The insight for the essay came from my experience with the death of Grandma, the cat as I expressed in the first paragraph. When I started writing the essay I kept hearing in my head Bob Dylan’s song Highway 61 as well as a poem I had written several years ago about the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. So I include those here for you.
Excerpt from Bob Dylan’s song Highway 61:
“…God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son,” Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on” God say, “No,” Abe say, “What?” God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but the next time you see me comin’ you better run.” Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?” God says, “Out on Highway 61” –Bob Dylan
A poem of mine:
What did he do to make them so mad?
What did he do to make them so mad
that they had to nail him to a cross for being so bad!
What was his crime against the state
Which moved them all to such hate?
Have you seen a movie or read a book
That tells you how he went too far—
The Passion, The Last Temptation, The Super Star?
But what was it that he did,
That they would fear their own annihilation
From his tempestuous tantrum tempting temptation?
I have seen it
In this Essene
It is no watered down story of a victim’s distress
Or of a pilgrim’s quest
It is the story of an activist—
I and my father are one
There is no difference between god and the creation
What you do to one you do to the whole
The story’s old been told and told
Jerusalem at the time
Taxes had to be paid
Sacrifices had to be made
Money had to be changed
This Israel, see it if you will
The great Temple on the Hill
Even then the walls did wail
With the lust for money
Tainted with the cries of the kill
Gentle morning doves,
Baby goats, and sheep
No fruits, no flowers accepted here
Only a bloody corpse will do
Life desecrated for a holy price
The law said you had to pay in blood
And buy an animal for the sacrifice
To get the temple priests to kill your feast
You must pay in Holy-City currency
No foreign coins or bills accepted
Money was exchanged, animals
Bought and then brought up the hill
Wailing to the temple door
Inside their throats were cut
Canals flowing with innocent blood
Jerusalem the city of the red flood
Rivers and tributaries, gutters of gore
Flow from the famous Temple of Lore
I have seen it
In this Essene
A vegetarian honoring life
As the way to the Divine
Thou shalt not kill no man no ram
No more killing no need to
The temple is within you
Do not defile it with death
Those who wield the sword
shall perish by the sword
Love thy neighbor as thyself
But even with his words thus spoke
there was much money to be made
From the sale of these gentle folk
The economy of the society has grown
Profited from their exploitation and pain
The Nazarene turned the tables and said enough!
Violence only brings more of the same
You cannot plant an olive seed and
Expect to harvest wheat
To know become like the one you seek
So He upset their plans
Cut the tethering ropes
Opened the cages while
They watched their profits fly
Their anger rose their voices high
“We are the chosen,
Killing is the sanctioned lawful way,&n
Who are you to say?”
So he stood there mute and frozen
And they took him away
And frozen he is to this day
This animal activist
Liberator of the oppressed
But alive is he today inside each one of us who cares
He is the sacred heart of the Passion
And the best passion, as everybody knows,
Everlasting life comes to those who allow it to flow.
Notes to the Poem: The Bible relates that Jesus became angry and turned over some tables outside the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Why did he do that? What were those tables set up for? Matthew tells us in verse 21:12 that “Jesus entered the temple courtyard and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of those selling doves.” And John 2.14-16 relates that “Jesus found those in the temple who were selling oxen, sheep, pigeons and doves, and the moneychangers. He made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple, he poured out the money and overturned the tables and said, ‘Do not make God’s house a house of trade.’” I have often pondered these scriptures. When I was a young Catholic schoolgirl, this incident was used to justify anger: “There are times when it is good to be bad,” our parish priest would say, “even Jesus got mad.” David and I visited many sacred sites in Jerusalem and from the research and experience gained from that visit, I came to understand something of the huge status, politically and commercially, that the ritualized killing of animals had in the Jewish religion at the time that Jesus lived. The large temple in Jerusalem operated pretty much as a slaughterhouse, where animals were killed routinely by temple priests as sacrificial offerings to God. Outside the temple were animals for sale as well as moneychangers who facilitated the purchase of animals intended to be sacrificed. It is generally known that Jesus was a member of the Essenes, a Jewish sect who engaged in yogic-like practices including vegetarianism. Jesus offered a radical message that love should be extended to all of creation, including animals—a message just as threatening then as it is now to the economic, religious and political establishments. In this poem I suggest a rationale for the crucifixion of Jesus.
SOME IDEAS FOR HOW TO TAKE THIS FOCUS INTO THE CLASSROOM IN PRACTICAL WAYS
- Emphasizing asanas that are forms of animals which have been traditionally used for sacrifice: cow, horse, camel, rabbit, pigeon and other birds—often what are now commonly referred to as “farm animals”—all domesticated animals. Wild animals are not traditionally used for religious sacrifice
- Viewing the entire asana practice as a rite that brings us closer to God without the need to harm others
- In shavasana, considering/contemplating what should be done with your body when it is a corpse and why.
- Agni sara practice for the earth and fire elements.
- Put an emphasis on twisting asanas–but then of course the teacher has to talk about the connections to the manipura chakra (which twisting focuses on) and how that relates to power, exploitation and domination of animals and how through the practice of twists this chakra can be purified and those negative tendencies dissolved. People hurt others because they feel a lack of self-confidence. This is really the underlying motivation for eating meat. The motivation being largely unconscious because the enslavement, raising, slaughtering and eating of animals has become a cultural/religious habit that is so deeply ingrained and unquestioned it has come to be regarded as normal and so it has slipped back—submerged into a dark place of unconsciousness. As with many aspects of the shadow side, when a bit of awareness emerges it can be embraced and with that justified. So one must be ruthless and not be afraid to acknowledge old habits and the ignorance and guilt that justified them. Yes go ahead and acknowledge the shadow but have the courage to step out of the guilty shadow, and into the sun, transformed into a being of light freed from the shackles of cruel cultural conformity.
- Teachers could make the point that even asana practice can become like a ritual that is done unconsciously or without investigation. So then they could have the students do a portion of class on the floor without a mat, or every asana using the wall somehow, or doing certain asanas or sequences fully propped even if the student does not really need the props, meditation with eyes open or walking meditation, or even just doing the whole class facing the back of the room instead of the windows or the center, etc. – there are any number of ways to bring a heightened level of awareness into the practice.
These sutras could work well:
vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya / navani grhnati naro ‘parani
tatha sharirani vihaya jirnany / anyani samyati navani dehi (BG II.22)
Just as old clothes are cast off and new ones taken, the soul leaves the body after death to take a new one.
maitri-adisu balani (PYS III.24)
Through friendliness, kindness and compassion, strength comes
te samadhav upasarga vyutthane siddhaya (PYS III.38)
By giving up the love of power, you attain the power of love
So many cultural rites and customs are either designed to or have the effect of securing or maintaining power for someone and we often don’t bother to look at that (or if we do, we’re branded as weird or “counter-culture”)—like most of all eating customs, marriage, our political, election and economic policies and customs, and probably many more.
There are many stories from the Bible and Quran where killing animals is deemed good and righteous. Besides the Abraham/Isaac story there is of course the earlier “Cain and Abel story.” Adam and Eve have two sons, Abel who is a shepherd, a herder of goats and sheep and Cain, a gardener who grows vegetables. Adam informs them that they must make a sacrifice to God in order to win favor with Him. Abel’s sacrifice is a bloody one—one of his sheep, bound, throat slit and placed to roast on a burning pyre. Cain harvests an abundant variety of vegetables from his garden and places them on his outdoor altar as an offering to God. God speaks to father Adam and tells him how delighted he is with Abel’s offering of lamb chops and how unhappy he is with Cain’s vegetarian platter. Cain feels rejected, becomes depressed, succumbs to a jealous rage and kills his “innocent” brother.
I think, to us yogis stories like this appear pretty transparent. We aren’t easily duped. Nonetheless we remember being taught those stories as children and realize that for many people those stories go unquestioned even by adults. Stories like these can offer us insight into why animal sacrifice and meat eating became justified and so important to the development of culture and the unquestioned beliefs of many religions. These stories are presented as coming before religion and culture but of course one can’t help assuming that the Bible and Quran stories evolved along with the culture, and as a justification for bloody murderous sacrificial rites, meat-eating and exploitation of defenseless enslaved animals.
It is my feeling that the reason that among Christians, Jews and Moslems, cremation is not acceptable, is because in those religions burning is for animals, not humans.
All of the 3 religions of Abraham uphold a speciesist view, which looks upon animals as inferior to humans, so putting an animal’s body in fire, whether as a religious sacrifice or as cooking meat for dinner is viewed as totally acceptable. But a human body should not be treated the same as an animal. For example: To many Jews there is a horrific reaction to the idea of cremation because of the holocaust where Nazis at the death camps cremated many Jews. The Nazis viewed the Jews as no better than animals and to burn an animal’s body was certainly acceptable, so the Nazis used cremation as a desecration.
Some Religious views in regard to Cremation:
Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all against cremation because it is believed that the body is sacred and cremation is an act of desecration. It is believed that the body and soul will eventually be reunited and cremation insures that no resurrection of the body can be possible.
Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism mandate cremation. In these religions the body is seen as a vehicle for the soul, and at the time of death the soul leaves the body; destroying the corpse induces detachment.
RECOMMENDED ADDITIONAL READING
- An Unnatural Order by Jim Mason
- Yoga and Vegetarianism by Sharon Gannon
- The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle
- Shiva and Dionysus, The Gods of Transcendence and Ecstasy by Alain Danielou