In the practice of yoga, svadhyaya is one of the five niyamas (the ethical practices relating to our internal environment of body, mind and spirit — how we relate to and treat ourselves). The word “svadhyaya” translates from Sanskrit to mean “study” or “self-study.” This self-study asks us to be curious about what is overlooked or taken for granted. It encourages us to look deeply inside ourselves and to observe whether or not we are aligning our values to the actions we take and the choices we make in our lives. According to the dictionary, to study is “the act or process of applying the mind so as to acquire knowledge or understanding. A systematic search for the truth or facts about something.” We’ve all been told in our early years to study hard and get good grades so we can get ahead. When we get that job, we continue to study by reading, observing others doing the work and practicing our skills over and over again. Studying is the groundwork of our growth and evolution in every aspect of our lives. We study our successes and our failures, and we learn from both.
I relate this to being vegan because it is the ultimate alignment of values and conduct. It requires understanding of, and looking deeper into, the origins of things such as our food sources, clothing, product testing, scientific research, industry domination, world hunger and the economy. This requires the time and effort it takes to study and learn the truth — even when the truth goes against everything we may have always believed.
When someone learns the truth about what actually takes place in animal agriculture and the dairy industry, vivisection, animal entertainment, leather and fur farming, etc., they are embarking on the education of a lifetime, far surpassing any university. It is truly the essence of higher education. It is taking everything you’ve ever been, done and thought — and turning it upside down — emptying it out as if turning over a messy dresser drawer, watching the contents spill out and then filling it up again with truth and clarity. A light bulb turns on to illuminate the darkness of an unexamined soul — unexamined until now.
You learn about how horribly cruel humans can be to animals, in ways you couldn’t even imagine before. You wonder why we adore our animals called dogs and cats, and yet we feel it’s normal and acceptable to eat and wear animals called pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys and lambs — adorable babies just like our puppies and kittens. You wonder why you haven’t thought about this before now — that is one of the most significant revelations. But you also discover how compassionate some people are, as they risk their lives and sacrifice their time and money to save and care for the gentle, vulnerable animals in sanctuaries and shelters, and in their own homes. You choose what you will and will not participate in and then move forward in steadfast conviction. It is bigger than ego. It is bigger than what we want. It is so much more than our traditions. It is the manifestation of our sense of justice, compassion and humanity that becomes more important than what we eat or wear, or entertain ourselves with. It is such an unreserved imperative that we risk implanting the wedges that may be positioned inside our relationships with those we love. We wait and hope for them to study, too.
What I have noticed more than anything since becoming a vegan educator and activist is that most people do not want to know … to learn … to study. That has been one of the harshest parts of this education. I see otherwise good and compassionate people turn away from learning about what they support every day with their choices.
An attorney and vegan activist named Upendo (Swahili for “love”) writes a blog that is as powerful as it is honest. (http://upendovegan.blogspot.com/) In one of his blogs, he writes about the documentary that every one of us needs to see, called “Earthlings.” (www.earthlings.com) He holds up a mirror to our conscience when he tells us that “You don’t want to watch Earthlings because once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it. You fear that once you sit through Earthlings, trying to eat your bacon and eggs just won’t be the same. You want plausible deniability. You don’t want to risk compassion creeping into your heart. You want to be able to eat and drink whatever you want to, unfettered by your conscience. You want the distance between a living, breathing, loving, dreaming, animal someone… and the flesh on your dining table to be as far apart as possible. You don’t want to witness the atrocities of Man. You want to continue believing that someone clicks their heels three times and an animal goes from the living… to the slab of meat in your refrigerator. You don’t want to have to recognize that the “something” you’re eating was a girl. That she had eyes. A nose. A mouth. Ears. A tongue. A brain. A heart. That she could feel. That she could love. That she could be loved. That she was loved by her mother. That she suffered.”
As you become ready to learn, when you are open, courageous and finally hungry for the truth, here are some of the resources to go to. Please don’t wait a lifetime. Please don’t close your eyes or your heart to the truth — not for even one more day. Vegans are well-educated in the field of compassion, conservation, healing and humanity. We are very far from perfect, but we’re working to create a new vision, a new way to move about in the world without causing enormous suffering.
•“The Sustainability Secret: Rethinking Our Diet to Transform the World,” Keegan Kuhn and Kip Andersen
•“The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health,” T. Colin Campbell, Mad Cowboy, Howard Lyman
•“Diet for a New America,” John Robbins
•“The World Peace Diet,” Will Tuttle, Ph.D.
•“The Modern Savage,” James McWilliams
•“Why We Love Dogs Eat Pigs and Wear Cows,” Melanie Joy, Ph.D.
•“Main Street Vegan,” Victoria Moran
•“Eating Animals,” Jonathan Safran Foer
•“Eat Like You Care; An Examination of the Morality of Eating Animals,” Gary L Francione and Anna Charlton
•“What The Health”
•“Forks Over Knifes”
•“Hungry for Change”
•“Live and Let Live”
Here are some animal sanctuaries that are either local or a day trip away. Visiting an animal sanctuary is an educational experience that will change the way we see animals in relation to our health, the environment and our humanity.
•Catskill Animal Sanctuary: https://casanctuary.org/
•Woodstock Animal Sanctuary: http://woodstocksanctuary.org/
•Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary: www.safehavenfarmsanctuary.org
•Farm Sanctuary: http://www.farmsanctuary.org/
•Skylands Animal Sanctuary: http://www.skylandssanctuary.org/
•Lasa Animal Sanctuary: http://www.lasasanctuary.org/
Source: Sundara Vegan, www.sundarajewel.com