All Living Things: Go Vegan for the Animals

Cute sheep and lamb

Reprinted from The Happy Vegan, by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group USA LLC, A Penguin Random Company, ©2015, Russell Simmons & Chris Morrow: When I was working on my book Do You! back in 2005, several people advised me not to include a section about the abuse of the animals. “It’s going to sound preachy,” they warned. “People hate hearing the ‘animal rights’ rap from a celebrity.”

Despite their misgivings, I spoke on the issue. How could I write a book about enlightenment and not address the tens of billions of animals birthed into suffering every year? I believe that few things slow down your evolution as much as eating the meat of another being every day. It’s nothing short of the biggest karmic disaster in the history of the world!

Some ten years later, there’s been a shift in consciousness. Instead of being warned to sidestep the subject, now I’ve been asked to write an entire book about it.

I credit that shift to the passion and dedication of individuals like my guru Sharon Gannon of Jivamukti yoga. One of the translations of guru in the yogic tradition is “remover of darkness,” and that’s an accurate description of the effect Sharon had on me and countless others. I was living in the dark about what happened to the animals I was eating, and Sharon helped me see that until I confronted the truth, I was never going to get too far on the path to enlightenment.

Sharon taught me that eating animals directly contradicts one the most basic principles, or yamas, of yoga, which is ahimsa, or “nonharming.” It not only refers to avoiding murder, assault, and rape among human beings but calls for compassion toward animals as well.

Baby goat at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

Practicing ahimsa is critical to our evolution because as long we are causing harm through our actions, we’re never going to achieve true happiness. “The yogi strives to cause the least amount of harm possible, and it is clear that eating a vegetarian diet causes the least harm to the planet and all creatures,” she would say. If you want to bring more peace and happiness into your own life, the method is to stop causing pain and unhappiness in the lives of others.”

It’s a question that should be at the front— not the back— of your mind every time you walk into the grocery store or sit down at a restaurant. Before you decide what you’re going to buy or order, ask yourself this question: Am I going to make a selfish choice that causes pain? Or am I going to make a compassionate choice?

As a society, we make the selfish choice time after time. The great irony is, of course, that the unselfish choice is actually the one that’s in our collective best interest. The unselfish, compassionate, choice leads directly to stronger health. The unselfish choice leads to stronger focus and energy. The unselfish choice leads to a better world for ourselves and our children.

This is why when you start studying yoga, one of the first sutras you are taught is sthira sukham asanam, which essentially translates to, “If we want to be free and happy, then we should not cause enslavement and unhappiness in others.”

I believe the reason many people have trouble making that compassionate choice is because they don’t actually make the connection between eating animal products and causing harm. We’ve become so desensitized to the suffering of animals that we’ve tricked ourselves into believing they somehow must not experience the same kind of physical suffering that we do.

If that’s how you feel, then consider the role pain plays in our lives. Pain is our body’s way of ordering us to withdraw from a harmful situation. We feel pain so that we know to take our hand out of a fire or move it after we’ve cut it with a knife. At its essence, pain is our oldest survival technique.

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