My homework for this week was to study the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Specifically, my task was to look through the second chapter and be ready to discuss a sutra. The sutra that stuck out like sharpened object in a bed of pillows was II.30.
This sutra describes one of the eight limbs of yoga, which is a fairly well-known list of eight tasks which leads to liberation or enlightenment. This first limb is a list of abstentions, or actions of self-denial, that are, due to their position as the FIRST limb, the most important to practice in order to move across the limbs towards the central goal.
The FIRST word on the list of abstentions, again being the most important on that limb: nonviolence.
Let me back up here, just one moment, and explain that so far, the sutras have suited my beliefs well. I have been practicing many of the limbs without even knowing they were LIMBS. I practice virtuosity, austerity, asanas (yoga postures), & meditation. All of them have led me to the place I am now…working toward gaining a yoga teacher certification so that I may lead others toward the path of enlightenment. In order to do this, it is necessary to understand yoga, its history, and its current indications as practiced in the west.
Back to that sutra of nonviolence. According to Patanjali, the sage who took many ancient scriptures of India and collected them as a manual towards becoming a yogi, nonviolence is not harming any creature at any time. Of course this meaning was shared not by Patanjali himself, but by a scholar who is commenting on Patanjali’s sutras. Patanjali just says practice “nonviolence”. It is the commentator today, and according to him, other commentators dating back to the fourth or fifth century, that divulge what Patanjali really means by the word.
So, the word, “nonviolence”, was especially sharp to me as I read through the sutras that describe the limbs. The commentator, Edwin F. Bryant, explains that “one can be very clear about the fact that eating meat, nourishing one’s body at the expense of the flesh of other living beings, is completely taboo for aspiring yogis” (p243).
This is where I put my book down in my lap and looked out over my middle-east-inspired carpet with great uncertainty. Can I abstain from eating living beings? Does it make sense to not kill things for the nourishment of my own body? How much discomfort will I endure if I practice this abstention? Is this commentator correct? Are the commentators before him correct?
This morning those questions still need answering. Killing things to eat them does, in fact, bring a sense of sadness to my heart. I have always tried very hard not to know about the life associated with my meat-food. Just recently, I moved to only eating meat from farms, where animals are “happy”. Is it any better to kill happy animals than it is to kill unhappy animals.
In a state of unrest, my mind will continue to ponder. I will certainly be speaking with my master Anusara yoga teacher regarding the issue…and I am left to wonder…A year from now, will I look back upon this as a pivotal moment in my spiritual and physical journey?
Bryant, Edwin F. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. New York: North Point Press, 2009. Print.