Make Ahimsa, Not War

Why are we so violent, so competitive, so cruel? There are so many news stories and articles that cross our consciousness each and every day and far too many of these reports are examples of violence and cruelty. We are assaulted by stories of war and terrorism, mistreatment because someone didn’t like the beliefs or color or gender of someone else, oppression because of greed or competition, abuses of power across virtually every facet of society- politics, business, family, even my beloved yoga community.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. I have been listening to an offering from The Great Courses that addresses ancient history and presents the other side of history, looking at how people lived. With each ancient culture that is analyzed- Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome- I am struck by the violence that is glaringly apparent. From turf wars in hunter-gatherer societies to oppressive class structures to downright cruel treatment of women to shocking and sickening treatment of children, the violence and brutality are ever present.
So with such pervasive violent tendencies and the compounding effect that the constant barrage of media coverage and personal experiences expose us to, how do we combat it? Society as a whole is a daunting, probably impossible task. We can start with ourselves, though.
All of this violence and harm makes me think of its opposite, Ahimsa, which quite literally translates to non-violence or non-harm. I was introduced to the word Ahimsa through my yoga training, as it is a core tenet of Raja Yoga and is present in many important yoga texts, like the Sutras of Patanjali and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. But as I delve deeper into learning about spirituality, Ahimsa is also very present in major religions, like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, and its ethical concept of non-harm extends to virtually every belief system.
So what exactly is Ahimsa and how do we practice it? Ahimsa is non-violence in thought, word, or deed. In a world where the ideals of not inflicting harm and acting in kindness are values that most of us are taught, we certainly struggle to put that kindness into action. An honest evaluation, certainly mine of myself, reveals that there is some work to be done in this arena. Ahimsa isn’t just talking about physical violence, after all, it is all encompassing, covering nonviolence in thought, word, or deed. While I wouldn’t consciously hurt someone, I do let not so kind words fly and I definitely have unkind thoughts swirling around in my head.
In Sri Swami Sivananda’s book, Bliss Divine, he suggests a gradational practice of Ahimsa that I really connect with. He says first control the physical body, then speech, then finally going to thoughts. Since I feel that I have a pretty good handle on avoiding inflicting physical harm, I have focused on keeping violent, mean-spirited, or harmful words from escaping my lips.
Sure, I still say things that I shouldn’t. Sarcasm is deeply rooted in my interactions. However, I have really had success with choosing not to gossip and not to crack jokes at another’s expense in a mean-spirited way. It really has been an interesting exercise, because I will think a thought, let’s say while people watching at Walmart, and I will catch myself, telling myself not to judge, to practice Ahimsa.
I challenge you to try it. Try to keep yourself from saying anything mean. Try to notice your thoughts and pick up on anything uncharitable that you are thinking. And finally, extend that non-violence to yourself, as well. Let’s not beat ourselves up for having slip-ups and extend the same kindness to ourselves that we would so readily extend to others.
I would love to hear about your experience in the comments below!



  1. fruscianteredwing · May 31, 2016

    I recently quit my restaurant job due to a coworker constantly trying to antagonize me. When I started the job, he initiated by trying to be very competitive…I explained to him that I had no desire to compete at a cooking job that pays 11/hour. I am positive that he was looking for conflict to make his day more interesting. I am a very resilient person and peaceful person, I value harmony But cannot seem to find it lately. Every corner I turn there is an uncontrollable amount of negativity, perhaps it’s just the state I live in? #Michigan


    • bodhiyogi · May 31, 2016

      No, it is everywhere. Some seem to draw an energy from conflict. It’s like a young child who acts out to get attention, even though it is negative attention that they receive. Your coworker and others you’ve observed create conflict to interact with others, even though it is negative interaction. I wonder what would happen if you responded to a negative, competitive person like that with unflappable kindness- giving the opposite reaction by complimenting a success instead of competing with it like he was seeking. It would be an interesting experiment.


  2. fruscianteredwing · May 31, 2016

    I’ve been listening to Alan watts on YouTube recently. The most insightful one being “we suffer because we enjoy it”. Sadly i know that the less I interact with humanity, the better off I am. However, isolation leads to many unhealthy thought patterns.


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