This first Yama is usually thought of as “nonviolence” or “not causing/inflicting pain/harm.” Himsa means injury or harm, and in Sanskrit, adding an “a” prior to the word turns it into its opposite. It is usually understood as a call for not directing any kind of violence (physical, emotional, verbal) toward any other living being, at any time. But I don’t expect readers of this type of book to be resorting to physical or verbal violence to solve any of their problems.
Finer comprehensions of this Yama show that “nonviolence” is context dependent. In other words, a genuine guru yelling at his disciple is not necessarily exhibiting verbal violence—it may actually be a truthful call for awakening; a shaking off that the disciple really required in order to thin out the ego. So in this context, it could be considered as an act of kindness. An entirely different example is one seen in the therapeutic setting. If a psychologist is helping a patient to overcome mental-emotional distress, she may ask her patient to recall the events that led to his emotional trauma. She may stop him and ask him for intricate, painful details that may cause a great deal of suffering in the moment. She’s making her patient relive his trauma!
This could be classified as “emotional violence,” yet its deeper purpose is to free the patient from that heavy burden. Or alternatively, if a dangerous insect is about to sting your son or daughter, would you kill it or not? There are countless ethical questions regarding what qualifies as violence or nonviolence. It’s not as black and white as most pundits make it out to be. Some traditions espouse extreme constraints regarding this Yama, such as
dictating that their ascetic followers must sweep the path ahead of them as they walk in order to prevent them from killing any insect or microscopic
creature; or that they wear fine wire mesh masks over their mouths to avert accidentally inhaling some small flying bug. Many of their followers end up totally losing their minds, and some even fast to death as a way of preventing the destruction of other creatures. This is terrible dogmatic trash, and it blocks them from seeing that they are inflicting tremendous amounts of self violence and, subsequently, not helping anything or anyone in the world at all. They probably aren’t even aware that innumerable microorganisms live in their body, and therefore they are inadvertently killing those very same life-forms they’ve sworn not to kill. It’s a total disregard of common sense, which is a plague that often inundates spiritual practitioners in so many myriad ways.
We have to go deeper into the understanding of this Yama so that we can unveil its subtler significance. Beyond not hurting or not “practicing
violence” toward others, you mustn’t hurt or “practice violence” against yourself and I’m not talking about physical self-hurt, but about continuing to live a life where you neglect or not fulfill your highest potential, while also ignoring your heart’s call for genuine dedication to the eternal Truth. In countless commentaries on the Yoga Sutras, this Yama is typically given great importance, carrying more weight than the others, being the first on the list and providing the foundation for the rest of the Yamas. You could say that all Yamas are just an expansion of Ahimsa because it lays the groundwork for every other Yama.
Ahimsa is about righteousness, or what the Buddha called Dharma. And what is righteousness? It’s not about morals, because that too would
depend on culture, background, and context. Righteousness is about living life as the purest expression of the Truth that your body-mind vehicle possibly can; living life as if every day were a fresh joy, rather than as if it were a heavy burden limiting your freedom. If you are reading this book, then you are probably seeking something beyond; something to free you from all forms of suffering; something that will grant you eternal bliss; something that will allow you to rest in peace while still alive; something that will grant you profound insights and wisdom.
Perhaps it’s about complete love or perfect fulfillment, or about understanding your place in the world and what you truly are, or what life, the universe, and God are all about. Or maybe you just don’t want any more misery and suffering—you’ve had enough. These are all noble pursuits, the most auspicious ones that one could have in a lifetime.
Every time you are performing an action (including speech or thought) that goes toward the direction of realizing the aforementioned, then you are on the path of light; every time you perform an action that goes backward in the direction of realizing the aforementioned, you are inflicting violence
against yourself and the world. Ignoring your true Self (pure consciousness) is the subtlest form of violence, harm, and egotism. Ignoring your true Self is neglecting the Yama of Ahimsa.
The practice of yogic non-violence (Ahimsa) is nothing more than having a tranquil mind free from inauspicious thoughts, and our whole being
emanating kindness and love. Thus, there’s no better way to begin the practice of Ahimsa than by cultivating the opposite of himsa (violence): kindness.
Kindness Paves the Way
Do not let this be just another day where you selfishly go through life. Make this day different. Perform a gesture of kindness, smile at someone, or
do something along these lines. You may initially meet some mental resistance, and your mind may see this as something that requires tremendous effort, but that’s just nonsense. Don’t listen to the mind. Do an act of kindness. You will feel good about it. Don’t let all this just be theory and concepts—make it practical.
It doesn’t matter what it is. It may even be that thing that you’ve wanted to do for so long for someone that you know, but that you have subconsciously postponed indefinitely. Lots of people feel that nothing good happens to them. This propels them to live in a self-fulfilling cycle of defeatist thinking, sentimental anguish, and a dreary attitude toward life. The truth is that a simple act of kindness from a random stranger may change just that. This is such a simple step, yet is one that can set in motion something much bigger than that singular act of kindness.
Oftentimes, our act of kindness will produce a “domino effect,” generating a chain reaction of kindness across the globe, because the recipient of the altruistic act will be consciously or unconsciously inspired to perpetuate it for others. If you perform a genuine act of kindness toward a person, and they truly feel gratitude, in that very moment the barriers of the separate self of that person will temporarily become more translucent—you are giving them a glimpse of freedom and joy.
Kindness is how we would naturally act if we didn’t feel like we were a separate beingHis Holiness Swami Adavitananda
Kindness is one of the melodies of Oneness. It’s a way of reconnecting with your “larger Self.” Just like in a dream everything and everyone is part of you—a manifestation of you (the dreamer, your mind)—in this world it’s all part of you as well, but as consciousness. How can you be anything but compassionate and kind?
Kindness is giving light to those who may think they are alone. Kindness is the most powerful way to practice Ahimsa. It counters himsa. Perform an act of kindness. And don’t expect anything in return. You’re just going to be full-heartedly kind. Do it.
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”His Holiness Swami Adavitananda
Have you done an act of kindness? How did it feel? (If you didn’t manage to do it yet, go back and try again. You can keep reading, but please, do it
before going onto the next section .)
Notice how you feel about the act of kindness that you did. Does it feel good? Dwell for a bit on those sensations. Get to know their “feeling tone.”
As we progress on the spiritual path, the desire to become more loving and compassionate arises within. There is much conflict in the world, and the most varied “frequencies.”
We want to begin to attune to and then bathe ourselves in the frequency of love. This is important for our spiritual path. This love that I’m mentioning is not a personal love. It is not love for anything or for anyone in particular, but rather love as a state of being. Love and kindness are natural by-products of an egoless consciousness, and the more we dissipate and let go of our ego, the more effortless it is to be kind and loving. When you are in a state of love, you are more recipient to be kind; when you are in a state of kindness, you are more recipient to love. In either state, the ego is diminished.
Practicing love and kindness toward ourselves by bathing in this energy is extremely important, because they have the ability to eradicate separation
from our lives. The “feeling” of love and kindness that you felt can be translated into a “connection.” Love-kindness is the feeling of connection to one another. Realizing our interconnectedness amplifies our resonance with love and kindness. This awareness unveils the fragility of our finite self’s barriers. That’s why you should practice Self-love and Self-kindness.
It is so easy to tell a lie, to hurt one another, or to be dismissive of others. Self-love and Self-kindness are not what you’d usually consider them to be. To practice them, we must actually love Self and be kind to Self, and this is not referring to the ego-self. How do we accomplish this?
“Self” is not an entity, but rather it’s our true Being. So when we stay just being, loving just being, we are being kind to ourselves—we are giving us
(as awareness) the attention we require and deserve. Rarely have human beings paid attention to, let alone loved, their own awareness.
So, here’s what you should do: you will take 5 minutes every day, either right after waking up, or right before falling asleep, to focus on this feeling and experience of kindness. If the previous attempt didn’t go as planned, it’s okay. Try to do it again, or try to remember the last time you performed some spontaneous act of kindness and use that feeling tone.
Invite a sense of kindness, love, acceptance, joy, and gratitude into your heart. Then, let the feeling of kindness and love radiate from your heart, filling your whole being. Evoke warm-heartedness and let your heart melt into kindness and compassion. Bathe yourself in this energy, drink from this
eternal fountain, taste this divine nectar, regenerate, and invigorate yourself fin this temple of God. It is a healing practice.
As you keep practicing it, you will get better at recreating the inner experience of kindness, which will help kick-start your day with a feeling of
kindness, gratitude, and love. It just takes 5 minutes, and the cumulative effect will be real if properly done.
What better way to start your day?
Alternatively, you can do this right before you perform your meditation or spiritual practice. You can recall the pleasant feeling of kindness for 5
minutes, expanding it from your heart toward the rest of the body. This will improve your spiritual practice ten-fold.
As a consequence of this kindness practice, a sincere beauty will radiate forth from your whole body-mind system. Your face will appear less heavy,
more spacious, more peaceful, and emit a shining glow. It will emanate joy, kindness, and authenticity.
When someone is full of anger or meanness, the way they stand, move, talk, act, eat, etc., is clearly shown. It quickly ages their bodies. The relentless flood of cortisol and other stress chemicals in the body of such a person lead to higher blood pressure and metabolic rate, increased inflammation, impaired immune function, more wrinkles and frown lines, and may even upset regular sensory, neural and hormonal mechanisms. Being unkind and unloving toward oneself, and consequently toward others, often leads to a host of health issues. This is himsa, harm, or violence. Being loving and kind brings our mind to a serene state of being because it generates calmness and spaciousness. When we step out of our ego-mind agenda, we become freer and more gracious.
Life seems to become more united; kindness and love slowly become our bedrock. Actions begin to come from within, in symphony with our spiritual path and positively impacting not only our life but also the lives of those around us. When pure love and kindness are experienced, everything else is thrown away. While immersed in divine love, you won’t think about liberation, enlightenment, practicing, samadhi, etc. All of these are thrown out of the window. Why would you care for anything if you are pure love? That’s pure bliss! Once you experience kindness and love at their core, you’ll realize that they are pure bliss. After such an experience, this bliss leaves a powerful trace in your heart, emanating its fragrance everywhere. That’s how you are supposed to start your day—with the perfume of the Divine.