The Best Way to Practice Non-Harming
Moving deeper into the most basic tenets of yoga, the first Yama is Ahimsa, non-harming. If you practice no other Yama or Niyama but this one, it would suffice. Because if you really get this one the rest are sort of inconsequential. Or maybe a better way of saying it is that non-harming is contained within all the others (truthfulness, non-stealing, conscious use of energy, non-attachment, purity, contentment, discipline, self-study, and surrender)
I’ve heard that Gandhi’s main yoga practices revolved around the first two yamas: non-harming and truthfulness, and that near the end of his life he lamented that he hadn’t really succeeded in fully realizing them. That’s a humbling thought.
So what, exactly, is meant by non-harming? If I kill a Japanese beetle is that harming? Or would it be harming to leave it to defoliate my fruit trees? This is the kind of discussion that could go on and on and believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve turned this every which way to try to understand it. And here’s what I’ve come to understand about Ahimsa.
The very fact that we are on the planet guarantees we’ll cause some kind of harm. Even if you only eat fruit that falls of its own accord from the tree at the right moment, you will probably step on some grass to pick it up and maybe even kill a few plants and insects you step on. And you are eating an apple that might have been food for a deer, or mouse. You take up space, therefore you are displacing something/someone else. You drink water and use up resources and displace earth and on and on it goes.
But that's not the kind of harming we're talking about. What I know of yoga, I’m certain its not about becoming more anal retentive about our lives, nor is it about being careless. To clarify the problem we need to hold it up to the light of yoga, as defined in The Yoga Sutras:
"Yoga is to settle the mind into silence to know the Self".
With that in mind, I believe the practice of Ahimsa begins with our relationship with ourselves. We are not practicing non-harming to grow into self-righteous yogis, so we can feel superior to everyone else or so that everyone will see how holy we are and wish they could be so amazing. That’s just more self-making and it’s not going to set you free.
Pay attention to your self-talk. Most people (pretty much all of us) have an inner bully (ego). When you are unconscious of it, it is the intention behind many of your words and actions. It is the root of the reason anyone causes harm to anyone else: that feeling of being a separate individual, fearful, filled with pain, or feeling superior to another.
Begin your practice of non-harming by making peace with yourself, with your thoughts, opinions and memories, with your past. Begin to refine your compassion for yourself. Be tender with your heart, with your thoughts and your emotions. Be 100% honest with yourself by not censoring what comes up. I think that’s where some people get tripped up. They think some harmful, mean spirited thought, then quickly censor it, berating themselves for thinking it: harm on top of harm.
In leading us in meditation, Francis Lucille said
“There truly is nothing to do. Simply let your heart be touched by whatever comes up from moment to moment. Welcome the totality of your experience.”
As various energies arise, observe them with the same equanimity, neither repressing nor expressing them. Allow them to arise without obsessing over them and let them pass on. That’s what he means by "welcoming the totality of your experience": don’t get caught in a web of one thought or emotion but let your awareness continue to include the sensations in the body and breath, the sounds in and around the room, thoughts and feelings that arise, all at the same time! When you aren’t putting undo attention on one event or feeling, it’s able to move freely through your conscious awareness and dissolve.
When you realize true Ahimsa within your own being, you are unlikely to cause harm in the world around you.
“Wanting to reform the world without discovering one’s true Self is like trying to cover the world with leather to avoid the pain of walking on stones and thorns. It is much simpler to wear sandals! _Ramana Maharshi
If you want to live in a more peaceful world, your biggest contribution to that will start inside yourself. Never underestimate the importance and significance of your inner yoga. It’s the greatest gift, to yourself and the world, to begin to cultivate peace inside your heart. Everything else you offer will come from that authentic, beautiful place of peace in your heart.