Why Yogis Eat Carrots Rather Than Cows.

Via Ramesh Bjonnes
on Apr 22, 2010
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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.


About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes is the co-founder of the Prama Institute, a holistic retreat center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Director of the Prama Wellness Center, a retreat center specializing in detox by incorporating juice fasting, ayurveda, meditation and yoga to cleanse, relax and rejuvenate. Bjonnes is also a writer, yogi and workshop leader. He lived in India and Nepal in the 1980s learning directly from the traditional teachers of yoga and Tantra. He has taught workshops in many countries and is the author of Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit (InnerWorld) and Tantra: The Yoga of Love and Awakening (Hay House India). He lives and practices in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.


27 Responses to “Why Yogis Eat Carrots Rather Than Cows.”

  1. *K* says:

    love this. really well written.

  2. Ramesh says:

    Dear EcoYogini,
    thanks for making these points. I totally agree with you. This is a complex issue. In this article my focus was on yogic ethics and the environment. There are so many relevant issues involved. Environmentally it may be better to eat goat meat in certain regions of the planet, for example, but for many yogis, the ethical issues of not killing animals are important. That was my main point. So, it is important that vegetarians also support locally grown food without pesticides and GMOs, as well. Shop at your local farmer's market. Or even better, as I try to do, grow your own food. Half of my lunch today came from my own garden, and the milk for breakfast from a local organic dairy. So, your point is well taken. Thanks!

  3. Tobye says:

    Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose CSI CIE FRS (Bengali: জগদীশ চন্দ্র বসু Jôgodish Chôndro Boshu) (November 30, 1858 – November 23, 1937) born in a Bengali Hindu Kayasth family was a polymath: a physicist, biologist, botanist, archaeologist, and writer of science fiction.[1] He pioneered the investigation of radio and microwave optics, made very significant contributions to plant science, and laid the foundations of experimental science in the Indian subcontinent.[2] He is considered one of the fathers of radio science,[3] and is also considered the father of Bengali science fiction. He was the first person from the Indian subcontinent to get a US patent, in 1904. In his research in plant stimuli, he showed with the help of his newly invented crescograph that plants responded to various stimuli as if they had nervous systems like that of animals. He therefore found a parallelism between animal and plant tissues. His experiments showed that plants grow faster in pleasant music and their growth is retarded in noise or harsh sound. This was experimentally verified later on.

    His major contribution in the field of biophysics was the demonstration of the electrical nature of the conduction of various stimuli (wounds, chemical agents) in plants, which were earlier thought to be of a chemical nature. These claims were experimentally proved by Wildon et al. (Nature, 1992, 360, 62–65). He also studied for the first time action of microwaves in plant tissues and corresponding changes in the cell membrane potential, mechanism of effect of seasons in plants, effect of chemical inhibitor on plant stimuli, effect of temperature etc. He claimed that plants can “feel pain, understand affection etc.,” from the analysis of the nature of variation of the cell membrane potential of plants, under different circumstances.

  4. Ramesh says:

    love that you love it!

  5. Ramesh says:

    Thanks for your introduction to J. C. Bose, Toye. I heard of him when I spent time in Bengal some yars back… His work reminds me of the international best-seller, The Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Thompkins and Christopher Bird. They report that, when killing a tree, some Native American tribes have a heart-to-heart conservation with the tree. In no uncertain terms would they let the tree know what was going to happen, and finally they would ask for forgiveness for having to commit this unfortunate act of violence.
    In the same book, they also documented scientific experiments on plants with a modified lie detector. The instrument would register when a plant's leaves were cut or burnt. Not only that, when a plant "understood" it was going to be killed, it went into a state of shock or "numbness."

    So, yes, I do believe even plants have a subtle cognition and awareness. This awareness is of course much more acute in animals, who we know suffer when we kill them, especially in our modern slaughterhouses. Just watch the movie Food, Inc. Indeed, I became a vegetarian after walking through a slaughterhouse in my teens. So even though plants as well as animals have cognition and feel suffering, plants have the least developed nervous system and thus suffer the least. And, since we do have to eat, yogis eat carrots over cows.

  6. Ramesh says:

    Sorry for misspelling your name above, Tobye. Thanks again for your comments.

  7. Ramesh says:

    Sorry for misspelling your name above, Tobye. Thanks again for your comments.

  8. Ramesh says:

    Oh, Tobey, we could take this argument into all kinds of extreme territories… such as not eating at all… I believe, though, that balance is the key in life and in relation to our diet it is about making conscious compromises rather than unconscious ones. Once, at a conference, a woman criticized my vegetarianism saying that the great Wendell Berry had mentioned at a conference that organic vegetarians are totally dependent on manure for compost from industrial farms and that it therefore was irresponsible to be a vegetarian. At least that was her interpretation of what he said. As you may know, Wendell Berry lives in Kentucky and this conference was in Washington state. So, I asked her: did Wendell Berry bicycle to the conference or did he fly? She immediately got my point about the hypocrisy, and we had a fruitful dialogue after that. i have great respect for Wendell Berry and his ideas about agriculture, even though he eats meat, and likewise, I have great respect for the strict vegans among us. If i did not get my milk from a local organic dairy, I probably would be vegan, too. In my world, it is important to eat local, mostly plants, mostly organic, and as much as possible from my own garden. So I do sow carrot seeds, and I do pull my carrots up by the hair…

  9. Ramesh says:

    Hi Guest,

    There is overwhelming evidence that a plant based diet causes less harm to the environment, uses less land, less water, less energy, etc. From Michael Pollan to Jeremy Rifkin, from Bill McKibben to John Robbins this has been fairly well documented. I agree though that it is not as simple as vegetable diet=good and animal diet=bad. In the Amazon rainforest both cattle ranching and soy bean farming is causing much destruction. The drive behind these agro-industries is capitalist economics, the bottom line of maximum profits. The movie Food, Inc drove this message home. So, again, local economics and a more equitable, steady state economy is important as well. But I stand by my main thesis that plant based food is good for both the earth and our bodies and spirits, more environmentally friendly than one based on meat production. Just think fish. Healthy for the body, perhaps, but we have almost depleted the oceans of fish.

  10. vakibs says:


    A wonderful and sound argument for promoting vegetarianism. You have hit the nail on the head by talking of consciousness as a continuous variable.

    I'd like to add to what you said. Why do we consider it disgusting to eat pets ? Because we attribute pets with consciousness. We try to empathize with their feelings and understand them inside out. And it is possible to maintain such a level of empathy with a cat or a dog than with an ant. This is because the complexity of mind that has developed evolutionarily in a cat is much higher than that in an ant.

    Even amongst people who eat meat and who don't keep pets, we find it more cruel to kill animals that we attribute with intelligence : like chimpanzees, parrots, dolphins etc. as opposed to relatively "dumb" animals such as chicken. A crude but simple way to check for intelligence is by measuring the size of an animal's brain to its body.

    I think this is at the core of the argument for vegetarianism by the Yogis. A cow is a consciously very evolved animal, even higher than chickens (using the above metric). And in an agricultural or pastoral society, cows roam around everywhere. This is probably the reason why Hindus have religiously prohibited the consumption of beef. And yogis who seek spiritual salvation try to avoid eating all sorts of meat, even eggs.

    The ecological argument for not eating meat is also a very sound one, and intimately related to the one with consciousness. The brain is one of the most energy-intensive tissues of an animal. It eats up a lot of energy for maintenance. So animals with large brains feed on very energy intensive food. Livestock like cows and goats for example, graze on enormous pastures of land. If we eat their meat, we will be indirectly consuming the enormous amount of sunlight and freshwater that is required for their grazing. Rearing livestock is a major reason for the desertification of large tracts of the planet, particularly in Africa. The destruction of the Brazilian rainforest also is driven primarily by livestock ranchers. Even people who eat meat from animals reared in Europe and USA also contribute indirectly to this, because the animal-feed (usually soy-based) is often imported.. from environmentally sensitive regions such as Brazilian rainforest. Soy-farming is another major reason for the reduction of forest cover. The worst of it all is the sweeping off the world's oceans for fish. Fish are wild animals and these are hunted by large trawlers sweeping the ocean floors. And then this fish-feed is used disgustingly for rearing pigs, which are then converted to sausages for human consumption. If we kill wild animals for rearing domestic animals, something is very wrong indeed !

    A simple way to be both ecologically and ethically responsible would be to reduce the consumption of animals that possess higher consciousness. One need not stop eating meat straightaway, but reducing it slowly would be a good thing to do.

  11. Padma Kadag says:

    based on your "higher" and "lower" theory…would you support a caste system? The caste system is a higher lower system. Does that make it OK? are vegetarians "higher" than "carnivores"? using the model you have on intelligence…are the herbivores more intelligent than carnivores? Dolphins are carnivores as are the other marine mammals and they are allegedly more intelligent than most mammals or "higher". It seems if one is making theories and judgements of higher and lower based on diet…I cannot support your claims.

  12. Padma Kadag says:

    Is a vegeterian diet more humane? I think it is. Is it a path to higher consciousness? i don't think so. Diet has never been the cause of enlightenment if that is what we are talking about. Your bio states that you are living in an Eco village and I applaud that. So you are very deep in your philosophy of living and that is good. I would prefer not to shop at Safeway but that is what I can afford. But the real issue for me is that diet does not determine ultimate spiritual value. Afterall there are thousands of insects killed when the soil is turned from the blade of the plough to exposing insects to the birds and hot sun to the flooding of rice fields, and so on.

  13. vakibs says:

    padma, what do you mean by caste system ? There is "jati" which determines one's occupations by one's birth. That is nothing but racism and apartheid. Then, there is the "varna" which distinguishes people based on their occupations, and ranks these occupations in order. This is like class system, something bad but not as bad as racism.

    In any case, this is not at all related to what Ramesh is saying. He is talking about not harming animals which are intelligent. Obviously, that would definitely include carnivorous animals, because they have quite bigger brains than herbivores, in general. And they would feel as much pain, if not higher.

    The objective of a Yogi is neither to live like an animal, nor to look for inspiration from the animal world about how to increase consciousness. A person becomes a yogi if he / she has much higher consciousness than a normal human being, who himself / herself is at a much higher plane than animals. It is important to empathize with other people's pain and try to reduce their suffering in order to achieve this. And other people includes not only other human beings, but beings with a lower degree of consciousness like animals. This is also not anything controversial. Neuroscientists say these days that one of the reasons for us humans to have these abnormally huge brains is the development of the so-called "empathy" neurons, which simulate the pain or pleasure that other persons feel and makes us feel the same. In fact, there is a feedback mechanism from our own skin (and other senses) that overwrites this sensation and tells "No, you are not undergoing that pain", but if this feedback is cut off from the brain, a human being cannot distinguish his / her feelings from that of a neighbor.

    Yoga tries to improve something that is inherently naturally built in human beings (compassion, empathy etc), and tries to make it more manifest.

  14. Ramesh says:

    Dear Padma, thank you so much for your comments. There is a difference between the natural hierarchies of nature–such as that upheld by a leader in a wolf pack, or the queen in a beehive, or the fact that a dog has a more complex nervous system than a plant–and the dysfunctional hierarchies in human society such as the caste system. So, NO, I do absolutely not support the caste system. I do not support societal systems that oppress people based on caste, sex, or religion. Interestingly, Hiero- means sacred or holy, and arch- means governance, so hierarchy is a natural system in nature, it is how nature organizes itself. That was my point, as well as pointing out that not all living beings have the same depth of consciousness. Our chakra system is another natural hierarchy, the crown chakra the sahasrara chakra, through the function of the pineal gland, regulate all other glands and chakras.

    I agree with you that being a vegetarian does not mean that you are more spiritual than others. After all, Hitler was a vegetarian. Still, being a vegetarian is very much an integral part of being a yogi, for both health, ethical and spiritual reasons, even though not all yogis are vegetarians.

    And, yes, being a vegetarian does not mean that we do not inflict harm on the environment. As you say, thousands of insects, snakes, rodents and birds are killed when we till the soil. Still, vegetarians do inflict less harm on the environment than meat eaters. That is my main point. To do the least harm possible by eating those beings with the least developed consciousness. AND–let's abolish the caste system!!!!

  15. Ramesh says:

    Vakibs, thank you so much for that wonderful summary. I agree with everything you wrote above. Beautifully said!

  16. Ramesh says:

    Padma, one more thing: the reason it is better to kill a carrot than a cow, even though they are both pure manifestations of God/Consciousness/Sprit, even though they both have the same essential ground value as spirit or consciousness, is because the cow has higher intrinsic value, more depth value, and therefore more expressed consciousness than the carrot. Another word for this understanding is holarchy, which means that reality is composed of wholes and parts. An atom is a whole that is part of a cell, which is a whole that is part of an organ, which is part of an animal, which is part of an ecosystem, and so on… whole/parts all the way. So a hierarchy is actually a holarchy, a reality of wholes and parts…
    By saying that everything is only one, that everything only has equal ground value as spirit or strands in the ecological web, we ignore the great holarchical diversity in nature, ignore how God/Goddess expresses consciousness as both higher and lower forms in nature, as atoms, as cells, as organs, as animals, as animals within ecosytems… whole parts all the way.

  17. Greg says:

    Eating carrots my daughter turned yellow and became very allergic. So everything in moderation.

  18. Seek Knowledge says:

    I appreciate this article and all responses. I feel that living and consuming in accordance with consciousness has nurtured both my physical constitution and my spiritual identity. To exist (in this dimension) under any other impression feels shallow. We are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. In terms of subatomic particles which transcend space-time, and which are not bound by our documented observations (incorrectly labeled as "Law"), consuming plant matter can and will uplift consciousness over time. As we begin to vibrate at a different frequency, our bodies become impeccable vessels and our individual consciousness can be free of ego and join the others above in meditation.

  19. Avril Kuree says:

    Pretty cool place you've got here. Thanks the author for it. I like such themes and anything connected to them. I definitely want to read a bit more soon.

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  20. I came to your site trying to find some hints about tomato gardening. This post was not exactly what I was looking for, it did manage to answer some of my more unrelated questions that I wasn't answer some time ago. I'm blown away by your stance as well.

  21. ARCreated says:

    ramesh, once again just stopping in to say I adore you…blessings my fellow traveler. I'm off to eat some carrots now (with black beans and rice of course :))

  22. Terrific report we have to spread the word about this website.You need to have more attention .

  23. I don't even know where to begin to refute the contents of this article. I cannot get into it fully due to time time contsraints. But, I have to put it out there in fairness to the dharma and tantra. Tantrik texts are FULL of so many prescriptions for eating meat. So many tantrik sadhanas would be a disaster without the grounding effects of eating meat. And, from the perspective of tantrik ayurveda it is simply a matter of health for many (actually most) people to eat meat. But, that is all really besides the bigger point, which is this: again, we have another person, in the guise of yoga, trying to suggest one-sided rules that are the best way to live for everyone. This is no different than any other fundamentalist view.

    The beauty of tantra is that it is non-dualistic. This means that EVERYTHING is God. Therefore, within the context of this view of absolute monism, tantrikas live by the law: "for whom and when." Everyone must do what it is appropriate, according to the relationship between their constitution (vata, pitta, kapha), their environment, the time, the space, the current conditions of their life, etc. This is ahimsa – living in harmony between the cycles of the microcosm (self) and those of the macrocosm (the universe).

    To try to make rules that fit everyone and call it ahimsa is ridiculous. In fact, it is a very aggressive view. One might say that a vata person, doing kriya yoga and strong pranayama would be being very violent to themselves by refusing to eat meat that will ground and nourish them. Tantra is a supreme science of liberation precisely because it is A-moral. To impose moral standards upon tantra makes it no longer tantra. And to impose morality, based on the logical presuppositions of men, on others is a tact that lacks compassion and it is rooted in the aggressive notion that "I am right."

    I have no problem with being a vegetarian, or believing in animal rights, etc. To each his own and there are situations where eating only vegetables is appropriate. Nor am I averse to earth-conscious, sustainable ways of living… in fact, it is imperative as a yogi to be ecologically conscious. But, when the "small" and limited views of sustainability, etc. in the above article are tied to yoga by someone who is feigning authority by publishing an article then this may invite guilt to practitioners that live according to the tantrik maxim of "for whom and when." I cannot stand for that.

    That these views are not only tied to yoga, as they often are, but in this case tantra, is even more silly. Tantra? Is this not the system of spiritual science that is characterized as being antinomian, by breaking down ALL limitations of belief and prejudice? The non-dual view of Tantra is so much wider than the one presented in this article. I don't have the capacity (for whom and when) to share this view at this time, in this forum. But, for any readers that know what I am saying rings true to them… don't worry… the above article is not in any way an authoritative view of classical, non-dual tantrik yoga as transmitted by the masters of Kashmir Shaivism.

  24. […] Re-plant your indoor plants. Or give your plants a shower, […]

  25. […] Why Yogis Eat Carrots Rather Than Cows – Elephant Journal […]

  26. Jo Tyler says:

    But what about the ethical implications of needlessly harming and killing another sentient being? People don't need to consume animal products to be healthy, we only do so out of desire, habit or convenience. Are any of those reasons really ethically-defensible?

    I'd also like to point out that the main consumers of GMO's and soy products aren't human…they're livestock.

    And before praising Polyface Farms, I would recommend reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. There is no way to meet consumer demand for animal products with "small, local" farms. That's why factory farming developed in the first place.

    Here's a very well-written, concise essay you might want to read: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-friedrich/res… And here's a good site on "humane" farms: http://www.humanemyth.org

  27. Jo Tyler says:

    Going vegetarian is a step in the right direction, but animals are still abused and killed in the production of eggs and milk. Even local, organic dairy farms kill the male baby calves who are born on their rolling hills. The babies are usually sold for veal. If you are unaware of the dairy-veal connection, please look into it…

    Male chicks born on egg hatcheries (and even on small family farms) are also typically "destroyed" at birth. Methods include gassing, suffocation, crushing or grinding them alive. Go to your local egg farm and look around…where are all the roosters?

    Also, what many people don't consider is that animals used for eggs and milk often suffer more than those killed for their flesh, as they endure years of use – being treated as a machine – only to be slaughtered anyway when they are no longer profitable.