Ahimsa: An Ancient Vow for Healing and Peace

The yoga path shows us how to charge neutral when we feel disagreements with our fellow human beings. The greatest yoga teachers know that we will not always get along, so they teach us that we do not need to make war based on our divergent points of view. We will not always feel joyful or loving, but we do not need to take out our unhappiness on others. We will not always be able to live totally without fear, but we do not need to let desperation for control determine our actions.

This is the essence of ahimsa, non-violence, in action. One of the most basic commitments on the spiritual path is ahimsa, the resolution not to do harm to other beings. Ahimsa is a noble proclamation that aims to align our actions with our intentions to be a force of healing in the world.

However, a heartfelt commitment to refrain from harming others does not mean that we will never feel a negative thought again. Nor does it truthfully mean that we will never perpetrate another violent act. Instead the vow of non-violence undertaken by spiritual seekers throughout all time stems from a basic recognition that we have a choice in how we live our lives.

When Anger Is Too Large

While I practice yoga almost every day and live a spiritual life to the best of my ability, I am not always a peaceful person. Sometimes my past ways of waging small interpersonal wars tie me into a sticky knot of anger, fear, sadness and resentment. When I find myself in that hot, uncomfortable space I often feel trapped with no way out. Sometimes I am present enough to remember my desire to live in alignment with ahimsa, and sometimes not.

In moments when anger is too large, practiced and habituated the commitment not to do harm can feel like another burden to bear instead of the release it actually is. Anger breeds illogical states of mind and the nervous system needs time to cool down before any positive action can take place. We will never solve something in the midst of an angry wrath that we cannot solve when we are even tempered and calm.

In fact, sometimes the mere presence of anger and the urge to fight is itself the problem. Like fiery goggles that paint the world in bright hues of red, anger prevents us from seeing reality clearly.

What to Do When You Get Caught Up in Anger

The most peaceful thing you can do when you find yourself caught in a conflagration of emotions is to walk away and regain the balance of your mind. Only once you train the mind to return to a clear state is it possible to reconnect to the path of peace through ahimsa.

All human beings want to live in peace and feel love. What gets in the way is not the desire to do good, nor the desire not to harm, but instead our past patterns of warfare and disagreement.

Whenever we react in a callous, confrontational way with people close to us it is more often based in an assumption made in the past than in an actual grievance in the present. Sometimes drama is all we know because that is all we have experienced in the past so we keep recreating it in the present. It could even be said that some people have an addiction to pain and drama that prevents them from living a peaceful life. But when a dramatic interlude is a substitute for a way of living, it is a deep samskara, or habit pattern, that is a detrimental force of pain and suffering in life.

Let Yoga Be the Bridge

Yoga helps build the bridge from past addiction to pain into a more peaceful life in the present. The only benefit that waging war with those around actually has is that a state of combat is perhaps the greatest motivator for a desire for peace. You never want peace more than when you feel yourself surrounded by war. War does not have to involve dropping bombs, gunfire and fighter jets. It can be waged with an arsenal of words and actions that are almost as traumatic to the heart as weapons of destruction are to the body.

When partners live in war zones, erect mine fields around our hearts and cast out others whose culture or appearance is different than ours, peace and ahimsa are simply not possible. As the people of nations sometimes at way we have a responsibility to live more peaceful lives on a direct and personal level. It is an ironic double stand when we expect entire nations to sign peace treaties and when we are not able to make peace with our neighbors. In some sense world peace is a personal ethic choice as well as an global governmental action. The yogic path pledges its allegiance to peace through the ancient vow of ahimsa.

The Inner Battle

The battle in yoga, if there is one, is actually fought on the inner terrain. The great paradox that many long-term practitioners find out is that the only one they are really fighting with is themselves.

Yoga asks you to make peace with the deepest, most secretive, terrifying and even shameful parts of yourself.

In doing so you you find the only way possible to make that same peace with the external world, too. It is not that you will never feel irritated, frustrated, angry, sad or fearful again, but that you will learn how to manage these difficult emotions when they do arise. In actively choosing your course of action you will transform the old habituated patterns of war and fighting into peace and friendship.

By doing so on the internal level you will naturally change your outer world as well. Yoga means to unify, to yoke, to bring together and one of the most omnipresent things that yoga brings together is the unity of the inner and outer worlds. For war is possible only when we believe we are separate from others and we focus on that separation. Like battle-tired soldiers we must learn to lay down our weapons and surrender to the true power of peace.

Navigating the inner world is not easy and sometimes when we truly realize the harm of being at war with one another we take a inner vow of ahimsa. This vow sometimes creates non-confrontational people who are actually unresolved on the inner plane. While the intention is good, the path to peace sometimes involves a bit of confrontation and inner searching.

The non-confrontational person who feels anger and avoids confronting it or other difficult emotions ends up in a kind of cold war with themselves and the people in their lives. This type of peace is not really peace, but instead is a kind of passive aggressive boiling pot that usually bursts at some point. Yoga practitioners cannot dig their heads in the sand like ostriches in the name of peace when conflict arises. Instead we must learn to negotiate a peaceful solution with presence, consideration, compassion and compromise.

Just like we learn to practice through an injury into healing we must approach difficult emotions and situation with the same consciousness and awareness if we are to experience true healing. While it could be said that holding the unhappiness in is at least better than lashing out at others, the danger in being so outwardly peaceful in the midst of inner turmoil is the falsity of peace.

Refer to the Yoga Sutras

The pretense of a desired state is not replacement for the actual experience of it. The substitute for the real goal does not produce a sense of accomplishment. The Yoga Sutras state that the deepest benefits of Ahimsa are not gained when we go about the world in a state of non-harming, but instead when a state of absolute non-violence lives within us to the degree that violence is no longer possible on any level in our very presence.

Friend and colleague Govinda Kai introduced the notion of ahimsa as being more than merely non-violent. He stated that ahimsa must mean the radical and spontaneously occurring opposite of violence. As such non-violence cannot be the true antithesis of violence. Perhaps peace is the true opposite of violence, but perhaps healing is as well. For only if we heal the root cause of the violent action can we truly experience peace and resolution. It is healing on all levels that allows our souls to rest in the peaceful acceptance of a situation.

Until that healing has transpired the risk of recidivism into a state of warfare will always be there. In a karmic sense healing could be understood as removing the root of a negative habit pattern. Unless the samskara is healed at the deepest level so that there is no trace of it remaining then there is always a chance that it will resurface and re-ignite the fire again.

Yoga is the process of burning away old karmic seeds of destruction and planting in their place the vow of ahimsa.

Whenever you practice yoga and align your actions with the spiritual path you nurture these new seeds of change in your life. Peace is a moment to moment choice just like healing. It is a fragile balance that is easily lost in a hateful argument. Peace is an active choice made each time we maintain our balanced mind amidst difficult circumstances. The peace of ahimsa is not boring, just as the meditator'’s mind is not dull. Instead this peace, like love, is a dynamic balance where life happens.

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mrs.cornish, posted on March 15, 2015

The title is spelled incorrectly.

HeidiV@Gaia, posted on March 16, 2015

@MRS.CORNISH - Thank you for bringing this to our attention. All fixed :).

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