Ahimsa is one of the key virtues in Sanatan Dharma. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, it forms a part of the Five Yamas or moral disciplines in the first stage of Ashtanga Yoga (the eight limbs of Yoga). It was popularised by Mahatma Gandhi during India’s Freedom Struggle and even by Martin Luther King Jr. Let us look at the various aspects of the meaning behind this word, which goes beyond non-killing.
The literal meaning of Ahimsa is non-violence, non-harming or non-killing in thought, word and deed. Our actions in this world should be such that no other living being should be hurt because of us, either in mind, body or feelings. This principle forms the foundation not just for a life in this world but for all Yogic and spiritual pursuits. Without Ahimsa, one cannot expect to make much progress on the path of self-realisation.
Ahimsa forms a part of a more conscious living, away from our impulses which try to govern us. Violence and the tendency to hurt and harm the other, originates in the uncontrolled mind. The practice of Yoga asanas, pranayama and meditation all help in purification of the mind and body by cleansing the impressions of the past, and opening the doors towards a more holistic and joyful life.
‘In the presence of one firmly established in non violence, all hostilities cease’ – Sutra 2:35
This tendency to hurt another is born out of a lack of belongingness. When we feel connected to a higher power and see its expression in all animate and inanimate beings, we develop an inner harmony with nature and all living beings. For example, we stop the urge to “eat” another sentient being for the satisfaction of our tongue, which is the foundation of Vegetarianism. A vegetarian diet is not just good for one’s health but also the entire planet. It also has the least ‘Karmic’ baggage.
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Following Ahimsa is being responsible for the vibrations we emit by spreading peace and harmony in the world. If our own thoughts are negative, hurtful and disturbed, we see them affecting our own health and balance, and in turn of all those who surround us. Jealous and vengeful thoughts are like a poison which one drinks. If one can practice Ahimsa to the extent of not harming even the smallest of insects, one can be truly free in this world and beyond.