Everyone is searching for peace –peace within themselves, with others, in their environments, and in their homes. Still, somehow peace escapes out the back door, and continues to elude people. The search for peace faces multiple obstacles along the way that block the path and keep serenity at bay. One supporting mechanism to finding peace now is through the practice of ahimsa.
Ahimsa, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is one of the five yamas, or ethical practices, that together form the first limb of the eight-limbed path of yoga. While often translated as non-killing, the concept carries more nuance and depth.
Sri Swami Satchidananda describes ahimsa as not causing pain. What he means by that is not causing pain in thought, word, and deed. While many think of this as an externally focused practice, it is just as much an inside job, because neglecting the practice of ahimsa towards one’s self can create harm to others.
Practicing ahimsa in one’s every day life may seem simple at first. On the surface it appears easy to not harm others and cause them pain. People easily identify avoiding physical harm, using words unwisely like slandering another person, and other deeds that appear to overtly create pain and harm to another person.
This makes the initial layer of the practice easy for many to adopt. But the practice is deeper. First the practice should include beings other than human beings. This includes not killing or harming insects, eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, and even being mindful of the treatment of plants and trees.
Second, the practice should include the way our words and deeds affect others in subtle ways to cause harm that may otherwise not be obvious to us. The effects of our actions on others are subtle and easily missed if we are not mindful of another person’s perspective and the potential ripples our actions may create.
While we may have the best of intentions, beautiful intentions do not always result in beautiful action. It is this delicate balance that makes practicing ahimsa a true art, rather than a hard science.
While practicing ahimsa with word and deed can be challenging in subtle ways, even more difficult is the practice of ahimsa in thought. The ego rarely comes up with something nice to say about another person. It often moves us into a place of survival, protection, and defensiveness automatically without even taking pause.
When I started to watch my own thoughts I discovered that negative messages that were harming me were sneakily sliding into what otherwise appeared to be efforts to be productive. For example, when trying to get myself to focus on something like my research for my dissertation, I would tell myself internally that I was banned from checking e-mail or prohibited from calling a friend back so I would finish the task.
This harsh language with myself set me up for an uncomfortable reality where I felt like doing my dissertation or any other task was punishment. It drained all the enjoyment out of things I needed to spend my time on that I truly loved. Sometimes it caused rebellious behavior in me as I rebelled against my harsh instructions to focus and checked my e-mail anyway, like a teenager rebelling against her parents. In the end, this harsh internal language to myself was not helping me be productive, nor nurturing me.
And the ripple effects it created were probably more harmful than I am even aware of now, and a pattern I continue to watch and slowly undo.
It is said that when the Buddha and other saints practiced ahimsa in the forest, animals would only kill if they were hungry and would otherwise dwell peacefully together. The practice and non-practice of ahimsa I believe has more subtle energetic affects on the environment and relationships around us than we realize, especially with ourselves.
SriDharma Mittra always emphasizes that what we focus our thought on is also where we direct our prana energy. As a result, it is key that we are sensitive to where we are directing prana. In the end, if someone wants to truly experience peace with others, with his or her environment, and above all within his or herself, ahimsa is an essential element in unlocking the serenity we seek.
9. Sit still, meditate, and all the answers will come.
10. Let’s dedicate our practice to something or someone beyond this personal self; that they may enjoy it through our mind & senses.
We thank Dharma Yoga teacher Katherine Labonte for compiling this list of Sri Dharma Quotes.
- I find great enjoyment in sharing that which has impassioned me. Yoga has become my life to a significant extent. It is a love affair of sorts, and having the opportunity to expose another to the subject of my new found love is priceless.
- I’m sure many teachers can relate to the incomparable feeling of taking a newcomer to the practice, (one who is usually full of judgments and reservations) and completely changing their outlook at the end of a class.
- I’ve experienced with my students a shift in their perspective as well as their new found body and health awareness. I’ve observed long held misconceptions shatter and this fills me with a tremendous sense of contentment.
- But it is the progress I observe in my students practice that is perhaps the reason I most love teaching Yoga. In just a couple of classes I’ve seen students with very little flexibility and strength improve drastically. It is a wonder to share this with the students, some who have a tendency towards pessimism about their own abilities.
- But Yoga being far from just a physical experience has also provided my students with a sense of what can be and what is possible on the mental and spiritual planes. I’ve taught public school teachers, who are some of the most stressed out individuals I have ever taught, and heard their praise of the limitless fruits of relaxation and gentle Pranayama. They speak of their sense of being transported to a different place, one where life is allowed to play itself out free of constraints created by time or obligations.
- I’ve observed my students roll up their mats less jittery and unhappy than they were one hour previous. For 15 minutes at the end of class they experience a little slice of bliss. The fact that I facilitate this experience is one that I don’t take for granted no matter how many times it happens.
- Yoga is amazing because it is a form of therapy for the teacher also. When I’m fully present and in the teaching zone, not talking too much and giving my students the space to experience their poses, I find myself losing track of time and my own mental preoccupations. It’s just my students, their mats, and I, in one cohesive unit.
As I complete my internship, I find myself increasingly excited about the prospect of teaching Yoga on a more full time basis. The more I teach the more aware of my student’s needs I become. Whether it’s the ongoing process of simplifying cues, offering variations to practitioners with different needs, or learning the art of pacing within a class, the challenge of instructing Yoga within itself is an element that makes me love teaching it even more.
I believe this last sentence resonates with this fourth core concept from the Gita upon which this post is focused. It provides a very practical way to begin to incorporate this concept in one’s life. Begin the day focused on God and end the day focused on God. What a beautiful way to live! Om Namah Shivaya.
Adam Frei was born in Stamford, Connecticut, grew up in the wilds of West Redding, and is now a New Yorker. After years of mostly solitary Sadhana practice, he found his way to Yogi Sri Dharma Mittra. His entire practice changed during that first Master class, and he must have done something extremely rare and good in a previous incarnation to have finally met the teacher in this lifetime. He is grateful to have taken part in the transformative Dharma Yoga 200 and 500-Hour “Life of a Yogi” Teacher Training intensive immersions. They helped him understand that teaching is just one more component of practice as we all strive to copy the teacher in word, thought and deed. He has been teaching at the New York Center and beyond ever since his first teacher training and, after years of involvement with the Teacher Training programs on the staff side, is now blessed to be the director of these programs.
For the purest benefits, try to purchase organic and locally grown tomatoes.
Cut one avocado into cubes.