The foundation of yogic philosophy ……...
consists of a set of basic ethical practices. A code, if you will, to guide our moral compass. Known as Yamas and Niyamas these principles, when followed, allow us to move through life with virtue and competence.
I’d like to start the conversation about this yogic code of ethics with the first and most important of its principles, Ahimsa or Non-violence.
Non violence means refraining from harming others as well as ourselves in thoughts, words and actions. Hateful thoughts or words can be just as, if not more, harmful than a physical act of violence sometimes.
The idea of non violence often conjures up the image of a Buddhist monk in saffron colored robes communing with the butterflies or maybe a hippy dippy door mat living in a fantasy world lol. But that’s not what non violence means, far from it. Practicing non violence doesn’t mean we have to check out of the real world or let other’s walk all over us but instead invites us to be responsible for our own behavior.
We have the obligation to not harm others in thought or actions but also to not allow others to be harmed on our watch.
Responsibility? Yeah a novel concept, huh? But if we truly thought about our actions and the effect they might have most of us would curb our fists as well as our mouths more often. But what is violence? Most of us like to think of ourselves as non violent people in general. But violence can be a sneaky little sucker and you might be hurting others or yourself with out even knowing it.
Most of us understand that physical violence is wrong and refrain. “Don’t punch Ralph in the face… Got it.”
But it’s not that simple. Physical violence is only a tiny, all be it, easy to identify piece of the pie. But refraining from stabbing the mail man isn’t all it takes to align ourselves with the practice of non violence. The key to whether an action, thought or statement is violent or not is a person’s motivation.
For example, “have a nice day” might be a kind departing phrase or a malicious attack depending on how the speaker intends it. Bottom line is, are we acting out of love and kindness or out of fear/ anger? If we are acting out of love then it is never violence no matter the action. If not, well then we may be harming others.
Violence can manifest itself in many subtle ways. A person’s daily actions and responses can contain elements of violence without them even being aware. When our thoughts contain negative responses like disappointment, resentment, guilt, or shame, we are subtly creating violence. If you can’t forgive someone for something they’ve done against you, or if you can’t forgive yourself for something you’ve done, this is an act of violence because it pushes love away.
Other examples include expecting too much of ourselves or others, or acting out in response to fear.
It’s important to note that it’s possible to be violent to ourselves. I consider this the most harmful because self inflicted injuries affect our interactions and relationships with others. “How do you work that one out,” you ask? Well the way we treat ourselves is how we treat others. This war that goes on inside of ourselves gets projected outwards and transforms harm of the self into harm of others. So not only are we causing ourselves harm but also harm to those around us. Finding inner peace through ahimsa will in turn allow us to find peace in our interactions with others.
Keeping the above in mind, can you identify a way that violence has ever sneaked its way into your life?