Searching for Santosha; Using Compassion to Pave the Way
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Erica Settino on This Dish Is Veg
March 2011

[Ed. Note: Read some wonderful poetry about compassionate eating: Who's On Your Plate?, We Are The Living Graves of Murdered Beasts, A Little Bit of Mercy. Visit our Recipes section. Being vegan is JUST wonderful, we promise!]

It seems there is no limit to the pain and suffering we will cause in order to pad our bottom lines and feed our egos so that we can continue to pretend that we are justified in our actions, no matter the consequences of such.

I live a simple life. One that is blessed with love and good health, a supportive husband whose strides toward moral and social progression match my own, and four fur-covered children whose mere presence—let alone affection and companionship—provides a daily reminder and inspiration for my continued work in animal advocacy and activism. Overall I am amongst the lucky souls who walk this earth unscathed, for the most part, by torment and tragedy; overall I am happy.

As a yogi and a vegan, two identifying traits that for me have become interchangeable, I live by a certain set of principles. Standards, if you will, that allow me a life of happiness while ensuring that I never inflict pain or suffering to any and all other beings with whom I share this earth; and for this, my happiness thrives because I sincerely make every effort to do no harm. Such is the way of karma. Yet although these standards afford me my happiness, I am far from content.

The language of yoga is Sanskrit, and the Sanskrit word for contentment is santosha, which is an undeniable aspect and intention of a yogic lifestyle. To attain santosha, the yogi practices acceptance without expectation. Releasing the expectation grants us permission to be fully present of where we are in every moment of our lives, without the distraction of where we think we should be. In that release comes a freedom from restriction, and from what I like to call the parameters of norm, and in turn results in a peaceful existence of simply being, rather than struggling to be. This is contentment, and it is a state of being that I cannot attain, though not due to a lack of trying on my part.

My unease is a symptom of the painful reality created by man to perpetuate the prevailing mindset that rationalizes superiority and greed. It seems there is no limit to the pain and suffering we will cause in order to pad our bottom lines and feed our egos so that we can continue to pretend that we are justified in our actions, no matter the consequences of such. And for this, I can’t sit still.

The same sense of dominion that holds captive billions of animals across the world, threatens the very foundation of a peaceful civilization. Even those animals who roam free face the imminent danger of man’s ulterior motives and selfish whims, often resulting in the devastation of a species, such as fish, wolves, buffalo, bears, deer, elk, and more, not to mention catastrophe amongst their schools, herds, and packs—amongst their families.

Today there is a lack of consideration for others that has blurred our vision and skewed our actions. Plowing through forests and woodlands to build our dream homes without concern for the countless animals who already take up residence within the safety of the trees, abducting exotic animals from their natural habitats for no other purpose but to entertain us in circuses and zoos, forcing dogs and roosters to fight, against all their natural instincts, for a perverse form of amusement, breaking horses to perform so that we can wear a medal around our necks, killing whales for their meat while their babies watch in horror, clubbing baby seals to death, performing cruel and excruciatingly painful medical procedures on cats and rabbits and dogs and pigs, so that we can support the multi-million dollar beauty and pharmaceutical industries, torturing and slaughtering billions, yes billions of farmed animals: pigs, cows, turkeys, chickens, sheep, goats, hens, ducks, geese, for their flesh, hide, wool, feathers, milk, eggs and any other commodity we can invent.

For all of this, I wear the label of vegan. But what I prefer is the concept of harmlessness. Ahimsa is the yogic principle of non-violence. Practicing harmlessness in thought, word, and action for all beings no matter our distinctions, is not only the foundation of yoga, but also that of humanity.

Ignorance is easy and at this point inexcusable. So I strive for the change, using compassion to pave the way. And if I have to forego santosha it is the least I can do, to suffer alongside my brethren until all beings can be happy and free.

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