One of the books we use for Yoga Teacher Training at Elation Centre is Yoga and Vegetarianism by Sharon Gannon. Below is an excerpt from the introduction with a great interpretation of the Yamas – Yoga guidelines regarding how to treat others, including animals.
Gannon comments that if we really want to have a lighter impact on the planet, a compassionate vegetarian diet is a good place to start.
We can practice compassion 3 times a day when we sit down to eat.
Ethical vegetarians eat only plant-based food in order to show compassion towards animals and other humans and to benefit the planet. Ethical vegetarians eat no eggs, dairy products or fish because these are not plant-based and eating them causes great harm to other beings and the planet
“If we are interested in Yoga we might ask ourselves, “What is Yoga interested in?” Yoga has one goal: enlightenment, a state in which the separateness of self and other dissolves in the realization of the oneness of being. What hold us back from that realization is a false perception of reality. Instead of perceiving oneness, we see separateness, disconnection and otherness. Because the term Yoga refers not only to the goal of enlightenment but also to the practical method for reaching that goal, all of the practices must address the basic issue of “other”. Otherness is the main obstacle to enlightenment. Killing or harming others is not the best way to overcome that obstacle. How we perceive and relate to the others in our lives determines whether or not enlightenment arises.
In the Yoga Sutras, Pantanjali lays out and eight-limbed plan for liberation called Raja Yoga. The first limb is called Yama which means restraint and includes five ethical restrictions.
- ahimsa – nonharming
- satya – truthfulness
- asteya – nonstealing
- brahmacharya – continence
- aparigraha – greedlessness
The yamas describe how an unenlightened person who desires Yoga should restrict his or her behavior towards others. Pantanjali says that as long as you still perceive “others” and not one interconnected reality, then (1) don’t harm others, (2) don’t deceive them, (3) don’t steal from them, (4) don’t manipulate them sexually, and (5) don’t be greedy, selfishly depriving them of sustenance and happiness.
The transition to an ethical vegetarian diet can be challenging, start by making small changes and referring to the Yamas when making your food choice. Small changes can lead to large scale healing of our health and our planet.