Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word that translates roughly to Non-Violence or doing no harm. When we begin to practice ahimsa we choose to walk compassionately through this life. We understand our interconnectedness and make a conscious decision to show up in this world in a gentler and more peaceful way. So we ask, what are ways we can begin to bring ahimsa into our everyday lives?
Great leaders such as Gandhi lived by the teaching ahimsa parama dharma: “Nonviolence is our greatest walk of life.”
Ahimsa, an ancient concept originating in the Vedas, is commonly referred to as “nonviolence” or "non-harming” but can more literally be translated from Sanskrit as “absence of injury." The Vedas, or “divine knowledge,” were considered authorless and were originally passed down in oral tradition for centuries until a sage known as Vyasa studied and compiled four of the Vedas in written text known as the Bhagavad Ghita. Another sage, Patanjali, is said to have studied these Vedic texts and developed what we know as the Yoga Sutra and the basis of classical yoga’s eight limbs- the Yama (Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha), Niyama (Saucha, Samtosa, Tapas, Svadhyaya, Isvara Pranidhana), Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.
Ahimsa is part of the first of the eight limbs known as yama, or practices of self-regulation designed to free us from being victims of our own human impulses. Yama practices are likened to cleaning techniques for our minds, bodies, and spirits that allow us to live more conscious, liberated lives. But with our modern-day responsibilities and jobs, we may not live ahimsa as a sole way of life. Instead, we can apply and devote our practice of Ahimsa to the many facets of our lives including the places that we inhabit, recreate and enjoy. For instance, we can practice ahimsa in our neighborhood, parks and wild places by practicing "Leave No Trace." Leave No Trace consists of seven principles that form an easily understood framework of minimum impact practices for anyone visiting the outdoors. The seven principles are: 1) Plan ahead and prepare 2) Travel and camp on durable surfaces 3) Dispose of waste properly 4) Leave what you find 5) Minimize campfire impacts 6) Respect wildlife and 7) Be considerate of other visitors.
Inflicting injury is not limited to causing physical harm to other people. Words, tones, behaviors, and even our thoughts can turn into weapons if used destructively. Though we can consider physical, word-based, or thought-based forms of harm as separate, we should understand that all of them are inextricably linked. As Gandhi said, “If one does not practice nonviolence in his personal relationships with others, he is vastly mistaken. Nonviolence, like charity, must begin at home.” We are all co-creators amongst this community on both macro and micro levels, and thus it is important to be mindful of the impacts that we might have on our wild lands and how those impacts may affect others.
The ahimsa-based practices of pausing, looking ahead, empathizing, and being mindful in our choices move us closer to a more fulfilled and embodied way of living. When we see ahimsa in action, it allows us to maintain a positive connection with ourselves, the Earth and the world. Ahimsa is present and relevant to all, in each of our unique lives. Bringing awareness to it as a practice is key to its continuation and expansion.
What is your understanding of ahimsa, and where do you see its positive impact in your life, community, and world?
By: Candace Weisser
It’s a slushy winter day here in the PNW and as I sit snuggled in my warm apartment looking out at snow covered pots filled with soil, weeds, and A LOT of icy water, I began to think about all the ways in which our garden’s soil is nurtured for the coming spring and all the ways it can be, well.... soiled. Between worried thoughts of what will come of my fern whose soil is layered in snow with no sun in sight, I had an inspiring thought; I realized that like the soil of our gardens, our mindset must be tended to in order to thrive.
One. Like a garden the mind changes depending on who is tending to it. And, each person’s mind has their own uniquely tended soil filled with diverse ingredients and seeds growing a wide variety of trees, plants, veggies, herbs, flowers, and fruits. Each mind’s soil is surrounded by unique environments and affected by different ‘weather conditions’, intentions, gardeners and visitors. And like the soil, our mindset and perspective of the world and life are made up of so many different factors, some in our control, others not.
Two. Examining our inner landscape, we get to know what the soil is like in this season. Before we set intentions on what to grow and create plans to manifest our vision for our gardens, we consider what the foundation of the soil is like in this moment, right here and now. We learn its strengths, where it is nutrient deficient, where it gets the most sunlight, where we can nurture, tend, till, and prepare the soil for our seeds of creation. We learn of the pests and pesticides that might be damaging our growth and the fertilizer that nurtures the soil back to life. We begin to reflect on the visitors we have let walk through our garden and the things they might have deposited along the way. Some leave fertilizer nurturing the soil, some leave traces of pesticides and invasive species swaying the balance of our unique ecosystem (garden).
Three. Even our own actions, thoughts, steps, impact our inner garden’s health. Every step we take through our Garden leaves an imprint in the soil. The more we choose a certain path, response, idea, story, thought, action… the more visible and easily traveled that path becomes. These paths begin to limit our view of the Garden, it begins to contain and guide our perspective on what we plant, where, and why.
So, how do we walk freely & intuitively through our mind’s garden? How do we begin to nurture our soil so that our seeds can flourish in the ways we imagine and hope for? Well, we begin to tune in to our mindset. We check in with how our garden is doing and we become intentional and mindful of our garden’s visitors, our choices, and our tools of creation.
Four. Like our garden’s soil not everything that affects our mindset is in our control. Sometimes the weather will shift, the storms will blow and the soil in our garden will undoubtedly be affected. And so, we return to our gardening tools. These gardening tools are the parts of us that are unshakable. They are the practices we keep, the rituals that give us hope, faith, and meaning when external experiences interfere. They can be mantras, artful expressions, affirmations… anything that helps to rebuild the foundation of our soil, where the wellspring of our creations stem. We take stock of our minds garden assessing what was damaged, changed, what needs our love, our support, and we begin to tend to our soil once again. Adding fertilizer where it is needed, weeding the weeds, planting new seeds or supporting old growth, and bringing our garden into balance once again.
Some of us might grow the roses of Self-love, we might choose the lavender of peace, or the carrots of grounding. We might have paths that are hard to change and a little less nutrient than we would like… And if we take the time to tend to our mindset making sure that it supports our unique garden and our sacred seeds of creation, surely our lives will flourish in the ways that we hope.
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