“Non-violence is not a synonym for peace, nor the opposite of violence. It is a proactive choice rooted in ancient wisdom traditions” - Dr. Geary
Ahimsa, the sanskrit concept of “non-violence” comes from the “Vedas,” the Indian wisdom scriptures that date around 2000 BC. Ahimsa is more specifically known as one of the “yamas,” one of the 8 limbs of yoga. The yamas are moral/ethical vows that guide one's spirit in the full practice of a yogic lifestyle. A yogic lifestyle is much more than a movement practice, and the eight limbs of yoga encompass an intricate practice of wellness. The concept of yoga is a meeting of the body, mind and the spirit - it is an understanding of mental, physical and spiritual disciplines. The teachings represent lifetimes of keen observation, silent meditation and patient self reflection. It offers a framework for acquiring wisdom from within.
“Ahimsa” means more than just the practice and ideology of non-violence. Ahimsa is a spiritual doctrine, shared by several Indian religions (including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism) that literally means “Non-injury in thought, word and deed” (Swami Krishnanada). The concept is rooted in the oneness, and divine community of shared life energy between all living things. Furthermore, inflicting violence or pain onto another, is to in fact then, inflict it on yourself. It extends and supports the concept of collectivism; we are all the same. We are all one.
In the literal, tangible sense, this can be applied to things like practicing a vegetarian diet, but it can also philosophically and spiritually lead discourse surrounding geo-political and socio-cultural issues. The concept of violence is also multi-valent (structural violence, emotional violence, collective violence etc). Movements like Black Lives Matter, or the recent politicization of wearing a mask to protect yourself and others, could encompass a reflection on the Ahimsa concept. Given the globalization and the social structures we all live in, we fundamentally must not live in selfish isolation anymore. The world has been socialized to live globally, but the global systems cannot exist by themselves anymore. So we must no longer behave in a way that excuses us from the hurt of others. We can no longer ignore the global community that we are accountable members of.
This ancient concept, Ahimsa, is a way to fundamentally lead with love. This principle must guide us into respecting others like we respect ourselves. The first tenet is that we must see each other as brethren of a human race. It is not about biological or ethnographic differences; it is an acknowledgement of the grace of a shared Earth. Our first task is to commit to creating a world and community in which everyone feels seen and heard. In our previous blog posts we discussed the socialization of white bodies from their youth and how that can contribute to a white supremacist system. Black Lives Matter is asking you to see black lives and bodies as shared inhabitants, shared and equal participants. Valued and critical members of the global community that is the Earth.
Ahimsa is not a passive position of “I am not violent,” just like anti-racism is not a position of “I am not a racist.” It is an active choice to be NON - violent, in action as well as speech. It is not enough to say that you don't support violence, it requires that you say "I practice a lifestyle of non-violence." This way, in practicing Ahimsa, you continue to be aware, present in your thoughts and patterns of thinking. Seeking the better version of yourself by staying in conversation as a being that is a part of all living things. Actively search for and support love of yourself (mistakes, flaws and all) and become conscious of negative thoughts, self critique or self harm. Not only must you reject violence, you must embrace non- violence.
Ahimsa can be practiced on both the macro and the micro scale. As with all Hindu and Buddhist ideas, you must begin this practice in the home, and within yourself. However, on a communal scale, when you see injustice happening, say something, do something. Ahimsa can be applied as a political tool, a way to take action, a way to structure decisions, and to encourage a framework of questions to apply to systemic models. It can enable an examination of harmful/violent systems, and force us to look at how we may contribute to those systems. If you are white, you have even more “social power” to step in regarding the entrenched systems at work, bought into throughout history.
The teachings of non violence are part of a deep ancestral history of human observation, human compassion, human virtue, and the committed pursuit of peaceful goodness. “The Mahabharata, one of the epics of Hinduism, has multiple mentions of the phrase Ahimsa Paramo Dharma (अहिंसा परमॊ धर्मः), which literally means: non-violence is the highest moral virtue. For example, Mahaprasthanika Parva has the verse:
अहिंसा परमॊ धर्मस तथाहिंसा परॊ दमः।
अहिंसा परमं दानम अहिंसा परमस तपः।
अहिंसा परमॊ यज्ञस तथाहिस्मा परं बलम।
अहिंसा परमं मित्रम अहिंसा परमं सुखम।
अहिंसा परमं सत्यम अहिंसा परमं शरुतम॥
The above passage from Mahabharata emphasises the cardinal importance of Ahimsa in Hinduism, and literally means:
Ahimsa is the highest Dharma, Ahimsa is the highest self-control,
Ahimsa is the greatest gift, Ahimsa is the best practice,
Ahimsa is the highest sacrifice, Ahimsa is the finest strength,
Ahimsa is the greatest friend, Ahimsa is the greatest happiness,
Ahimsa is the highest truth, and Ahimsa is the greatest teaching.”
(Mahaprasthanika Parva, Mahabharata)
So we should try to look inside: try to find a way to release the anger, the pain, the hate, even. Our innate instinct is to want to place blame and anger onto a source - and then allowing our beliefs to follow that path. Instead, the concept of Ahimsa, or active choices for non-violence, liberates you from this: what becomes relevant is the fight for a world in which we all are living not just with, but within each other. “Ahimsa is an active expression of compassion” (Sejal Shah).
We suggest ways to practice Ahimsa: towards other living things, towards your thoughts, towards our Earth:
Forgiveness - forgive not only others but also yourself
Mindful nourishment of self - care for your body through food, yoga, sleep and cultivate loving thoughts
Be kind - have compassion for everyone
Resolve conflicts thoughtfully
Cultivate and appreciate nature
Accept and honor self