This paper seeks to move us beyond the commonly held images of Hindu (and Jain) traditions
associated with animal protection, namely, the principle of ahiṁsā (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 Sāṅkhya darshana (philosophical vision), my aim
is to show how important features of Sāṅkhya-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 Sāṅkhya’s triadic modal
mapping of consciousness: Of the three modalities of behavior and experience, the luminosity
and balance of sattva-guṇa is favoured over the passion of raja-guṇa and the inebriety of tomaguṇa.
From this perspective, among animal species, cows are considered to be representative
of and characterized in their behavior by sattva-guṇa. 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
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 samādhi (perfect
absorption) — takes on significance for animal-human relationality, extending Yoga’s potential
for environmental healing far beyond the pursuit of individual yogic accomplishment.