In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali gives us five recommendations, called yamas, for how we should treat others if we want to attain liberation. The second yama is satya, which means “truthfulness.” Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati explains that truthfulness means “not to speak untruth, physically, vocally, or mentally… Speech should not be deceitful, mistaken, or barren of information. It should be used for the service of all, not for injury to any creature.”
As yoga practitioners, we come to a time in our lives when we question whether what we have been told is true, including assumptions we hold about ourselves and the world around us. If we don’t want to be taken in by the lies people tell us, we can begin to examine our own speech and ask ourselves if we are really saying what we mean. Part of the process of transitioning into living more honestly is to hold yourself accountable for the things you do. Most of us say we want peace, equality, and freedom for all, but our actions say something entirely different as we bite into a hamburger or order an ice-cream cone, wear a fur coat to an anti-war demonstration or serve hot dogs to our children. Once you become more aware, there’s simply no way to not notice these everyday hypocrisies, these gaps in awareness justified by group behavior and the culture of dis-ease.
As consumers, we are not told the truth about where food comes from. When advertising is employed to sell meat, milk, and eggs, pictures of happy animals are used. Images like these are false advertising. The truth is that factory farms, and farms in general, are facilities where animals are exploited and manipulated for the benefit of the farm owners. Although in our hearts we know the truth about how food animals are being used, we lie to ourselves. We perpetuate this untruth when we lie to our children and to others and fail to encourage them to investigate the truth. The more we lie to others, the more others will lie to us. Eventually, it becomes quite normal to communicate through lying, never really saying what we mean or doing what we say.
Some meat eaters say they are peaceful people and would never hurt anyone –they didn’t kill the animal; they’re just eating what is convenient. This type of thinking is an example of how disempowered and disconnected most of the carnivorous members of our culture feel. They have been convinced that what they do doesn’t really matter in the larger scheme of things. After all, it is only my lunch – just a piece of ham between two slices of bread; what harm could that do? The fact is that when we buy the meat of an animal, we are the ones who have signed his or her death sentence. If we are buying and eating meat and dairy products, then the slaughterhouse workers, meat packers, and factory farm workers are all working for us. To live by violence and then to deny that you do is to live a lie. Living a lie causes a deep fissure in the human psyche. Yoga seeks to heal that fissure.
One of the ways that you can tell if you are making progress in yoga is by observing your own voice. Through regular practice, you will find that you will be able to say what you mean and mean what you say. When this happens, it is an indication that the disease of disconnection is beginning to be healed. You will experience for yourself what is true, and all the lies you have been told, even those that you have told, will fade away in the light of the greater truth of your true potential.
– Adapted from Yoga and Vegetarianism by Sharon Gannon