“Ahimsa is the highest duty. Even if we cannot practice it in full, we must try to understand its spirit
and refrain as far as is humanly possible from violence.” – Mahatma Ghandi
With all that has been unfolding in the world over the last year or so I have found myself coming back to the Yoga Sutras to find equanimity in these polarising times. Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutras provide the means to achieve the ultimate state of balance and harmony both within ourselves and the world around us. One of the most acclaimed exponents of these principles was Mahatma Ghandi.
Ahimsa is the first of the Yamas, that encourage us to live in peace with ourselves and one another. The word Ahimsa translates to mean non-violence, absence of injury or non-harming. Nischala Joy Devi in her book “The Secret Power of Yoga” reinterprets Ahimsa in positive terms as “embracing reverence and love for all, we experience oneness”. In modern times Ahimsa could be reinterpreted as the practice of interconnectedness and interdependence of everything and then responding from an authentic and empathetic caring place to every situation or relationship.
Inflicting injury does not only mean physical harm to other people, it is psychological harm as well. It can also be causing harm and not practicing empathy towards yourself. Empathy can help you connect to others, can lower stress and guides our moral compass. Perhaps larger than all of us is our moral code of conduct, that is, how we treat others and expect to be treated. Empathy helps us identify what we consider to be acceptable behaviour. When we create rules that make us safe, protect us from those acting badly, and take care of those less fortunate, we are using empathy to guide those codes. Empathy is a foundation for the moral behaviours that create healthier communities, from which all of us benefit.
In science there is the phrase “First Do No Harm”, in politics the phrase “Global Common Good” and in the environmental and human rights sphere the phrase “Think Globally, Act Locally”. Sometimes practicing Ahimsa might mean thinking of the collective benefits as opposed to the individual’s rights. But more so for me the practice of Ahimsa is shown in thousands of small actions and words throughout the day. I see Ahimsa when someone pays it forward by buying a stranger a cup of coffee, taking a meal to a neighbour who is unwell, cleaning up the local parks and beaches from litter. It can also involve making choices about the food we eat, the things we buy and what we watch. When we see Ahimsa in action, it keeps us in positive connection with ourselves, our communities and the world.
What is your understanding of Ahimsa, and where do you see its positive impact in your life, community, and world? You might like to ask yourself:
Do my actions reflect peacefulness?
Do my thoughts reflect peacefulness?
Do my intentions reflect peacefulness?
Always keep Ahimsa at the centre of your thoughts, words and actions.