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Yoga is more than asana practice, and it's more than what we do on a mat or meditation cushion

By Lucy Weir, E-RYT 500, YACEP posted Aug 20, 2021 02:20 PM


Here are the choices. We can believe the ecological emergency has nothing to do with us, or with yoga. The weather's pretty unpredictable in any case, and there are all kinds of wars and other happenings. Keeping ourselves focused on yoga practice is about looking after ourselves. That’s it. 

It's easy to denigrate this approach but it's also remarkably common, and in a sense, fully understandable. After all, if you look out of the window right now you're probably seeing weather that is at least related to weather you're familiar with. If you look at the news it’s roughly the same as it’s always been. There’s no emergency, any more than there’s ever been an emergency. We’re still alive, still trucking along in temperate zone or desert, with more or less the same plants and animals around us, more or less the same number of homeless people. Hey, what’s new?

We can also get depressed and angry that things are so much worse than they used to be. Using plastic bags, trying not to fly, bathing less (yes… I do all these…) eating less or no meat - these look ridiculously insignificant against the fires and military operations, the floods and droughts, the huge waves of immigration, the vast consumer clutches of Amazon, the data centres and super-trawlers. We can get really angry and spend our time at protests, blaming multinationals and tax avoidance schemes, waving banners and shouting ourselves hoarse at rallies. Despising the ignorance of the other. 

It’s easy to mock the overkill of protest, the gatherings and marches that bring angry scenes into our capitals. But this, too, is a fully understandable response to the injustices and corruption, the exploitation and abuse that we must say NO to if we are to maintain any sense of self respect. These people care. They might also drown their sorrows in alcohol, or hot yoga, running or cocaine, sweating out the rage, or burying it in a quick search for oblivion or pain. 

The third and most difficult and demanding option is to realise that what's going on is inseparable from us. We're in it. We are not separate from all that is emerging into our awareness. What we realise is what we come to awareness of, and it is also what we make real. We are the climate. We are biodiversity. We are attitude polarisation. Because every single time we interact, and we have no choice but to interact, we make real what our attitude is. Atmosphere is affected by terrestrial and marine systems. Both are affected by human attitudes. We have changed the world by what we think about the world, and by how that's caused and is causing us to act. To shift the ecological emergency from a trajectory of increasing suffering, we must start realising that yoga is attitude, it is the way we do everything, including how we act towards ourselves, others and the more-than-human world in every interchange. The more awareness we bring, and the more we realise that we bring kindness if we allow it to come through us because we are kind, we are kin, we are cooperative elements of a dance of existence, the more hope there is that we will shift trajectory to a little less suffering, to a little more compassion and love, to a state of the world where we can realise that we are part of a huge community of being, that we belong, that we are one. 

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ŚB 11.5.14

ये त्वनेवंविदोऽसन्त: स्तब्धा: सदभिमानिन: ।
पशून् द्रुह्यन्ति विश्रब्धा: प्रेत्य खादन्ति ते च तान् ॥ १४ ॥
ye tv anevaṁ-vido ’santaḥ
stabdhāḥ sad-abhimāninaḥ
paśūn druhyanti viśrabdhāḥ
pretya khādanti te ca tān


ye — those who; tu — but; anevam-vidaḥ — not knowing these facts; asantaḥ — very impious; stabdhāḥ — presumptuous; sat-abhimāninaḥ — considering themselves saintly; paśūn — animals; druhyanti — they harm; viśrabdhāḥ — being innocently trusted; pretya — after leaving this present body; khādanti — they eat; te — those animals; ca — and; tān — them.


Those sinful persons who are ignorant of actual religious principles, yet consider themselves to be completely pious, without compunction commit violence against innocent animals who are fully trusting in them. In their next lives, such sinful persons will be eaten by the same creatures they have killed in this world.


In this verse we can clearly see the great discrepancies in those persons who do not surrender to the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His law. As stated in the Bhāgavatam, harāv abhaktasya kuto mahad-guṇāḥ: those who do not accept the supremacy of the Supreme Lord gradually become infected with the most sinful propensities that bring, in their turn, terrible suffering upon the nondevotees. In the Western countries such as America, many people proudly proclaim themselves to be most pious religionists and sometimes even prophets or representatives of God. Boasting of their religiosity, such foolish people experience no fear or doubt in cruelly slaughtering innumerable animals in slaughterhouses or on hunting trips for their whimsical sense gratification. In the state of Mississippi there are sometimes pig-killing festivals, in which entire families enjoy watching a pig cruelly butchered before their eyes. Similarly, a former president of the United States from Texas did not consider any social occasion complete without the slaughtering of a cow. Such persons mistakenly consider themselves to be perfectly observing the laws of God and due to such arrogant foolishness lose all touch with reality. When a man is raising an animal for slaughter, he feeds the animal nicely and encourages it to grow fat. Thus the animal gradually accepts its would-be killer as its protector and master. When the master finally approaches the helpless animal with a sharp knife or gun, the animal thinks, “Oh, my master is joking with me.” Only at the last minute does the animal understand that the so-called master is death personified. It is clearly stated in Vedic literature that cruel masters who kill innocent animals will undoubtedly be killed in the next life by a similar process.

māṁ sa bhakṣayitāmutra
yasya māṁsam ihādmy aham
etan māṁsasya māṁsatvaṁ
pravadanti manīṣiṇaḥ

“‘That creature whose flesh I am eating here and now will consume me in the next life.’ Thus meat is called māṁsa, as described by learned authorities.” In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam this grisly fate of animal killers is described by Nārada Muni to King Prācīnabarhi, who was excessively killing animals in so-called sacrifices.

bho bhoḥ prajāpate rājan
paśūn paśya tvayādhvare
saṁjñāpitān jīva-saṅghān
nirghṛṇena sahasraśaḥ
ete tvāṁ sampratīkṣante
smaranto vaiśasaṁ tava
samparetam ayaḥ-kūṭaiś
chindanty utthita-manyavaḥ

“O ruler of the citizens, my dear King, please see in the sky those animals which you have sacrificed, without compassion and without mercy, in the sacrificial arena. All these animals are awaiting your death so that they can avenge the injuries you have inflicted upon them. After you die, they will angrily pierce your body with iron horns.” (Bhāg. 4.25.7-8) Such punishment of animal killers may take place under the jurisdiction of Yamarāja on the planet of the lord of death. In other words, one who kills an animal or who eats meat undoubtedly acquires a debt to the living entity who has contributed his body for the satisfaction of the meat-eater. The meat-eater must pay his debt by contributing his own body to be consumed in the next life. Such payment of one’s debt by offering one’s own body to be eaten is confirmed in the Vedic literature.