The first Yama or moral restraint, is Ahimsa, meaning nonviolence or non harming to ones self or others. In Sanskrit the prefix a means “not,” while himsa means “harming, injuring, killing, or doing violence.”
This idea is near to my heart. As a self proclaimed pacifist, animal rights advocate, and follower of Christ, nonviolence is central to my being. As are all paths in yoga, nonviolence is to be practiced physically, mentally and emotionally.
On the surface, we may not view ourselves as violent beings. Maybe you have never been in a fight or caused physical harm to someone. But ahimsa has a much deeper spiritual connotation. At it’s core, nonviolence is about acceptance and unconditional love. When we hold judgement, when envy our friends, when we harbor anger and resentment- that is where we see the violence in our hearts. Even the intent to injure, even violence committed in a dream, is a violation of the principle of ahimsa.
One of my favorite C.S Lewis books, The Great Divorce, captures this idea perfectly. The story is about an imaginary bus ride through heaven and hell. One man finds himself in Hell next to a murderer. Shocked at what appears to be an administrative mistake he gasps “Me?! There must be a mistake, I am not supposed to be here. Now you, you are a murderer that’s why you are here, but me, I never killed anyone”. The murderer replies that yes, he did some damage on earth, but that his friend was just as guilty if not more, because he murdered others in his heart.
This is the violence that ahimsa speaks to. This is what the scriptures tell us time and time again, that God is more concerned with the condition of our hearts, then our outwardly actions. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7
One of my favorite yogis puts it eloquently:
“The resentment and judgment that we are projecting at others is, in fact, the resentment and the judgment we have for ourselves…and that is the greatest violence to inflict that upon yourself. So by releasing that and by choosing to look at the good and choosing to hold that vision of the highest expression for yourself and for someone else is a great act of love.”
Non-violence is also a primary basis of vegetarianism. To consume animal products is to participate indirectly in acts of cruelty and violence against the animal kingdom. This is not without consequence to ourselves. When we understand that food is the source of the body’s chemistry and that what we consume affects our emotions, consciousness and spirit, we may make more conscious decisions. When we ingest the chemistry of animal products, we are also ingesting directly into the molecular structures of our bodies all the anger, anxiety, fear and distress of the animals we slaughter.
This is not new age fairy thinking, this is science. We learn this concept in Quantum Entanglement, which is the scientific theory of the interconnectedness of the energy and particles of all living being – there is no fundamental separation. This is a participatory universe, what we do effects everything and everyone else.
In conclusion, to practice ahimsa is to abstain from violence in
Mind – not to think maliciously of others.
Speech – not to use foul language, swear, backbite, or quarrel.
Action – avoid injury to any person or creature.
It’s a call to operate from a higher consciousness, a purer vibration. Namaste!