Yoga, Animism and the Nature of Evil

During yoga last night, halfway through the class and moving to another pose, a loud “wham!” sounded in the room. In the middle of the class, a woman had squashed some spider or insect with her shoe on the wooden floor. “Did you get him?” the yoga teacher asked.

“Yep,” the lady replied, pleased with herself.

My heart fell. I was saddened, not only by the loss of life, but more by the wanton destruction of said life, as if it had no right to existence. For one such as myself, intentional killing of another animal is tantamount to murder, when it is completely unnecessary. The class carried on as if nothing happened.

I’m still thinking about it. I know that I personally could not squash a spider or bug, snail or slug, no matter how yucky they might appear to my preconceived human perception of what is beautiful and what is not. Driven since a very young age, we are told that wasps are evil, spiders are scary and snails are gross and destructive in our gardens. They all deserve to die because of these things. It is utterly absurd.

I have sat down to a meal at a pub, outside in their beer garden, where customers could request a can of insecticide to kill the wasps that came looking for food, tantalised by the sweet smell of beer. Horrified, not only by the wanton killing but by the thought of such chemicals near food, I have not been back since. The way the human mind works both disgusts and challenges me sometimes.

I’m not overly fond of worms or slugs, slimy things or creatures that live in the ocean that I cannot see beneath me when I am swimming. Big spiders are slightly frightening, only because I know that they can bite (I’ve yet to be bitten). That doesn’t mean that I seek to eradicate spiders, or all slimy things from my garden, or cull sharks when I want to swim in their waters. We really have to get over our ideas of what is good, what is beautiful and what has a right to existence, and what doesn’t. Who the hell are we to say?

I’ve been an Animist all my life. I have known on a very deep level that all things have a right to existence. This was not instilled in me by my parents, per se – it just seems an inherent part of my personal nature. I know that all things are connected on both a spiritual level and also on a scientific level. We live in ecosystems, where one part relies on another part to function. We often forget that we are part of such complex systems, or we believe we are above them. I recently wrote to my local newsletter in response to a letter to the editor asking for the eradication of ragweed near his home. He saw the dangers of the toxic plant, however he also failed to recognise the many lives are dependent on this one species of plant. For himself, he saw no benefit in this plant. He saw himself as above and more valuable to the ecosystem in which this plant existed. This is the nature of evil, in my opinion – belief that we are separate and therefore we can do as we please.

Philip Carr-Gomm has recently shared his queries and thoughts on the nature of evil in a recent social media status update. He states:

“Humans can be so unspeakably destructive – either to their fellow humans or the Earth, perhaps the ‘unthinkable’ needs to be thought – that human nature is not naturally beneficent, and evil acts therefore the result of aberration, but that it is in its essence a mixture of beneficent and maleficent, and that only some sort of training, discipline, spiritual practice, psychotherapy or education that can help us ensure our beneficence rules our head, heart and actions, rather than the reverse.

What do you think? Have you sometimes thought ‘perhaps they got it right when they came up with the idea of Original Sin’?”

The idea of Original Sin to me is abhorrent as killing things without thought. It is used to guilt people into behaving in the way that those in power think they should, to keep those in power in the status quo. This is not a criticism of Christianity as a whole, but of those who use it to further their own purposes. There is much within Christianity that is beautiful and inspiring. This abuse of power is not limited to Christianity, but can found in religions and communities all over the world.

I personally do not think that people are born evil. When I look at human beings, I see monkeys with car keys. Sadly, these monkeys have forgotten their roots, forgotten that they are just monkeys, forgotten that they are a part of the world and a part of an intricate web of existence. This is where the nature of evil occurs, the sin that divides and separates. This is where the destruction occurs, because we believe we are separate, that we are in control, that we have power over other beings.

I would argue that nothing in nature is beneficent – everything simply is what it is, neither good nor bad. The sun is not being beneficent in providing us with light and life – it is just being what it is. The clouds are not being beneficent by providing us with rain – they are just being clouds. Beneficent seems to imply a focused and intentional act of giving. While nature has its own consciousness, how intentional is it? This leads us to the ultimate question – what is the meaning of life?

For me, life has no inherent meaning – it just is. Things are alive because the appropriate conditions were available for life to be. This includes humans and all other beings. There is no master plan. It is a wonderful, beautiful, freestyle weaving of a web of life.

We are not born evil, or with evil intent. We are not born good, or with good intent. We are simply born, and the lives that we live, the circumstances of those lives and the environment that we live in all provide us with a path that we take. We have a choice to cut ourselves off from our inherent nature, of living in harmony with the rest of the world. We choose to do this for the most part out of desire for personal gain, whatever the cost to other lives and the planet as a whole. When we believe in the lie that we are separate, we can commit the worst atrocities.

We don’t even need a religion or spirituality, psychotherapy or other means to find some sort of return to harmony. We just need to wake up and shake off the lie, the belief that we are separate. We need to see things how they are, not how we think they should be. We need to see our place in the warp and weft of the tapestry of life. We need to sing in tune with all the other songs of existence. We need to remember what it is to be truly alive.

When we awaken, we also find the proverbial return to the garden. We understand life in all its forms. By living with eyes open, we walk the earth with compassion for all things.

When we return to our place in the web, the end result is deep and lasting peace.

16 thoughts on “Yoga, Animism and the Nature of Evil

  1. This is all so true. I constantly call to people not to kill whatever it is they think should be destroyed – they look at me as if I am crazy but so be it – I cannot stand by and usually ask if I can move the insect etc. on if at all possible. Blessed be.

  2. Very nice. I’m in total agreement. I live trap the mice. I know they are in my home for the food and warmth. When I let them go I feel sad to put them out in the cold. I try to plug the holes and to leave less of what they want around. Some birds come in to eat the berries, the warblers come to eat the bugs, the robin wants the worm, the compost hosts the worms, it’s right for them there. The slugs love my tomatoes. The deer and bears love the apples, the bears love the berries, the coyotes love the deer.
    Only humans live out of sync and want more than they need. I’ve been my whole life compassionate. Part of my path is to try to not use more resources than I need. It’s taken half a life to stop buying. Spend on time, time is more valuable than money, time watching, living, being part of nature. It’s when I’m happiest and feel most connected, out in the environment. Sacred. Humans so busy at their jobs, lose their connection to this planet and go on vacations to try to reconnect. Bombarded by advertisements. An item you make or repair, now you have a connection. Less is more, because you have more time to spend. I do lots of cooking, it takes time, it’s gone in minutes. I see homemade food from the basic components connects you in lots of little paths that spread out like strings of magic in all different directions. For example, when I started to make beer, I used malt extract, now I grind the grain, I see it’s beautiful shapes, I feel the plant, the sun shining on it, the water raining on it, the roots reaching deep. When I grind the grains, I release the germ, the husks come off. It’s just beautiful. Maybe when it’s done it will taste a different than store bought, I don’t care, I love it because I’m connected through and through. I buy the grain in a fifty pound brown paper sack, I’ve called the company, I know it grows in Northern Canada, he told me the organic malt more easily converts. Now, me him, the grain are all connected. 🌺🐙🐠🐉🐫🐊🐩🐾🐀🌱🌳🌝🌚🌛🌍🌍🌍🌍🌍🌍🌿🌾🌾🍄 it is a very nice piece (peace) you wrote. It inspired me. Following your thoughts, deep thinking caused me to dip in my own well. Lots of times I live through feeling more than thinking. It’s good to think. Thinking takes time.

  3. Unfortunately, as organic beings we have to consume organic material to exist, no matter our preferences. “life lives on life”: as Joseph Campbell once quoted. Even plants have consciousness and we kill them in spades. We also stamp out microbes with medicines whenever we get the sniffles. The difference is the intention we bring to our activities. Remember this the next time you reach for your antibacterial hand salve.

  4. I agree with what you say here, absolutely. I am always picking up snails and slugs and moving them off the sidewalk and to a place of safety, not someone’s garden, but to neutral spaces. I trap the spiders in my house and take them outside. I put bumble bees who are stuck on a flower to feed and recharge. Sometimes when I go in the back garden I will accidentally step on snail and I am sick when I hear the crunch. I say how sorry I am and bless it on its journey.

    We simply can’t go on thinking we have the most right to be here – it is such a short step from dominion to domination and one humans made a very long time ago. We have to be responsible and responsive to those beings who share this fragile world with us.

    As regards ‘original sin’, let us not forget that it was not an early doctrine of Christianity, but was borne of Augustine of Hippo’s personal issues in the mid-fifth century. Yes, it was picked up by the body and sexuality denying fathers of the church, so called and quite ironically, but it was not something the primitive church used, even though some early Christians — based on Paul’s writings — also denied the body and it’s pleasures believing the second coming was due at any moment. It has done us not favours as a doctrine and has done terrible damage to the way generations of humans have viewed themselves and their place in the world.

    Whilst life may have no inherent meaning, humans for the most part are meaning seekers. We strive and struggle to understand the reason we are here and what we are for, beyond the animal imperatives for continuing the species and all that goes with that.

    There was a programme on BBC4 on surviving species and the presenter opened the each of the programmes, because the dealt with the ancient mass extinctions of various kinds, that we are all children of catastrophe. We would do well to remember that — were it not for this or that cataclysmic event mammals and the food beings, animal and plant we depend upon would not have arisen. We are not here by right but by an amazing sequence of circumstances. We would do well to remember this fact and take better care, we who are now the extinction makers.

  5. Your essay made me think of my granddaughter, who was 5 or 6 at the time, who would insist that I stop the jeep so should rescue snakes sunning themselves in the middle of the road and release them into adjacent fields…mostly garter snakes….scared of spiders…..

  6. Very interesting piece. I have heard of a local restaurant where I live where you can ‘eat as much meat as you can’ served on endless skewers brought to the table. As a vegetarian this makes me even more determined to have respect for the sanctity of life.

    • It’s quite sickening, the amount of meat-eaters out there who don’t even think about what they are eating, what they are doing. This extends to all of humanity, who don’t even try to see the bigger picture, because it might make them uncomfortable, or make them think twice about what they are doing and change their ways. I’ve come across this time and again, even with friends who don’t or refuse to try to understand why I’ve given up certain things – my own personal happiness and also personal ignorance are not more important that being fully awake in the world, and living with response-ability. x

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