Animating Samadhi – Rethinking Animal–Human Relationships through Yoga

Authored by: Kenneth Valpey

The Routledge Handbook of Religion and Animal Ethics

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138592728
eBook ISBN: 9780429489846
Adobe ISBN:


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This paper seeks to move us beyond the commonly held images of Hindu (and Jain) traditions associated with animal protection, namely, the principle of ahimsa (non-harming) and the worship of the “holy cow.” Approaching the theme of animal protection through Yoga theory and practice, which in turn draws from the ancient Samkhya darshana (philosophical vision), my aim is to show how important features of Samkhya-Yoga could help to address the urgent crisis of animal exploitation and environmental degradation. The central argument of this paper is that Yoga traditions, in their acknowledgement of consciousness as foundational to existence as a whole, provide processes and methods for elevating individual human consciousness in ways that have direct bearing on collective animal and human well-being. These processes and methods are informed by Samkhya’s triadic modal mapping of consciousness: Of the three modalities of behaviour and experience, the luminosity and balance of sattva-guna is favoured over the passion of raja-guna and the inebriety of toma-guna. From this perspective, among animal species, cows are considered to be representative of and characterized in their behavior by sattva-guna. Hence their protection by human beings is understood as integral to both the cultivation of sattvika (illumined) consciousness in human society and the expansion of what may be called the “circle of protection” that is the basis of human civilization. By seeing animals in general as sensate, conscious beings that are progressing on the path of Yoga, the ultimate aim of classical Yoga practice – the attainment of samadhi (perfect absorption) – takes on significance for animal-human relationality, extending Yoga’s potential for environmental healing far beyond the pursuit of individual yogic accomplishment.

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