Ahimsa, Veganism, and Yoga Sutra II:35

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.

snow-white-forest-scene

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.

3 thoughts on “Ahimsa, Veganism, and Yoga Sutra II:35

  1. Hi Emma. I really enjoy reading your writing. You are a great writer and I enjoy reading your perspective. That said, I’m curious why you feel the need to include vulgar words in your content. The “fucking” in your sentence about “Snow-fucking-White” (IMO) adds nothing to the article except maybe a little shock to the reader. While swear words certainly have their place in life and in writing, I’m not sure that an article on ahisma is the best place for it.

    It is interesting, as you are not the only yogi that writes this way. There are even hashtags (#bringyourasstoclass #yogaeverydamnday) that seem to unnecessarily (again, IMO) use profanity. I should probably point out that I’m not an individual who is sensitive to profanities. I use them in my own life more often than I probably should. However, profanity in things having to do with yoga is something that I don’t understand. Yoga makes me think of peace, which to me doesn’t mix with profanity. What am I missing?

    Again, great work, I enjoy reading what you have to say, even if I’m perplexed by my question above.

    • Hi Adam,

      Thank you for reading and for commenting thoughtfully. It’s always good for a writer to critically consider her use of language. To answer your “what am I missing” question, I can only give my opinion. Yoga doesn’t necessarily bring peace. It’s a system that brings the practitioner closer to reality. I curse sometimes in real life (more than I should), so it sneaks into my writing, too. For better or worse.

      Thanks again for reading, commenting, and asking questions.

      Emma

    • “For the first time, I began to consider the effects of my actions on others, and realized how harmful I could be, even unintentionally.”

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