oh, shit

In response to my on-going quest for utopic living, my ex-husband would often quip some clever sociological quote that investigation deep into any culture you would find a horror.  In my opinion he was a party pooper.  But there is something about Patent Law, of all the things, which brings me face to face with that horror.

It’s the most behind the scenes of the behind the scenes, steeped in greater intimacy than a company’s books, for this is not external property, it is internal property.  The patent world revolves around what people know, and know deeply.  If you want to know about a company’s integrity, explore how they handle their intellectual property.

The chemist I work for is an honest and kind man, who, sensitive to my sensitivities, is very up front about matters he handles which I may find, well, not in keeping with my ethical ideal.

It’s an interesting journey.

Today, I found myself slogging through a mountain of scientific data about the synthesis of civetone.  As an aspiring vegan, I was aware of the use of civet absolute in flavorings.    Civets are members of the cat family, found in the Phillipines and Indonesia.  Civet absolute is a substance used in natural flavorings which is made from the secretions of the civet.  Now here I was, sorting a pile of chemical literature about manufacturing civetone synthetically.  I thought it was time I did a little more digging about the abuse of the civets.  Were they still being exploited for their flavorful and aromatic secretions?  I’m always hopeful that controversy will create change.

I uncovered a landmine, and forgive me if you already know about this (it won’t be the first time I’ve been the last to know).  While the data on present time civet natural flavorings industry was a little bit scanty, there was a mountain of information about Kopi Luwak.  A mountain of poop.

Kopi Luwak is a high end coffee, upwards of $200 a pound, made of coffee berries eaten and pooped by civets.  That’s right.  The high end coffee drinkers of Kopi Luwak are drinking seeds plucked from poop.

Generally, wild civet poop is considered to make a more tasty brew than farmed civet poop.  The civets still running wild are happier, eat better, and apparently, their poop is finer.  Wild civet poop has to be “found”, although, in the wake of how the food industry has abused the term “wild” in reference to fish, and “humane” in reference to farm animals, one can’t really be sure.  When you are dealing with a price tag of $200 a pound, one can expect a few frauds and tall tales to emerge.

Of course, such economic gain from an animal substance is sure to lead to deeper and deeper levels of exploitation and abuse.  Civets are being imprisoned for their poop.  Taken from free lives in the jungle and confined in a foot of two (if they are lucky) of space and fed prison meals on rigid schedules.   As if that is not abuse enough, often the conditions (as the conditions are for all other farmed animals, including the ones from whom dairy products are taken) are extreme, the animals being treated like objects without sentience, without feelings at all.  As Lakshmi the cat sits here next to me as I write, I feel sad not only for the civets, but for those who see them as no more than objects to be used.

No one, absolutely no one, can argue that this is a necessary evil.   While one can argue that living in the perception that drinking brewed poop refuse and thinking it’s delicious is its own kind of punishment, there is no reasonable argument which anyone could make for allowing this to continue.  There is no need for these beings to suffer.







The Black Bear (repost)

There was a whiff of spring…kind of. The sun was out and the temperature registered at a balmy high forties. While I confess to have the heat on in the little honda, we had the moon roof open. I know we were wasting fuel, but it was a short drive and I couldn’t resist the little extra dab of sun on the crown of my head. Toshi the cat was riding shotgun, albeit in his carrier. We sped along to the vet to see what was up with him, the night before had been rough for both of us…he seemed really sick. The shock of being sick, trapped in a plastic box and then scuttled to the car seemed to have abated. His eyes were bright, and as the wind from the open moon roof ruffled his whiskers he looked at me, and chirped an unusually cheerful meow. We drove past blocks of concrete, the medical school and some section 8 housing, and were preparing to make a left onto the highway when I saw it.

Now I must digress a moment to describe the terrain a wee bit more. Right on the outskirts of the city of Newark lies lovely Branchbrook park, designed by acclaimed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead and John Charles Olmstead and home to our world famous cherry trees. To access the highway one has to navigate an unusual intersection. One path, if followed leads to a vibrant corner of downtown, another reveals humble homesteads of those whose destiny led them to be homeowners, but right by the highway. To the left is the ramp onto the highway, and then one can glimpse, on the other side of the ramp, a bit of grass and trees and the sign “Welcome to Branch brook Park, Home of World Famous Cherry Blossoms”. Beyond the sign, the green grass and shady trees beckon one, always (as many things in Newark do) to stop and remember that no matter how tough things get, that one can always choose to dance.

Today though, I must say that my heart skipped a beat, and I near stopped in my tracks. Inside, anyway. The screeching halt I quickly prevented myself from making would have endangered not only Toshi the cat and I, but also every other auto turning onto the highway.


By the side of the road, half on the highway, and half off, was a bear. It truly was black and somewhat small, a teenager, perhaps, its coat plentiful and thick, the luster apparent even at this distance.

I had been moved more than once in this life to sculpt bears as a gesture of honor, love and awe. Revered by native cultures for strength and self-sufficiency, bear embody the gift of introspection. Bear too, it seems, had been stopped in his tracks, literally.   This beautiful being, although still majestic, had met his or her demise on the hood of some previous driver’s automobile.

My initial grief was rapidly replaced by explosive anger. In case you don’t know, there is a war going on in suburban America. The habitat of a considerable number of species has been obliterated by overdevelopment, and the original inhabitants (we’ll limit our discussion here to the non-human animals) have been displaced.

Okay, lets take the gloves off, and forgo the polite euphemisms, shall we? In our gluttony for comfort and social status, we’ve stolen their homes, and now these beautiful beings who once roamed the continent freely taking their food from nature have no where to rest their heads and are forced to scavenge through our garbage for food. And dammit, if this makes us uncomfortable, we shoot them!  Not one at a time, mind you, but rather in a one day free for all, us against them.

So, you know it might not even be the bear that scares you that gets shot. Not that that makes a difference. But imagine someone declared a free for all safari on the humans for taking up too much space on the planet. You might get shot for someone elses bad behavior. But that’s beside the point.

Now, I too have dreamed often of having a little plot of land of my own, where I could stick my hands in the earth and look up at the sky. The consolation prize for remaining in the urban human habitat of the deep city is that I was not a direct participant in the human contribution to the war against the wild. But that war had just landed on my concrete doorstep.

At that moment several thoughts went through my mind. Was this a figment of my imagination? Was it the totem spirit of bear, sculpted and called out to so long ago in this life? Or was I actually seeing this with my physical eyes? It mattered not, as one way or another there was clearly trouble ahead. Two possibilities came to mind. Either this little guy had been so hungry that he’d crossed MILES of concrete looking for food, or bear spirit was giving me the heads up that something was big coming. And then I knew…spirit or material, this sighting was a clear indication of what was coming…another BEAR HUNT.

In 2006, the state of New Jersey declared a ceasefire on it’s bear population. Since the ceasefire, our bear population has increased from an estimated 1700 to an estimated 3400. There are approximately 8,600,000 people in the state of New Jersey. That means there is only one bear for every 202,000 humans. I’m sorry you won’t get to have your own. We are the most densely populated of states, and to be honest with you, this impacts you even if you don’t live here. We are the only state that doesn’t currently have such a hunt. And to the parties advocating the hunt, that’s part of the argument for having one. In case you don’t think that your vote matters on such things, well, it’s no coincidence that we are losing that precious non-violent claim to fame in the year after Chris Christie took office. The increase in reported incidents after the suspesion of the bear hunt was only approximately 200 more “bear nuisance” incidents in two years.

Now, here’s what we know about the strategy of this war against the wild. When the former inhabitants of this land make themselves a nuisance (and it’s not just bears) by pooping on lawns, rifling the garbage for snacks or coming too close for comfort, some convenient form of extermination is conducted.

Sometimes these dire offenders are rounded up, forced into the back of a truck and gassed to death (canadian geese who were pooping on the lawn of a condo development). Sometimes they are mass poisoned (starlings poisoned systematically by the USDA in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon). Sometimes the humans go right to the battle lines and declare a rampage, a hunt.

Now, I understand that starvation becomes an issue if the population is allowed to grow naturally. It is an issue for the entire world right now – and we are blaming the animals, rather than looking at ourselves. There a so many humans, and many humans who take much more than they really need.  The result in our lives is that humans are starving, and some feel that it is necessary to resort to violence to have their human needs met.  The definition of what we need is defined often, by consumer capitalist culture and not by a balanced assessment of our true needs in relationship to the planetary community as a whole. Of course this imbalance will show up in the populations of the beings we share the planet with, human and otherwise.

This bear hunt is an unnecessary ineffective way to patchwork address a larger problem . Rather than shooting bears, the good people of the state of New Jersey may want to examine their own behaviors and begin to shift to ways of life that are more harmonious with the planet. Is it an immediate solution? No. But 200 incidents does not indicate a state of emergency that requires a wholesale slaughter. Instead, we should take this as a wake up call to create space in our lives, that other lives may be saved.

A public hearing on the bear hunt will be held on May 11 at 6 p.m. at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton.





somewhere in the badlands of south dakota Written Feb 4, 2011. posted for awareness sake.

It was late, late afternoon in the Badlands of South Dakota.  I was alone in the vast multi-hued rock formations.  Unscalable, unconquerable and uninhabitable, or so it seemed to me.  Lavender and vermillion outcroppings reflected the rapidly fading sunlight.   It was the day after Labor Day and the crowds that flood the national parks, the animal paparazzi, had returned home.    I was engulfed in solitude, not a single living thing could be seen for miles and miles and miles.  The Honda scooted over the sharp crest of a hill.

From nowhere, they became visible, not two, or three, or four, but hundreds.  Bison.

They crossed the road in front of me.  Some ignored me, some stared me down fiercely and then a few blessed souls stopped by to stick their furry faces to the windows.  I was alone in an ocean of bison.  What charmed action could I have done in some past life to be so rewarded by an audience with such divine creatures?  Bison, known to give to America’s first people everything that they needed to survive.  Bison, reminder of the sacred interdependent relationship between humans and the rest of the natural world.  There they were,  surrounding me, in the most desolate landscape I’d ever visited.  Looking in their eyes, I knew that they knew so much more than I could even begin to fathom.  We were there for a very long time.  Them looking at me, me looking at them.  I was tempted often to look away, but it seemed there was something I needed to hear from them.  If ever I experienced a moment of genuine humility, it was that one.  A teacher later told me that they symbolized the heart, when I shared the story of meeting them in the heartland.  It was growing dark.

The whooping was audible long before the truck became visible.  White men in cowboy hats, beeping the horn and refusing to slow down.  The herd scattered.  As I gazed after them, I wondered after these strange men in their big hats, who drove blindly through a miracle, compelling it to scatter and dissolve.  How could they miss the meaning of this?

My heart broke to bits upon seeing the Yahoo news headling about the impending buffalo slaughter in Yellowstone Park.  Apparently it’s gone on before, and I at least was not aware of it.  There is concern that the buffalo carry mad cow disease and that it will contaminate the local livestock. 

A couple things to consider about this.  It’s important to know that, in increasing numbers, the wildlife of this country, and other countries as well, are forced out of their habitat and confined on limited grounds that the government declares “refuge”.  But it is not “refuge” when the animals, through living their own lives, are perceived by the government as being nuisances and subsequently murdered.  If you have ever been to our national parks, you have have heard the rangers plead with people not to behave in ways that encourage what might be perceived as disruptive behavior on the part of the furred and feathered residents of the parks.  It is an abomination that any life would be considered less than sacred, but for those of you who are skeptical of the value of non-human lives, be assured that humans can easily be considered just as dispensable.  It happens all the time.  Either life is sacred and we act in harmony with this, or it is not.

The second thing to consider is the impact the cattle industry has in this whole affair.  Please don’t support them at all by consuming their products.  We cannot condone and support an industry based on slaughter and expect that violence to stay confined.  Violence always begets more violence.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti








To do list:  

Eat vegetables, grains and legumes


“We deserve to live, just like you do” Howard the Bison remarked in response to a query about the pending slaughter.

gods country

god’s country


years ago

i dreamed at night of missed deadlines.

lost papers and

frustrated longings,

a need to bust out of the confines

of a business suit,

nightmares of sadness,

and fear that the veneer

of perfection

invested in so heavily

would crack

and someone would know the truth

about me


now, years later

I dream at night of missed deadlines

bill unpaid and

mistakes made,

frustrated longings to be heard

amidst the noise of the crowd,

sadness and fear

that others would never know

the truth about themselves

and that i am incapable

of revealing it


somewhere, along the way,

on the road between

being boxed in

and living outside the box

there was a mountain


not one, or two, but many

so tremendous in their presence

photographs could not capture their essence

a journey across the continent

an experience of vastness

previously unmet on the tiny island of concrete


in a land of blue skies that never ended

for miles

and miles and miles and miles

red rocks, crashing rapids

kind waitresses serving home fries

in rural diners



first west and then east

one day

an endless river

monarch butterflies

crossing my path

en-route to the warmth of southern skies

(is it good luck,

I wondered then,

to be

in the presence of a miracle?)



god’s country on the outside

inviting surrender, an opening, to

god’s country in the inside

a willingness to take those mountains into the heart

and find that they already existed there


this mountain

those butterflies

those rapids

delicious home fries

created maybe in a day

by a love so huge that this was all in a weeks work

or maybe less, or maybe more


this body, a billion cells

muscle, tissue, bone, and blood

interacting in an unmappable


a tiny microcosm of the beauty

of the infinite “out there”


humility revealing itself to be

not a sense of smallness

in the presence

of that vastness


but rather a sense of

belonging to that vastness


created by love in a day

maybe more

how could one not be humbled that

the love that created a mountain

pulsed blood in our veins

and created each of us

somewhat different than the rest


not an accident!


this one full of heart and frankness,

that one short, stout and easy going

another beautiful, brilliant and a prisoner of pridefulness

that one a little curmudgeonly but full of generous determination

another fearful, sweet and sincere


how could there be a mistake in this?

it would be like saying those mountains are too big!

or that Don Giovanni has too many notes



revealing itself as

not making less of ourselves,

but rather

the opposite-

a willingness to

to open ourselves large enough

to receive a gift –


an experience of the magnificent perfection

of all that is.

baby elephant walk not

It was really cold, or rather, I felt cold.  The sensation of ice cubes moving through my veins concerned me.  Am I getting sick?  I thought.  And the depression, where did that come from?  Depression has not been my companion for years.  I feel fairly happy all the time, a by product I suppose, of years of yoga practice.  But the feeling of a giant brick on my chest was weighing me down.  It was 1:00 in the afternoon.  Excited as I had been about the afternoon I was about to have off, I took to my bed and uneasily, sorrowfully fell into a fitful sleep.


And then, the dream.


The event was magnificent, something befitting Cinderella.  The dress I wore….the most beautiful one I own, my hair?  Coiffed into the perfect shape.  I was on a very special date, or so it seemed, but the gentleman who was leading me by the arm (who I had never seen before) was not  kind to me, not at all, and none of the people around seemed to notice there was anything wrong, even  though they were looking right at me.  I was totally vulnerable.  I wanted to leave this man, and yet my feet felt like cement blocks.  Looking down I saw my slender feet in sexy black shoes with ankle straps. Mystified that my feet would not follow my bidding to move, I tried again, and lo and behold the sexy ankle straps transformed into ankle cuffs.  My feet were chained together so I could not escape


I woke with a start. “Whoa” I thought.  “I hope that was not a premonition”.   I head out into the chilly rain for an enjoyable afternoon.


As I returned, I parked the car and head home past Newark’s prized Prudential Center.  Children waving lighted wands had been filling the streets for the last day or so, doing I knew not what.  Up ahead, a slender person wearing a grey elephant costume was kindly engaging passerby and chatting.  Coming closer I saw that she was holding a picture of elephants on chains.  Ringling Brothers circus was in town.  They arrived the previous night.   For a moment, the child in me flashed on circus parades through the street and then the woman in the animal suit reminded me, these animals do not have happy lives.  I really didn’t want to hear this.  Not because I don’t believe it, or because I don’t care, but because I’m tired, like everyone else.  Wanting desperately to close my eyes and ears to evidence of a universe populated by cold hearted beings, I listened briefly and went to move on.  The elephant woman’s companion was having difficulty with the television needed to show the video of the mistreatment of the animals.  I was inspired by these two, their calm dedication, their lack of anger, their calm fortitude.  The television kept falling over.  I tried to help him.


“Can I help you?”  I said, offering to head home to get duct tape to hold up the TV. “ I live only a few blocks away.”


“I just need someone to stand here and hold the TV”.  I can do that I said, not really wanting to, but how could I leave them there in the cold?  I said I would take my things home, get mittens and come back, which I did.  The television in question was now completely kaput.  The duct tape was a moot point.


So the only other assignment possible was standing and holding a sign.  Once again, my reluctance surfaced, but, well, I knew better, you see.  I couldn’t leave, even though this was not how I wanted to spend my Friday night.  Not at all.


I looked through the selection of signs to hold , and there it was, the picture.  I don’t know how old she was, but for an elephant she was tiny and very cute, until you looked a little closer.  Someone was whipping her on the head and…yep…


Her, not as slender as mine, ankles were cuffed together.  Her head was bowed in submission.


And so I did.  I stood and held the sign.  It was intense and very uncomfortable.  Embarrassing even.  But the dividing line between her and me had been severed by that dream.


It was amazing to me, there in the frigid cold, watching the crowds arrive for the circus.  Families with clear ancestral lines to slavery walked by one after another, I wondered if they connected the image in my hands of whipping and chaining with the suffering their great great grandparents experienced.  And then there was the woman who smacked and shoved her child right in front of me. My goodness, I thought, we don’t treat each other all that well do we.  It was doubly sad.  I wished they could see.  You can choose kindness, it is possible.


Of course during the duration from time to time I piped up with a vocalized “boycott the circus!!”  But at a certain point I had to fall silent, for a long time, watching all those people.  So easy for them to turn away and not understand.  And then, bubbling up from some deep cavernous space in my chest the song, the melody, the only way I know to really express how I feel.  So I started to sing, first in Sanskrit, then in English.  “May all beings everywhere be happy and free”.  And I started to cry.  And then this thing happened.  Oh, I’d heard about it.  You know, read about it in books.  But there is was.  My heart quivered.  Wow. After all these years.  Just like they say.  That elephants suffering was my own.  I feel her a few blocks away as I write this.  This isn’t a brag…I just want you to know she is hurting.  Of that I am certain.  And not just physically.


I looked over at the woman in the elephant suit and we were both crying.  And there it was…you know the remaining time passed quicker with the singing.  I wondered if they really thought I was mad and maybe I was.  Well, maybe I am.


I arrived at my comfortable home, new fluffy red quilt and Lakshmi the kitten curled up in her matching fluffy red kitten bed.  Sipping tea before bed.  So much for my plans for the night.


And then the chill arose again, like ice in my veins, and the fear and the feeling of heartache dwarfing the feeling of comfort.  I checked the thermostat, the room was warm enough.  There was nothing to do but climb under the covers and go to sleep.  And I wondered as I fell asleep, if my friend, the baby elephant, was cold.   Of course, they must keep them outside, and it was really cold out, and wet.  But then, perhaps I was feeling the cold of the ice in the veins of the man with the bullhook and the whip.


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It was still dark when we arrived, our bright rambunctious group awoke at 4 or so, and after gulping down the caffeinated beverages lovingly supplied by the hotel staff, extra early by request.  We tumbled into the van and head to a different patch of sea from the one where we were staying.  We head from Nosara to Ostional.


Upon arriving, we walked through the tiny town and out to the beach, silence hovering naturally over most of the group.  


Under moonlight, the beach is transformed from a sparkling backdrop upon which happy humans frolic in their various ways, into a landscape of ancient memory.  The watery depth of the ocean dominates the landscape, lit up by the light of a brilliant full moon.   When all humans are asleep mother nature pulls out her finery and starts to dance.  She reminds us where we all came from, animals arising from single cells floating in the ocean.  Something ancient begins to emerge from my memory.  We are part of this planet, of the life that emerges, exists and recedes, and has done so for eons more than I can ever imagine.  


They begin to emerge from the sea, first one, then another than another. Soon many,  flipper by flipper making their way up the beach on appendages designed to move them through water.  The effort is tangible, recalling every experience of love’s labor in life.  One has wonder how conscious they are of the contribution made by the trek up the sand to lay their precious eggs.  The sacrifice all mothers make to perpetuate the species of which they are members.  The pain, the struggle, the effort.


The love, immense and infinite, embodied in this task of birthing and mothering.


I am there with a group of mothers, one of the few in the group never to have participated in the ritual of giving birth.


After clambering way way up on the beach, the digging begins.  flippers moving quickly, spurts of effort punctuated by pauses for rest.  We are told by the guide that the mothers dig two holes, the first being a decoy for the one she buries the real eggs in.  The nests are surrounded by vultures, waiting to prey on the tender treasures.  But still these divine mothers plug on in their task.  The eggs are laid in the nests and covered over.


One by one, then they begin to recede to the ocean.  The exhaustion readily apparent as flipper by flipper they drag their heavy bodies back to the sea.  More than one of the clearly older turtles pauses numerous times to rest.  At this point the group turns to watch…captivated.  I know I begin to silently cheer them on.   Go!! Go!!!  A few are missing flippers, making the task all that much more arduous.  Relief ripples through the group as each one catches a wave and heads back to her watery home.  These women I am with and our resonance with the turtle mothers awakens this memory of the shared experience of women all over the planet, those thousands of labors of love that are just part of our lives, but keep the life of the planet going.  That keep life going.  

As one of our newly discovered sisters raises her head above the water as she catches a wave, Julia, one of the mothers in the group calls out…”Give us a little wave, will ya?”.  And yes she does, flipper emerging from the surface of the sea in a gesture of farewell.  


The people come, bags in hand, scooping up the eggs before many of the vultures have had a chance to have their snack.  We have mixed feelings, watching this happen.  Apparently this quick collection of the eggs, which are part of a group that are unlikely to survive, is part of a larger conservation effort.   An effort made by humans to preserve the precious species that keep us anchored in the sea of life that all species come from, including ourselves.






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From Darkness to Light:



Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.1

atha yoganushashanam

Now(at this point of transition) the exposition of yoga.[i]


Patajali’s Yoga Sutra 1.2

yogash citta-vritti-nirodha

Yoga is the suppression of the fluctuations of the mind[ii]


“The problem is, that you won’t really be able to understand why eating meat is an obstacle in your practice, until you stop eating it.” the statement was offered gently, or so I thought.  The student had been defending the lifestyle of the carnivorous yogi as I walked up to the group, and the other teachers had redirected her comments in my direction.


“But I’m on the path, I’m making progress,” her defensive tone and unwillingness to make eye contact did not seem concordant with making progress in yoga.  Sutra II.46 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, an authoritative ancient text on yoga, suggests that ease or sukham is a significant dimension of the asana practice.  Some result must have been apparent, or she would not have continued practicing, and yet, she did not seem at ease.


“The practice of ahimsa, or non-violence is given very prominent placement in the teachings, we have to assume that placement is not arbitrary. ” I responded.  “As long as we continue to ingest food from an animal who has suffered,  on some level our perceptual mechanisms must remain shut down and unaware or we would feel the animals suffering, we would know it as our own.  This closing off of our awareness impedes our progress on the path.     When we are aware, to continue to ingest such suffering would be unthinkable.”  A look of shock and sadness arose in her eyes which quickly hardened as she turned brusquely and walked away.


In the second century C.E. a yogic adept by the name of Patanjali produced an authoritative treatise on the practices of yoga commonly referred to as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.  The text provides a framework of the methods of yoga, as well as a terminology with which to discuss the goals of the practice.  Patanjali declares the state of yoga to be the experience where one’s essential, or pure spiritual nature, prevails over the tendencies of the mind (vritti’s).  Until that moment occurs one will experience self and world as a reflection of those tendencies.  Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra delineates a systematic method of dismantling of the power of the vrittis, allowing the yogin to identify with their essential nature.


Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra IV.3


nimittam-aprayojakam prakrtinam varana-bhedas tu tatah ksetrikavat


“Good and bad deeds are not the direct causes in the transformations of nature, but they act as breakers of obstacles to the evolutions – as a farmer breaks the obstacles to the course of water, which then runs down by its own nature”.  Swami Vivekananda[iii]






P.Y.S. 11.28 yoganganusthanad asuddhi ksaye jnana diptir avivika khyateh

Through practicing the (eight) limbs of yoga – upon the diminishing of impurities, there is a light of knowing, up to (leading to)viveka-khyata – the identification of viveka (discriminitive wisdom)[iv]


The methods of yoga are empirical, systematic and designed to be replicated.  The efficacy of the methodology has been confirmed through experience by countless yogins for thousands of years. As in a chemistry experiment where a minute detail, left out, or shifted in sequence, can alter the results completely, the methodology of yoga has been cultivated to obtain the result of experience of realization, or yoga – and a minute detail, left out, will alter the results that one obtains.   Contemporary practitioners are quick to adopt the methods of yoga for the enjoyment of personal lifestyle appetites:  consumerism, social cravings, short term stress reduction and other transient and insubstantial gains.  In exchanging the formal structure of the method for a fractional snippet of immediate gratification, the promise of stable well-being and deep satisfaction intrinsic to the deeper processes of yoga, is forfeited.


While much of Patanjali’s text concerns the subtle focus and surrender cultivated in meditation,

in the second chapter of the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali specifies the external actions required to support the internal dynamics of the practice.  These powerful practices are called the “yamas”.  The yamas are the “mahavratam” or great vows of the yogi.  There is no condition under which they are not applicable[v].  Before asana, before meditation, before pranayama,  before even cultivating a fervent desire for success in the practice[vi], the yogin is advised to renounce all harmful behavior.  In other words, the journey to the true clarity and peace which is yoga begins with the renunciation of all animal food.  Ahimsa, or non-harming, cannot properly be practiced without this dietary restriction,  as there is no animal food obtained whether it be flesh food or honey, which does not cause pain, either through literal taking of the life, or enslavement[vii].   Eating is, for many, the most frequently harmful behavior in which they engage.  The ongoing  partaking of food obtained at the expense of the life of another is a continual erroneous reinforcement of the fear based misperception that one must harm others in order to survive.    To practice yoga while consuming animal products is much like digging a hole only to fill it up again over and over.




P.Y.S.  1.5 vrttaha pancatayyah klistaklistah

             There are five primary forms of vrittis, and they either obstruct our clarity,           causing pain (klistah) or they do not (aklistah)[viii].


PYS. 1.6 pramana-viparyaya-vikalpa-nidra-smrtayah

              They are right knowledge, wrong knowledge, verbal delusion, sleep and memory.


Indoctrination in food paradigms begins at an early age when the freedom to make individual choices is minimal at best.  This indoctrination is the basis for many of the vrittis.  The depth of the influence of conditioning about food and the influence of what we eat on our state of mind is evidenced by the difficulty many aspiring practitioners encounter when the desire to shift to a violence-free diet arouses deep states of conflict within the context of family, spiritual groups, friends and love relationships.  To change what we eat is directly connected to a deep shift in identity and values.  If I am no longer eating what my friends eat, what tribe will I belong to?  To choose to eat in such a way that breaks out of our culture and places the well-being of all beings on par with our social group makes a profound statement.  All living beings are as valuable as those with whom we are the most intimate.  To take on such a primal shift is to break down our most fundamental tendencies.  When this behavior is adopted in its classical placement at the initial stages of the practice, it is a powerful catalyst for transformation which allows the following stages of work to proceed more quickly.


Patanjali identifies five primary vrittis right knowledge, wrong knowledge,  verbal delusion, sleep and memory.   When these vrittis are not suppressed through proper practice their dominance in the mind field colors our experience of the world.




Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.7

pratyaksanumanagamah pramanani

Valid means of knowledge are direct perception, inference and testimony[ix]




Down into the water we went.  The dive master plunged deeper, and encouraged us remain close by on this, our first, underwater adventure.  Sunlight scattered through a sea which appeared to be a brilliant blue green,  but the water was clear, absolutely clear.  With the exception of the outcropping of the reef ahead, the ocean floor was a barren wasteland.  Inflated by the conquest of this alien environment, our little scuba group darted to and fro celebrating the liberating experience of this new frontier.  And then, unencumbered by tanks (or for that matter arms and legs),  and adorned with shimmering scales of many colors, the sovereign inhabitants of the sea kingdom revealed themselves.  Silent and lovely, the tiny school of fish glided towards us with an innate dignity and grace that no earthly title could confer.  By comparison, I felt foolish and clumsy, masquerading as a sea creature with rubber fins, tank, and wet suit.  Pride crumbled into humility, remembering that such beautiful beings were held prisoners in tanks,  in the homes and offices of others of my kind.  Surprise, wonder and delight arose with the experience of their obvious sentience when interacted with in their proper abode.  How humbling it was, to realize that my perception of these grand creatures had been so tainted by their behavior when in captivity.  As if any being could ever express its true nature, when confined in a cage or a tank.


Emerging onto the land of concrete, we shed our rubber skins. A dinner celebration had been planned to honor this, our first brave dive into the sea.  Appetites fully engaged, we went in ardent pursuit of the finest eatery above sea level.  Our chosen venue was opulent, magnificently lit and very expensive.  The special of the day was a tantalizing mix of the ocean’s most delectable beings, prepared especially to delight the human palate.  The waitress, glowing with pride at her offering, placed the platter in front of me.  My anticipation of a delicious meal dissolved in a flood of tears, and more tears.  In a moment of clarity the connection between the meal placed before me, and the beautiful beings I had played with a short time before, had been revealed.


How strange that my friends and I could be so confused that we could swim and play with the fishes and then, to celebrate, plan a party where we would eat them.  An acquaintance  once told me she had a similar experience on a dive trip – and since then has never eaten fish after a scuba dive.  One wonders, if she cannot eat fish after a scuba dive, how she ever eats it at all.




What is right knowledge?   Well, according to Patanjali right knowledge has three dimensions, it is based on correct perception, correct deduction and scriptural authority.  For the non-yogi, what what they may source for information would most likely be what they experience, what they figure out based on what they experience and recognized authority, which is most often science.    All of these things fluctuate.  Just as in the story above, what we see or feel or know to be true can change from moment to moment.


Even testimony based on scientific research, which is often used to validate a carnivorous lifestyle is continually fluctuating.  The term paradigm was coined by Thomas Kuhn to signify a structure of agreements upon which the dominant scientific model of any given period is based.  In other words, the underlying beliefs which shape the scientific development at any given point in time or we could say “scientific vrittis”.  According to Kuhn, the research that is advocated will support the dominant paradigm of the time, and that which does not fall into alignment with the dominant paradigm is disregarded.  A scientific revolution is characterized by the overturning of a one of these underlying models.   For many years, scientists and philosophers built their work on the paradigm that the Sun revolved around the earth.  Copernicus’ radical assertion that in fact the Earth moved was met with denial and controversy.  While philosophers and scientists of Copernicus’s day were operating under the heavy hand of the Catholic Church, much of modern scientific research into food is financed by those with a vested interest in keeping the general population carnivorous[x].


Sylvia Earle, former chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has written, “[Fish] are our fellow citizens with scales and fins….I would never eat anyone I know personally, I wouldn’t eat a grouper any more than I’d eat a cocker spaniel.  They’re so good-natured, so curious.  You know, fish are sensitive, they have personalities, they hurt when they are wounded.”[xi]



P.Y.S. 1.8 viparyayo mithya-jnanam a tad rupa pratistham

Mistaken knowledge is an idea which is not based on the nature or form of its object


The air was full of the sounds of chairs scraping, and cars whizzing by.  We were in a small town, but it might have been Manhattan, the sounds were so penetrating.  After ten days of silent meditation, the ear becomes very sensitized.  This waitress was not beaming cordially,  she was gruff and rushed.  It was brunch time at the most popular diner in the village.  We were laughing and sharing, absorbing the wonder of reemerging into a cacophonous world after resting deep silence – everything around us was vibrating.  Our appetites had been reduced to the barest essentials by the simple vegetarian fare on the retreat, and now, freedom of choice!     We eagerly opened the menus.  It was a step back into the life we led before the retreat – full of television, phone calls, chatter and savory edibles.  After moment, one of my companions furrowed his brow and exclaimed,  “Wait, that vow we took, not to kill, that doesn’t include what we eat,  does it?”.  He looked seriously concerned, this question was not frivolous.   The enthusiasm at the reintroduction of decadence into our lives was immediately stifled.   Every choice on the menu, had, at one time or another obviously had a mother.


“No.  It means that you shouldn’t kill anything yourself – like you shouldn’t kill a spider”, piped up another member of the group.

“Do you really think it matters whether you kill the animal yourself or not?  It’s still dead, “ I responded.


Another group member chimed in, “Well, I have a friend who’s brother has a guru, and the guru told him that he should eat meat”.


I pondered momentarily how to point out that this mysterious guru, who we did not know, who was addressing the needs of specific individual whose circumstance we did not know.  “I don’t know who that guru was, or why they said that, but I do know this:  we can say we are choosing NOT to observe “Thou shalt not kill” and then eat meat, but we cannot say that eating meat is not killing.”


The thoughtful silence was broken by the waitress’ welcome arrival to take our orders.  The fellow who asked the question chuckled warmly, raised his eyebrows and pronounced,  “We’ll have five orders of toast please!”.


The paradigm of wrong knowledge is supported when we do not investigate what lies underneath the level of our immediate experience.  Another way to understand this sutra is that what we experience is disconnected from what’s actually happening.    It is interesting that we can acknowledge that we shouldn’t kill something, but then perceive that our action in eating flesh food does not involve taking the life of another.    Clearly, if we are purchasing and consuming flesh food, we are creating the market for murder, in the same way that any other consumer behavior establishes a market for that which is being purchased.


This disconnection is further reflected in the public’s general  denial of the relationship between the consumption of flesh food and early death.    The statistics supporting the  connection between the consumption of meat and dairy products and mortality rate is so extensive it is beyond the scope of this article,  but still the illusion that a meat based diet is healthy persists in the public eye.


Note this small summary from Howard Lyman’s “Mad Cowboy”

“The German Cancer Research Center conducted a study of over 1,900 vegetarians, and found that rates for all forms of cancer were only 56% of the normal rate.  The aforementioned study of Seventh Day Adventist men also found that this group, about half of whom are vegetarian, and who eat, on average about 50% more fiber than the general population, suffers 55% less prostrate cancer than other American males.  Similarly, a ten year study of over 120,000 Japanese men reported that vegetarian men had a lower incidence of prostrate cancer than meat eaters.[xii]”


It is interesting to note that not only do we dwell in incorrect knowledge that deludes us into believing that we do not kill when we eat meat, we dwell in incorrect knowledge about the manner in which this choice impacts us.



Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.9

sabda-jnanupati vastu-sunyo vikalpah.

Fancy is the notion called into being by mere words, having nothing to answer to it in reality[xiii].


The lesson had gone over, I thought, particularly well.  It was the first time that I had introduced the concept of veganism and yoga with a group in a suburban setting, and they had stayed open and listened for the whole teaching.  The community was, by and large, clearly well-educated and intelligent.  By their response,  it was apparent it was something they had given some thought to previously, and after the class I was approached by many with sincere and heartfelt questions.


“But of course, Natalie, there is Compassionate Killing, this is one alternative”,  the student was a wise and compassionate woman, with a long history of successful public service.  Her comment startled me.


“Compassionate killing?  There is no such thing, it’s an oxymoron.  I’ll tell you what, we’ll put you up in a fancy mansion, feed you tempting healthy morsels to fatten you up and then when it suits us, we’ll kill you.  Is that compassion?”.  Her face changed abruptly as she realized what she had said, and what I had said.  “Oh, I see what you mean.” she nodded.


A label is a powerful thing.  When someone tells us that a person is stupid or smart or funny or corrupt,  the power of that statement, made in the absence of personal experience, creates a tendency to perceive that person a particular way.  It takes work on our part to get beyond these labels.  We may never get to know the person well enough that we discover who they are on a deeper level.  Immersed in advertising, we are bombarded by labels, and removing ourselves from their influence is very difficult.  We are so used to misrepresentation that, on one level we stop interpreting the information: new and improved, homemade, natural flavors are all terms which advertisers have concocted and used until the terms have become devoid of meaning.  The term Compassionate Agriculture is a marketing tool, designed to create the impression that something is more palatable, safer or less harmful than it truly is.  But this is not new, very seldom do you hear flesh foods called exactly what they are, the decaying flesh of a once living, breathing, feeling being.  The truth is obscured by polite euphemisms.  We are given images that do not correspond at all to the reality of what is happening, happy cows on farms.  We call ourselves vegetarians when in fact we are still eating fish.  We call ourselves vegans when we still nip an egg or two, politely deluding ourselves that we are not harming others, all the while ignoring the fact that fish are not vegetables, neither are eggs; and compassionate killing could never occur in the context of mass production and a consumer market.




P.Y.S 1.10 abhava-pratyayalambana vrtiire nidra

sleep (nidra) is a thought pattern which has as it’s object inertia or blankness[xiv].


“Wake up!”  my friend laughed as I stepped out into the street oblivious to oncoming traffic and the big orange hand on the crosswalk sign.  Chagrined, I stepped back on the sidewalk, I mean, what kind of a yoga teacher was I anyway, to be so unconscious.  We were headed out to eat in a very carnivorous community.  Our choices were limited to one restaurant, which offered one option for the non-meat eater.  Entering the venue, I must admit to feeling a little queasy at the smell.  But then, it was a restaurant in an unfamiliar culture – so yes, the smells were strange.  Ignoring it, we ordered chips and guacamole, and my friend ordered a bowl of soup.  The topic turned to vegetarianism and its relationship yoga.  Our orders arrived and we relaxed into conversation.


“Yoga, requires that one come into total awareness, beyond the field of normal perception.  And the thing is, whenever we consume an animal food, we have to shut off a bit of our awareness.   Part of our awareness has to become unconscious, to go to sleep.  If we were completely aware we would feel what that animal was feeling as they were milked or forcibly impregnated or slaughtered.  We would experience it directly.  How could one continue to eat these things in such a state?  It would be very difficult.”


I paused in my soliloquy long enough to consider my friend.  As I looked in her direction I noticed that she was staring at her soup with a look of revulsion.  Oh no.  I spoiled her meal.


“I’m sorry, did this conversation upset you? “


“No,” she said, “I am worried about what’s in this soup”.  I didn’t know how to respond, initiating a conversation about food and awareness during a meal was perhaps a thoughtless choice.   “Well, have some guacamole”.  “I’m worried about what is in the guacamole”.  She really looked sad.


The waitress came and took the soup away.  My friend turned to me and said, “I think there was pig skin in that soup”.  Pig skin?  I was suddenly worried about what was in the guacamole too.  How did she even recognize it as pig skin?  I didn’t want to know.  As we sent the waitress away with the unfinished guacamole I reflected on how easy it had been to turn off that perception of the funny smell when we walked in.  Of course it was a funny smell.  It was animal food.  And we had deliberately turned away from the perception.


The fourth of the modifications that Patanjali address is “nidra”, commonly translated to mean the yogic state of deep  meditation which resembles sleep, where the mind turns away from external world; also just sleeping.  But the word nidra may also be translated as slothful from drowsiness or darkness[xv].  And clearly we have moments when we dwell not in right knowledge or wrong knowledge, but just in a fog which obscures what is happening around us.  When we are drowsy, we are not paying attention.  In the dark, we cannot see.  Some conditions are conducive to physical sleep.  When the lights are low, the music quiet and the room warm we are inclined to go into drowsy unconsciousness.  Likewise, when we are fixed in a view of the world, encountering something that we don’t want to experience may result in a shut down of our perceptual mechanisms.  An extreme example could be fainting from shock.


Such is the paradox of the factory farm, they are often invisible, the animals confined out of sight, the waste from the animals sloughed off away from the farm and into our waterways[xvi].  As we drive through the bucolic landscapes of rural america, it is easy to turn our awareness away from what is politely not mentioned.  What agribusiness?  It’s beautiful here.  When the suffering of animals is hidden behind the pristine outer walls of an animal confinement center, we do not need to consider the squeals of distress that go on within those walls. To consider that would be to wake up to the experience that the commodities in question were really sentient beings with thoughts and feelings.  Pigs, for example,  have been known to have one of the highest IQs of all animals[xvii].  One has to wonder what it must be like for such an intelligent animal to live its life confined without sunlight or room to move or take any kind of voluntary action at all.  Consider this, if we were to take the most intelligent humans on the planet, and confine them in tiny rooms with no windows, without sensory stimulation at all, for the entirety of their lives.  What would their life experience be like?


To ignore, to turn away, to cultivate ignorance, creates more ignorance.    We are adept at ignoring the consequences of our animal food consumption on our bodies, the planet and our souls.  Even when it arises momentarily in our sensory consciousness, we tune out the questions that arise and go quickly back to sleep .



anabhuta-visayasampramosah smritih

Memory is not allowing those matters of enjoyment or experience to be forgotten[xviii]



“I love Thanksgiving!”  the student in the front row exclaimed gleefully.


I had been speaking about the annual Jivamukti Thanksgiving retreat.  Members of the tribe gather annually at Ananda Ashram in Monroe, New York to celebrate and give thanks for the present moment, the lives we have, and the earth itself and the love to be shared among all creatures. This celebration of peaceful thanks begins each year with a delicious savory vegan meal: sage scented tofu, vegan mashed potatoes, sauteed greens and the like.  I had been advocating the escape from the usual Thanksgiving celebration to join this us for this celebration, free of violence.


The student thoughtfully pursed her lips, shook her head, and said “We always have a non-violent  thanksgiving.  Our family never fights, we love one another very much, and enjoy getting to see one another”.


“Does your family serve turkey for Thanksgiving?”


“Yes, of course, it’s a tradition!”


I considered a moment before responding, “Well, then, you are not having non-violent Thanksgiving”.   She was clearly jarred by my statement.  I had disturbed this peaceful recollection of a happy event in her life.  But then,  that recollection of the happiness experienced obscured the clear perception of the celebration.


An estimated 46 million turkeys were slaughtered for Thanksgiving in 2009[xix].   That’s approximately one sixth of the population of the entire United States[xx].    One can imagine the outrage if such a slaughter of human beings were to take place, in such a short period of time.  We are attached to our happy memories of this holiday  from our childhoods, but those memories lack clarity.  When we step back a bit and consider the turkey slaughter we can see that a party around a stuffed turkey is a party around a corpse.  The continued celebration in this manner reinforces the memory and obscures our ability to perceive clearly.


We could just as well have a party, a new kind of party,  without the turkey.


The fifth of the vrittis identified by Patanjali is memory, or smrtih.  In it’s most obvious sense, it refers to the waves of memory that arise during meditation.  We sit quietly and then an image or sensation arises from our past and drifts through our consciousness.  When we consider the vrttis as a tendency, a memory becomes an ingrained idea of who we are.  This obliterates the experience of yoga and confines us.  One of the greatest conflicts I see in students is that they are often kind people, compassionate people who are completely unaware that their food choices are unkind.  Their whole lives they have learned the societal norms for “niceness”, all the while, dining on the flesh of their animal brethren, and consuming products obtained through the enslavement of other sentient beings.  It’s confusing,  to say the least to reach adulthood and have it revealed to you that eating meat is brutal and violent, and it is not necessary.  No one, at least by the time they get to a yoga class, is deliberately seeking to behave unkindly.  The images of happy cows are seared in our memories, obscuring the reality of mass production which demands forceable impregnation and the treatment of sentient beings as though they were commodities to be manufactured.  To dive underneath these illusory memories of apparent goodness,  which  conceal the current, disturbing state of affairs,  demands a reevaluation our past actions in light of this new information.  Maybe we aren’t as nice as we think we are.  To go this deeply and honestly into self-examination is an excruciating piece of internal work.  But, to be free, to be in yoga is to be fully in the present moment liberated from the ingrained perceptions accumulated from past experience, and able to make conscious aware choices in every circumstances.  As a veteran of the pharmaceutical industry I struggled deeply with my own inner conflict about my past, until my teacher turned to me one day before class and said “Well, Natalie, whatever it is we did, it couldn’t have been too bad, because we are here now”.


The student we started the article discussing was doing her practice, but the depth of her transformation was not apparent.  Or at least not as apparent as the transformations I had witnessed in those who had embraced a plant-based diet  and the practice of ahimsa wholeheartedly.  The renunciation of animal food is truly is small sacrifice to make in exchange for the expanse of possibility that arises as the yogi moves towards the state of freedom which is yoga:   a state beyond constructs, unbound by the fear, worry, depression and sense of inadequacy we’ve been conditioned to accept.  Perhaps we are free, but there is always an opportunity to be freer.  Perhaps we have been loving, but there is always an opportunity to be more loving.  Perhaps we have been kind.  But there is always an opportunity to be kinder.  Yoga is not about judging the past, rather it is an opportunity to move more deeply into each moment as it arises and we move into the future.


Yes, we are here now, meaning really 100% here,  present in this moment, practicing yoga.







Gannon, Sharon, Yoga and Vegetarianism, San Rafael, California, Mandala Publishing, 2008


Gannon, Sharon and David Life, The Jivamukti Yoga Book, New York, Ballantine Books, 2002


Houston, Vyaas, The Yoga Sutra Workbook: The Certainty of Freedom, Warwick, New York, American Sanskrit Institute, 1995


Lyman Howard and Glen Merzer, Mad Cowboy: Plan Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat, New York, Scribner,  1998


Mishra, Ramamurti S., The Textbook of Yoga Psychology, Monroe, New York, Baba Bhagavan Publication Trust, 1963.


Robbins, John, Diet for A  New America, Tiburon, California, H. J. Kramer Inc. 1987


Roach, Geshe Michael and Christie McNally, The Essential Yoga Sutra, New York, Three Leaves Press, 2005


Scully, Matthew, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals and the Call to Mercy, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2002


Tuttle, Will,  Ph. D, The World Peace Diet:  Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony, New York, Lantern Books, 2005


Zambita, Salvatore, The Unadorned Thread of Yoga: The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali in English, a Compilation of English Translations of Sri Patanjali’s Exposition of the Yoga Darshana, Poulsbo, Washington, The Yoga Sutras Institute Press, 1992




Cologne Sanskrit Lexicon

Emory University

Google Public Data

National Geographic News

Emory University




[i] Zambita, Salvatore, The Unadorned Thread of Yoga, The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali in English, A Compilation of English Translations of Sri Patanjali’s Exposition of the Yoga Darshana, Poulsbo, Washington, The Yoga Sutras Institute Press, 1992. p. 10

[ii] Zambita, S. Ibid., p. 12

[iii] Zambita, S. Ibid, p. 351

[iv] Houston, Ibid, 11.28

[v] Zambita, S. Ibid. p. 176

PYS II.31 eta jati-desa-kala-samayanavacchinnah sarva-bhauma mahavratam. These great vows are applicable to all levels and spheres irrespective of circumstance, time, place and birth.

[vi] In the limb that follows the restraints, the Niyamas, one is advised to cultivate passion or intensity in their practice.  This step is indicated AFTER the yamas.  We might consider that the practice of the yamas, and ahimsa renders that passion or intensity conducive to spiritual growth, rather than distracting.

[vii]The point is often raised that even plants feel pain, and that small animals and insects may be killed in the process of harvesting plant crops.  However, the raising of animals for food creates suffering of both the animals and the plants (and sometimes other animals) that they eat.  When we restrict our diet to plant food we do the least amount of harm to the least amount of beings.

[viii]  Zambita, S.,  Ibid, p. 18

[ix] Zambita, Ibid, p. 22

[x] The Harvard School of Public Health. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/pyramid/

[xi] Will Tuttle, Ph.D, “The World Peace Diet”, Lantern Books, 2005, p. 107

[xii] Lyman, Howard and Merzer, Glenn, “Mad Cowboy, The Plain Truth from the Cattle Farmer who won’t eat Meat” Scribner, 1998, p. 31.  Chapter Two of this book is an excellent review of the literature on the correlations between the consumption of animal products and mortality rates.

[xiii] Zambita, S, Ibid. p. 27 translation by Dvivedi

[xiv] Zambita, S. Ibid. p. 29 translation adapted from Jnaneshvara

[xv] Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon http://webapps.uni-koeln.de/cgi-bin/tamil/recherche

[xvi] Scully, Matthew, Dominion, The Power of Man, the suffering of Animals, St. Martins Press, 2002, P. 258

[xvii] Robbins, John, Diet for a New America, Tiburon California, H.J. Kramer, 1987, p. 74.

[xviii] Zambita, S, Ibid. p. 31 translation adapted from Bailey

[xix] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/11/091123-thanksgiving-dinner-turkey-facts.html

[xx] http://www.google.com/publicdata?ds=uspopulation&met=population&tdim=true&dl=en&hl=en&q=united+states+population