Author: Anita Faloona, January 2017
Ahimsa is the first of the yamas, which are the rules and ethics of yoga. Ahimsa means non violence. This encompasses the way we treat, speak to and think about the earth, animals, others and ourselves.
We are all aware that it’s desirable to be kind. So most of us attempt to live our lives mindfully, avoiding all forms of violence. The trickiest part can be to be kind to ourselves, even negative self talk is a form of violence. Once we become aware of how our thoughts affect us negatively or positively, we can take action to more closely towards ahimsa by treating ourselves with more love. Speaking to yourself the way you would like your loved ones spoken to is a good place to start.
Most yoga practitioners choose to live a vegetarian lifestyle as an act of non violence. This means viewing the death of animals for human consumption as violence, an unnecessary act which puts humans above animals instead of seeing all sentient beings as worthy of life. Nothing humane happens in a slaughterhouse. If slaughterhouses had glass walls we would all be vegetarian, because it goes against human nature to be violent. This would bring us one step closer to ahimsa. The city of Palitana in India has become the world’s first all vegetarian city. This brings hope to animal welfare. People are starting to wake up and choose ahimsa.
There is another form of violence which is often hidden from us. The egg and dairy industries cause animals to feel fear, pain and suffering. Chickens and cows are used as machines so that humans can take what we’ve decided we have the right to and ‘need’ for. Nutritionally, there is no reason for us consume eggs and dairy. We can get everything we need from plants.
In the times when ancient yogis lived most homes would have had a cow who fed her baby and had enough milk left over to share with her human family. Nowadays however, the human population along with our desire for dairy products is so great that across the world that small family run farms cannot accommodate our ‘needs’ so the dairy industry has turned to factory farming. Cows need to give birth in order to provide milk, so on these farms dairy cows are forcibly artificially impregnated. When they give birth their babies are taken away from them, usually within hours. Mothers are said to cry for days for the loss of their child. Cows, just like humans feel complex emotions. The milk is then available to humans. And what about the calves? The females are set to live the same fate as their mothers whilst the males are usually sent to veal farms, where they are placed in individual sheds and tied down so that their muscles don’t develop, apparently this makes them tastier. Even in India where cows are sacred the demand for dairy is greater than the small farms can cope with, so much of the dairy consumed is from factory farms. It is illegal to export cows to neighbouring countries for slaughter but this does still happen.
However you look at it dairy is cruel and unnecessary. If we truly live ahimsa we would be boycotting all animal products, animals are sentient beings, not machines for enslavement. Living at one with all living creatures is an essential part of ahimsa.
So why do people still consume meat, eggs and dairy? Is it a lack of awareness? Or ignorance? Or detachment? It can be easy to detach yourself from the cruelty that goes into a neatly packaged echolocate bar or a milkshake. The most common reasons given are tradition, convenience, habit and taste. Ask yourself- If violence is not the answer, then is it really ok for me to put my desires above the rights of another being? If we all knew exactly what animals go through to get to our plates we wouldn’t eat them, simple as that. The city of Berlin in Germany has an estimated 80,000 vegans. this shows amazing progress for animal welfare.
The is no excuse for ignorance, we need to educate ourselves and make conscious choices. If we as yogis strive for ahimsa then abolishing animal cruelty is the way forward. We can act, speak and align our thoughts with compassion.
Be conscious, be kind, live ahimsa, go vegan.