat or not to eat meat. The most
compelling material I have read on this topic is Alan Watts’ short essay
“Murder in the Kitchen.” I haven’t read it for years but my understanding
of his main point is that all life is energy, and all beings subsist by
consuming energy.

The claim that eating the energy we call salmon is
morally preferable to eating the energy we call parsley is arbitrary. My
experience has been consistent with this idea. My meditation practice has
revealed to me the energetic nature of all things. For me, my eating
practice is about being present, conscious and grateful for the energy God
has given me to consume. I do my best to feel how it is to eat what’s on
my plate. I feel better eating certain things and not others, but I don’t
draw what feels like an arbitray line restricting meat consumption.

The energy I get from a Hamburger is different then from sprouts, not better or
worse, just different. I do feel the meat industry is generally violent,
both to animals, the earth and the people who work in it. So is much of
the produce industry (witness large scale monocropping, chemical use,
underpaid, underinsured workers). This is due to the structure of the both
industries. This brings me deep sadness and anger. My choice is to
support with my words, my votes and my wallet more sustainable methods of
rasing food.

Chris Holmes
Karma Yogi, Kripalu Center

=================
From: Laura Miller

As to whether animals have rights:

Humans don’t HAVE rights — not in the same way
they have and possess arms, legs, &c. Rights are ideas,
that are culturally, philosophically, and historically
determined and agreed upon through discourse. People grant
themselves rights, and grant each other rights. They agree
to treat one another a certain way. Rights are not
essential; they are not written on the souls of humans.
Rights change according to what history is doing at the
moment. ((LK: As I’ve said above, what changes thru history is the degree to which people recognize the fact that rights are indeed written on the souls of humans. Don’t confuse the recognition of rights with the creation of rights.))

For any human to say, “I am a human, therefore I
have rights; “X” is not a human, therefore he does not have
rights” is transparently self-serving. How convenient for
humans to declare that rights are based on the ability to
communicate in human language, and to think and act and
“demonstrate awareness” according to human terms. How easy
for one to define “being” according to a dictionary written
by humans!

Anyhow, I thought that as yogis we tended to
operate accroding to the notion that we are all one BEING
beneath and beyond the illusion of our seperation. Oh — I
get it: “We are all one, but some of us are more one than
others.”

Peace,
Laura Miller

—————————————————————–
Miller, Laura Marjorie
Vanderbilt University
Email: laura.m.miller@Vanderbilt.Edu
((LK: You’re not by any chance in the philosophy department, are you? ๐Ÿ™‚ ))
=========================

from Coeli Carr

Re the politicizing of this thread:
I wondered while reading all the wonderful comments
how many of the “vegetarian is best” comments had been
borne out of a genuine choice vs. pure theory.
I had been a vegetarian, almost vegan, for more
than 20 years before scientific data was presented to
me regarding my own physical health that made me start
eating meat again. I trusted the source of this data
and I made a fully informed choice.
I had loved being vegetarian and it was a big
downer to surrender that.
I think that, if you are rigid in either a pro- or
con- stance (about anything), there may come a point
when you are presented with having to make a choice
180 degrees away from your original position.
What if you were a serious vegetarian family and
you learned your child had a biochemical need for meat
or flesh protein. Would meat be okay, then, because
you wanted the best for your child? What you then
tell the members of your community? Do you then
espouse a different stance or moral relativism?

=====================

From: Sambhavi

when we are trying to culitvate unity and peace through yoga how can we gain our
sustinance by killing another?
when we are trying to evolve and enlightne how can we ingest death and on a sublte
level, the vibration of fear that the flesh of murdered animals holds.
the sublte particles of food feed the atma and energy body so how can we choose
conciously to bring in negative sublte energies when we are trying to rise to
higher layers of conciousness.
as far as nutrition goes, the major portion of the indian population does not eat
meat and those who do only once or twice a week and that would be chicken. Red
meat is ruled out for all spiritual aspirents.
every swami will say to cut red meat ompletely out of ones diet.
we do not require meat to live. i have not eaten meat for 14 years since i was a
twelve year old girl and i am very fit and healthy.
in india though people do not go to the dentist their teeth do not ro as quickly
as those of us who go to the dentist twice a year herte.
my husband went to the dentist for the first time when he was 33 and had not a
cavity.
the same is true for many of our friends.
the feeling is that the enzymes in red meat stick to the teeth and the meat it
slef is difficult to get out of the teeth causing decay.
even me and my sister has the same thing happen she always had at least 4 cavities
when going to the dentist and i did to when i ate meat but when i quit i had none.

so if the meat spoils the teeth and can not be broken down sufficiently by slaliva
how can we expect stomach acids to adequately disolve it?
i prefer to look at the ayurvedic whole body aproach to nutrition than that of
western medicine.
it encorperates the whole self and not just the gross physical. A system that has
exsisted since the emergence of humanity. Our medicine here is an evolution of
people coming detatched from nature.
i feel it is time that nutritionists also start looking at herboloygy and ancient
sytems to find some truths about what our bodies need.
sambhavi
=============================
=============================
from Leela Bruner:

Sambavi writes: “every swami will say to cut red meat completely out of ones
diet.” Swami Kripalvanandaji (Kripalu for whom Kripalu Yoga Center was
named) instructed me personally, to prepare and eat the foods that my
husband likes. My husband is a typical American meat and potatoes man.
Even though Kripalu was very strict in his own diet and sensitive to the
degree that he could tell if a cow had been beaten to give milk, he felt
that it is most important to lovingly serve one’s husband. He also was
sensitive to eating habits based on culture. So there you have it – a swami
and one who was a recognized saint who did not say to cut red meat
completely out of ones diet.

Furthermore, Kripalu always encouraged his disciples to test and re-test
everything that was told to them. How else are we to know if our
conclusions are pyschological, physical, mental or emotional? When I was
coming off being a vegetarian, I noticed that I had a reaction to eating
chicken. My gurubrother was quick to point out that I was not allergic to
it before, thus it must be more psychological than physical. As soon as
this was pointed out there was no more allergic reaction.

I also encourage everyone to test for themselves everything that has been
taught to them yogically including the ‘belly breathing experiment’ that
Leslie asked about shortly after esutra started.
We have our own bodies for laboratories for yogic experiments…. and we
have the brains to observe and discern what works and what doesn’t work and
why.
=========================
From: Katchie Gaard (and John Robbins, author of “Diet for a New America”)

Hello everyone,

It has been a while since I have written, I guess that makes me a lurker too….
But this one is just to juicy to pass!
Curious about the rights issues: Why again are humans born with it? Says who? Is it not a concept that humans have come up with?

As some of you know, I am in close contact with John Robbins, author of Diet for a New America. I sent him some of the postings and here is some of what he wrote back to me:

“Leslie says animals aren’t beings, because they can’t exercise “volitional consciousness,” because they “cannot exercise the faculty of free will”.
How do we know what goes on in animals’ consciousness? Would we deny that mentally retarded humans have rights? And even if animals don’t exercise free will as we know it (a highly debateable point), does that give us the right to inflict suffering and pain on them?

“The real question we must ask, if we are going to attain any kind of moral or ethical relationship to animals isn’t “are they rational” but “do they suffer”?
For if they suffer, and there is absolutely no question that they do, then to cause them to suffer when we could prevent that violates the principles of Ahimsa, and is an affront to our interconnectedness with all of life.

“This business about defining “rights” so that animals don’t have any is absurd. How about balancing rights with responsibilities? What are our human responsiblities to people less fortunate than ourselves? To the world’s hungry? To the ecosystems? To the urge in our hearts to extend compassion to all beings?

“Anyway, it has been interesting to see the different opinions in the yoga world (or to see the excuses people come up with to justify eating the dead bodies of our fellow earth inhabitants!)”

((LK: I thank Mr. Robbins for taking the time to send in his thoughts on this issue. I will respond in a future post.))

========================
Leslie,

Would you please make sure that it is clear that the last remark, the one about eating the dead bodies, is from me not John!
Sorry about the confusion!

Lot’s of love
Katchie

((LK: Katchie is referring to the following: “Anyway, it has been interesting to see the different opinions in the yoga world (or to see the excuses people come up with to justify eating the dead bodies of our fellow earth inhabitants!)”))

=================

From Suza Francina
Hello yoga friends in cyberspace,

I read the ESutra postings with great interest, especially the latest discussions about Yoga and Vegetarianism. I think it’s important to bring people like John Robbins into this discussion, as the ethical treatment of animals is their Life Work.

Personally, my experience from having a long relationship with a potbellied pig, numerous dogs and cats, chickens, rabbits, goats and most recently, coyotes, I feel it is the height of arrogance for us human beings to assume we know what goes on in an animals consciousness. As the years go by, I am increasingly delighted and amazed to discover how intelligent other creatures are.

((LK: I never said I know what goes on in animals’ heads; all that matters is what doesn’t go on–volitional, conceptual consciousness–reason. When we recognize animal intelligence, we are unknowingly anthropomorphising–projecting our own faculties on those of animals.))

Another way to shed more light on this issue is to bring the work of people like Gail A. Eisnitz, chief investigator for the Humane Farming Association and author of SLAUGHTERHOUSE, THE SHOCKING STORY OF GREED, NEGLECT, AND INHUMANE TREATMENT INSIDE THE US MEAT INDUSTRY (Prometheus Books, 1997) and others who have witnessed first hand how animals are treated in the slaughter industry, into this ESutra discussion. Gail Eisnitz describes how in the last fifteen years, thousands of small to mid-sized slaughterhouses have been displaced by a few large, high-speed operations, each with the capacity to kill more then a million animals a year. With fewer slaughterhouses killing an ever-growing number of animals, slaughter “line speeds” have accelerated and a production mentality has emerged in which the rapid slaughter line never seems to stop for anything-not for injured workers; not for contaminated meat; and, least of all, not for slow or disabled animals.

While investigating the slaughter industry, Eisnitz interviewed dozens of workers across the United States. Without exception, the individuals interviewed admit to deliberately beating, strangling, boiling, or dismembering animals alive in violation of the federal Humane Slaughter Act in an effort to “keep the production line running.”

Many of these workers also discuss the web of violence in which they have become ensnared and the alcoholism and physical abuse which plague their personal lives.

I interviewed Gail A. Eisnitz and was reading her book around the time that Judith Lasater asked me to write a foreword to her new book, LIVING YOUR YOGA. When I wrote the words below, I was also thinking of the animals:

“Yoga addresses the ethical life through a whole range of practices that encourage us to live in harmony with nature, making our actions conducive both to personal and planetary health. The great yoga teachers urge us to consider all aspects of our lives, to revere all living things, and to take no more than we need. Surely, a complete yoga practice must encompass a way of life that addresses the harm we inflict on ourselves and other living things, as well as doing our part to reduce pollution and to share the limited resources of our planet fairly with all other beings.”

Thank you Leslie for creating the space to share these thoughts.
Sincerely,
Suza Francina
Green Mayor, City of Ojai, California
Author, The New Yoga for People Over 50
www.Suzafrancina.com

===============
From: Andrea Cione

Dear Katchie,

Thank you for sending John Robbins opinion about vegetarianism, an opinion with which I happen to agree. When I became a vegetarian, it was for three very strong reasons. The first was for dietary reasons. High blood pressure and heart arythmia runs in my family, as well as colitis. Being a vegetarian for 10 years has kept me in very good sted physically, even my Doctor concurs. The second reason is ethical. I do not believe in causing any being, including animals, suffering. In addition, as a vegetarian, I also express my compassion for our planet, as the beef industry is draining our planet of valuable resources. I have been doing yoga for 14 years, and am grateful as the practice of yoga helped me overcome cravings and desire for meat, as well as cigarettes and alcohol and other excesses. No, it is not necessary to be a vegetarian to do yoga and as a teacher, I recognize each individual’s need to follow his own consciousness and physical and dietary needs. (There was a time when I would go around lecturing everyone and thank goodness I passed through that stage with my personal relationships still intact).

Yoga, as we learned at Omega last week, for those who were at the Yoga Beyond the Body Seminar with Desikachar, is and should be completely separate from Hinduism, or Christianity or Buddhism for that matter. Clearly, telling someone they have to become a vegetarian if they do yoga is imposing one’s personal view on another and is irresponsible.

In the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, Sutra II-30 states, “Yama comprises: 1) Consideration towards all living things especially those who are innocent, in difficulty, or worse off than we are.” and Sutra II-35 defines ahimsa as: “The more considerate one is, the more one stimulates friendly feelings among all in one’s presence.” (Both definitions are from Desikachar’s translation). But if Yama covers the spectrum of social responsibility, the question remains, is that responsibility only towards other humans, or “towards all living things” and as our planet changes and the population explosion begins to seriously affect the balance of life on earth, what choices each individual makes will make a substantial difference to all life. The important thing is that yoga opens our eyes and gives us room to reflect and decide for ourselves.
((LK: Well said!))

Peace.
Andrea Cione

======================
From: Mark

Hello:

I am a new member of the Esutra family and absolutely enjoy the thought provoking discussion. After having read with interest the thread re: veggie vs. meat eater and especially after reading Mr. Robbin’s words I felt I had to put in my two cents. Mr. Robbins seems to have already decided for us just where to draw the line on right vs. wrong. His justification is that “animals surely suffer”. I agree. However, if you carry that one step further then how can he justify eating anything at all. How bold of him to decide that vegetables don’t suffer. Just because they don’t have the same physiological makeup as the animal world doesn’t mean that they can be ruled out when it comes to suffering…… What it all comes down to is a personal experience of reality. I do my thing, you do yours. If Mr. Robbins doesn’t want to eat animals then by all means don’t . I will not force him to eat meat if he doesn’t try to make me not eat meat. If we bring this train of thought full circle we end up with the ultimate fact that in order to live a life without experiencing or causing suffering of any sort we must cease to be alive at all. Life in itself, after all, is suffering.

Thanks again for the opportunity to share thoughts here.

Mark

((LK: Mark and I are on the same general track with this. He wasn’t on the list when I made my previous comments:
“I believe that the practice of AHIMSA must start with oneself. If I neglect to include myself in my practice of ahimsa, the only way to non-hypocritically follow that doctrine to it’s logical conclusion would be to commit suicide. That way, instead of killing other living things in order to survive, once in the ground, I’d become nurturing food for them—instead of draining resources from the earth, I’d actually contribute a few pounds of minerals and trace elements back to it.”))

==========================
==========================

This post originally appeared on 10/12/00 under the subject:

“Leslie responds to John Robbins”

From: Leslie Kaminoff

Only by rationally resolving fundamental questions like: “What is the essential difference between man and animal?” can we answer derivative questions like: “Do animals have rights, and do humans have the right to eat them?”

Imagine, if you will, a world untouched by the hand of man. The earth is covered with lush vegetation, pristine deserts, unmelted ice caps, and a completely intact ozone layer. Animals of every species roam freely in their natural habitats and reproduce in profusion. Every type of creature is both hunter and prey to another type of creature, and the great circle of life operates as a continuous, self-sustaining food-chain without anything at the absolute top or bottom. The larger creatures eat the smaller, but the microscopic can also eat the largest. In this world, all creatures live natural lives and die natural deaths by way of predation, disease or extinction via natural catastrophe.

Do these animals have the right to live…to not be eaten, stricken or smitten? Can the concept of “rights” even arise in such a world? Or, does every living thing simply act in accordance with its nature, driven by its own innate, unthinking instinct–the automatic apparatus that gives it the ability to survive? Some may survive better than others, but in all cases, survival depends upon one thing: the ability to successfully adapt to the environment.

Now, add human beings to this world. By what method can Man survive? Born without fur, fang or claw–without strength, size or speed, and with offspring that remain helpless for many years. How can such a vulnerable creature live on instinct alone? How does he act in accordance with his nature? Where is his proper place on the food chain? Like other animals, he can eat or be eaten. But unlike other animals, Man survives not merely by instinctively adapting himself to his environment–he possesses a unique mode of survival that distinguishes him from all other creatures; he uses his mind to adapt his environment to suit himself. Man survives through the excercise of his rational faculty.

Mr. Robbins has said that it doesn’t matter if animals are rational or not; it only matters that they can suffer. I say it does matter because only a rational creature can suffer. Why? Because pain and suffering are not the same thing. Can animals feel pain? Certainly. Can they suffer? That depends upon whether they are capable of evaluating their own pain. Suffering is the conscious evaluation of a painful experience.

Even leaving that issue aside, the fact remains that humans definitely CAN suffer, and many humans will become seriously ill on a strictly vegetarian diet–so the question for those humans is: If suffering is so undesirable, how can you justify the desire to relieve the suffering of other creatures at the cost of your own suffering? In other words, how can suffering only be a problem when it is someone else’s, and a virtue when it is your own?

I have no problem with people who have concluded that they can exist happily and healthily on a vegetarian diet. I happen to be one of those people who can’t, and as such, I am not a citizen of the “New America” for which John Robbins has prescribed a vegan diet. Choosing a diet is a purely personal decision that every individual must make for themselves–based upon the facts at their disposal and their own knowledge of what is best for them.

What I do have a problem with is anyone engaged in a sustained attempt to use sentimentality, fear, disgust or stilted statistics as tools for pounding an unearned guilt into people who’s only “sin” is the possession of the human faculty of being able to choose their diets in the first place.

Thinking back to the world I asked you to imagine–the earth untouched by man; did you feel a wistful longing for a return to that world? Did you feel a sense of foreboding when Humans entered that world? Did you feel indignant that Man presumed to alter that world to suit his selfish needs? If your answer is “YES” to any of these questions, I would ask you to honestly consider whether you are really pro-animal, or simply anti-human.

As always, I welcome your feedback.

Leslie

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One comment on “Yoga and Vegetarianism

  1. very interesting thread….

    an inherent part of the yogic path is the Yamas, they come first…. period.

    If you are serious about this path, do the yamas.

    sorry folks. that means no killing and eating the animals.

    no way to rationalize this one away….

    -vamadeva–>

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