The key to effective spiritual activism is non-violent communication. An activist is someone who actively works for change, and to be spiritual is to feel your connection to all living beings. Spiritual activism is working actively to further the conscious connection of oneself to others in a positive, life-affirming, mutually beneficial way. To be a spiritual activist is to be activated by spirit rather than by a skin-encapsulated ego. Through non-violent communication, a spiritual activist pursues liberation or enlightenment for the benefit of all.
The biggest obstacle to our spiritual evolution at this time is our perception and treatment of animals and the natural world. When people learn of the horrible animal abuse that goes on day after day, they often feel despairing, overwhelmed and helpless, or they get angry and want to attack the perpetrators. Neither one of these reactions will bring about a positive transformation that will benefit the animals. Only through active, conscious compassion can you affect people’s minds and hearts, with the result that they find it in themselves to be compassionate and to extend that compassion to all beings, including animals. In other words, change must start with you – you must become the embodiment of compassion. Patanjali advises: vitarka-badhane pratipaksha-bhavanam (PYS II.33) – when disturbed by disturbing thoughts, think of the opposite.
When destructive emotions like hate, anger, or the desire to do violence arise within you, cultivate the opposite state of mind. See the other person’s potential for kindness and bolster your own expression of kindness. View others with hope, seeing them as having overcome their own ignorance. If you see them in a negative way, the power of your perception will only help to keep them that way as you polarize yourself from them, assuming a superior role. You may at first encounter ridicule from others when you speak up for animals, but this ridicule can help you to hone your skills, enabling you to become better at articulating the message of veganism and animal rights in an informed and compassionate way. If you have a desire to be an effective speaker on the subject of yoga, animal rights and veganism – that is, if you have a desire to be a spiritual activist – then these ideas may help you achieve your goals:
1. Listening: The Heart of Communication. Be sure you want to communicate as opposed to merely expressing yourself. Strive to be a communicator not a professor. To communicate, one must be able to listen and to hear where the other is coming from. Through empathetic listening, you will be able to change underlying causes, not just outward symptoms. Non-violent communication with others whom you would like to inspire toward change will transform you in the process, as it will develop compassion, which dissolves differences and leads to an enlightened existence.
2. Feeling: The Means of Communication. Before you speak to others, ask yourself: How do I want them to feel about themselves when I talk to them? Martin Luther King, Jr. did not see African-Americans as victims, but as strong, whole, and complete. He didn’t have time for hate, recognizing that it would slow him down on his way to his goal. He envisioned a new world in which all people lived together in harmony, and he spoke from that elevated dream. Black people who heard him felt themselves to be as Dr. King saw them, empowered with vision and hope to take their rightful place in society rather than remain victims of an unjust racist system. Only through humility and respect will you be effective in communicating. When conveying the messages of yoga and vegetarianism to others, don’t make them feel condemned or judged, but rather empowered to make conscious choices that would lead to liberation.
3. Seeing: The Expression of Communication. To separate the world into good guys and bad guys or victims and perpetrators will only result in more division, not the peaceful unification we seek as yogis. When you speak to others about vegetarianism or animal rights, you must not view them as stupid, callous, or evil. Instead, see them through your eyes of compassion as holy beings, capable of kindness. If the person eats meat, why not view that as a temporary condition? If you can’t see others as potentially kind and compassionate beings, how can you ever expect them to see themselves that way?
4. Bliss: The Result of Successful Communication. Ecstasy is the true ground of being, and it pulsates within you at all times. Recognize it and celebrate it in others, and you will find it in yourself. By not trying to tame, enslave, and exploit others, you allow them the right to pursue their true natures and, in doing so, you allow yourself the same adventure into bliss. If we are to spiritually evolve and survive as a species, we must liberate ourselves from the lie that we are separate from the rest of life. Recognize the potential within yourself to become liberated and for your life to serve as an instrument of liberation for others. Cultivate your vision by infusing yourself with vast compassion that extends to include everyone. Liberation, or moksha, is the goal of yoga, and ecstasy, or bliss, is its experience.
Adapted from Yoga and Vegetarianism by Sharon Gannon