How we behave toward others and our environment reveals—more than anything else—our inner state of mind and the current condition of our personalities. When we are self-confident the need to hurt, humiliate or kill another being is absent from our personality. Only people with low self-esteem would harm others to feel better about themselves. Self-esteem and self-confidence are the results of Yoga practice, and they have their highest manifestation in samadhi. Samadhi is the aim of Yoga practice. It is a Sanskrit word meaning “same as the highest.” It is the identification of the individual with the Absolute supreme consciousness, which is truth, knowledge and unending bliss. What keeps us from that Supreme realization is our own selfishness; thinking that we are separate from the Divine Source.
The great yogi Jesus said that if you want to know yourself as one with the Source, then follow this practice: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Notice that he did not specify the gender, color or even the species of “others.” As long as you perceive others and not the One, then treat those “others” with kindness, respect and compassion. In other words, “love thy neighbor as thyself” and you will realize that “I and my Father are one.” In other words, you will realize your true Self, the goal of Yoga.
The first step in Patanjali’s system of Yoga is ahimsa, which means the practice of non-harming and nonviolence. This is the reason vegetarianism is a main tenet of Yoga. We simply cannot eat another being without harming them first. The practices of Yoga are meant to be practices, meaning we work toward the attainment of perfection, knowing that perfection may never come. As long as we are living in physical bodies we will continue to cause some harm to others on this planet. So the practice of ahimsa becomes one of trying to cause the least amount of harm. Everyone knows that eating a vegetarian diet uses up the least amount of natural resources and so causes the least amount of harm to the whole planet.
As we get better at ahimsa, we get closer to the realization of our true being as that which is peaceful and free of debilitating internal conflicts. Many people have difficulty with accepting a vegetarian lifestyle as intrinsic to the practice of Yoga asana. Perhaps we can clarify that by examining the Sanskrit word “asana.” It means “seat.” Seat means connection to the Earth. Earth means all things: animals, plants, minerals, all existence. To practice asana really means to practice our relationship to Earth and all of her manifestations.
Swami Satchidananda taught that Yoga is perfection in action. All actions originate as thoughts, so a perfect action must come from a perfect thought. What is a perfect thought? A perfect thought is one that is free of selfish desire, anger and hate. We return to ahimsa as the means to perfect action. Our goal is seeing ourselves in others, all others, and then going beyond seeing and being ourselves in others, until there are no others, until there is only love, only one.
The single most important part of our Yoga practice is the strict adherence to a vegetarian diet, a diet free of needless cruelty, harm and injustice. Ahimsa is not an optional part of the program, it is the first step.
About the Author
Sharon Gannon, along with David Life, teaches Jivamukti Yoga method, which offers a path to enlightenment through compassion for all beings. Sharon is the co-author, with David Life, of several books including Jivamukti Yoga: Practices for Liberating Body and Soul and The Art of Yoga. Her latest book is Yoga and Vegetarianism, a book every Yoga practitioner and teacher should read. For more information, please visit: jivamuktiyoga.com.
Reprinted from Integral Yoga Magazine, Spring 2009.