Yoga for the Earth.
Why do yogis select food from the vegetable kingdom rather than the animal kingdom? Read on and find out!
According to the Santiago theory, developed by Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana, the process of cognition is intimately linked to the process of life. Hence, the brain is not necessary for the mind to exist. While a worm, or a tree, has no brain, they still have a mind.
For the ancient sages of India, it was impossible to draw a final line between animate beings and inanimate things. According to yoga philosophy, there is “consciousness” even in the so-called inanimate world of rocks. This type of “consciousness” is dormant, as if asleep, because there is no nervous system in rocks to express it.
“High” and “Low” Consciousness in Nature
Since mind or consciousness is part of all living beings and lies dormant, even in so- called inanimate objects as rocks, sand or mud, there is an intrinsic, spiritual oneness in all of creation.
Thus, according to tantric yoga philosopher P. R. Sarkar’s worldview—whose ideas have combined yoga philosophy with an evolutionary understanding of the world we live in—we grant existential rights or value to all beings, whether soil, plants, animals and humans.
He concedes that, in principle, all physical expressions of Cosmic Consciousness has an equal right to exist and to express itself, but also that some beings have higher consciousness than others and thus “more rights”.
Evolution is irreversible — amoebas eventually evolve into apes, but apes never transform into amoebas — thus tantra and yoga also acknowledges “higher” and “lower” expressions of Consciousness in nature. This differentiation is crucial—and forms the basis for why yogis eat veggies rather than veal.
According to yoga, there is unity of consciousness amongst all beings, because we all come from, and are created by, the same Spirit, by the same Cosmic Consciousness. But nature is also infinitely diverse, and thus consciousness is also expressed in various ways, both “high” and “low”. Hence, a seedling is more complex and therefore more conscious than an acorn, and an oak is more complex and conscious than a seedling.
Ecological Ethics According to Yoga
Another way of expressing this is that a dog has more capacity for mental reflection and self-consciousness than a fir tree. Both are conscious beings, both are manifestations of Cosmic Consciousness, both have mind, and both have equal existential value — but because of the difference in expression of depth and quality of consciousness, the dog is higher on the natural hierarchy of being than the fir tree.
So when we develop our ecological ethics, both the “low” and the “high” expressions of nature must be valued and accounted for.
Nonhuman creatures have the same existential value to themselves as human beings have to themselves. Perhaps human beings can understand the value of their existence, while an earth worm cannot. Even so, no one has delegated any authority to human beings to kill those “lower” creatures.
But to survive, we cannot avoid killing other beings.
To solve this dilemma, a yogi selects articles of food from amongst those beings where development of consciousness is comparatively low. If vegetables, corn, bean and rice are available, cows or pigs should not be slaughtered. As philosopher Ken Wilber maintains, it is better to eat carrots rather than cows.
Secondly, before killing any animals with “developed or underdeveloped consciousness,” a yogi must consider deeply if it is possible to live a healthy life without taking such lives.
Thus, in addition to existential value, various beings, based on their depth of consciousness, have a variable degree of what is often termed “intrinsic value.” The more consciousness a being has, the deeper the feelings, and the more potential for suffering. Eating plants is therefore preferable to eating animals. As George Bernhard Shaw once said, “Animals are my friends … and I don’t eat my friends.”
Yoga and Sustainability
It is also ecologically more sustainable to extract nourishment from entities lower down on the food chain. Vast land areas are used to raise livestock for food. These areas could be utilized far more productively if planted with grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes for human consumption.
It is estimated that only 10 percent of the protein and calories we feed to our livestock is recovered in the meat we eat. The other 90 percent goes literally “down the drain.”
In addition to existential value, and intrinsic value, all beings have utility value. Throughout history, human beings usually preserved those creatures which had an immediate utility value.
We are more inclined to preserve the lives of cows than of rats, for example. But, because of all beings’ existential value, we cannot claim that only human beings have the right to live, and not non-humans. All are the children of Mother Earth; all are the offspring of Spirit or Cosmic Consciousness.
Sometimes it is difficult to know what the utilitarian value of an animal or a plant is; therefore we may needlessly destroy the ecological balance by killing one species without considering the consequences of its complex relationship or utility value to other species.
A forest’s utility value, for example, is more than just x number of board feet of lumber. It serves as nesting and feeding ground for birds and animals; its roots and branches protect the soil from erosion; its leaves or needles produce oxygen; and its pathways and camp grounds provide nourishment for the human soul.
As a whole, the forest ecosystem has an abundance of ecological, aesthetic, and spiritual values which extends far beyond its benefits in the form of tooth picks or plywood.
All of nature is endowed with existential, intrinsic, and utility value. This hierarchical, and ultimately holistic understanding of evolution and ecology, formulates the basic foundation for a new, and potentially groundbreaking ecological ethics deeply grounded by the philosophy of yoga.
If we embrace the divinity in all of creation, the expression of our ecological ethics will become an act of sublime spirituality. Our conservation efforts and our sustainable resource use will become sacred offerings to Mother Earth, and ultimately to Cosmic Consciousness, the God and Goddess within and beyond nature.