Why ‘Om Scampi’ is Full of Baloney


Some time ago I was out to eat with a fellow yoga teacher. The restaurant, naturally, had both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. As we discussed the menu, my companion, a teacher of far greater experience with the goings on inside the yoga community than I, shared some surprising insights. Thereafter ensued an illuminating discussion about what many yoga teachers eat when other yogis, particularly those from the vegan-activist sector of the yoga world, aren’t looking. Last year, one such yoga teacher came out of the meat-eating closet with a vengeance.

‘Om Scampi’ is an article by A-list yoga teacher Sadie Nardini that’s partly a defense of an omnivorous diet and partly a rant against judgmental vegetarians. Ms Nardini makes some good points about the prevailing culture of “Yoga Fascism” in the yoga community: expressing a dissenting opinion, whether about the spiritual imperative of veganism or the notion that we’re ultimately all one formless point of pure awareness, often disqualifies one from having an opinion – or at least one worthy of consideration – in the eyes of those who subscribe to such beliefs. It’s not unlike political hawks in time of war labeling war protestors as un-patriotic.

Critical thinking is essential to the health of a community and, as Ms Nardini points out, the yoga community’s ideas of inclusivity deserve some scrutiny: Must vegan yogis accept omnivorous yogis as being on the same spiritual path as they are? Do all paths lead to the same place? Well, the train to Chicago will not take us to St. Louis. If you place a piece of meat in a Buddhists begging bowl they’ll accept it and they have a philosophy that supports that acceptance. If you offer a piece of meat to a Krishna Bhakta (a devotee of Krishna) they will reject it and they have a philosophy that supports that rejection. Is the result the same for the Buddhist and the Bhakta? Do both yogis end up at the same destination?

No, they don’t. Their respective philosophies even say they don’t. You can take the scenic route and get to St. Louis by way of Chicago, but uniformity of destination irrespective of path is not found in the literature from which the yoga traditions arise: there are different schools of yoga philosophy and they disagree with each other so Om Shanti – get over it!

Where do we get this idea that in yoga all dogs go to heaven no matter which stick they fetch? It appears to me that we get it from excessively liberal and self-serving interpretations of yoga scripture or from an outright rejection of the traditional literature, which brings us back to Ms Nardini’s position that omnivorous diets are as spiritually valid as any other: her argument may be one way of looking at things, but it’s not a viewpoint that’s supported by classical yoga scriptures.

Of course, Ms Nardini rejects classical yoga scripture, which she regards as of dubious origin, prone to fundamentalist abuse, and, consequently, of little value. And she makes it clear that she’s not a classical yogi. That makes sense since classical yoga rejects omnivorous diets. But here’s the irony: classical yoga is not all-inclusive: on the contrary, it’s very exclusive. In fact, it relegates the entire experience of the material world to the realm of illusion or, more bluntly, avidya; ignorance. As far as the ancient sages of yoga are concerned, yoga is the process of liberating the self from the dictates of the illusory mind and body that we mistake for our selves and, if permitted to rule the course of our lives, will oblige us to endure a perpetual cycle of birth and death in a world of misapprehension, a world in which suffering is the inevitable result of mistaking an illusion for reality.

In a post-modern world where things mean whatever we want them to mean and our personal truths trump “Truth” with a capital “T”, eating meat is okay – if it fits your truth. But while attempting to defend the modern and supposedly all-inclusive idea of yoga from a pseudo-inclusivity that conceals exclusionary attitudes (such as vegetarian yogis invalidating the spiritual standing of omnivorous yogis), Ms Nardini jettisons the tradition of yoga itself.

To go from yoga as a means to be liberated from illusion to yoga as a means to perpetuate and even revel in that same illusion requires a 180-degree turn. And Ms Nardini’s insistence that omnivorous yogis are every bit as spiritual as vegetarian yogis is not only 180-degrees from traditional yoga, it’s symptomatic of a larger issue for the yoga community; something Carol Horton has appropriately dubbed “the Oprah-fication of Patanjali”.

Bending the ideals of yoga into a pretzel of feel-good philosophy – whether we bend it to justify eating meat or animal rights activism as ‘yogic’ activities – is, in my view, usually an exercise in subjective self-importance that’s not likely to meet the standards the tradition itself has set. But self-importance is the foundation of Ms Nardini’s argument: “it’s all about me and my truth. Eating meat makes me feel good so I do it in a way that works for me. And if it works for you then you should, too. You’re truth is just as spiritual as anybody else’s”. This is a very liberating declaration if we identify ourselves as our minds and our bodies and live in denial of karmic consequences for our actions, the very definition of illusion in any traditional form of yoga philosophy.

So Ms Nardini has thrown the baby out with the bathwater: the tradition of yoga has been abandoned in defense of yoga. The logical fallacy of her argument is this: while decrying “the imaginary, self-created spectrum of yoginess” that places vegetarians higher on the yoga ladder then omnivores, Ms Nardini, rather than deferring to the traditional texts for an objective spectrum of yoginess, creates her own imaginary spectrum of yoginess, which, conveniently for her, includes that which the traditional texts clearly reject: slaughtering animals for food.

Rejecting, trivializing, or liberally interpreting yoga scripture to suit our personal agendas requires that we become our own teachers, relying on our own subjective and speculative conceptions rather than availing ourselves to the realizations of those who have so compassionately illuminated the path of yoga for us in the first place. The process of yoga is meant to re-create the revelatory experience of the self-realized souls who gave us the process. Without such guidance it’s a lot harder to find the switch on the lamp of knowledge that will help us see where we’re going. So this Thanksgiving, I’ll be giving thanks for the old school yoga teachers who teach us that, if we want to follow the path of self-realization they’ve illuminated for us, eating slaughtered animals just won’t cut it.

5 Comments

  1. Deva
    Posted November 24, 2010 at 5:20 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Thank you for your nice realizations. My boss at work is always teasing me for being a vegetarian. I finally got tired of it the other day and told him that eating corpses and dead bodies is not o.k. I told him that wise people throughout the ages recommended a vegetarian diet. There are very few good arguments for meat eating. He said animals are dumb so we can eat them. I said than why don’t we eat dumb people. That quieted him. I’m an Atma Yoga teacher. I appreciate the Yogic wisdom of nonviolence. Any Yoga follower who is not vegetarian is foolish and should see the light and take a bite( not of meat that is )

  2. harikirtana
    Posted November 27, 2010 at 10:28 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Greetings Deva:

    Thank you for your comment. Although you have expressed sympathy for my realizations, it seems that you’ve simultaneously made yourself an example of just the sort of judgmental yogi that Ms. Nardini is complaining about. I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 40 years and you would be hard pressed to find a yoga follower more foolish than I. My point was not that omnivorous yogis are foolish, but rather that it would be wiser to defer to the traditional texts in order to ascertain our position and navigate our path than it would be to invent some speculative idea of all-inclusive spirituality for the sake of justifying a self-centered approach to yoga. Should an activist vegan who pursues an impersonal realization of the Absolute be considered less foolish than an omnivorous yogi pursuing a personal conception of the Absolute? Who is to say which one is on the right path or is more spiritually advanced? Better, I think, to offer all respects to everyone who sincerely approaches the path of yoga and, in our role as teachers, offer them authentic yogic teachings to help them on their way.

    Ys, Hkd

  3. Dan K
    Posted November 28, 2010 at 11:24 AM | Permalink | Reply

    This is a very interesting topic and there are some good points here, but I’m afraid I have to disagree with some of the key assumptions underpinning this perspective, and some of the characterization of “Om Scampi.”

    As a caveat, I think we can all agree that by nature this topic inspires considerable passion and debate. I hope this comment will be accepted as a respectful response.

    First assumption: “the path of self-realization” as envisioned by the sages is the goal of yoga.

    Nardini is not concerned whether an omnivore can have the same sense of spirituality as envisioned by the sages. Rather, she’s saying: (1) yoga is not about just one thing, and (2) even yogis who eat meat can use the practice to enhance their sense of spirituality. I completely agree. Regarding the first point, yoga plays a different role for different people. To suggest that both the means and ends are limited fails to acknowledge the evolution that the practice has experienced. Even the asana style and sequence promoted by the Jivamukti school is not as ancient as what was once accepted. Yoga Journal recently published a fair and well-researched article pointing out the influences of European gymnastics on asana practice. Nardini’s perspective, which I share, is that the practice of yoga should not be an exclusive experience. It’s not a one-size fits all practice. But when one contends that the goal must correspond to the origin, well that’s saying it’s only about the fundamentals of the tradition. And that’s kind of what fundamentalism is about.

    Regarding her second point, spirituality is a very personal thing. More on that below.

    Second assumption: “the path of self-realization” as envisioned by the sages only comes through classical text. You write: “[t]he process of yoga is meant to re-create the revelatory experience of the self-realized souls who gave us the process.”

    There are a number of problems with this argument, one of which is that this process should not be certain and fixed. I have serious problems when any belief or practice system suggests that the thinking stopped evolving years ago, and this is in line with my own personal tradition (an ancient religion), which supports the view that even critical ideas and understandings of ancient texts continue to evolve.

    This post contends that yoga would otherwise become “an exercise in subjective self-importance that’s not likely to meet the standards the tradition itself has set,” or that “[r]ejecting, trivializing, or liberally interpreting yoga scripture to suit our personal agendas requires that we become our own teachers, relying on our own subjective and speculative conceptions.” But, it is only this post’s position that the failure to accept the scripture equals a spiritual path of pure subjectivity and speculation. The two do not equal. The post is jumping to a damning conclusion, one that denigrates the ability of people to find their own path. And it fails to accept that yogis can have many teachers for choosing how they live. Regardless, isn’t it all subjective, even the sages’ positions? Pardon the blasphemy, but when did the classical text become divine? I took it to heart when David Life proclaimed to hundreds of yogis at the Catholic Monastery in DC that yoga is not a religion. But once you suggest that all yogis must follow the classical text in accordance with its fixed system, you’re elevating this practice to something instilling tremendous discomfort in me and others. I don’t share the view that there’s only one kind of yoga.

    Accordingly, third assumption: “the path of self-realization” as envisioned by the sages is what should be the goal of all yogis.

    Again, my intention is to respond to this position respectfully, but my primary problem with this view is the largest assumption of all: that what yoga is for some is what it must be for all. This is, I believe, the accurate characterization of Nardini’s concerns. It is in this sense that yoga should not be an exclusive practice. Surely there are major benefits to those who practice a style different than yours, with goals different than yours, and personal intentions greatly different than yours. The danger in this post’s view is that — even if coming from a genuinely honorable place — it pushes those people away, people who could benefit immensely, physically, mentally, and yes even spiritually, and in turn do good for the world. So does the view about an exclusive practice really contribute in some way to the happiness and freedom for all?

    As a corollary, why does yoga have to be so serious? Why does it have to follow your view, even if it was backed by the classical text? In fact, if self-realization is the goal, why does it even matter to you how other people are living?

  4. harikirtana
    Posted November 29, 2010 at 8:54 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Dan – thanks for your excellent comments. I appreciate not only that you took the time to be so comprehensive in your analysis of my premises, but that, by doing so, you’ve given me material for about 4 new blog entries; three assumptions and a corollary. In this case I will not wait as long as I usually would to post those entries since your points deserve a timely reply and I’m totally jazzed by the prospect of keeping this conversation moving. More to follow soon. – Hkd

  5. Hector
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 6:27 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I loved the read, thank you to all that posted and replied.

    It wont be fair for either side to state if i am a vegetarian or not, because i will try to give my point of view on this 2 extremes and i will try to walk in the middle (if there is one)

    Lets take a look at behavior
    As pointed by your friend a yogi that eats meat in between other yogis will actually go for the salad, and i do not think it will be a huge success in the next retreat if Ms Nardini fires up the grill and throw some burgers for amrit, this comes from fear of social rejection and ultimately is a lie and it lacks integrity as she is even lying to herself…. If you see her article she starts with I help thousands of people for free, i am so spiritually advanced… then goes off to say that she gets mad, actually indigent for whatever reason, i am so spiritually advanced!! LOL

    On the other side we have vegetarians that eat wild caught fish, pure vegetarians, vegans, and raw foodists and all of them fight against each other to win the who is better medal, while they can not see that actually they disqualify everybody else who does not eat like them and this comes from moral or spiritual superiority. If it comes from the side of karma and the fear of becoming a pig or a cow in the next life, or stacking more and more lifetimes here in the big bad world is just that…. fear.

    Moral and spiritual superiority is the sickness that humanity has and teaches in almost every organized group, sect, and major religions. Disease that only brings pain, suffering and wars in the name of God.

    The great Avatars like Krishna, Buddha and Jesus tried to talk about compassion, humility, respect and love… At the moment we think we are better than somebody else because this, or that we go against their teachings. Oneness for example and the wheel of evolution of the soul, When i point a finger to say you bad people that eat meat i am only pointing at me as in the past or the future lives i have been there and done that… Or better yet that “you” is “me” anyway.. So when we point the finger at somebody there are always three fingers pointing at you… try it is true… :-0

    Yoga as a whole with all the classical texts is an awesome tool for people who are in the path of self-realization, Yoga (the asana)today in many countries is a business.

    A business that attracts people from various walks of life, looking for different things from their practice, one might come because she heard yoga is awesome with her back problems, another might come because she was a gymnast back in high school and she couldnt do the splits no more, another one will come to class because she likes the challenge and then the 5 minutes of savasana….

    When was the last time a student came to class for the first time and said i am looking to be enlightened in this life time, i know yoga will help me so can you be my guru? Instead you have yoga instructors thinking that they are enlightened because they paid 3 to 5k for a 220 hr course and read the power of now, only part of the Bhagavad Gita, eat granola bars for breakfast and of course converted to be vegetarians….

    Maybe the time will come when yoga studios will not aloud you inside if you eat meat, or maybe in fact they will have a grill and burgers on the patio, maybe coffee at isfourbucks will be OUT and meetings at the steakhouse will be IN….. I doubt that anybody who is serious about yoga will actually go to mcdonalds after class and get a number 3 large with 2 pies…

    But i guess my point of view as a yoga instructor myself is to present a class that when a person leaves my class feels like they worked hard and they relaxed hard, and what they eat, their karma, their mistakes, their achievements, their enlightenment… is just that… their’s… and what i eat, my karma, my dharma and everything else is .. mmmhh well…. my choice…

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