This year will be my 3rd (or 4th?) year attending the Vegan Spirituality Retreat in Philadelphia. In 2011 I was the keynote speaker, fresh out of my Jivamukti Yoga teacher training, talking about veganism and yoga as conceptualized by Jivamukti Yoga co-founder Sharon Gannon in her groundbreaking book Yoga And Vegetarianism: The Diet Of Enlightenment. Last year I taught a yoga class, and this year I will do the same!
The event takes place this year on Saturday, July 20th in Gladwyne, PA (near Philadelphia). To publicize the event I was interviewed by Prarthana Jayaram, and have included the transcript below. There was also a video made of last year's retreat set to my song "Big Ole Vegan Mountains", which is here for your entertainment. This year's event will feature Will Tuttle (author of The World Peace Diet) as the keynote speaker. Hope to see you there!
PJ: How did you get involved with the Retreat and/or the Vegan Spirituality Group?
Pashupa: I first became involved with co-founder Lisa Levinson and the project "Public Eye: Artists for Animals". I lived in Massachusetts and had founded the Vegan Bus Project. Our goals were similar, to use art as a means to spread the vegan message. We brought theVegan Bus, a full-sized school bus running on waste veggie oil, to Philadelphia to participate in some events. It turned out Lisa and I were also both interested in the connection between veganism and spirituality, and around the time she started the Vegan Spirituality Group I was becoming a Jivamukti yoga teacher. I agreed to give a talk on yoga and veganism in 2011, and last year I led a yoga class.
PJ: How do you see veganism tied to spirituality? (And does this relate, specifically, to the spiritual practice of yoga?)
Pashupa: It is my belief that a path towards higher states of consciousness, or towards god if you like, calls for us to eventually give up things that cause harm to others. This is not to say that people who eat meat can not be spiritual. We are all spiritual, and all have a yearning towards enlightenment. Often this yearning is blocked or redirected by cultural beliefs, religious beliefs, peer pressure, or any number of other factors that in yoga we call avidya. Avidya means mis-knowing. In yoga the goal is to achieve union with the divine, and to do this we must constantly question and refine our beliefs. What stands between us and enlightenment is our own ignorance - ignoring uncomfortable realities to cling to the comfortable and familiar. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the most important texts of yogic philosophy, the practice of ahimsa, or non-violence, is the first recommendation towards finding peace and spiritual fulfillment. It is the foundation that all the other practices are built upon. Yoga without ahimsa is like a bicycle without wheels. Eventually one needs to examine how we see others, because that determines who we are, and how others will treat us.
PJ: What has been your favorite part of being at Retreats past?
Pashupa: I love seeing Freya Dinshah, whose husband Jay Dinshah founded the American Vegan Society in 1960. They put out a magazine called Ahimsa back in the day. Something about her makes me feel peace in my soul - to me she embodies the divine feminine spirit of compassion. She is humble and quiet, but exudes wisdom and strength. There are lots of great things about the retreat, but when I think of it her presence comes into my mind first. I hope she will be there this year too!
4. What is valuable about having a spiritual and/or vegan community (and community events)?
Pashupa: First of all any gathering of vegans is important, as the community support is what helps people keep on this path in the midst of a culture that is deep in avidya. Many vegans I know don't believe in god, and perhaps do not see themselves as spiritual. There is a lot of cultural baggage around god, because our western religions have instilled a vision of god as an authority figure who created animals for us to exploit, which alienates the community. But without the grounding of a spiritual view of life vegans can tend to be angry and to offend other people, creating the opposite effect of what we want, which is to end animal enslavement.
The value is to find a common ground, and to be open to others beliefs. It is dangerous to define what is spiritual and what is not, and so a diversity of beliefs is necessary. I think one thing we should all have in common is a sense of compassion towards all beings – human, animal, and plant. The other ingredient would be a feeling of reverence and awe for life and creation. Within that framework we can have an exchange of ideas and practices. If we can maintain the openness to other's beliefs, as long as compassion and non-violence are at the core, then there is great value. If we try to become an organized religion that becomes dogmatic, then the value is lost.