Like most Sanskrit words, there is no simple translation for the word ahimsa. It’s not like casa means house, and petite is small. Ahimsa is one of the key rules, or mantras, in yogic teachings. Ahimsa is the first Yama in the ancient “Sutras” which are like Ten Commandments for yogis.
Ahimsa is actually listed in many dictionaries, one of which describes it as “non-injury,” from the “Hindu and Buddhist doctrine of refraining from harming any living being.” During Mahatma Gandhi’s day, people outside the Indian subcontinent learned of ahimsa as “non-violence.” I tend to equate ahimsa with “do no harm.” Do no harm to any living being. Do no harm to yourself. Do no harm to your friends, family or strangers. Do no harm to animals.
Although I’ve been a vegetarian most my life, the deeper that yoga and Vedic teachings become a part of my life, the more convinced I am that eating any animal products is wrong. While Hindus are traditionally lacto-vegetarians, and refrain from eating eggs, I take ahimsa further. For the last four years, I have maintained a plant-based diet. That means no dead animals, no eggs, no dairy products and no honey.
Almost 40 years ago, I visited a slaughterhouse. The images are still clear in my mind. Animals are treated in horrific manners, just to satisfy a carnivore’s palate. However, there tends to be a big disconnect. Few think about the origins of their meal before they dig their fork and knife into a piece of cow, chicken, pig or fish. Our supermarket aisles are uber clean; the butchering is sealed off in a back room where they neatly cut, process and package “poultry,” “pork” and “seafood.” The servings or packages seem innocuous. There are no obvious body parts visible. No organs. No eyes, feet, paws or tails.
When I was a young child, I thought nothing of eating canned tuna fish. No bones. No skin. Nothing resembling anything that swims in the ocean. But, my grandfather liked smoked fish. The sight and smell of the whitefish, with tail draping over the plate and the eyes staring at the ceiling, made me cringe.
Mainstream America may have finally comprehended the harm that is done to so many animals to make a fur coat. Yet for all those people that refuse to wear or buy a mink coat, chances are, they are responsible for killing 150 billion animals a year* simply because they like the taste of spaghetti with meatballs, enchiladas suizas or scrambled eggs with ham.
Or, they have been wrongfully led to believe that humans need to eat animals and animal products, when anthropologists have long confirmed that man was not a carnivore.
Most of us agree that primates are our relatives. We also recognize that primates are essentially vegetarians. Furthermore, when analyzing the intestines and teeth of humans, it’s fairly clear that we were not meant to be carnivores. No wonder meat eaters have a much higher incidence of gastrointestinal cancers and other maladies.
As Americans “evolve” in modern society, many are becoming animal lovers, and they treat their dogs and cats almost like family members. In fact, there are posh shops popping up that sell homemade doggy treats. Pet resorts and spas are also new businesses that are catering to those that love their animals. While it’s admirable that people are treating their pets with a high degree of care and attention, those same individuals are more likely than not to be eating pigs, cows, turkeys, chickens, fish or seafood for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s also contradictory for us as Americans to condemn the Japanese for eating dogs, or the French for eating frogs and rabbits.
Furthermore, in today’s mass marketed farm factories, there is much suffering and harm inflicted on the dairy cows and hens to get butter, milk and eggs in the shopping carts of Ozzie and Harriet.
Are not all living things god’s creatures? The Ten Commandment said “thou shall not kill.’ Simple. It did not say, “thou shall not kill human beings.” Likewise, the Sutras says “do no harm” without stipulating against whom. All so beautifully stated by ahimsa.
* Animals Deserve Absolute Protection Today and Tomorrow