Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word that means not to cause harm or to do no harm. It is the first of the five Yama, which together are the first limb of the eight limbs of yoga found in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. As Ruth Lauer-Manenti says in her Jivamukti Yoga focus-of-the-month essay for March, "It is the first step of the first step." Ahimsa is fundamental to yoga practice. As you might recall from our focus a few months ago, ahimsa is also one of the five tenets or organizing principles of the Jivamukti Yoga method.
Ahimsa is a practice that leads to enlightenment. Ruth Lauer-Manenti writes, "Ahimsa 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."
In my classes, we always chant the mantra, "Lokah samastah sukhinoh bhavantu" along with Sharon Gannon's translation and interpretation of it: "May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all." Through chanting, we are expressing our wish to not cause harm, and every time we chant this mantra, we deepen the wish. In deepening the wish, we begin to expand our desire and our capacity to think, speak, and act in ways that do not cause harm.
As a practice ahimsa asks us to be mindful - we must be aware of the activity of our thinking mind. Since thoughts lead to words and words lead to actions, observing our habits of mind is crucial. Such observation can help us to see any tendencies toward harmful thoughts and to nip them in the bud before they become words and actions. We may also need to work on expanding our definition of what it means to do harm or what causes harm. We definitely need to be honest with ourselves and hold ourselves accountable. As Ruth says in her focus-of-the-month essay, "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."
So we do our best as yoga practitioners to minimize the harm we cause. We do our best, and let God do the rest (as Sharon Gannon says). There are so many ways we can practice non-harming in all areas of our lives, and the more we do it, the more we want to do it. Our innate basic goodness and capacity for boundless compassion and unconditional love for all beings shines more and more brightly as we practice ahimsa. We begin to see our own self in all others and all others in our own self. We begin to understand that in ultimate reality, everything is ONE, and therefore when we do harm to another, we are also harming our own self as well as all others.
If you're ready to take a deep dive into ahimsa (and the other four yama), you are invited to join me for a new 12-week course: Yoga & Veganism. We will meet March 14---May 30, on Tuesday evenings, 7:30-9:00pm. Click here for details. We will read and study the book “Yoga & Veganism: The Diet of Enlightenment” by Sharon Gannon. Sharon is one of the co-founders of the Jivamukti Yoga method, and her book teaches practical activism for global and personal transformation.
Blessings & love,