“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,”
The British Weekly, Ian Maclaren, 1897
Ahimsa is the primary conviction in yoga. It’s similar to the Golden Rule, communicated in virtually all religions: treat others the way you wish to be treated. This is so simple, yet so incredibly difficult.
For instance, some think it’s all right to act rudely and disrespectfully on the Internet. Others are brusque and condescending toward store clerks, believing they will never see them again — as if there are no repercussions! Ahimsa is the very reason many people in the world eat a vegetarian diet: to not harm another life in order to sustain one’s own.
Ahimsa means non-injury or to cause no harm to another being. In yoga it is the greatest dharma, or duty, and all other convictions require ahimsa in spirit. It is not only refraining from causing injury, but also deliberately cultivating good will and kindness toward one self and others.
A transgression occurs if one knows that an act could be harmful, but one does it anyway, what modern psychology calls cognitive dissonance. According to the Yoga Sutras, injury toward another person is injury toward oneself and this deliberate action creates obstacles. It begins with the mind. Yogis harness the mind so that it does not stray from concentration. As humans, we have the capacity of mind to be greedy, jealous, and angry, to manipulate, to love, etc. Striving to reduce these emotions provides a means to freedom for our selves and benefits others. Rather than unleashing harm in word or deed, remove it first from the mind. Underneath the coverings, we are all one.
“Isn’t it a pity? Isn’t it a shame?
How we break each other’s hearts; we cause each other pain.”
Isn’t It a Pity? George Harrison
Ahimsa toward oneself is often overlooked. Kindness and compassion toward our own person allows freedom and opens space in the mind for creativity. Begin with consciously not causing harm toward oneself in thought. Catch yourself so you do not even think judgmentally or callously about yourself. Then learn to cultivate kindness toward yourself inwardly, then outwardly. Soon you will interact with others more peacefully and stir less suffering and it will become easier to practice ahimsa toward others.
Mind control was also given to Moses in the Tenth Commandment. That dictum requires eliminating the desire for objects that belong to others. Here, wanting is the harmful thought we are ordered to curb. Negative thoughts can be very powerful. People can and do pick up untoward thoughts from others! We are obligated to correct these habits if we wish to grow spiritually.
The Bhagavad Gita teaches that all we do begins first with a thought. All words and all deeds begin in the mind. It teaches that training the mind to create inner strength allows proficient living and generates good karma. It teaches that whatever our perceptions or misperceptions, we can modify them with wise discrimination. A yogi’s firm decision is to seek liberation from worldly traps, and these lead her to do the things required in life, such as employment, care of others and housework, skillfully and competently without cutting corners, and always going the extra step, offering assistance and working for the benefit of others.
Ayurveda teaches us everything that exists in the microcosm has its counterpart in the macrocosm – its reflection. Your outer life is a reflection of your inner life. For example, if you are judgmental on the outside toward another person, what is it inside yourself that you are really judging? Do you have the courage to look inside honestly, scrutinize the iniquity and tear it from your heart?
“It is the enemy who can truly teach us to practice the virtues of
Compassion and tolerance.”
Ocean of Wisdom, The 14th Dalai Lama
If I find someone has perceived my words as painful, I take it as an opportunity to ponder what I said to them. Why or how did I hurt them? I have learned to smile more and have found that this softens everything I say. And it helps if I do not comment unnecessarily. I try to be in the moment rather than interrupt people with what I want to say. Listening is a virtue.
“If you smile at me, I will understand, ‘cause that is something
Everybody everywhere does in the same language.”
Wooden Ships, Crosby, Stills & Nash
If someone doesn’t see your perspective, don’t press it. Release competition. Decide not to argue. Try purging pet peeves, removing anger, and relinquishing road rage from the mind before reactions occur. Separate what you want from what you truly need. Honor the differences between you and others and move on. Do some selfless service; it purifies the mind.
Never forget kindness begins with you. Take care of yourself: eat well, exercise, play, rest, and forgive yourself. Learn from your mistakes. Relax the body and relax attitudes. Quiet the mind by practicing meditation regularly. Cultivate patience. Think kindly. Allow for the simultaneous existence of others and try to acknowledge the divinity in everyone.
“Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.”
Questions for contemplation:
Do I insist on my way and need to be right?
Do I offer reassurances? Support? Compassion?
What do I judge about myself?
Where can I practice gentleness?
Copyright Cynthia Gran 2015