Whole Life Magazine

October / November 2016

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Photo courtesy: RadhanathSwami.com By Radhanath Swami A Story of Selfl essness A ll the schools of yoga include regulative principles to ground our spiritual practice in ethical behavior, which is necessary for genuine progress. These regulative princi- ples, or observances, relate to both behavior and attitude and are known in the asthanga yoga system as yamas (ethical dis- ciplines) and niyamas (disciplined practices). I am often asked how these principles are viewed from the perspective of bhakti yoga, so what follows is a brief exploration of that topic. The fi rst regulative princi- ple, ahimsa, is nonviolence, to cause no harm to any living being through our actions, words, and, as far as humanly possible, our thoughts. This will protect us from accruing negative karma, which only further covers the self. The bibli- cal equivalent to ahimsa is, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Logically, the Bible's positive injunction embrac- es it's opposite: "Do not do unto others as you would not want done unto you." The practice of ahimsa involves being respectful, patient, and forgiving— nonviolent. The Bhagavad Gita teaches that a yogi sees the divine in the heart of all beings and therefore wishes all beings well. We advance in yoga to the degree that we consider the suffering of others as our own suffering and the happiness of others as our own happiness. In this spirit, compassion is the basis of ahimsa. Ahimsa is the primary reason that bhakti yogis choose to be vegetarian: their aim is to minimize the suffering they cause other creatures. Animals feel pain just as humans do. Animals express emotions and may love their offspring and those close to them not so differently from the way we do. My dear friends Sharon and David once told me a moving story that illustrates this. While in the ancient city of Varanasi, India, they noticed a female dog with only three legs struggling to fi nd food. Dogs in the West are generally kept as pets, but in India, dogs usually live in the street, where the competition for food is fi erce. Sharon and David, feeling sympathy, walked some distance to a shop to purchase bread to feed the local dogs. Within moments, a crowd of homeless, hungry dogs surround- ed them. The dogs fought one another, snapping for the bread and immediately devouring whatever they could snatch. My friends took note of one dog, who stood pa- tiently to the side, meekly waiting his turn. After all the other dogs were fed, this dog approached them with his head lowered. His eyes seemed to gloss with grati- tude as he gently accepted a piece of bread from Sha- ron's hand. Interestingly, he didn't eat it; rather, he held it carefully in his mouth and trotted away. Intrigued, Sharon and David followed the dog to see what he'd do next. Af- ter about a block, the dog crawled beneath a large wheeled cart. There, Sha- ron and David saw the same three-legged dog they had seen earlier. She was lying on her side with a puppy snuggled up to her belly. The male dog still hadn't taken a bite from the bread. He tenderly placed the bread in the puppy's mouth. As the puppy ate it with enthusiasm, his parents, who were obviously hungry themselves, looked on with a parental affection that touched the hearts of the two human onlookers. There are many such stories, and yet we eat animals as if they are soulless creatures. Sadhu Vaswani, a well-known yogi from the early twentieth century, says, All killing is a denial of love, for to kill, or eat what another has killed, is to rejoice in cruelty. And cruelty hardens our hearts and blinds our vision and we see not that they whom we kill are our brothers and sisters in the One Brotherhood of Life. The more we expand our spirit of compassion to honor the sanctity of life, the more deeply we connect with our own spiritual nature. yoga & spirit Photos courtesy: Saint Joseph Center SHOWING GRATITUDE BY WHAT WE EAT 22 wholelifetimes.com

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