Ahimsa! Ahimsa! This word, as a philosophical tenet, forms the entire conceptual basis for the practice of the actions of yoga. I say it that long winded way – the practice of the actions of yoga – because perhaps now, more than ever, yoga (non-violent, paradigm breaking action) is needed. Today. And then again tomorrow. And the day after day after today…more action and less words will be needed.
This first yogic yama, or observance, of ahimsa is often commonly defined as “nonviolence”. But that doesn’t do justice to the true depth of the definition. A more accurate translation would be, “an action or behavior that creates an absence of injury”.
This definition – creating an absence of injury – is more nuanced and complex and also captures the deep challenge that comes when attempting to apply it in practice out in the living, breathing world. Before we go and get neurotic or concerned about our ability to do it “right,” we must compassionately remember that the definition of “practice” is, “something that takes work, time, and refining.”
This is, of course, a tall task, but it doesn’t have to overwhelm us. Rest easy – we can point to recent history to prove the power in the application of ahimsa. It was the organizing tenet of the great peace and opposition movements of both Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
And the change that these two leaders affected through the application of the radical concept of nonviolent action unmistakably moved the dial of humanity closer to a world where ultimately all will simply be known as equal.
So like these leaders, yogis accept the challenge in the “doing” of ahimsa despite the likelihood that we won’t be perfect at it. Yogis choose to organize the actions of our mind, speech and body through the prism of ahimsa. We regulate our behaviors and choices so that we, not only do no violence, but actually work to create an absence of injury.
If we want to be a part of the momentum and weight continuing to bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice, we will have to continue to shine the light of our being through the prism of ahimsa.
This means that we will not only stop kneeling on the necks of the oppressed and the marginalized but that we will stop others from doing so as well. And rather than remaining blind to the suffering that “others” experience, we’ll go the distance to create a world where your color, creed or sexual preference is no longer inherently synonymous with handicap and injury.
This blog is the beginning of a series of blogs about the philosophical framework of yoga so stay tuned. Ahimsa is part of the first of the eight limbs of yoga. This first step is known as a yama, or discipline that yogis practice in relation to the outer world. Yama practices are likened to cleaning techniques for our minds, bodies, and spirits that allow us to live more conscious, liberated lives.
- YAMAS (the five disciplines yogis practice out in the world)
- Ahimsa: non-harming
- Satya: non-lying
- Asteya: non-stealing
- Brahmacharya: abstaining from sensual indulgence
- Aparigraha: non-possessiveness.
So up next week: Satya: non-lying…..