Ahimsa Activism


Posted by Sravaniya DiPecoraro

Some of my yoga students began making a quiet conversion to vegetarianism in the early 21st century. Now in 2018 the vegan movement is gaining momentum and ahiṁsā or non-violence is becoming cool.

Barbarah Dudman is an extraordinary individual who distinguishes herself by her intelligence, dedication and effectiveness in getting things done. She wears many hats as a wife, mother, bhakti-yogi, yoga teacher, mountain climber, vegan and an animal rights activist. Here are some of her insights.

"The word ‘vegan’ came about in 1944 by a group of non-dairy vegetarians. This group felt that a new word was required as their lifestyle needed a clearly defined description that encompassed the explanation of a society that rejected the use of animals for food, commodities, hunting, entertainment and vivisection. It is known and well documented that some societies and individuals throughout history completely abstained from all animal products; however, there was no true term to represent this plant based lifestyle. The word ‘vegan’ came from the first three and last two letters of ‘vegetarian’, its translation being ‘the beginning and end of vegetarian’.

While veganism is in fact immensely historical, I guess you could say that the true basis of the movement, which we recognize today, formed roughly 70 years ago. Simply put though, the basis of the movement is to work toward a future in which humans do not exploit animals for any reason. Unfortunately the ‘ism’ on the end of ‘vegan’ gave the movement a label of extremity, as this suffix often represents extreme political ideologies, cult movements and extreme philosophies. This is a far cry from the vegan who is enlightened enough to know that sentience isn’t exclusive to humans and that survival, health and wellbeing can be achievable with ethical and compassionate food choices.

The real momentum for a plant-based lifestyle came with the rise of social media. The staggering amount of information that became available on veganism — how to go vegan, how to eat plant-based — widened it’s demographic in the world. It is now all embracing and encompassing, a far cry from extremism. The community, art and imagery that is available has allowed anyone with access to social media to make well-informed decisions regarding the impact their lifestyle has on animals, the planet and their health.


There are a variety of reasons why people want to give up meat. Concern over the large amount of antibiotics that animals are given, animal welfare, health, weight management, environment, religion and taste. Having the resources we now have allows us to investigate, educate ourselves and enquire specifically about these reasons. Ultimately, once this personal investigation begins it’s like tugging at a thread: a thread that is connected to severe animal abuse and suffering, a thread that is connected to the animal agriculture industry leading climate change and environmental destruction of the planet and a thread that is directly connected to the world’s declining health statistics. This personal, investigative thread is ultimately making that connection between animal abuse, animal exploitation and animal consumption.

For me, making this connection thoroughly rocked me to my core. Years ago when I started practicing yoga, the shift in my physical and mental wellbeing was incredible. My body felt free from tightness and tension and my mind had these moments where I had the capacity to go inward, to be present, moments which deepened my practice, albeit these moments were sometimes brief but they had allowed me to open to stillness, consciousness and compassion.

From here I realized that I was also finding my own spiritual path, and yoga was taking me on a journey of discovery. I chose to study the philosophy and history of yoga and to become a yoga teacher. By understanding the foundations of yoga, by working with the body, mind and breath we begin to see this self evolution, to live a conscious life. This is the science of yoga.

When I first studied the inner practice of yoga, the Yamas (social restraint, universal ethics) and Niyamas (personal practices, observances), I actually had that lightbulb moment. How could I, as a meat eater, call myself a yoga teacher? I was a part of the thread of suffering; I was consuming a once sentient being, taking its life for the sole purpose of taste. It was absolutely shattering. The understanding of the yogic term ahiṁsā — which means no killing, nonviolence — applies to every living creature. Truly understanding this ethical precept was like the last piece in the puzzle for my love of nature. True compassion teaches the mind to see beyond outer differences of form. When I started to really investigate the actual meaning of ahiṁsā, I came to realize that every sentient being, not only humans, simply desires happiness and a life free from suffering.

Enslaving animals, abusing animals for entertainment purposes, livestock farming, fur farms, elephant rides, photo’s with tigers, shark finning, ivory trading, the list is so sad and so long, these industries deprive sentient beings of their freedom, ensuring a life of suffering and untimely death. Every animal, every human has consciousness, sentience, character and the innate desire to survive. So I choose to be vegan. This has brought about a profound shift in my life. I now understand that I was part of a double standard and that all sentient creatures have the right to live.

I guess there is nothing that significant about my journey. There are millions of people on this planet who, I’m sure, have had this slap-in-the-face moment. However, it is now my time to fight for the rights of animals. It is my time to raise awareness, to encourage discussion and education regarding animals in captivity, animals being raised for slaughter and commodities. This is now a non-negotiable core value because I know the truth, and the truth is pure suffering, heartbreak and despair. When you know this you have a responsibility to take action, to be a voice for the voiceless. Compassion without action is just observation.

My Bhagavad Gītā teacher, my guru ma said in class one day, “If we don’t utilize our intelligence we will be pulled around by our senses.” Generally we are all brought up with different hardwired cultural views to life, have grown up with different family traditions and follow different religions. However, ahiṁsā is universal, suffering is real and sentience is factual. When we let culture, tradition or religion overlook or justify the suffering of others for our own happiness or self care alone, then the line between right and wrong is blurred. That is molding universal morality to suit the senses. It is not yoga. It is ignorance and it is unethical. If one is to follow a yogic path, then intelligence must eventually lead one to true ahiṁsā.”

An excerpt from Basic Yoga Sutras. Coming soon.