Ahimsa pratisthayam tat saminidhau vaira tyagah.
In the presence of one established in non-violence, all hostility ceases.
Yoga Sutra II:35
Nonviolence (or non-harming, as ahimsa is sometimes translated) became an important ideal for me when I got sober in 2009. I didn’t want to be the “tornado ripping through other people’s lives” anymore. For the first time, I began to consider the effects of my actions on others, and realized how harmful I could be, even unintentionally.
I had been vegetarian for some time but decided that I needed to become vegan to match my behavior to my ideals. Veganism is a major part of my ahimsa practice. It means much more than not eating dairy or meat.
It means avoiding products that were made using animal testing or animal byproducts, because those inherently required suffering to be made. It means buying clothing and household goods secondhand or free-trade whenever possible to avoid supporting unfair labor practices. It means trying to be kind and compassionate to all beings, both human and non-human, and standing up for the rights of those who can’t do so themselves.
In Gregor Maehle’s Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy, he discusses the hyperbole of “all hostilities cease.” If all hostilities cease in the presence of a non-violent person, then why did Jesus die on the cross? Why were leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi assassinated?
Maehle reminds us that Indian tradition often uses hyperbole to underline the importance of a behavior. In reality, there’s no guarantee that hostilities will actually cease just because I try to practice ahimsa. Animals don’t flock to me in the forest like Snow-fucking-White because of my goodness and innocence. That’s fine. It’s still important to practice ahimsa.
When I tell most people about my veganism, they usually respond with a clever quip about bacon, or tell me that they love cheese too much to even try. Others laugh. Others wonder how the dairy or egg industry is harmful. They don’t kill the cows or chickens, right?
Obviously, these folks haven’t considered the cruelty of a life living without sunlight in spaces so small that these animals can’t turn around. I won’t even get into the open abuse that happens at factory farms.
I have my ideals, they have theirs. I do my part by living in accordance with mine as best as I can. It’s working well in my life, and I hope that others can see that I’m pretty content and healthy based on my lifestyle choices. I try to operate under the principle of attraction versus promotion when it comes to veganism.
Long story short, I have to keep practicing ahimsa despite what others around us say or do. Ahimsa is a practice, and I can’t be attached to its outcome. If my attempts to practice nonviolence/non-harming can influence a single person, then it’s worth it.