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Compassion on the Mat?

I debated writing this article for a few hours yesterday before deciding to start writing it; 24 hours later here are some simple thoughts.

Many of my friends practice yoga and some are even yoga teachers. Some are vegan, some are not. And on both sides of that, people are of course passionate about the beliefs they hold. I’m not looking to argue or offend, just looking to put some perspective on an issue I don’t think is conducive to one of the basic tenets of yoga; ahimsa. I’m not trying to preach, I’m honestly curious to understand the rationale behind this; read on.

I’m new to yoga myself and am still learning and adjusting to the ideas behind it. From what I understand, yoga is not a religion as much as it is a mindful practice; but three major religions (Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism) do pull from some of the ancient sutras (texts). As an unaffiliated Buddhist, I know a fair share of the teachings, again, most of them are the same or slight variations of one another. The “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” list 5 yamas, or ethical ideals in which to live. The very first, and this is important, is ahimsa. Simply defined, ahimsa means non-violence or not harming sentient beings. So, maybe you see where this is going.

That said, I was in a class yesterday and the teacher talked about their vacation and how their family had gone down to a horse racing track and joked about the money they lost; however minuscule the “bet” was. There was chuckling among the yogis in the room, not from my mat though as I was confused and a bit let down.

I put the word bet in quotes because I’m not really sure what was being bet on. I understand gambling, I’m not that daft. The purpose is to choose the horse that finishes first; I get it. But peeling back the layers and looking at the whole situation, where is your bet money going? Who does it benefit and what does that have to do with yoga class?

I’ve been following a group called “Horseracing Wrongs” for a while now and they’ve said what I had intended to say in a much more eloquent manner:

“To those who wager on horseracing, we implore you to reconsider. And ultimately, you hold all the cards – no more bets, no more races; no more races, no more kills. And – no more abusing unformed bodies; no more extreme, relentless confinement; no more whipping; no more drugging and doping; no more buying and selling and trading and dumping. No more auctions, no more kill-buyers, no more transport trucks, no more abattoirs. No more maiming, destroying; pain, suffering. No more.

In a landscape that abounds with other gambling options – casinos, lotteries, real sports involving autonomous human beings – hasn’t the time at long last arrived to let the racing horse be? You, the bettor, have within the capacity for mercy. We ask only that you exercise it. Please. For the horses.”

I’m not trying to nitpick, or try to say this teacher is a bad person, I just don’t see the use for this type of talk in a space that is supposed to be filled with grace, compassion and loving-kindness. I really like this teacher, I go their class each week because they teach in a way that helps me understand the motions and poses. Will it deter me from going back? I don’t think it will, but maybe I will try to talk to this person and bring it up in a passive way that is kind to both of us, and to animals affected by the lack of ahihmsa in this situation. Maybe not, we shall see.

I know some folks may say, “well that’s what they do on their time and they are free to choose to do whatever they like.” While I find that to be true and agree, again we go back to basics and look at the sutras; don’t we? That’s where it all starts and without a foundation that is truthful and unwavering how can this not go unchecked?

I despise militancy and I apologize if this comes off that way. I’m just finding more and more holes in traditional religions and practices that are supposed to start and end with non-violence yet ingest animals, wear animals or bet on animals that die of a variety of conditions being forced to run around and around in a  circle for the pleasure of a human being looking to make a fast buck.

I get it, you believe it’s your choice and you can eat, wear and do whatever. I can tell you that karmic energy is still created ingesting that suffering, ingesting that fear. When you find peace on your plate, you find peace in your soul.

I’m curious how you would handle this situation?

*** featured image borrowed from Horseracing Wrongs