Veganism, Cows, and Dharma

ElizabethAndCow_350x250In yoga, veganism is not an end unto itself: it’s a means to an end, an incremental step towards re-establishing the natural relationship between human beings and all other living beings, especially the natural, symbiotic relationship between humans and cows.

The idea that humans and cows have a naturally symbiotic relationship may strike some readers as anything but obvious. That’s understandable given the frame of reference most people associate with farm animals. Yoga asks us to radically re-frame the relationship, to think of cows not as consumable objects of our experience but as sentient subjects of their own experience. Cows have lives of their own and, like all living entities, find the fulfillment of their own lives through relationships with others.

[Read more...]

Beyond Ethical Vegetarianism

RadhaGopinathPrasadam_USEAt a recent hearing about gun control legislation in Hartford, Connecticut, Mark Mattioli, whose 6-year-old son James was killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, urged lawmakers to address America’s culture of violence. “It’s a simple concept. We need civility across our nation,” he said. “What we’re seeing are symptoms of a bigger problem. This is a symptom. The problem is not gun laws. The problem is a lack of civility.”

Mr. Mattioli’s point may have been lost on the gun rights advocates who interrupted his testimony with shouts about their 2nd amendment rights. Be that as it may, it’s become clear that America has reached a tipping point on the issue of guns: a sufficient number of people are so dissatisfied with the results of the status quo that they feel motivated to change it. [Read more...]

Culture of Violence

McDonaldsGun_USEAfter the shock wears off what remains is a desire for understanding; we long for something that will explain the inexplicable. Convenient rationalizations like “it was God’s will” or “it was just their karma” top the list of platitudes that no one wants to hear. And with good reason: such banal consolations trivialize unfathomable depths of grief and anger by decorating God with causeless cruelty or blaming victims who are entitled to a presumption of innocence.

This most recent and particularly horrific tragedy has, predictably, been blamed on the ease by which ordinary citizens can acquire military-grade armaments, a collective indifference to the scourge of mental illness, and the glorification of violence in everything from video games to news coverage that relentlessly sensationalizes the very events from which we wish to be spared. [Read more...]

The Yoga of Cow Protection

I spent last weekend in rural West Virginia. Although my main reason for going was to participate in the annual 24-Hour kirtan organized by my friends at Mantralogy, a trip to the New Vrindaban community always gives me a chance to visit our cow, Dwadasi. Of course, Dwadasi’s not really our cow: we adopted her, which just means that we pay for her annual expenses. She’s 14 years old, about twice the age that most cows live since cows are routinely slaughtered as soon as they are no longer producing milk, and therefore a profit, for the farmers that own them.

Old as she is, Dwadasi is hardly the eldest of the herd: the real old-timers are enjoying a happy retirement in what’s called the “Geriatric Barn”. Dwadasi and many other cows and bulls are lovingly cared for by a wonderful family through their amazing organization, the International Society for Cow Protection (ISCOWP). [Read more...]

The Straw Man of Happy Meat

Recently, The New York Times invited readers to submit an essay that describes why it’s ethical to eat meat. After reviewing thousands of submissions, one essay, by agroecologist Jay Bost, was selected for publication.

I wasn’t surprised that a former vegetarian who returned to meat-eating wrote the essay. Nor was I surprised that the essay failed to offer a compelling argument. But I was surprised to see yoga teachers expressing support for Bost’s argument. Yoga is, among other things, a moral philosophy that places primacy on the recognition of all sentient beings as purusas; spiritual persons of equal standing with inalienable and self-evident rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This philosophical principle is the foundation of any serious yoga practice. [Read more...]