Veganism & Yoga
6 December 2012
Yogic philosophy teaches us that food is to be considered a carrier of the life force called “Prana” and is judged by the quality & quantity of the Prana it contains and by the effect it has on our consciousness.
“Sattva” is defined as the quality of purity and goodness. Sattvic foods are pure, clean and wholesome, they’re foods that are abundant in Prana and their life-giving properties leave us feeling calm, alert and refreshed.
Another word common to Yoga philosophy is “Ahimsa”, the first yama of yoga, which asks us to do no harm. Ahimsa = non-injury (literally: the avoidance of violence) and insists upon us not harming other sentient beings – animals or otherwise.
A question often asked of vegans and those who eat only a plant-based diet is “What about plants – aren’t they sentient beings too?” Well no, not exactly. Sentient beings have minds; they have preferences, desires, or wants, and there can be no serious doubt that both humans and animals have interests, including an interest in avoiding pain and suffering and an interest in a continued existence.
Sri Ramana Maharshi, perhaps the most famous Self-realized sage of modern India, was asked what the most important aid to meditation was and he immediately replied “a pure vegetarian diet.” He quoted the ancient Chandogya Upanishad (D II 26.2) that says; “when food is pure, the mind is pure, when the mind is pure, concentration is steady, when concentration is achieved one can loosen all the knots of the heart that bind us.” Vegetarianism, especially veganism, is one of the main pillars of the purifying the mind.
The Spiritual Importance of a Plant-Based Diet for Yogis and Students of Yoga:
The Hathayoga Pradipika (section 58 of the main classical Hatha Yoga textbook), recommends avoiding “ …fish and meat” In the Mahabharata, which the Bhagavad Gita comes from, the importance of not eating meat is emphasized. The body, emotions, spirit and even our hereditary expressions are significantly affected by what we eat. Sensory inputs from numerous objects disturb us in many ways, not only consciously, but subconsciously and unconsciously also. In Sanskrit the term for this disturbed condition of awareness is called Vyutthita chitta or the disturbed (literally ‘provoked’) mind. Through proper plant-based diet, meditation, and other sattvic activities, we can reduce this state of disturbed awareness and experience a state of undisturbed awareness or equilibrium termed in Sanskrit as Samahita chitta or the concentrated (literally ‘collected’) mind in which the body, senses, prana and the mind all function in harmony.
The key element to the sattvic diet is plant-based foods. Flesh foods (meat, fish and poultry) and animal products (eggs and dairy) increase the animal frequency in the body and prompt animal-like tendencies into action such as the vibrations of anger, lust, fear and even murderous impulses. The energy of an animal based diet adds to the impurities of the mind and the nervous system.
There are those that claim that flesh foods are an essential part of their natural diet and so should not interfere with the unfoldment of their higher nature. But as written by Sri Yukteswar, the guru of Paramahansa Yogananda, in his book “Holy Science”, “Can flesh be considered the natural food of man, when both his eyes and his nose are so much against it, unless deceived by flavors of spices, salt and sugar. On the other hand, how delighted do we find the fragrance of fruits, the very sight of which often makes the mouth water?”
Flesh food and animal products promote a tamasic (dull and heavy) effect on the physical body and mind. They clog the pranic channels of the subtle body; the 72,000 nadis through which the Kundalini needs to move freely to do its spiritualizing work, and they tend to make the mind insensitive. The Manusmirti (5.49), an ancient law code of Hindu society, states, “Having well considered the origin of flesh foods, and the cruelty of fettering and slaying of sentient beings, a person should abstain from eating flesh.” It also states (6.60), “By not killing any living being one becomes fit for liberation.” Additionally the Yajur Veda (12.32) states, “You must not use your God-given body for killing God’s creatures whether a human or animal.”
A vegan way of life actively establishes six aspects of Ahimsa:
- (1) Compassion and non-cruelty toward sentient beings;
- (2) Safeguarding the earth and its ecology;
- (3) Feeding the hungry and poor;
- (4) Preserving human life;
- (5) Establishing and maintaining personal health;
- (6) And inspiring and promoting peace.
Yoga, Health and a Plant-Based Diet:
Yoga teaches that a vegan/vegetarian diet is not only essential for the spiritual life, but is also the basis for good health. Not only do those on a plant-based diet live longer, they actually have (according to more than a dozen research reports) two (potentially more) times the endurance than meat-eaters and they are much less susceptible to disease and other health problems. The eating of flesh foods has been proven beyond any doubt to significantly increase the likelhood of the occurance of major chronic diseases like cardio-vascular disease, hypertension, cancer, kidney disease, arthritis and osteoporosis, just to name a few.
People who eat animal products are also at a higher risk of various viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitical infections. With flesh foods being at the top of the food chain they have about 15 times more pesticides and herbicides than plant-based foods. Animal products (i.e.: eggs and dairy) have about 5 times more pesticides and herbicides than vegetable foods. A vegan or vegetarian mother has less than 1% the amount of pesticides in her breast milk as a meat-eating mother.
Yoga and the Optimal Sattvic Diet:
The modern American equivalent of a traditional sattvic diet today consists of organic, whole, natural fruits and vegetables, seeds, grains and occasionally nuts. This diet emphasizes foods grown in harmony with nature, preferably by farmers using organic methods, planted in good soils, ripened naturally and then prepared with an attitude of love. Such foods carry the highest level of prana and consciousness. This modern sattvic diet does not include junk food, excessively spicy or salty foods, fried food, white flour, refined sugars, hydrogenated oils, saturated fats and other forms of food that unnaturally stimulate your blood sugar or agitate your mind. This diet avoids meat, fish, eggs and dairy as well. It does not include GM (genetically modified) or GE (genetically engineered) foods, irradiated foods or microwaved foods.
The “yoga of food” is the art of selecting foods that increase the pranic forces for healing, purifying, calming and quieting the body and mind. It’s a dietary regime that energizes the 72,000 nadis so that the powerful, spiritualizing force of the Kundalini can move more freely through them, bringing us closer to the primary goal of yoga; freedom from the vrittis (tendencies) of the mind and the subsequent union with the divine.
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LOVE this!!!! Well written, full of facts and goodness for our bodies 🙂
This is a most excellent writing. I will share the link on proorganic.org’s facebook page, one of the main sites on the web advocating for food/regulatory integrity, with over 200,000 monthly visits, nearly 16,000 likes, and over 5.5 million friends of those who like the page. This should be read by many people. 🙂
You should read “The Secret Life of Plants” and then reconsider the statement in the article that plants do not have awareness and do not have an interest in avoiding pain.
Hi Kirby – I’ve read the book and saw the film and it appealed to me greatly, but I’m sorry, Yoga is pure science and “The Secret Life of Plants” is considered psuedoscience and it’s main author, Christopher Bird, specializes in unconventional beliefs (he also wrote a fascinating but controversial book on Dowsing). For example: The book includes un-scientific experiments on plant stimuli, like the use of a polygraph machine, a method which was pioneered by Cleve Backster. One of the book’s claims is that plants may be sentient despite their lack of a nervous system and a brain, but there is absolutely no peer reviewed science to back that up, only conjecture and speculation based on untested assumptions.
Plants are qualitatively different from humans and sentient non-humans in that plants are certainly alive, but they are not sentient. Plants do not have interests. There is nothing that a plant desires, or wants, or prefers because there is no mind there to engage in these cognitive activities. When we say that a plant “needs” or “wants” water, we are no more making a statement about the mental status of the plant than we are when we say that a car engine “needs” or “wants” oil. It may be in my interest to put oil in my car. But it is not in my car’s interest; my car has no interests.
A plant may respond to sunlight and other stimuli but that does not mean the plant is sentient. If I run an electrical current through a wire attached to a bell, the bell rings. But that does not mean that the bell is sentient. Plants do not have nervous systems, benzodiazepine receptors, or any of the characteristics that we identify with sentience. And this all makes scientific sense. Why would plants evolve the ability to be sentient when they cannot do anything in response to an act that damages them? If you touch a flame to a plant, the plant cannot run away; it stays right where it is and burns. If you touch a flame to a dog, the dog does exactly what you would do—cries in pain and tries to get away from the flame. Sentience is a characteristic that has evolved in certain beings to enable them to survive by escaping from a noxious stimulus. Sentience would serve no purpose for a plant; plants cannot “escape.”
I am not suggesting that we cannot have moral obligations that concern plants, but I am saying that we cannot have moral obligations that we owe to plants. That is, we may have a moral obligation not to cut down a tree, but that is not an obligation that we owe to the tree. The tree is not the sort of entity to which we can have moral obligations. We can have an obligation that we owe to all of the sentient creatures who live in the tree or who depend on it for their survival. We can have moral obligations to other humans and nonhuman animals who inhabit the planet not to destroy trees wantonly. But we cannot have any moral obligations to the tree; we can only have moral obligations to sentient beings and the tree is not sentient and has no interests. There is nothing that the tree prefers, wants, or desires. The tree is not the sort of entity that cares about what we do to it. The tree is an “it.” The squirrel and the birds who live in the tree certainly have an interest in our not chopping down the tree, but the tree does not. It may be wrong morally to chop down a tree wantonly but that is a qualitatively different act from shooting a deer. Try this…at your next dinner party, chop a head of lettuce in front of your guests, you will get a different reaction than if you were to chop the head off a live chicken.
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