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Yoga & Vegetarianism

by Sharon Gannon

"The most important part of the yoga practice is eating a vegetarian diet."

—Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

If we are interested in yoga, we might ask ourselves, what is yoga interested in? Yoga has one goal: enlightenment, a state in which the separateness of self and other dissolve in the realization of the oneness of being. What holds us back from that realization is a false perception of reality. Instead of perceiving oneness, we see separateness, disconnection and otherness. Because the term yoga not only refers to the goal of enlightenment but also to the practical methods for reaching that goal, all of the practices of yoga must address the basic issue of "other." For it is in how we perceive and relate to the others in our lives which will determine whether or not enlightenment arises.

Yoga teaches that whatever we may want in life we can have if we are willing to provide it for others first. In fact whatever we are experiencing in our lives is a direct result of how we have treated others in our past. The way we treat others will determine how others treat us, because after all they are only acting as agents of our own karmas (past actions). How others treat us will influence how we see ourselves. How we see ourselves will greatly determine who we are and how we conduct ourselves (behave?) in the future.

If you wish to truly step into transcendental reality and have a lighter impact on the planet, then adopting a compassionate vegetarian diet is a good place to start. Not everybody can stand on their heads or practice yoga every day, but everybody eats. You can practice compassion three times a day when you sit down to eat. This is why so many yoga practitioners choose to be vegetarians.

The popularity of yoga worldwide has grown immensely while we are in the midst of a global crisis. This is no coincidence. Yoga holds the promise that could help us turn around our means of relating to animals, the Earth, and to one another. Through yoga practice we purify our past karmas and in turn develop Self-confidence. We begin to feel ourselves as integrated beings as we begin to heal the disease of disconnection that has separated our hearts from our minds and from our bodies. In turn we start to dissolve the illusion that we are separate from the rest of creation. With that disconnection dissolved we begin to perceive our connection to the Divine and the truth of who we really are is revealed.

I am thankful that yoga is being embraced in our Western Culture by a growing minority because we need to stop viewing the Earth and all other beings as ours to be exploited. Much of our Culture’s influence has been negative and quite destructive. It is based on the lie that "The Earth Belongs To Us." Yoga has always opposed this proprietary worldview and has offered humanity an alternative over the centuries: the means to live harmoniously with the Earth and all beings. If human beings can’t find a new way to live with this planet, then our own annihilation as well as the planet’s is certain. Without planetary harmony no cosmic harmony can be hoped for.

I believe that the teachings and practices of yoga are very important, perhaps even crucial, for the survival of life on Earth. That is why I am passionate about practicing and teaching yoga.

The biggest consumer of fresh water is the meat and dairy industry. It is also responsible for most of the water pollution. The single biggest contributor to global warming is the meat and dairy industry, way more than all the car and truck emissions! There are more cows in the US than there are human beings.

By enslaving these 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 of others. Yoga reminds us that all of life is sacred, that all of life is connected, and that what we do to another we eventually do to ourselves. The best way to uplift our own lives is to do all we can to uplift the lives of others.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali lays out an eight-limbed plan for liberation called Raja Yoga. The first step is called yama, which means restraint, and it includes five ethical restrictions. The yamas describe how a person who is unenlightened but desires yoga should restrict his or her behavior in regards to the others whom they are encountering. Patanjali says that as long as you still perceive "others" and not one interconnected reality, then #1, don’t harm others, #2, don’t deceive them, #3, don’t steal from them, #4, don’t manipulate them sexually, and #5, don’t be greedy; selfishly depriving them of sustenance and happiness. Through the practice of yama, Patanjali tells us we can begin to purify our karmas and remove the obstacles to our enlightenment, which are rooted in our misperception of others.

In Yoga and Vegetarianism we investigate how the yamas relate to vegetarianism, as well as what one should come to expect as a result of being established in the practice of each of the yamas. This is called pratisthayam, which means to become established in. Patanjali suggests that if we work for the freedom of other beings, we will become free. By becoming established in the practice of the yamas we can look forward to a peaceful world free of violence (ahimsa), lies (satya) and stealing (asteya), the end of disease and the enjoyment of physical and mental vitality (brahmacharya), and a future free of poverty and bright with opportunities for increased happiness and creativity (aparigraha).

Don’t wait for a better world. Start now to create a world of harmony and peace. It is up to you. It always has been! You may even find it at the end of your fork.

Sharon Gannon, along with David Life, is a teacher of Jivamukti Yoga Method, which offers a path to enlightenment through compassion for all beings. Blessed by her teachers, she is a pioneer in teaching yoga as spiritual activism. Sharon is the author of several books including Jivamukti Yoga: Practices for Liberating Body and Soul and The Art of Yoga written with David Life and she has produced numerous DVDs and Music CDs. She resides in New York City.

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