Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ahimsa: a resolution for non-violence

A symbol of Jainism consisting of a hand and a...Image via WikipediaThose of you who are long-time students of yoga are already familiar with two of the great ethical precepts of yoga: the yamas and niyamas. These two short lists of abstentions and observances, respectively, create a clear road map for the yogini's life. They are as follow:

YAMAS (abstentions/restraints)
Ahimsa: non-violence
Satya: truthfulness
Asteya: non-stealing
Aparigrapha: non-coveting
Bramacharya: correct use of energy

NIYAMAS (observances)
Saucha: purity
Santosa: contentment
Tapas: right-effort or discipline
Svadhyaya: self-study
Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender to the highest ideals, to Source, or God.

I am not going to address each of these in detail in this post, but check back as I will be forming discussions of each of them in the coming year, and I greatly welcome and encourage your reflections and input on the meaning and application these precepts have in your own lives.

For now, I would like to focus on Ahimsa: non-violence, or non-harming. This yama is the one I have been most preoccupied with in my personal study in the last few years. In part this is because of what I see externally in the world around me, and in part, as a result of what I observe within myself. In my mind, the two are inseparable. If each of us was not consistently practicing some level of harming within ourselves, and in our actions in our lives, it would be impossible for us to live in world that is fraught with fear and violence; that sort of world simply cannot exist without us each individually contributing to and supporting it with our own brand of violence.

While that may seem like a fairly heavy indictment, in truth I feel it to be really, really good news. This concept reminds us of the deep and far reaching power of our own personal thoughts and actions. And since our own personal thoughts and actions are the only thing we really have dominion over, we have an exciting opportunity to practice peace in every step.

At this time of year many of us are forming resolutions and plans of action to make changes to many areas of our life. I would offer the yogic precept of Ahimsa as an incredible spring board for any inquiry you undertake. Whether you are trying to loose weight, break an unhealthy habit, become a better parent, or start a new business venture, consider making Ahimsa the corner stone, and benchmark, for your efforts.

To do this simply check each thought or action against the standard of non-harming. Simply ask yourself, "are my thoughts, or proceeding with this particular set of actions, bringing harm or perpetuating violence in anyway?" If the answer is "no," you can go forward knowing that you are adding, in a powerful way, to the forces if good in this world; if the answer is "yes," then you have a wonderful opportunity to consider an alternate thought pattern or plan of action.

In applying Ahimsa to your New Years Resolutions, or just to your life in general, remember that the most critical place to stay grounded in kindness and non-violence, is in relation to yourself. If you do something "himsic" (harmful) in your life, and then use that as a way to think angry, disappointed thoughts towards yourself, you are only perpetuating more violence. Remember, we are only human, and we will make mistakes on our way along our path, but intention is everything, and we can always begin again... in the very next moment.

Ahimsa is at its root a path to non-suffering. I hope you will welcome this yogic ideal into your life in 2009. May it bring you peace, and peace to our world.

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1 comment:

Yogadiva said...

Thanks so much for writing this post. It helps to constantly be reminded of the importance of practicing ahimsa in our lives.