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Interdependence, Environmental Justice, Yoga Ethics, Decolonization, Anti-Speciesism


There are a great number of interpretations of the term Yoga today, often being an elusive term. Yet we must recognize the importance of questioning which interpretation can provide us with a clear lens into its meaning, given the legacy of colonialism which has warped our understanding of it. Yoga has a great deal to offer us, and some of its imperative offerings for us today are its ethical principles, particularly the dissolution between the opposition of self and other. This paper employs the principles of nonviolence, non-stealing, and moderation from the yamas (external ethics) of Patanjali’s eight-fold path, as well as loving-kindness from Buddhism. Using a decolonial framework, we see that some of the initial definitions of Yoga have come from a divisive perspective, dissonant with its most common Sanskrit translation to literally mean “union.” Even the lines drawn between the dharmic traditions skew them away from the multiplicity model that had existed before colonial involvement. With unconscious intentions to define these traditions from a Western perspective, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism were deemed religions independent of one another, similar to the way colonial powers kept practices divided based on religious definition for Western practitioners. By zeroing into Hinduism, for example, it is evident that this term was simply fabricated to define the indigenous practices of those living around the Indus River and land past it from the European perspective. Yet these dharmic practices were often responses to one another, as they intermingled and informed one another throughout their evolution upon the Indian subcontinent. As such, they can be understood to be interdependent with one another. The ethics contained within them as well have been that of non-division between the surrounding environment and animals, lacking the notion of the superiority of humans over non-humans, similar to the lack of superiority of one spiritual path over another. It is this perspective of union which has the potential to refashion our relationship with the other, as Yoga works to both demolish the ego and any false divisions it convinces us exist. The main illusory division which has contributed to violence and theft from the non-human world is that of our innate humanness, which is one of the ego’s last efforts while being deconstructed by yogic practices. This is how it may be useful for our modern-day struggle to achieve climate and animal justice. In particular, our survivalist fear-based power struggle with the non-human world has clouded us from seeing that we must surrender to the interdependent truth of compassion if we are to heal the wrongs we have committed to the supposed “other.” If we consider the outrageous breeding and cyclical murder of cows and bulls for dairy, a byproduct of their reproductive cycle which is wholly unnecessary for human consumption, we can see the dire necessity to inhabit greater compassion for non-humans. It is this very negligence which continues to plummet Earth’s potential to remain our habitable home, as animal agriculture accounts for unimaginable levels of resource depletion and produces all spectrums of illnesses within humans upon exposure or consumption. Only by receding from this violence can we understand that loving-kindness requires surrender of our survivalist nature and redirection towards ethical alternatives as often as possible. In this way, we can remain accountable to deconstruct our inherently divisive ego and achieve collective freedom.