Sat Chit Ananda. Truth Wisdom Bliss.
This, the sages tell us, is our true nature. Awesome, but then why, after all those hours of meditation and thousands of down dogs do we still struggle so much with our anxieties, insecurities, frustrations, anger, resentment, fear, jealousy, and so on?
Maybe it’s because we’ve been too afraid to go that deep within. Maybe it’s because we haven’t yet truly surrendered to our own Divine hearts.
In order to penetrate into that promised core of bliss, we have to find the courage to open our eyes and acknowledge the suffering which surrounds us, the suffering of which we are a part of. And then, in order to make peace with ourselves, and our world, we need to bring our actions into union with the urgings of our infinitely wise hearts.
This requires us to take our practice off the mat and bring it into every aspect of our lives. This begins with the principle of ahimsa, or non-harm—the heart and backbone of a yogic life.
Ahimsa isn’t a moralistic rule that divides the good from the bad, as in you will go to hell if you harm others (though we do have karma to deal with). Rather, it’s a practical tool for helping us find peace with ourselves and with the world.
The idea is basically that when we’re holding on to hostility (or even apathy) towards others, our minds are so filled with negative, dualistic thoughts, ideas, and judgments (too much vritti in our chitta), that we can’t get to that sweet, still spot within.
In order to quiet the mind, we need to make peace with all other beings.
The practice of ahimsa involves abstaining from causing pain or doing harm to any living being, either by thought, word, or deed. This applies to our interactions with our fellow human beings, of course, but it also applies to our interactions with the non-human animals. And this is where we, as a society, have put our blinders on most stubbornly.
The true spirit of ahimsa requires us to look deeply into the way we feel about and treat all living beings, going beyond the accepted practices of our families, communities, and societies and getting rigorously honest with ourselves and with that Divine wisdom in the heart.
Problem is, we don’t want to look that deeply.
There is no question that life is easier when we don’t think about the fact that our bacon had a mom, or that our cheese comes from abused cows whose babies were stolen and slaughtered.
Our vacations to Sea World would be a lot less fun if we knew that those cute killer whales are not actually enjoying their confinement in bleak concrete tanks but are going insane from a life of deprivation and slavery (see the brilliant film Blackfish).
The scope and degree of harm involved in the meat, dairy, and egg industries is difficult to acknowledge and truly impossible to comprehend. The ways we use and exploit non-human animals for our own ends is seemingly endless, extending beyond food into fashion (fur, leather, wool), entertainment (such as circuses and theme parks where animals are denied the opportunity to exhibit natural behaviors and are often trained through abusive measures), and laboratory testing (both for cosmetics and in the name of science, despite the evidence that vivisection is unreliable).
When stories of slaughterhouse cruelty and the like filter into our news feed, or appear on the nightly news, many of us understandably close our eyes, plug our ears, and blockade our hearts. We say things like “Oh, it’s so awful. Please don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”
In order to function in a world where there is so much suffering, many of us basically shut down emotionally and avoid the problem entirely. But in doing so, we deny our compassion to ourselves and to the world. We distance ourselves further from that Divine core which is the source of all of our own potential happiness and deep wisdom.
And we support and perpetuate the very things our hearts tell us are wrong in the world.
For many, acknowledging the harm we do to animals is a heartbreak that is too great to bear. But if we can bear to look deeply into the impact our actions have on other beings, we will probably, with great reluctance, come to the vexing realization that we need to radically change the way we interact with non-human animals. For one, it’s just not possible to eat someone without doing them harm.
The choice we have is whether to look the other way and pretend not to see the horror show taking place all around us, or to surrender to our compassion, to the Divine that dwells in our own hearts.
The heart is the threshold we must cross if we are ever going to experience the union that is yoga, a.k.a. nirvana or heaven. There is no other point of entry.
The Buddha is said to have experienced his first enlightenment when he contemplated the suffering of all living beings and was overwhelmed by compassion. In that moment, he realized his connection with all creatures and experienced the bliss of union.
What the Buddha teaches us is that the secret to finding happiness is not to run from our broken hearts, our tenderness, or our sadness, but that we need to embrace these in order to get to our joy.
When we allow ourselves to see the world for what it is and open our hearts to other beings, we can’t help but come into touch with a deep sadness within. But that very sadness can be the catalyst that inspires us to make the positive changes that will bring us into harmony with the wisdom, and the ecstasy, of our own awakened hearts.
It can be what leads us to live a life rooted in ahimsa. With the clear conscience that comes from practicing ahimsa, we are able to dive deep into the heart of the Divine within, where our bliss, our Sat Chit Ananda, has been all along.
This article is adapted from Tracey’s recently completed (as yet to be published) new book entitled “Super Yogi Cleanse to Save the World; Recipes for Body, Mind, and Soul.”
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Assistant Editor: Karissa Kneeland/Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Poplar Spring Farm Animal Sanctuary in Poolesville, MD