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Vegan Diet & Ahimsa
by Gabriel Cousens, M.D. • Patagonia, AZ

A key component for creating a sattvic, holy mind is the practice of ahimsa – non-violence or non-harmfulness. In the book Ahimsa, by Nathaniel Altman, the Buddha is quoted: Him I call Brahmin who is free from anger, who gladly endures reproach and even stripes and bonds inflicted upon him without cause. Him I call Brahmin who slays no creatures, who does not kill, or cause to be killed, any living thing.

The word ahimsa is often translated as nonviolence in the West, but the principle, which literally means "non-harming," has a broader meaning. Ahimsa involves an active stance to reduce the amount of harm going on in the world with a dynamic compassion for all life and, at this point in time, the whole living planet. Ahimsa is acting from an empathetic identification born of a reverence for life that affects every facet of our existence. It involves a personal responsibility to work for the well-being of all sentient creatures. Ahimsa is a practice that strives for less and less disorder and pain in the world, as we do our best to live with increasing harmony, compassion, and Love. In this way we also decrease the vrittis (thought activity) of the mind.

A vegan way of life (no flesh foods, eggs, dairy, leather, or other animal by-products) actively creates six aspects of ahimsa:

(1) compassion and non-cruelty toward animals
(2) preserving the Earth and its ecology
(3) feeding the hungry
(4) preserving human life
(5) preservation of personal health
(6) inspiring peace

Clearly all living involves some harm to other creatures or the environment. Even eating plants may involve ending the life of the plant (which is why some strict votaries of nonviolence like the Jains will not eat root vegetables but only fruit, seeds, and grains.) But plants are our natural food and are much lower on the food chain than flesh food, so a vegan diet works to reduce the amount of harm in a dramatic way. Veganism causes less overall harm to life because the animals raised for consumption have eaten thousands of plants before they themselves are slaughtered. Just think of all the food a cow must consume for the steak one eats.

When we eat, we are biting into the living planet. What we eat is the consciousness of the living Earth. If our eating process is not based on Love and compassion, all of our other actions are bound to suffer. Anna, or food, is the first name of God or Brahma in Sanskrit. In the act of eating we are partaking of the entire universe and demonstrating our Oneness with God or Life. Everything in the universe is food, therefore what we eat is God, and therefore feeds our souls. This awareness that food affects our minds is not owned by Yoga alone. The great Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras once said, As long as men massacre animals they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seeds of murder and pain cannot reap joy and Love. The eleventh-century Talmudic Rabbi, Moshe Ben Nachman, said about compassion for animals: For cruelty expands in a man’s soul, is well known with respect to cattle slaughters. Isaiah 66:3 states: He who kills an ox is like he who kills a man. The Quaker leader Thomas Tyron (1634–1703) said: The violence of killing animals for food stems from the same wrath as the killing of humans. It is hard to believe that we can end crime, war, or hatred in the world as long as we are killing animals for our food, particularly in the modern era of brutal factory farming. The Mahabharata states: What we eat in this life, eats us in the life after death.

We must not forget the chain of karma:

• Compassion and non-cruelty toward animals are linked morally and spiritually to world peace. Killing an animal for food, even one that we raise ourselves or hunt, is a violent act, which we forget in consuming its flesh.

• Today, cruelty extends beyond the mass killing of animals to the systematic, anti-life, anti-humane treatment of animals, from the time they are born to the time they are "harvested," as if they were a cash crop.

• Animals are deprived of their natural habitat and life cycle for the expediency of the meat industry. Individual killing of animals for food is the first step in the cruelty process.

• The profit-motivated nature of industrializing animals, as if they are inanimate objects and void of any rights, feelings or soul is the next step in the expansion of cruelty. The way animals, chicken and fish are treated today is at a level of cruelty that staggers the imagination.

• When eating these animals, we take the vibration of this cruelty and death into our consciousness, often without even thinking of what we are bringing into our bodies, and encouraging in our environment. The science of Ayurveda also teaches that food is the basis of the physical body, which in turn is the support of the mind. Right diet, therefore, is the basis of both physical and mental health and an important foundation for spiritual practice.

The preceding was excerpted with permission from Spiritual Nutrition, 2005, North Atlantic Books. Dr. Gabriel Cousens is an MD, homeopathic physician, Diplomate in Ayurveda, family therapist and life-food nutritionist. He is also an internationally celebrated spiritual teacher, author and lecturer, specializing in the healing of many chronic degenerative diseases. His books include: Rainbow Green Live Food Cuisine, Conscious Eating and Tachyon Energy: A new Paradigm in Holistic Healing, co-authored with David Wagner. See www.treeoflife.nu for more information.