Yoga ecology is understanding the connection of our inner nature to that of Mother Nature, an understanding that unfolds naturally through living a yogic lifestyle. This helps us to find a balance between what we take and what we give back to Mother Nature.
When we take the time to understand and appreciate the processes and cycles that are an inherent part of Mother Nature, we will realize that these are the same cycles which govern us and every aspect of creation. Through this experience, we will come closer to the essence that is our true self.
To lead us to this essence, yoga outlines a pathway of discipline and control over body and mind, through the physical practices of hatha yoga, and ethical codes of conduct, the yamas and niyamas of raja yoga. The yamas give us a path to build a positive relationship with ourselves, other species in the biosphere and our environment. They are very important in the study of yoga ecology.
Yamas are a state of being, a level of awareness and consciousness that we must aspire to achieve. They are not only concepts or morals, they are our true nature and therefore a natural unfolding of who we really are.
The first yama, ahimsa, literally means 'non-violence' to all living creatures and all non-living materials in the biosphere. This does not mean 'not killing'. In nature, beings will always be killed. Simply by living we are killing. Animals must kill to survive; it is their right. There will always be predators and there will always be prey. We cannot judge a leopard for killing a deer; the deer has killed grass and the grass has utilized the remains of dead animals for its nutrients in order to grow. This is the recycling nature of prakriti.
Humans cannot live without committing outward himsa (violence), whether consciously or unconsciously. The very fact of living, eating and moving about involves destruction of life. Our modern society has become one that commits himsa on a grand scale. Our impact on the earth's ecosystems and thus on ourselves has reached such a level that we risk committing not only species suicide but pushing thousands of other species towards extinction. Simply by driving a car or by living in a house equipped with electricity and gas, we are polluting and damaging the environment.
We cannot avoid himsa. What we can do is to understand the inherent nature of ahimsa. Through this understanding, we can be aware of all our thoughts, actions and words and start to manage them. It is crucial that we live in a more positive and less destructive way with a deep respect for all life. It is this that will help us return to our true nature and stop us on our current path of environmental destruction. This is the path of ahimsa, and this is one of the greatest challenges for the human race.
It is not an easy path. Swami Sivananda describes ahimsa as "a weapon of the strong; it cannot be practised by weak persons, only through constant and vigilant endeavour can one be established in ahimsa. It is abstaining from even the slightest harm to any living creature, mentally, verbally or by deed." He describes ahimsa as 'Cosmic Love'. Not a 'love' for living creatures with an attachment to their welfare and interest in their well-being but a true radiation of the spirit which is, by essence; peace. Love for all life then flows naturally and spontaneously. We must start through our actions and thoughts by striving not to injure any aspect of creation. If we can see that prakriti is one substance that is differentiated and functioning in diverse ways whether living or non-living, and if we believe that there is divinity in all life and unity in diversity, only then will we understand the impact of violence on the world around and on ourselves.
Swami Sivananda says, "The atma dwells in all. All are manifestations of the one God. By injuring another you injure your own self. By serving another you serve your own self. Love all. Serve all. Hate none. Insult none. Injure none in thought, word or deed."
There have been many saints and sages in the past who have taken a vow of ahimsa as a means of finding their spirit and merging in oneness with God, whose very nature is ahimsa - Buddha, St Francis, Gandhi and Swami Sivananda. They believed that once we develop the virtue of ahimsa, all the other virtues will follow. What is ahimsa but an expression of love for all creation, an understanding of the interconnectedness of all things by spirit, and the realization of the truth that there is no 'I'. The actions I do, whether by thought or word or deed, affect the world around me.
The environmental movement cannot only be an external one; it must be an inward change towards the expression of ahimsa. It was Gandhi (one of the world's greatest environmentalists and yogis) who said, "We cannot have an ecological movement designed to prevent violence against nature, unless the principle of non-violence becomes central to the ethos of human culture."
Ahimsa is not purely an outer expression, but this is how it expresses itself and this is where we can start. Through our outer expressions of actions and words, and an inner awareness of thoughts, we can begin to change the way we relate to the world and respect the environment in which we live and upon which we depend.
Vegetarianism can be an expression of ahimsa and of environmentalism. If all the people of the world became vegetarian fewer would go hungry and the clearing of forests and overgrazing of land by cattle would stop. However, yogis believe that if a person is vegetarian and still full of negative thoughts, those thoughts will have just as great if not a greater impact on the environment as physically killing an animal. Negative thoughts and attitudes call forth the same reaction, not only from other humans but also from nature.
"Prakriti is a field of mobile forces and a slight agitation somewhere shakes the entire world both in perceptible and imperceptible ways", according to Mahatma Gandhi. This we must realize and believe: every thought, action and deed has a reaction, both positive and negative. Prakriti will manifest the thoughts and actions of human societies; these can be in the form of drought, storms and floods, disease and even astrological forces.
Swami Sivananda says, "They who practise ahimsa can move the world, they can tame even the wildest animals simply through being what they are, pure love, living without fear or negativity. Love calls forth love from all, good will generates goodness in all beings." It is an incredible thought that we are damaging the earth and ourselves by our thoughts. Looking at the world through the eyes of ahimsa will definitely make us more aware and the change will be natural and spontaneous.
We can work with nature to change our negative thought patterns, and this is part of finding the balance in life. As soon as negative thoughts come, put yourself in a situation to change them. Spend time in nature. The colours, the smells, the clean air, will all have a soothing and healing effect. Breathe in the beauty and peace. Mother Nature has the power to clear away negativity simply by being what she is, and replacing it with a joy of life.
This is the balance we must find; the more we destroy, the less she can care and give. We must discover the healing power of nature in our own way and give back what we can through positive thoughts, words and actions. This is the balance of yoga ecology.