First step: “Yamas” – These are rules for “right living”, a form of moral imperatives, commandments, rules or goals. Every religion has a code of conduct, or series of “do’s and don’ts”, and the Yamas represent one of the “don’t” lists within Hinduism, and specifically, Raja Yoga.
First Yama: “Ahimsa” – Ahimsa refers firstly to physical harm. It seems obvious that the yamas of Ashtanga yoga would have a rule against physical violence, after all most countries have laws against this. Most religions also look down on physical violence; one of the Ten Commandments in the Bible is “Thou shall not kill.”
As a Yogi becomes firmly grounded in non-injury, other people who come near will naturally lose any feelings of hostility” (Pathanjali Yoga Sutra, 2.25)
Maharshi Pathanjali, who codified the science of Ashtanga Yoga and Hatha Yoga, explains the need for non- violence not only in our actions, but also, as we move more towards our spiritual centers, in our speech and finally our thoughts. This is something a sincere practitioner of Yoga should seriously consider, for he cannot be at peace with himself unless his conscience is free of all the guilt that hurting others brings out. The philosophy of the Ashtanga yoga system, says that if we speak negative words, they can also be harmful and this is also considered to be violence. There are many ways that we cause himsa (violence): showing contempt towards others, by entertaining unreasonable dislike for or prejudice towards anybody, by frowning at another person, by hating others, by abusing others, by speaking ill of others, by backbiting or vilifying others, by harboring thoughts of hatred, by uttering lies, or by ruining another in any way whatsoever.
All harsh and rude speech is Himsa (violence or injury). Using harsh words to beggars, servants or inferiors is Himsa. Wounding the feelings of others by gesture, expression, tone of voice and unkind words is also Himsa. Slighting or showing deliberate discourtesy to a person before others is wanton Himsa. To approve of another’s harsh actions is indirect Himsa. To fail to relieve another’s pain, or even to neglect to go to the person in distress is a sort of Himsa. It is the sin of omission.
The Ashtanga yoga system goes even further and declares that negative thoughts about someone are violent in nature and must be controlled.
“…entire abstinence from causing any pain or harm whatsoever to any living creature, either by thought, word or deed. Non-injury needs a harmless mind, mouth and hand. Ahimsa is not mere negative non-injuring. It is positive, cosmic love.” Swami Sivananda, Bliss Divine
As you can see Ahimsa is a difficult rule to follow. But with concentrated effort one can achieve ahimsa and in so doing achieve a calm and peaceful mind, with a forgiving nature. First control your physical body. When a man beats you, keep quiet. Suppress your feelings. Follow the instructions of Jesus Christ in his Sermon on the Mount: “If a man beats you on one cheek, turn to him the other cheek also. If a man takes away your coat, give him your shirt also.” This is very difficult in the beginning. The old Samskaras (impressions) of revenge, of “a tooth for a tooth”, “tit for tat”, “an eye for an eye”, and “paying in the same coin” will all force you to retaliate. But if you keep trying and reflect and meditate on your action at the end of the day, you will slowly find ahimsa manifesting itself.
After controlling the body, control your speech. Make a strong determination, “I will not speak any harsh word to anybody from today”. You may fail a hundred times. What does it matter ? You will slowly gain strength.
Finally go to the thoughts and check the thought of injuring. Never even think of injuring anyone. Believe that one Self dwells in all and we are all manifestations of One God. By injuring another, you injure your own Self.
As the footprints of all moving, living beings are engulfed in those of the elephant, even thus all religions are to be understood by ahimsa which is non-violence to any living being by thought, words or actions.” Mahabharata, Anusasana-parva, 114.6, 115.6
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