Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Revisiting the First Grave Precept

Affirm life. Do not kill.

I wrote about the First Grave Precept in December 2007. It caused me to reflect upon my yoga practice, the Yama of ahimsa, and how I related to my husband at the time as well as students and co-workers.

In the nearly two years that have past my practice with honoring, affirming life has lead me to a divorce. It seems strange writing that, but in re-reading how the I saw the precept as being important for fostering honesty and supporting each other wholeheartedly, that's the truth of it. Staying married had not become a way for us to affirm who we are.

What has stayed constant, deepened, is my view of this precept as it relates to my decision to be a vegan. The first precept, to refrain from taking life and to affirm life whenever possible, is the foundation for how we work with all the other precepts. It directs how we interact in our life moment-by-moment, if we need any clarification we can always come back and ask ourselves questions directly related to this precept.

Is what I'm about to do going to harm another being, including myself, in any way? Is what I'm about to do something that will affirm the life of another being or myself?

Yes, I can look at honesty, intent to distract myself or others, generosity, anger, sexuality, gossip, self-aggrandizement, and speaking ill of other beings or the Three Treasures - in the end they all get held against the first precept. Am I harming or affirming life?

Following a vegan diet means that I am trying to nourish peace at a cellular level. After all, what I eat is what builds the very corporeal framework that lives this precept. Deciding that some suffering is acceptable to nourish myself with, turning a blind eye to the suffering of dairy cows so I can eat cheese isn't alright nor is pretending that there are "happy chickens" producing the eggs at the grocery store. I cannot pretend that suffering is somehow OK because the animal isn't actively being killed (at that moment) for the dairy or eggs. Yes, perhaps some chickens or cows suffer at a greater level than others, but I really don't think any of them can be considered happy; especially when they stop being "good producers".

I also choose not to split-hairs with non-vegan who insist on asking if I would change my mind if I owned and raised the chickens, etc. Even the arguing about the details detracts from the affirming, the honoring of life I am actively seeing. I am happy to explain why I choose to interpret the First Grave Precept as a reason for my veganism, I just don't seek to debate it.

I've come to see that I really don't need to sustain a healthy, peace-minded life by taking advantage of the fact that I can digest animal products. I'm easily capable of mindfully choosing a diet that translates to peace in every bite. From this place I know that I interact more compassionately to others. The peacefulness of my diet has helped me tremendously in learning to extend that same loving-kindness to myself. Even when I am frustrated I am more quickly capable of responding in a manner that seeks to actualize harmony because my life is fully nourished by the First Grave Precept.

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