Many yogis believe that ahimsa or ‘non-harming’ equates with a strict vegetarian lifestyle. And, yet there are dedicated yogis who have reconciled meat-eating with ahimsa. If you’ve read the Bhagavad Gita, you know that while Krishna’s life is not completely devoid of violence, he is the living example of ahimsa. Swami Mungalmurti Saraswati from the Bihar School of Yoga once stated,
“The crux of the matter, however, is that ahimsa does not mean ‘non-violence or ‘non-killing’. A means ‘not’ and himsa more truly means ‘hatred’ or ‘revengeful attitude’. Ahimsa has long been misunderstood and misinterpreted. It does not mean one should never kill, but that one should do what one must do free from the attitude of vengeance, without spite or vindictiveness.”
Robert Wolf, a yogi, writer and world traveler, has an interesting perspective on what he learned about ahimsa from being a vegetarian and then a non-vegetarian.
Ahimsa and vegetarianism.
Soon after I first got my asana into gear, more than a decade ago, I began to experiment with vegetarianism. It was what the ancient masters advocated, right? They must have known what they were doing. I was on a fast-track to a healthier, more ecologically sound, more ‘spirichal’ future; all I had to do was stop eating bacon and I was practically enlightened.
For me, at least, it didn’t quite work out like that. I tussled with tofu for four unsatisfying, low-energy, food-obsessed years before I finally threw in the towel and scoffed a cold sausage from my parents’ fridge. After that, my animal-eschewing days were well and truly over.
I’m still dedicated to my asana practice, though. So how do I reconcile plowing through prime rib and chomping chicken with the principle of ahimsa, refraining from harm? Do I just ignore that particular practice and cross my fingers that no-one will notice, or is it possible that ahimsa can incorporate my fondness for kingfish? Read Robert’s story, “What I’ve learned about non-violence from eating animals.”
There is much controversy about the idea of ahimsa as it relates to eating, even among leaders in the yoga community. I tend to vacillate between conflicted and confused as my physical body tends to respond better and is healthier when I incorporate some animal protein such as fish or chicken. So the ahimsa work for me, lies in the acceptance and ownership of my choices without self-inflicted harm in the form of judgement, guilt or acts of self punishment.
What are your thoughts on meat eating and non-violence?
- Your Charmed Yogi
- Becoming a vegetarian or non-meatetarian
- On yoga, really: Who’s your yama?
- The inevitability (and benefit) of self-sabotage in yoga