Ahimsa: Strength Through Self-Restraint

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan at Bali, Indonesia

Ahimsa is the very first ethical restraint, or yama, which is the 1st of the eight limbs of yoga. It means non-violence in thought, speech and action, which is an important element of most major religions and many professional codes of ethics.

Non-harming is one of the five precepts (a basic code of ethics) in Buddhism – practitioners abstain from harming living beings. It is also the 6th of the 10 commandments in Christianity – “thou shalt not kill”. In taking the Hippocratic Oath, a physician promises to “abstain from doing harm”. Non-maleficence, a fancy term meaning “do no harm”, is part of the first ethical principle for psychologists.

We only have to think about the recent global economic crisis to understand how we are all interconnected. On a subtler level, the human body contains a collection of microorganisms, some of which we cannot live without. In fact, the organisms of the gut biome are so crucial they are considered by some to be another organ of the human body – what appears to be other is actually us. If one believes in the interconnection of all things, to hurt another is to hurt oneself and vice versa. Along the same lines, one’s non-harming intentions ripple out and affect those around us.

As a Yogi becomes firmly grounded in non-injury (ahimsa), other people who come near will naturally lose any feelings of hostility. – Yoga Sutra 2.35

Ahimsa is not passive or weak. It arises organically from a sharp, trained mind that is fully aware and present. It is practiced through strength of will and self-discipline and it has the power to change hearts and minds. The Metta Center for Nonviolence defines non-violence as “the force unleashed when desire to harm is eradicated.”

We can cultivate ahimsa in our daily lives by being more aware of the subtle ways in which we harm ourselves or others. Do we use harsh words in conversation or in our own self-talk? Do we think about ways to get even or harbor ill-will for those we feel have wronged us? Is the health of the Earth and its creatures in consideration as we consume and discard products? With practice, non-harming can become habit, sending beneficial ripples far and wide.

Ahimsa is the attribute of the soul and therefore to be practiced by everybody in all the affairs of life. – Mahatma Ghandi

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