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Nonviolence, Hypocrisy and Veganism

in YogOpinions

by J. Brown

I have only been in one fight. It was in the third grade. I don’t recall what the impetus was but it ended up in war of words between me and another boy on the basketball court. I remember deciding to hit him but when I went to strike my arm went slack. It was as if my body overrode my minds directive and I was incapable of trying to harm him. The other boy did not have the same issue and I was quickly pinned and squirming to be free. The only black girl in our class, La Tisha, came to my aid and pushed him off of me before he got any punches in. We were friends and no one messed with La Tisha.

I can trace my inclination for yoga back to that day. I learned something important about myself. I am not naturally inclined towards violence. Even as a boy, I recognized that this was not true of everyone. As an adult, it makes sense that I embrace a life philosophy that puts a premium on nonviolence. The first yama of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra’s is ahimsa, often translated as “non-harming.” Aligning myself with Yoga turned something that I had always seen as a weakness into a strength.

Yet, somewhere along the way, an unconscious loophole developed. While I was incapable of intentionally doing others wrong, I seemed to have no problem doing considerable inadvertent harm to myself. In fairness, I was under the impression that I was working towards enlightenment and did not grasp the full extent to which I was mistreating myself.

I remember a particular occasion when I was teaching one of my trademark power vinyasa classes. I was barking out my well prepared sequence and, instead of my usual attention to everyone’s alignment, I happened to be noticing the facial expressions of the people in my class. They looked miserable. They were filled with struggle and strain, just doing their best to get through and not enjoying themselves much in the process. There was a distinct lack of joy.

Afterward, several students came up to thank me and tell me how great the class was. It made me feel uncomfortable. Walking home, I kept thinking: “What am I doing?”

Fact is, I was proficient in the practice I was teaching but it was not really helping me feel well. I had a lot of chronic pain that I rarely admitted to, even to myself. I was convinced it meant “opening.” Shortly thereafter, I blew my knee out doing Baddha Konasana with a belt and an assist. For all my diligent studies and abilities, super yogi couldn’t walk.

Around that same time, a friend of mine attended a large yoga event in NYC with a venerable teacher, considered to be a living “master.” She was one of a very small percentage of the 600 participants to have the guru assist her in one of her poses, only to have her hamstring connector popped at his forceful hand. I remember seeing her several days later, she was still in considerable pain.

Experiences like this have often left me feeling horribly disenchanted with the yoga community. The issue of overly forceful assists aside, how can yoga teachers who espouse ahimsa not be held accountable for harm done under their auspices? Adding insult to injury, common in hip yoga circles today is to cite ahimsa as a case for veganism. Basically, Patanjali says that if you want to be a real yogi then you can’t eat animal products.

I have been vegetarian for twenty years. I was vegan for three of them but it left me somewhat anemic. Introducing eggs and cheese into my diet made me feel better. I continue to maintain a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet because that’s what feels right for me, not because I think eating meat is wrong. I do try to eat organic but I don’t know exactly where all the eggs and cheese I eat is coming from, nor do I know the treatment of the animals who provide me this food.

While it would be nice if this were different and modern food production was not so dictated by corporate profits, I still think it strains common sense to suggest that my eating habits constitute violence. Especially, when the assertion comes from teachers who do not take personal responsibility for injuries that readily happen in their classes.

Another way ahimsa can be translated is “loving kindness and compassion.” There is a big difference between simply being nonviolent and actually being kind. I figure, if you can learn to show yourself and others genuine kindness, which most certainly includes not over working and harming your body in practice, and you enjoy eating meat, you’re still OK with the yoga powers that be.

J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy in Practice, Yoga Therapy Today and the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. He enjoys golf, cspan and slightly bent knees in his down-dog. Visit his website at yogijbrown.com

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Earlier

100 comments… add one
  • Yoga Teacher Trainee here. Getting ready to “teach” my first sequence to a group of newby yoga friends. This is a great reminder. “Do no harm” will definitely be my intention as I walk them through a sequence put together with much love.

  • Ahimsa is so big! I chose it as a New Year’s focus for three years running, and it still challenges me. I think its definition is very personal, so it looks different to each person. But if everyone brought it to the forefront of their daily living, the planet would surely benefit.

  • Adan

    I don’t think the issue is hypocrisy. I think the issue is lack of understanding of ahimsa. I agree with Genevieve in that ahimsa, like all yamas and niyamas, require a personal understanding that develops and deepens over time.

    We typically have been given Gandhi as the greatest example of ahimsa. But the reality was that a lot of people got hurt because of Gandhi. Was that ahimsa? Maybe. Maybe not. We cannot judge whether or not an act had compassion behind it vs an egoic desire as we’re not in that person’s shoes. We can only check that our own actions are compassionate and non-violent.

    And we have to remember that ahimsa goes outwardly and inwardly. Gandhi may have starved himself for a greater cause, but we do not have to do that if we are not called to do so. The Ramayana teaches us that suffering could arise if we do what we’re supposed to do, not what we’re called to do (see Sita’s exile).

    As to food choices, I don’t know that Patanjali really said yogis cannot eat animal products. After all, Patanjali wrote the sutras based on the yogic understanding of the time, which included having Shiva as the “patron saint” of yoga. And Shiva typically meditates on a tiger skin, which we can only presume was killed to provide a sitting mat of sorts. Shiva also had no problem beheading his son, but that’s another story…

    But seriously, we have to be compassionate to ourselves. If our body needs eggs or occasional meat to function well, so be it. The Dalai Lama, a paragon of compassion, eats meat occasionally as his body needs it. He also made sure that the meat was obtained through compassionate actions. But we shouldn’t eat meat or eggs if our body doesn’t need it.

    • always a shock when i run across another “adan” – i’ve had that name to myself for so long where i grew up 😉

      like this adan’s stance in general, and “we have to be compassionate to ourselves”

      will finish reading and comment on j brown’s article later, when i can enjoy his line of thought more leisurely 😉

    • CTYogi

      Actually Patanjali never wrote or said that ahimsa = not eating meat. He merely stated to do no harm. That said, many have interpretted as meaning to not eat meat.

  • Hi, I’m having trouble following the transition from discussing improper adjustments and tying that to the difficulty in finding the least cruel source for your nourishment. I’m not a yoga teacher. I huff and puff through a half primary, but even I have to admit that I huff and puff less if I go easy on the animal protein. I still grimace at some poses that are challenging for me but now I have a serene and almost happy look when I do some of the ones I thought were going to kill me. Everybody has to make some choices that are not immediately obvious to their neighboring practitioner or blogger. Not everyone has to love the way you’re going at it.

    • Chris

      I’m with Maria. Not so clear about how we segued from forceful pose-adjustments to Veganism.

      Ahimsa is enshrined within Yoga, so, of course, meat is off limits for any good Yogi. This requirement of being vegetarian is not some hip New-Age “Deepak Chopra-esque” idea, but rather the sublime wisdom originating from the very grounded 5000-year-old Hindu religion.

      There is no crying in Baseball, and there is no meat in Yoga.
      You can no more eat meat while being a practitioner of Yoga, than you can smoke while being pregnant. It’s as simple as that.

      • Adan

        Chris,

        Chris, I disagree. It’s not “as simple as that,” to use your phrase.

        You mention the wisdom originating from the Hindu religion. But the Hindu religion has many examples of killing animals and eating their meat. Shiva sits on a tiger skin. Krishna has no qualms about thousands getting killed in battle in the big epic battle following the Gita. In fact, he advocates for it. In the Ramayana, Rama hunts deer and wild boar to eat. If it’s good enough for a Hindu deity, it’s good enough for us.

        Ahimsa does not equal vegetarianism. If ahimsa meant non-killing, then you would not even be able to keep a vegetarian diet as you are killing plants. After all, it has been scientifically proven that plants feel pain.

        Ahimsa is compassion, both to others and ourselves. If your body needs animal protein (and not all bodies do, but some do), it would be a violent act to your body to not give it the nutrition it needs.

        So where do you draw the line? I’d rather draw the line on people individually making their own educated decisions rather than blindly following unexamined dogma…

        • Adan,
          Thank you for saying this better than I can (and I’ve been trying)! As a yoga studio owner that caters mostly to CrossFit athletes, I and my teachers struggle with this issue. Our students mostly adhere to the Paleo lifestyle, which involves a lot of meat (though it encourages local, organic, free range, etc.). As yogis, we can’t be telling others that they can’t have yoga because they don’t follow a certain portion of Hinduism to a T.

          • and, we believe that it harms our bodies not to consume animal protein, therefore violating ahisma if we don’t. Chris makes the point (in some posts on this blog as well as on my own yoga studio blog) that there are so many vegetarians in the world that it must be healthy…but each culture and each person have different requirements for health.

      • JeffreyD

        If you specifically define doing yoga as “living in a traditional Hindu lifestyle,” then there’s an argument to be made that there’s no meat in yoga. But for most yoga practitioners, even in India, it’s a way to stretch and get skinny-fat, with no religious element attached.

        • Chris

          Not true, Jeffrey.
          It is only in the West where Yoga is confused with ” Getting-Bendy”.

          In India, people never lose sight of the larger picture, and all the aspects of Yoga are embraced by its practitioners, including, of course, Ahimsa, and, THEREFORE vegetarianism. Even those who do not practise Yoga are vegetarian, simply because they are Hindu.

          Thus, 60 % of India’s 1.2 Billion population is vegetarian. The per-capita emission of CO2 in India is twenty-five times smaller than the per-capita emissions of CO2 in the U.S. and in Europe. You can’t shake a stick at that 5000-year old Hindu wisdom !

      • So, if a woman smokes a cigarette while being pregnant, does it mean she is no longer pregnant?

        this analogy makes no sense.

      • Toddy

        Statement to Non-Vegetarians Yogis
        Quote:
        “There is no crying in Baseball, and there is no meat in Yoga.
        You can no more eat meat while being a practitioner of Yoga, than you can smoke while being pregnant. It’s as simple as that.”
        This is where Chris’s response first gets dogmatic and first hints at his desire to apply his own convictions and interpretations to every other yogi (which he expands on in his further comments). So as a strict vegetarian of twenty years (who almost never consumes eggs or dairy) I’d like to make a statement to non-vegetarians on behalf of what I believe is the vast majority of vegetarians:
        “I eat according to my own ethics as I understand them and while I am sometimes saddened by the food choices of others I would never consider taking those choices away from others or presuming to trivialize the care taken with those choices”.
        Ethics only apply when a freely available choice is made: Uncritical and zealous adherence to dogma, religious, political or otherwise, and the conviction that others need to emulate that adherence to validate their practices and their lives is completely at odds with an ethical life and a perhaps the greatest source of violence and suffering in human history outside of greed and the lust for power.

        • Chris

          Toddy, the Principle of Ahimsa is enshrined withing the Hindu Scince of Yoga.

          And upholding the Principle of Ahimsa would mean that the killing of animals would be proscribed. Ergo, meat would be out of bounds for a Yogi.

          So, really, there is no wriggle-room available on this one.
          Those who embark on Yogihood are required to renounce meat.

          Again, this is not very dogmatic or absurd. Every Oriental Martial-art makes certain demands of its students. And just so does the Hindu Science of Yoga prescribe adherence to Ahimsa as a pre-requisite to becoming a Yogi.

          There are those who make specious arguments like ” It would be an act of Himsa against my own body to deny my body meat. Therefore, the animal-slaughter will continue till Morale improves !”

          If people can convince themselves of the validity of such rationalizations, then they have figured out an ingenious way to have one’s cake and eat it too !

          One cannot have one’s Mat and one’s Meat.

          Until the scientists figure out a way to grow meat-cultures in the lab, we Yogis will have to Veg it out !

          • Toddy

            Chris
            I have commented here because I, and most vegetarians I’ve ever met, don’t want the type of attitude you have to other peoples food choices to be considered typical of vegetarians by meat eaters.
            I don’t think your dogmatic inability to see any interpretation other than the one you have (or have been taught) of Patanjali is absurd. Quite the contrary, I think it is a great example of a very common, very human foible: Fundamentalist adherence to dogma.
            Development of a personal belief leading to identification with Belief System = Free will in action.
            Belief System being the arbiter of one’s personal belief = Dogma.
            I don’t disagree with your interpretation of Ahimsa. I just disagree that it is the only valid one and I will respect those who hold a different interpretation that is considered and mindful.
            I’m genuinely curious: What lineage or teacher or book or commentary of Patanjali do you hold as gospel? There are many but I’ve only ever encountered one or two that teach ideas similar to yours and I’d be curious to know.

          • Chris

            Toddy,

            I’m with Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar and every other Indian Yogacharya, on this issue.

            There is very little role for interpretation. The Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali are saying it, in just so many words : ” A Yogi must renounce Meat in order that the sacred Principle of Ahimsa not be violated “.

            Is it really possible to interpret the above message in more than one way ?

            Barring some really, really New-Age-Gurus, who are way out there, I’m not aware of any Yogacharya who has granted his students licence to be non-vegetarian.

            Sure, the Yoga-Schools in the West conveniently sweep this inconvenient issue under the Yoga-mat , lest they end up scaring away potential paying-customers.

    • The connection between overly forceful assists and veganism is that many teachers assert the principle of ahimsa when making a case for veganism but don’t seem to be embodying it in their physical practice or assisting techniques.

      I offered my personal experiences in this matter to hopefully bring the contradiction to light. I agree that everyone has choices to make and what is right for someone may not make sense to another.

      • Chris

        Forceful pose-adjustments and assists may be thought of as “the surgeon’s knife” – cutting, but for the sake of doing good.

        The butcher’s meat-cleaver is not the same as the surgeon’s knife.

        • David D

          Yoga is not surgery. There is no excuse for injuring someone just to force them into a physical position. Asana is merely a tool, not an end of itself. As such, if the pose cannot be obtained given the framework the student presents, the asana should not imposed. Instead, the issue blocking the asana should be addressed, including a consideration of whether the issue can or should be addressed. The real magic of yoga occurs from the journey, not the end point. There is always another asana and, in the end, all asana will be taken away except for the corpse pose. If yoga was contained in the poses, then we would lose our yoga as we age.

          As for the butcher, he is providing food for people. He is not cutting up animals for the fun of it. You may not like it and you may think the moral costs outweigh the moral benefits, but he is doing what he is doing “for the sake of doing good.”

      • Emily

        This was a wonderful, cogent piece on two big problems in Western yoga: rigidity and judgment. Thank you for it!

  • I see the connection… but there ya go. 🙂

    Also, I’ve always found it interesting that ‘ahimsa’ is cited for veganism and vegetarianism… since eating soy products are catastrophically terrible for our planet and the beings on it (ahem, Monsanto anyone?).

    There is no easy, simple answer. Such is life right? Fabulous post.

    • Good point about the soy products!

    • Chris

      Soy is the culprit ?

      The Mega-herds of beef-cattle in the developed countries emit tons of Methane into the atmosphere. Methane is several times worse than CO2, in terms of global-warming.

      Plus, the massive mechanization that goes into raising the cattle-feed is responsible for huge amounts of CO2-emissions.

      There’s no getting away from it. Vegetarian is far far kinder on the Planet.

      • Adan

        Chris, you’re overstating your case. While theoretical vegetarianism is far kinder on the planet, it is not as simple as that. According to the book “How Bad Are Bananas? ” the carbon footprint of cheese is as bad as that of beef, and it may be better to eat chicken or pork from a carbon footprint perspective.

        Yes, industrialized cattle farming is very bad for the environment, but so is industrialized vegetable farming, with all the uses of fertilizers and insecticides, trucking and air shipping. So vegetarianism without making educated choices is not that much better for the environment or health. I remember some of my fellow yoga teacher trainees eating French fries.

        Furthermore, according to http://www.indiadivine.org/audarya/shakti-sadhana/99128-meat-eating-hindus.html the majority of Hindus eat meat. This was confirmed by a Hindu friend I was talking to tonite. There are plenty of meat eating Hindu deities. You’re just picking some examples from the 5000 yr Hindu traditions while ignoring the rest.

        I suggest that if the Indian food supply was more impervious to parasites and the majority of Indians were more affluent, they would eat more meat. After all, brahmins were supposed to eat sacrificial meats according to the Vedas.

        If you were to say that you find vegetarianism works best for you, or that it could be a better diet for certain people, or that vegetarianism is kinder on animals and we should make more conscious eating choices, I’d completely agree with you. But you lose me once you say that yoga is vegetarianism and you can’t be a yogi if you eat meat. You’re overly narrowing the breadth and history of yoga to suit a particular agenda.

        • Chris

          The “majority of Hindus eat meat” ?

          No, not true.

          The majority of Hindus (70 % ) are vegetarian. And Hindus constitute 75 % of India’s 1.2 Billion population.
          So, 0.7 * (0.7 5* 1.2 B) = 0.63 Billion vegetarians in India alone.

          Meat-eating Hindu deities ? Now, Shiva is the destroyer, so he does destroy bad demons, whenever they prop up, even if that means shedding the blood of these demons. No violation of Ahimsa in that, for this is exactly what Ahimsa is all about : Ahimsa means non-violence towards the defenceless ( like not killing defenceless cows, just to stuff one’s face), while still being a brave, selfless warrior, and fighting courageously, whenever waging a Dharma-Yudh ( a righteous war fought for noble, selfless causes), against the forces of evil.

          I’ve lived extensively in India. So, this is based on first-hand knowledge.

          Eating meat while being a Yoga-practitioner is like Smoking while being Pregnant. It’s simply not a good idea.

          • Dayita

            Heard of adhikara much? Especially within India there are many ways to relate to the concepts arising from the Vedas and many understandings of the Hindu Gods and many more ways to relate to them. Truth is One, but the sages speak of it with many names.

            Om bhur bhuva svaha thath savithur varenyam bhargo devasya deemathi dhiyo yonaha prachodayatha

          • Adan

            Chris, using your numbers, that means that 30% of Indian Hindus are not vegetarian. The number of Indian Hindus is about 957MM. 30% is 319MM Hindu meat eaters. That group alone is larger than the US population.

            As to meat-eating deities, don’t forget about Rama, Sita, etc.

            I appreciate your softening your position that it is not a good idea to eat meat, rather than yogis cannot eat meat. I agree with that statement, especially if your body does not require animal protein.

  • Perhaps it would have been better for the author to segment this particular post, but I followed. I think ahimsa is multifaceted and is definitely not black and white. Harming a student by pushing them too far is harmful. Eating animal raised in cruelty is also harmful.

    From my understanding the author was stating it isn’t harmful to eat animal product as long as the animals were raised lovingly and with good stewardship. What is harmful is not knowing where the meat came from. Not only is it harmful to the animal and earth, but it is also harmful to us. I agree to this point only to a certain extent. I think if we do everything in our power to learn about the foods we are eating, then we are following ahimsa by trying to treat our bodies and the earth with loving kindness. I don’t really see that he said veganism is the golden rule for yoga.

    It seems like most of you disagree with the format/organization of his post rather than his actual thoughts.

  • boodiba

    Monstanto doesn’t make ALL soy products, though they would very well like to have a 100% monopoly.

    Factory farming methods are horrible, and that includes the dairy and egg industries. The “layers” have worse lives than the chickens raised for food, who get to exit at 40 days old. Still… I’m sure the farm workers at all the mass vegetable farms don’t have fairy tale existences either.

    It’s always difficult to choose what works best for yourself, if you’re trying to do it consciously. I personally don’t seem to be capable of black or white. I went from “mostly vegetarian” only a short while ago to “mostly vegan”. This is all so new and I am so imperfect I am not judgmental about others and I hope never to be.

    Conscious. Aware. Careful. Deliberate.

    We can all only do our best.

  • yogadork on her facebook pg, says, “J. Brown tackles another touchy topic in #yogopinions” – yea, nice understatement 😉

    throw another guy named adan also commenting! and with stuff i wish i could say as clearly, whew!

    bottomline for me’s been expressed in the comments and in j brown’s interesting article, compassion for ourselves and others

    only thing i’d add re j brown’s post, and several other’s comments, i personally don’t rely on any “powers that be” in yoga to decide if i’m still ok 😉

    though i listen as best i can, read as thoroughly as i can, and weigh the wisdoms of others best i can, i’m still too undeveloped to trust myself completely, much less current or aged authorities

    i gotta balance stuff in my heart and head, and make the best decisions i can with the very imperfect data available

    and that definitely means compassion, for me and others, is a hot hot commodity 😉

  • john

    Nice to see some one facing up to the “yoga = vegan” nonsense and doing it tactfully.

  • Josh

    Not sure how you equate poor adjustments as an argument against teachers who preach veganism as a form of non-violence. To not see the direct consequences of eating animal products in a system that mistreats these animals is an act of ignorance. Your teacher cranking you into baddha konasana is a separate issue.

    • Eating animal products in a system that mistreats animals may be ignorant but is it an act of violence? What about eggs from free-ranging chickens that are not mistreated? Is that ignorant or violent?

      I was not equating overly forceful assists as an argument against teachers who preach veganism. I was hoping to use my personal experiences to demonstrate the hypocrisy of people getting hurt in yoga classes that preach ahimsa as veganism.

      • I hear what you’re saying, J! And I think it’s a great parallel. It’s subtle and clear throughout the post. I find the whole “ahimsa = not eating meat” to be one of the most prevalent and annoying assumptions in the yoga world. And as far as I know, there is no yogic text that explicitly states a case against eating meat. I believe there are so many other ways to practice non-violence/non-harming (especially in speech! which some of the commenters on this thread could learn).

        • Chris

          Ahimsa IS = Not eating meat.

          That’s not just a good idea, it’s the Law !

          A Yogi is, by definition, one who has renounced all violence (Meat).

          Therefore, there can no more be a carnivorous-Yogi, than there can be a non-Catholic Pope, because being Catholic is a pre-requisite for becoming a Pope, just as being vegetarian is a pre-requisite to becoming a Yogi.

          One can be a Carnivorous Bendy-Person, but not a carnivorous-Yogi.

          Deep down, you guys DO get it, only you don’t WANT to get it.

          • Adan

            Chris, there you go again. Your statements are too broad and contradict sacred yogic texts.

            A yogi is not one who has renounced all violence. Arjuna from the Gita was a yogi (or yogi wannabe) and was told by Krishna to kill people. Are you saying that the Gita, that talks about the different forms of yoga, is incorrect about yoga?

            So based on the Gita, if ahimsa allows killing people sometimes, why would it forbid killing animals sometimes?

            Finally, don’t you think that if Patanjali really meant to require vegetarianism, he could have put the word “shakahara” (Sanskrit for vegetarianism)? Yet he didn’t. He used ahimsa, which allows killing people sometimes.

            Seems to me, Chris, that you want to take a very hard and simplistic position on ahimsa. Ahimsa is this and only this. But that’s not how the yamas and niyamas work. Every yama and niyama needs to be moderated/interpreted to fit the circumstances. Otherwise, you’d be going around telling people they’re fat and when they get offended, you just say “don’t blame me, I’m required to speak satya/truth.”

  • Josh

    First, I’d like to thank you for writing this article. I’m glad we can have an open discussion about these important issues.
    Ahismsa comes in many forms and I think as yogis we try and do our best to practice this core element of yoga in our daily lives. I don’t look at someone eating meat and think, “that poor innocent cow, mistreated and slaughtered for that steak and cheese sub your enjoying”. So in a direct sense I don’t think eating meat is an act of violence. I do, however, feel that as humans we are smart and well educated and should consider the factors that bring a piece of meat to our plates. Because the fact is the animals are mistreated. Yes, even free range chickens. When I was 18 I worked in a free-range chicken coup with chickens that would be considered well treated by American standards, and it was awful. (I’ll spare you the details on that one.)
    I don’t think meat-eaters are intentionally causing animals to suffer. Just as I don’t believe teachers with heavy handed assists have any intention of causing their students undue suffering.
    I feel as though we should all be aware of the choices we make and continually reconsider the direction and approach of our actions, whether it be eating a bacon cheeseburger or assisting someone in hanumasana.

    • Chris

      A hundred years ago, expecting the Eskimos to stop eating meat and switch over to rice would have been unreasonable.

      But now, given that every imaginable grain, fruit and vegetable, however tropical and exotic it might be, is readily available in the neighborhood supermarket, it certainly behooves us to be vegetarian.

      So, for sure, eating meat IS an AVOIDABLE act of violence, for which slaughtered animal died happily ? The actual act of slaughter is, in and of itself, a gruesome thing. Additionally, animals can sense their impending demise, long before it actually happens, and so they spend their last hours in utter torment.

      Thus, it is clear that there is no such thing as cruelty-free-meat.

      And when the Hindu science of Yoga specifically proscribes Meat (by way of the Principle of Ahimsa), why continue this pointless debate ? Anyone entering the sphere of Yoga needs to be a vegetarian. It’s a different matter, that most people raised on a carnivorous diet have a hard time kicking the meat-habit, but that does not mean that the rules of Yoga can be re-cast in their favor, just so that they can continue to have their Mat AND their Meat. It cannot be done.

      A carnivorous Yogi is an oxy-moron.

      So, a carnivorous-Yogi and a non-Catholic-Pope walk into a bar, and ……………. !

      • Emily

        Boy, it must be really lonely up there on your pedestal, dude… Are you telling me that someone who is passionate about yoga, who teaches or practices it with love, care and deep attention to the needs of the human body cannot be a yogi because he or she eats meat? Yoga has evolved over thousands of years, and never so much as when it came to the west. Your rigid and intolerant stance on this page proves that you are no practitioner of ahimsa.

      • Sam

        Oh my, my Chris. Your ignorance about the Inuit people (you use the old term Eskimo) of my country, Canada is appalling. No wonder you think everyone should eat just the way you do.

        You wrote: “But now, given that every imaginable grain, fruit and vegetable, however tropical and exotic it might be, is readily available in the neighborhood supermarket, it certainly behooves us to be vegetarian.”

        Guess what Chris, they don’t have supermarkets in the high arctic. And most Inuit don’t even live in an area large enough to have any kind of stores. The largest villages (yes villages, no cities) have a small store that will have a few sad looking iceberg lettuce heads, carrots and maybe some other roots vegetables. Sometimes some fruit may be available. And the fruits and vegetables are ONLY available certain times of year when a plane can fly in (June to August). Supplies come in during the summer and people stock up then. Other than that, protein is derived from game that is hunted during hunting season (caribou season is soon upon them). Fish is available in areas near water. It is and always has been a survival culture. In fact, having worked with many Inuit, when introduced to a western diet, they get sick as their bodies cannot process soy, lentils, sugar, and of course, junk food.

        In short, in the high arctic you either hunt and eat meat/fish or you die.

        • Chris

          Alright, Sam, the Inuit can have their meat.

          But, what’s the excuse for the rest of the folks, living in the continental U.S. and Canada (and Hawaii and Guam) ?

          Did Loeblaws suddenly run out of stocks of fresh-produce in Canada, eh ?

          • Sam

            Chris, you’re still missing the point that a number of us are trying to get through to you. You’ve taken this rigid, dogmatic, universalist, literal stance about a particular yogic writing. Your ignorance in relation to Inuit life and culture demonstrates your assumption that principles, edicts, rules that you adhere to can be applied everywhere. They can’t.

            The Inuit are but one example of how ahimsa does not = not eating meat. Anything the ancient yogis believed and attempted to impart on others sprung from their own geographical and historical situation. It is possible and easy to eat a vegetarian diet in a warm climate. Therefore it is not surprising that such interpretations of ahimsa originate from such a place as India.

            An Inuit understanding of ahima would look very different.

            I’m not sure why you are so rigid in your thinking on this one topic. Are you trying to convince yourself? If you were secure in your own self and beliefs you wouldn’t need to be constantly writing your angry posts.

  • Chris

    Emily, you can’t have your Mat AND your Meat.

    I’m not saying it, Patanjali is.

    So, choose wisely !

  • Emily

    Oh, lighten up! If we as a society adhere to everything written in old books, we’d have a hell of a lot more problems.

    • Chris

      Lighten up ? All right .

      So, Emily, been to any merry pig-slaughtering-parties this week ?

  • Sarah

    This almost-argument in the comment threads could seem more himsa than ahimsa depending on the tone interpreted!

    Swami Satyananda of Bihar School of Yoga once said that if your body craves meat, then the best type to eat is an animal with a light consciousness, like deer.

    I was vegetarian for 10 years and while I’d prefer to be, the cravings for sugar and carbs that happen when I eat vegetarian for a long time are abated by eating small amounts of venison (from the wild game store), or organic lamb when I can’t get that. I lose weight and my body feels healthier. It doesn’t do much for my meditation but that’s something I have to live with if my inner voice says that’s what I need.

    Let’s practice ahimsa towards other peoples opinions, and if your body craves meat, why not try some wild venison? I certainly had interesting deer-like experiences in my meditation, and I’m certainly grateful to the animal who gave its life for me to have sustenance.

    PS It’s all maya anyway.

    • David D

      “This almost-argument in the comment threads could seem more himsa than ahimsa depending on the tone interpreted!” I’m often amazed that people professing tolerance will be militantly intolerant of others who do not share their views and that people proposing pacifism seem to be willing to come to blows over it. Not pointing to anyone in particular, I just thought your comment was insightful.

  • Chris

    Adan,

    Quote : “Arjuna from the Gita was a yogi (or yogi wannabe) and was told by Krishna to kill people. Are you saying that the Gita, that talks about the different forms of yoga, is incorrect about yoga?

    So based on the Gita, if ahimsa allows killing people sometimes, why would it forbid killing animals sometimes? ” End Quote.

    No violation of Ahimsa by Arjuna, for this is exactly what Ahimsa is all about : Ahimsa means non-violence towards the defenceless ( so, no killing defenceless cows, just to stuff one’s face), while still being a brave, selfless warrior, and fighting courageously, whenever waging a Dharma-Yudh ( a righteous war fought for noble, selfless causes), against the forces of evil.

    • Adan

      Chris, ahimsa does not distinguish between the defenseless vs the people that can defend themselves. Ahimsa is about non-violence against others and yourself.

      If somebody can defend themselves, you don’t have to kill them; you just have to stop them from hurting you if they’re trying to hurt you. That may mean throwing them against the wall several times until they figure out they’re not going to be able to hurt you, i.e., the aikido way. That would be ahimsa, even if they are “evil.” If they however continue to escalate their attacks on you, then it may be okay to kill them.

      As you can see, ahimsa takes in a lot of factors for someone to consider in trying to make the right choice. To say that the right choice is always the same, regardless the facts, is following rigid rules and patterns, which is the opposite of the yogic way.

      Yoga is ultimately not rule based–if it was, the Gita or the Yoga Sutras would have given the rules (and neither said anything explicitly about being vegetarian!). For example, there are no rules in bhakti yoga, except love and perform all your actions with God in your heart. You just have to figure out for yourself how you do that. One old Hindu story tells us about a bhakti yogi whose practice was kicking a Shiva statue every day, even when some of the Hindu deities thought that was blasphemous.

      Why the lack of strict rules? Because yoga is a way to live where we respond to the present moment in (hopefully) the best manner for the situation based on our present understanding of the situation.

      So ahimsa is like the Tao–the ahimsa that can be defined is not the true ahimsa. Had the sutras and scriptures explicitly said “shakahara,” then yes you could say that yoga requires vegetarianism. But since they did not, you can’t say that ahimsa explicitly requires vegetarianism. That’s your interpretation of ahimsa. If you feel that ahimsa means being vegetarian, by all means live that ahimsa.

      But you may want to consider that other people may have different understandings of ahimsa that are equally valid. Otherwise, you’re falling into the fundamentalist trap that yours is the only right way, which contradicts the essence of Hinduism and yoga: everyone’s path to the Divine is individual and different.

  • wow, what a great thread again, ignited on yogadork by j brown 😉

    for me, the settling of the questions brought up, eating or not eating meat, forced (even if conscientious) adjustments, etc, just can’t be settled quoting anyone, near or past, based simply on that person or text saying it

    and even if it were best to do do, most generally recognized texts or spokespersons, whether for a religion yoga or science, default to the final word (settling of a question) being between the person asking, and the response received inside that person

    even in science, with repeatable objective results being the test, the settling is still as perceived by the individual or group

    unless yoga supercedes the same problems of translation interpretation and application as any world religion, any current or past scientific paradigm, any political precept, or even any relationship, it is vulnerable to and subject to the same human need for adaptation, today, in the now, in the moment –

    as best we can fit it within our understandings of the unlimited

    that’s the paradox –

    or at least, the paradox for me…

    btw, so is this carol horton’s yogging or not! 😉

  • WOW! I’m impressed. You all sound like a bunch of Baptists arguing over an organ vs. a guitar. Is judging each other’s lifestyles a form of ahimsa I’m not aware of?

    It is my personal conviction that eating an animal raised with love and killed properly is non-harming and non-violent. I’ve tried being vegan and it totally HARMS my body. I need animal protein to properly nourish my body. Some people have a conviction to be vegetarian, vegan or to have SAD (standard American diet) lifestyle.

    From what I understand, only vegans can practice yoga right? If that’s true then I don’t want any part of this hateful practice….

    Ok, I lied, I am still going to practice yoga. But you have all taught me a really important lesson on judgment and discrimination. Thanks.

  • Kat

    The only black girl in our class, La Tisha, came to my aid and pushed him off of me before he got any punches in. We were friends and no one messed with La Tisha.

    This is racist.

    • I don’t think it’s racist. I think it is giving detail and providing a really nice image for the reader. Authors need to give details sometimes to make their story worth reading. Otherwise it’s boring. Would it be racist if he said the only white girl in class protected him?

      • Kat

        This is how the first part of this post reads:

        Meet La Tisha. When I wasn’t able to punch or push someone because I was born non-violent , La Tisha could. You know why? Because she is black. And black people are naturally more violent. That’s why everyone is scared of her. Good thing I was cool enough to be her friend.

        Racism is violence.

        • Kat

          @ Shawnee

          What this writer wrote is racist because it is using a common stereotype about black people, that black people are naturally violent. So no, it would not work if you simply replace the word black with white.

          Skin color can be used as a description but in this case it is a racist one paired with obvious discrimination.

          • I just disagree. Writing is my business and my passion. That scene would have been drab without that detail.

            I went to school with some mean kids. There was one group in particular whose leader was a scary Mexican chick that shaved off her eyebrows and drew them back on. Her lackeys, followed her lead, by shaving off their eyebrows and using so much mouse their faux waves would hang straight in a windstorm. They walked through the halls like they owned them and parted the little people like the red sea.

            This doesn’t make me racist, this makes me observant.

          • Plus, if you were the only black kid in an all white school, don’t you think you’d be a little tough too? Kids are jerks. I saw this a lot where I grew up. Grade school through high school there were only three black kids in my school. The rest were latino and white. The black kids were in no way mean without provoking, but they knew how to stick up for themselves.

        • Kat- My sincere apologies that my opening anecdote read to you as racist, it was most certainly not my intention. As Shawnee observed, I only mentioned Latisha’s race as illustrative detail to an actual event in my life. It never occurred to me that the retelling of La Tisha pushing the boy off of me in the third grade would be taken as a derogatory characterization of all black people. I didn’t see her coming to my aid as an act of violence, so much as friendship.

          I grew up in a very white suburban neighborhood and there were kids who were not altogether welcoming of La Tisha. We were friends and she will always stand out in my memory as the person who had my back in the only fight I ever had.

          In the future, I will be more careful about how I refer to race in my writing.

  • Josh

    Everyone take a step back and breathe….
    You are all wonderful, awesome people and I respect all of your yoga practices no matter what the hell you eat. I know we are all getting worked up because yoga is really important to each one of us in our own way. I love you all! Namaste. (can I get an amen?)

  • Josh

    Kat, Adan, Emily, Chris, John, J. Brown… can I get some love over here?

    • Adan

      Josh, you’re always loved even if we don’t state so in our posts 🙂

    • Emily

      Of course! An amen to you all 🙂 Yoga is about uncluttering the mind and getting away from your samskaras, so let’s all get along!

    • Much love.

  • Josh

    I know, but it’s good to hear it. 🙂 Come on, Kat! Send out some love!

  • Sam

    For all yogis who like to wave the sutras around in the air like religious zealouts like to wave their bibles in the air, here is a story from another yoga blog post I can upon:

    “Just after I cut all meat from my diet and made the decision to go fully vegetarian, I was invited to a lunch with a few other yogis to an old lady who used to do yoga and has great wisdom. Unfortunately this old lady forgot that most of us are vegetarian and served a beautiful chicken pie with some greens on the side. So there I sat and I didn’t know what to do now as I didn’t want to refuse the food and offend my host. One of the other and older yogis, who saw my predicament laughed and asked me: “So Willie, what are you going to be now, the better vegetarian or the better yogi?”

  • Kat

    @ Shawnee

    Maybe you feel too warm? If you take off that white robe you might feel better. And it’s also hard to see clearly with that white pointed hood over your head. You might want to take that off as well.

    • I thought we all practiced yoga on yogadork.com. Apparently not.

    • David D

      Holy overreaction! Shawnee disagrees with you and doesn’t see racism in the story, so she’s a Klan member? Ad hominem much? Of course, the Law of Irony states that it could only happen on a thread about ahimsa.

  • Hi! Oh MY God! This is an article which I think represents all I think about yoga and yoga teachers and yoga gurus. You know, you can go with the rules and the advice of your gurus and he sutras, but still be violent somehow with other people, or beings. Being vegetarian is not the ticket or a certificate that shows that someone is being non-violent. There’s so much more into this.Sometimes I get upset, and I feel sad, because i see “subtle fights” in the yoga community. I amaze myself everyday because of this, i can understand gossiping in a superficial level, but yoga is a level where we try to be better, so sometimes i find myself listening this subtle gossiping between the members of some yoga or astrology community and I get upset, sometimes sad, sometimes angry. They “discriminate” someone for being a little fat, or not being completely vegetarians, or because they don’t do an 8 your sadhana everyday, or because they charge too much for a class, or because they charge too little, once i even heard someone criticizing a vry kind beautiful teacher because she wasn’t charging a fee at all! I mean! aren’t we all different, with different needs, different ways, different struggles, etc? Whatever, all i need to know is that a persona is kind a loving, so i will know yoga is in his/her heart. Maybe that person does not even do asanas, but everytime i see love and kindness, and compassion, and solidarity, i know yoga is flowing inside of him/her.

    • Sam

      Narayani: this kind of bickering isn’t confined to the yoga community. I invite you to walk into any church, synagogue, temple or whathaveyou and find similar behaviour. All the rules, values, beliefs in the world will never stop people from being who they are: jealous, insecure, compassionate, mean, greedy, loving, helpful, lazy, slovenly, happy, sad……

      • Chris

        Sam, Chris here.

        I’m not angry or anything, but I do know that I have my work cut out for me, as I try to convince people, who, despite knowing deep withing themselves well that it is wrong for a Yogi to be a party to animal-killing (Yes, Ahimsa = no killing animals) while the vegetarian option is readily available, try their best to cling on to their carnivorous habits , simply because they do not want to suffer the withdrawal-pangs when they go Veggie, after having been raised carnivorous.

        Furthermore, even as they cling to their carnivorism, they try to rationalize their Post-Yoga-carnivorism by specious arguments like ” Not eating meat would amount to Ahimsa against myself”, or “I was raised carnivorous”, or “They don’t got Veggies amongst the First Nations of Canada.” (there, that was PC, right ?).

        C’mon, meat was so yesterday ! Meat was pre-Yoga !

        Today, you are on the journey to Yogihood.

        There’s no crying in Baseball, and there’s no meat in Yoga. Why continue to cling to that, which only serves to detour us from the Path to Yogihood ?

        Loblaws has the freshest produce from all over the world. So, what’s your excuse, CanadaMan ?

        • Sam

          Hey Chris,

          BTW: I’m a woman not a CanadaMan. Also, I’m not sure why my nationality bugs you so much that you feel the need to bring it up.

          Please go back and read ALL the responses to your posts on Ahimsa (from this essay and others). If you are such a perfect yogi then meditate on the comments you received why you are getting so worked up about the topic and have appointed yourself in charge of sorting us all out. It is obviously hitting a nerve.

          • Chris

            Sam,

            All the women named Sam that I have known are redheads !

            Here’s a funny one :

            So, a carnivorous Yogi and a non-Catholic Pope walk into a bar, and order a round of beer. The barman goes, ” Sorry guys, but I’m not allowed to serve beer to fictitious characters.” 🙂

  • pam

    One can find zealots everywhere.
    You’ll find that many well known yoga teachers (famous, well travelled, old school) will NOT preach about what to eat, knowing as they wisely do, that what you consume is ultimately the most personal of matters.

    • Pam

      Agree with people on the ‘whoa, and how did we get to the defensive omnivore/defensive vegetarian thing?’

      Pointing out the ‘hypocrisy’ of others doesn’t seem any less judgmental than ‘you can’t be a yogi and eat meat’. Besides, as always, whatever people are into or what they’ve found try need … Whatever. Some people enjoy having their ass kicked to get their brain to stop spinning. And some people view veganism as an opportunity to reduce suffering in the world. Blessings to all.

  • Pam

    Other Pam! Responding from a phone ad meant to reply to main thread. My bad. Not sure if this one will o in the right place either!

  • Jordan

    why is no one arguing with the “no one cries in baseball” bit?!

    but seriously, i love what olivia rosewood has to say in her post on huffington:

    “Our world is made of atoms, electrons, and neutrons, and nothing else. These are merely different vibrations of pure energy. So how can it be better to eat one type of vibrating energy than to eat another type of vibrating energy? Our world is a constant re-cycling of energies into different forms. Grass grows. A cow eats it. A man named Edwin eats the cow. Edwin lives a full life, dies, and is buried in his local cemetery. His body deteriorates, and becomes part of the soil. Out of the soil grows grass. So what is the grass? Is it really a vegetable? Or is it Edwin in another form? If a cow eats it, is he eating Edwin in the form of grass, or is he eating grass? Is the cow then a vegetarian or not? The line between vegetable and animal begins to get blurry. For the grass to come to exist, it was first a cow, then a man, then soil, and eventually grass. On the energetic level, nothing is separate or isolated in its existence. We are all intertwined in this cosmic energetic soup.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olivia-rosewood/yoga-levels-meat-eaters-a_b_244106.html

    • Sam

      Hi Jordan,
      I love this! Thanks for posting. It captures, very eloquently, what I think many of us feel but can’t well express.

  • Josh

    You can believe we’re all made of the same energy and we all get eaten at some point by something in the cycle of life, so there’s nothing wrong with eating meat. Except… the animals are treated poorly. They suffer on a very tangible level. The industry is inhumane to the lives they take. Every persons choices not only count but make a difference. ps. I’ve had some pretty rough adjustments in yoga class lately. Both legs behind the head is not something you can force.

    • Jordan

      for sure, josh. the argument that it’s all the same energy doesn’t speak to the treatment of that energy–be it animal, plant or mineral. which is why i buy my veggies from local organic farmers who literally coo to their sprouts and my meat from a traditional farm that treats the animals with respect and dignity.

      • Josh

        That’s super awesome Jordan. I wish more people practiced that kind of mindfulness.

        • Jordan

          i know, i’m super lucky to live in montreal, quebec where there are a lot of die hard ethical farmers!

          i’m sure it was mentioned elsewhere, but the whole argument of there being no good reason not to be vegetarian with the availability of viable options really comes down to accessibility and socio-economic status. same goes for my ability to buy local organic produce and meat. which puts those with less access to veggie options and fewer means to source ethical produce and meat in quite the conundrum!

          i think each of us has the responsibility to do the very best we can with our consumer choices. and when you practice mindfulness in any capacity, i think that means thinking long and hard about the ethical tide pool surrounding everything you consume, from the paper you write on to the shoes you wear and the food you eat. and you just do the best you can!

          • Jordan

            and to bring it all back around to asana practice, i try to also do the best i can. to tread lightly, if you will. learning to practice mindfully in a way that creating no harm to my body has pretty much taken me straight of the mat these days as i could find no way to comfortable do my asana practice without creating more strain and tension in my body.

            rather than let myself get caught up in the tide of no asana = no yogi, i keep plodding on trying to use what i’ve learned on the mat to help approach each activity with more awareness and self-reflection. which oddly enough, has led me to pay more attention to my body and how it feels with and without animal protein. hmmm…

      • Chris

        Jordan,

        I doubt that the farm-animals coo-ed back lovingly at the farmer, as he lovingly slit their throats. Your glowing self-satisfaction about eating meat sourced ONLY from well-treated farm-animals is just another attempt at rationalizing, as you try to have your cake and eat it too !

        Food should be about life, light, and nourishment, not about death and bloodshed. Nothing need die, just so we might live.

        As of today, there is no such thing as cruelty-free meat.
        When the scientists figure out how to grow meat-cultures in the laboratory, then cruelty-free-meat might become possible.
        Until then, Yogis must remain Vegetarian, because one cannot have one’s Mat AND one’s Meat ( that pesky Ahimsa clause ! )

        The Carnivores will, sadly, remain “Bendy-Yogi-Wannabees”.

        • Jordan

          “nothing need die, just so we might live” –well, we’re all screwed then. unless you have been able to find cruelty-free oil or hydro-power to heat your home and power your car or public transportation. do you depend on any precious metals in your home? do you have a cell phone or computer or ipod with a micro chip?

          i feel that you too are a “bendy-yogi-wannabee” with such an inflexible mind, chris. i wholeheartedly agree that if you can maintain a healthy, vegetarian lifestyle, you probably should. and if you can afford to buy only fairly-traded foreign goods, you really ought to. but to suggest that people should sacrifice their health (making life, light and nourishment pretty darn difficult), should be vegetarian no matter what, is pretty violent.

          none of us is able to live a 100% cruelty-free life. we do the best we can. we make choices. i eat meat occasionally and i also contribute to the mining of precious metals when i purchase a computer in order to have this discussion. i choose to buy shoes made from leather that will decompose someday rather than shoes made from synthetic materials that will float in the ocean for 10,000 years. i respect your choice to be a vegetarian. i certainly don’t respect your attitude that you know what’s better for me than i do.

          • Chris

            Jordan,

            600 Million vegetarians today in India alone — Proof that humans don’t NEED to eat meat, in order to be healthy.

            Hindus have survived as vegetarians for 5000 years in India — Proof that being vegetarian does not lead to the slow extinction of one’s entire race.

            So, you don’t NEED to be a party to animal-killing, even occasionally.

          • Jordan

            from my admittedly limited knowledge of karma, each and everyone one of our actions (from each deed to each thought) creates a debt or effect. eating anything without care for whence it came will most likely accrue a negative debt. i don’t think there is a single text out there that lays out the karma table and decrees that eating soybeans grown on land that was cleared of it’s natural flora and fauna and is tended to by migrant workers who are exploited and underpaid accrues positive debt while eating meat raised in open fields on a small-scale, independent farm accrues negative debt. it’s simply not as black and white as you want it to be. there is a massively huge and complex big picture out there that you can’t just conveniently ignore.

            i’m outta here!

        • Adan

          Chris,

          You keep ignoring the argument that, because studies showing that plants can feel pain, it would be cruel (and cause pain) to eat vegetarian. Under your argument, since killing animals cause pain to the animals, it cannot be ahimsa. Yet you are not willing to extend that reasoning to plants (killing plants causes pain to plants thus it is not ahimsa). Why is that?

          I find it extremely amusing that you’re completely ignoring the bad working conditions that farm workers are subjected to (sometimes they even are sprayed with insecticides) and yet have no qualms about declaring vegetarian-eating as cruelty-free.

          Chris, the reality is that, unless you sustain yourself solely from prana taken from the air, you are committing some cruel act, either by killing an animal or plant, or using oil to transport the food, or using non-solar energy energy to cook the food. The question then becomes where to draw the line. You just don’t like where others are drawing the line…

          Finally, you’re making a leap of faith that the 600 million vegetarians are healthy. Can you provide some statistics or evidence of that? According to the World Health Organization (http://apps.who.int/nutrition/landscape/report.aspx?iso=ind), at least 50% of women in India are malnourished/undernourished. I submit that a larger portion of those are poor women that eat vegetarian. (Keep in mind I’m not saying that eating meat is the panacea for health, I’m just saying that you’re overstating vegetarianism=healthy…)

  • Chris

    Do plants feel pain ? Perhaps.

    Do animals feel pain ? Damn straight, they do. On account of they have well-developed brains, a central nervous system, nerve-endings, etc., just like the humans do.

    Cut off a chicken’s head, and the chicken dies.

    On the other hand, pluck an apple from a tree, and the apple-tree continues to flourish. The tree will even thank you for plucking its fruit, because you are thereby helping the tree to propagate its seed.

    If we had become self-realized souls, we would already have attained liberation ( Moksha) from the seemingly-endless cycle of birth-life-death-rebirth. The very fact that we find ourselves on earth indicates that we are imperfect creatures, and still have a ways to go, before we attain Moksha.

    So, while it might hurt plants when humans eat them, eating plants is infinitely kinder than killing animals, whose capacity to feel pain is already well-established.

    Shoot, people even raise their dogs vegetarian in India, and the canines do just fine !

  • Brooke

    Chris, can I perhaps suggest some moving and breathing?

  • Interesting thread…..I understand Ahimsa as the INTENTION of not doing harm, alongside with doing your best to avoid doing harm. I myself am a vegetarian. My husband, who is half American Indian calls himself a “selective omnivour”. I have too many native friends in faraway places such as the arctic village who depend on meat as their way of life and pursue this in their own respectful way, to ever judge anyone who chooses to eat meat. I do question however the endorsement of endless suffering most animal products come from. While eating meat is to a degree a personal question to me, industrialized mistreatment of animals, resources and the planet is a problem that I would loved to be addressed by all of us. Anytime we choose to ignore where our food is coming from, we in fact give the thumbs up to an industry who allows and perpetuates an unbalanced way of life. Can we, as yogis especially, really stand behind this? What about the legacy we leave behind for our children?
    I wish we all would be less fundamental about these questions and make more choices that we can truly stand behind – without loosing time arguing with each other. I see a planet in distress, and I hope we will be the people we have been waiting for to create a better future for us all. I’ll leave you with this message from the Hopi Elders:
    You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
    Now you must go back and tell the people that THIS is The Hour.
    Here are the things that must be considered:

    Where are you living?
    What are you doing?
    What are your relationships?
    Are you in right relation?
    Where is your water?
    Know your garden.
    It is time to speak your Truth.
    Create your community.
    Be good to each other.
    And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
    This could be a good time!
    There is a river flowing now very fast.
    It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
    They will try to hold on to the shore.
    They will feel like they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.
    Know the river has its destination.
    The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off toward the middle of the river,
    keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
    See who is there with you and celebrate.
    At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves!
    For the moment we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
    The time of the lonely wolf is over.
    Gather yourselves!
    Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary.
    All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
    We are the ones we have been waiting for.
    The Elders,
    Oraibi, Arizona
    Hopi Nation

    • Chris

      It’s time we graduated from ‘ Bendy, Carnivorous Yogi-Wannabees ‘ to Yogis.

      The change will do us good !

  • Adan

    Chris,

    >The Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali are saying it, in just so many words : ” A Yogi must renounce Meat in order that the sacred Principle of Ahimsa not be violated “.

    Can you offer the cite? In my different translations of the sutras, I haven’t found any such line. I found II-30 where it lists the different yamas by name without providing any explanation. I also found II-35 (“ahiṁsāpratiṣṭhāyāṁ tatsannidhau vairatyāgah”), which is translated to “by practicing ahimsa/non-violence, the abandonment of hostility occurs in the yogi.” It sounds like you’re just reading someone’s interpretation and taking it as gospel.

    Keep in mind that Iyengar is not the ultimate arbiter of scripture interpretation. In fact, if you read “First There Is A Mountain” by Elizabeth Kadetsky, you’ll find that Iyengar has some interesting philosophical approaches to yoga that don’t feel compassionate, e.g., shunning untouchables, etc. I also disagree with his statement that you would accomplish more spiritually more if you practiced only asana instead of just ahimsa, as he stated in the Tree of Life. That ignores the multi-limbed approach that Patanjali set out in the sutras…

  • While ahimsa is important, other practices might be more important at certain times, depending on the circumstances. Monks who live on food that is donated to them will eat whatever ends up in their bowl when being given alms, be it meat or vegetables. The practice of contentment with what is given to them and the importance of being humble and grateful is more important. As with everything, it all depends on the context.
    Adan said Shiva is sitting on a tiger skin. I guess this merely symbolic – Shiva conquered the lower mind and the lower nature, represented as animal. He is mentally stronger than even one of the strongest animals we know.

    • Dana

      I’ve been researching this for more than three years now :

      Is a Yogi REQUIRED to be vegetarian ?

      All of my research indicates that a Yogi IS indeed required to be vegetarian.

      Patanjali states that Ahimsa is one of the cornerstones of Yoga. This would mean that those who aspire to Yogihood are indeed required to renounce meat, as they enter the University of Yoga.

      While becoming vegetarian is undoubtedly very hard for most of us, who have been raised carnivorous, it is nevertheless one of the prerequisites to taking up Yoga.

      While I wasn’t completely vegetarian going into Yoga three years ago, I found myself, effortlessly and happily, transforming into a vegetarian, over the course of my yoga-practice. Becoming vegetarian was so much easier and painless than I had dreaded it would be.

      On a side-note, my stamina for long-distance running is also showing a marked improvement. Distances and running-speeds that would earlier leave me wheezing and gasping are now a piece of cake !

  • Gina

    So sick of all the in-fighting in the yoga and pagan communities.
    We all have our own interpretations of these ancient words as well as our own individual connections to the Divine.
    So only vegetarians and vegans can join this “exclusive yoga club” now? Way to go- that will bring us all alot closer to having union as the human race.
    Meat doesn’t belong in yoga?
    How about judgement and forcing your own beliefs on others does not belong in yoga.

    I have no interest in seeing innocent animals suffer and/or being tortured by the hands of greedy corporations or people with no awareness of where their food comes from.
    But if I had to choose a group of animals to advocate and fight for it would be the cats and dogs of shelters who are killed daily- many after being abused or neglected by people who know exactly what they are doing.
    So I just hope none of the selfrightoues yogi non meat eaters out there have pure breed cats- dogs- horses that came from puppy mills or breeders of any kind. This creates untold amounts of suffering daily.

    While I’m at it let me share an experience I had recently when visiting a krishna commune nearby. I asked if there were dogs and cats on the property and was told that they just run wild and are not fed, but a woman comes and feeds the cats daily. They explained to me that cat dog food has animal products in jt and to feed that to these cats and dogs would create negative karma for them selves. We had a meal of vegitarian blessed home grown food and j was shocked to see leftovers going in to a trash can (along with paper plates and plastic forks but that isanother issue) rather than into a container to feed the roaming animals later that night.
    This whole situation blew my mind. I was shocked, appaled, but I was also a guest and doing my best to be polite. Hopefully I can help them to make some well guided changes very soon. The whole thing seemed very selfish to me as in I will be careful not to care for these animals to protect my own karma.

    But enough for now- I think my foster pup is ready for another trip outside.

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