यमनियमासिप्राणायामप्रत्याहारधारणाध्यािसमाधयोऽष्टावङ्गानि ॥ २.२९॥
Ashtanga Yoga, the Eight-Fold Path as described by Lord Patanjali:
1 Yama – Restraint
2 Niyama – Observance
3 Asana – Posture
4 Pranayama – Breath Control
5 Pratyahara – Sense Withdrawal
6 Dharana – Concentration
7 Dhyana – Meditation
8 Samadhi – Awakened consciousness
I know we have explored Ahimsa many times but it is necessary to continually bring this back to light! If there were only one of the eight limbs that we could practice and no other it would be Ahimsa, it will take you to an awakened state of being and to great blessings.
Ahiṃsā is a practice that leads to samadhi and eventually enlightenment. Samadhi is a state of consciousness said to be beyond words. There are many ways to describe this state of being and many search for it daily. It is beautiful that there are so many ways to describe what is said to be indescribable, to experience it however is quite rare but the path to Samadhi is paved with Ahimsa!
Ahiṃsā is the first step of the five parts of Yama which is the first limb, or part of the eight limbs that make up Patanjali’s Ashtanga yoga system ending in Samadhi then Enlightenment. It is the first step of the first step. While all the limbs are important and work together as a system, it is best to study them in order, what comes first, last, just before, just after, etc.
The word Ahiṃsā means not to cause harm. Hiṃsā means harm and the short a in front negates, stands apart, and is against that which follows it.
Ahiṃsā is both a strong and noble wish deep inside one’s heart/mind not to cause harm and the practice of acting according to that wish. Over time the wish deepens and our capacity to express it expands. Yama also means twin, addressing the relationship of self with other. The practice is one of refraining from harming the other. The second step in Patanjali’s Ashtanga yoga system is Niyama, which is made up of five practices that cultivate a non-harmful and positive relationship with oneself. In some ways, Niyama forms a foundation for Yama perhaps because it is when we hurt ourselves, we project this in our actions outwardly. In Patanjali’s yoga system, Yama comes first, yet, the first two limbs work together and create balance. As corny as it may sound, being our own friend is key to being a friend to others, or being kind to oneself is the same as being kind to others.
Sometimes Ahiṃsā is translated as “loving-kindness”, putting it in the positive rather than the negative; something to do, rather than refrain from, but it is good to keep in mind the word itself and thereby reflect on how we cause harm. Accountability is crucial on any kind of spiritual practice. How else can we know and work with ourselves? It is this holding oneself accountable that leads to freedom and change!! There really is no other way.
Many times I have heard people excuse behavior that is clearly harmful to others but they justify this behavior because it suits them. It’s very tricky since many times society would even agree with some acts of unkindness or hurtful behavior because it is a common opinion. I ask this of myself and you, do we have the right to change the most fundamental law of God to justify our own behavior? There are many examples… for instance being unkind to a person that has harmed your child or someone that has hurt you? You see how difficult this little word can be, so I ask again, do we have the right to change the universal law of kindness and Do No Harm because we feel like it? Ultimately, both our bodies and our minds will remind us of the truth and we may decide to change our ways, in the end of our days there really is only ourselves and the thoughts that brought us to our final tallies. Until then, we can contemplate our daily actions and thoughts, even if we find them just or not.
There are many ways we cause harm. It’s daunting to think about what our footprint can become. Thus, the work of interest to yoga practitioners is to minimize the harm one causes; a practice that is never-ending. It can take shape in veganism, activism, conscious consumerism, and or an email drafted several times before hitting the send button. The practice can be private; quietly trying to live in harmony, or more public as in being a teacher or leader. It cultivates a way of life that radiates an energy of love and gratitude that can melt harshness in the atmosphere. It includes thoughts, words, and deeds. Whatever way you embrace your practice, no one else can do it for you, or take it from you. It is your own and it is continuous. It might start with your immediate surroundings, those near and dear to you, but the practice itself is not limited to those you like or particularly care for, it is expansive and includes others whom you may be neutral towards and or even dislike. It may be difficult at times to hold back from lashing out etc. and this is where practice can offer the time and space and change in mindset much needed to bring oneself back to a calmer and more natural disposition.
At times it may feel like we don’t have love to offer, but at least we can find it within ourselves not to want to cause harm. Through the practice, one discovers within themselves the potential for solving one’s problems (the ups, downs, and bumps) in peaceful ways and one will want to bring that out more and more. It is not a religious practice or one that belongs to a particular group of people, nor is it academic or lacking a devotional element. It is a path to seeing God face to face or in all faces.
Sometimes it is best to do nothing. Similarly, holding back from saying something unkind or harming another person with small acts can lead to unexpected and beautiful surprises!
For more information on Ahimsa, please accept this Gift from Us!
Ahimsa Workshop with Berta https://vimeo.com/578118398
“Be kind in thought and action to yourself and others, be present, participate!”
Hari Om Tat Sat