Ahimsa and Veganism

by Sharon Gannon |
November, 2009
Ahimsa - Nonviolence
ahimsa-pratishthayam tat-sannidhau vaira-tyagah

When you stop harming others, others will cease to harm you.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali II.35

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali gives us five recommendations, called yamas, for how we should treat others if we want to attain liberation. The first yama is ahimsa, which means “non-harming.” Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati explains that “non-harming” means “abstinence from ill will toward all living beings in every way and at all times.” The yogi tries to cause the least amount of harm and suffering to others possible.

Compassion is an essential ingredient of ahimsa. Through compassion, you begin to see yourself in other beings. Compassion trains the mind to see beyond outer differences of form. You begin to catch glimpses of the inner essence of other beings, which is happiness. You begin to see that every single creature desires happiness.  When you recognize that cows, pigs, and chickens, as well as all animals raised for food, want happiness just like you do, you recognize kindred souls. The distinction between you and other beings wears thin as awareness begins to dawn.

We cannot change the suffering that has already happened in our lives, but future suffering can be avoided. A benefit of not causing others to suffer is that we ourselves will eventually, but inevitably, become free from suffering. We may mistakenly think that to refrain from harming another brings benefit only to that other, and not to ourselves. Many non-vegans may even look upon vegans as depriving themselves of enjoyment by refraining from eating meat, dairy and eggs. But when you understand how karma works and how yoga works, you begin to realize that how you treat others now determines how much suffering or joy you experience in your future.

In the case of eating meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, the suffering may occur relatively quickly in the form of health problems like heart disease, stroke, or cancer. But most often the karmic seeds of violence, like all seeds, take time to gestate, sprout, and grow. One may not see the results of one’s harmful actions right away. In fact, the negative seeds we plant now may not come to fruition until future lifetimes.

By enslaving other animals and abusing them through lifelong torture, degradation and eventual slaughter, 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.  We cannot demand something that we ourselves are not willing to embody.

Through the practice of yoga and veganism, we can realize that we were meant to live in harmony with all the other animals and all of life. We come to know that our physical bodies function better without having to instill fear into others and to kill them, and that there is no nutrient that we need that we can’t get directly from plant sources or from sunlight. We come to recognize that our old bodies can be transformed and become light and whole – holy bodies, used as vehicles to bring peace. The fork can be a powerful weapon of mass-destruction or a tool to lead a movement of peaceful coexistence. Eating a compassionate vegan diet will stop war, create peace in one’s body, peace with the animal nations, and peace on Earth.

-Sharon Gannon, adapted from Yoga and Vegetarianism