Last week I spoke of the yamas and niyamas, the restraints and observances outlined in the 8 limbed path of yoga. I'd like to share with you some reflections on ahimsa, the first of these restraints.
Ahimsa means non-violence, or non-harming. On the most gross and obvious level, it means refraining from killing or doing bodily harm to others. As we examine ahimsa on more subtle levels, we see that it also involves refraining from words and thoughts that project violence toward others and ourselves. In its deepest expression, ahimsa means the complete absense of negative thoughts toward self or other, and a pervasive feeling of love and compassion for all beings.
The principle of ahimsa inspired Ghandi's non-violent resistance to British rule in India, which in turn influenced Dr. King's leadership of the civil rights movement in the U.S. Jesus' teachings were also ahimsic, although from a different religious framework.
Our lives offer us plenty of rich opportunities to explore the many layers of ahimsa. Some questions for inquiry:
- How do my food choices and my habits of eating, driving, and consumption impact upon animals, the earth, and other humans? In what ways do I contribute to exploitation of the earth and its populations?
- What are the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that my language may be tinged with critical, angry and judgmental words, or words that in some way cause discord?
- Am I "shoulding" on myself and others? How does that affect my relationships?
- Do I engage in habitual negative thinking? What impact does that have energetically on myself and others?
- Do I allow others to be unkind, harmful or violent towards me? If so, how can I take back my power in a way that is love-based?
- What ways am I practicing ahimsa in my life? In what ways am I kind, loving and compassionate toward myself and others?
- On the mat: How can I practice ahimsa? Can I move in and out of challenging postures with utmost care, respect and compassion for myself?
Examining our lives with regard to ahimsa is NOT about making ourselves feel guilty, because NO ONE, in pursuing this inquiry, will come up completely innocent. When we become aware of the areas where we have fallen short, we can practice ahimsa by cultivating compassion and forgiveness for ourselves. By nature, our lives have an impact on other beings. The practice of ahimsa calls us to be more mindful and aware, and it is a lifelong adventure.
"Strictly speaking, no activity and no industry is possible without a certain amount of violence, no matter how little. Even the very process of living is impossible without a certain amount of violence. What we have to do is to minimize it to the greatest extent possible." ~Mahatma Gandhi
The peace in the sky, the peace in the mid-air, the peace on earth, the peace in waters, the peace in plants, the peace in forest trees, the peace in all Gods, the peace in Brahman, the peace in all things, the peace in peace, may that peace come to me. ~ Rig Veda X