About Ahimsa (Harmlessness) Yoga

In his commentary on the Yoga Sutras, Vyasa [Vyasa was one of India's greatest sages, author of the Mahabharata (which includes the Bhagavad Gita), the Brahma Sutras, and codifier of the Vedas] begins his exposition of ahimsa: "Ahimsa does not mean in any way, and at any time, to harm any living being." Shankara expands on this, saying that ahimsa is "in no capacity and in no capacity." Ahimsa is to be practiced in every capacity-body, speech, and mind. "We find this principle outlined by Jesus in his claim that anger directed toward someone is a form of murder (Matthew 5:21,22), and by the statement of the Beloved Disciple that hate is also murder (I John 3:15).

Even a mere understanding of the law of karma, the law of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7), allows us to realize the murderer's terrible consequences. As Vyasa explains: "The murderer deprives the victim of spirit, hurts him with a gun blow, then tears him away from life. Since he has robbed another of soul, the animate or inanimate supports of his own life are diminished. He feels pain himself, as he has caused suffering .... Since he's ripped another out of life, he's going to live in a life where he wants to die every moment, so the revenge as agony has to work right out when he's panting for death.

Ahimsa is interpreted in several ways-which is to be anticipated as Sanskrit is a language that for one single word abounds in several possible meanings. But fundamentally ahimsa causes no harm whatsoever to any being, including subhuman species. (Ahimsa is not generally considered in relation to plant and mineral life, but it would definitely be an infringement of ahimsa if it were sought, partially because it would inevitably have a negative impact on animal life too.) It is self-evident that abuse, injury or killing are unthinkable for the yogi to accomplish this ideal. And as Vyasa points out immediately, all the other abstinences and observances — yama and niyama — are really rooted in ahimsa, because they involve preventing harm to ourselves and others either through negative action or neglect of positive action.

"The other niyamas and yamas are rooted in this, and are only practiced to bring it to its end, and to achieve this [i.e., ahimsa]. They are only taught as a way of getting it out in its simplicity. For thus it is said: 'Whatever many vows the man of Brahman [God] would make, only in so far as he refrains from doing the harm impelled by delusion, does he bring forth ahimsa in its purity.'" And Shankara explains that Vyasa refers to the delusion that is "rooted in violence and causing violence."

Ahimsa requires the strict abstinence from any sort of behavior, speech, or thought injury. Verbal and physical abuse, too, must be stopped. And this includes some form of angry or malicious physical object harm or misuse.

Ahimsa is a state of mind which will naturally produce non-injury. "Ahimsa really denotes an attitude and mode of action towards all living beings, based on appreciation of the inherent unity of life," declares the modern commentator Taimni. Shankara remarks that when ahimsa and the others are observed, "the cause of one's doing harm becomes inoperative." By being put into a state of non-function, the ego itself becomes "harmless." Yet meditation completely dissolves it. However, until such time as this inner state is created, we must work backwards from the outside to the inside and abstain from any act of injury.

In reality we can not exist in this universe for a moment without hurting countless beings. Our basic act of breathing destroys several tiny species and every step we take is like this. The body fights endlessly against dangerous germs, bacteria , and viruses to protect its health. So the condition of ahimsa can only be completely experienced psychologically in the ultimate sense. Still, in our outer life we are obliged to do as little harm as possible. Paramhansa Yogananda relates in his autobiography that his guru, Swami Yukteswar Giri, has said ahimsa is the absence of the desire to injure.

Read Also: About-yama-and-niyama-yoga

While it has many ramifications, the aspiring yogi must understand that, in any form or degree, the observance of ahimsa must include absolute abstinence from consuming animal flesh.

Even though the topic is oddly absent from any commentary I have read about the Yoga Sutras, the practice of non-injury in relation to the yogi itself is important. That is, in thought, word, or deed, the yogi must do nothing which harms his body , mind, or spirit. This requires a great many abstentions, especially abstaining from meat (including fish and eggs), alcohol, nicotine, and any substances that alter the mind or mood, including caffeine. On the other hand, it requires taking on whatever benefits the body, mind, and spirit, because their omission is also a form of self-injury, as is any of the yama or niyamas' non-observance. Being a yogi is no easy matter. On the other hand, it requires taking on whatever benefits the body, mind, and spirit, because their omission is also a form of self-injury, as is any of the yama or niyamas' non-observance. Being a yogi is no easy matter.

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