How can we attain world peace? How can we learn to live in peace and harmony? Every time that we hear news about wars, terrorism or any other sort of violence most of us probably ask ourselves these or similar questions. The ancient Indian yogis however gave us a very basic yet powerful principle to attain this peace and harmony. This principle is called ahimsa or non-violence, the philosophy of love.
What is Ahimsa?
Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word that is commonly translated as non-violence, non-killing, non-harming or non-injury. It is the very first of the yamas or moral rules described by the sage Patanjali in the "Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga" or eight steps towards Self-realization included in his yoga sutras.
Ahimsa is not limited to physical violence
The yogis tell us that ahimsa is not limited only to avoiding physical violence against others. There are actually many forms of violence like hitting, kicking or braking objects; yelling, insulting or even giving an angry look towards someone; judging or criticizing others or ourselves; ignoring or being indifferent towards someone because of anger or resentment; or having any kind of negative thoughts towards others or even ourselves. These are just a few examples of different forms of violence and to overcome them ahimsa needs to be practiced in thought, word and deed.
Ahimsa leads to emotional control
Ahimsa is not about suppressing our negative emotions like anger, that would just create more conflicts within. It is instead about transforming our negative emotions into positive emotions. When we practice ahimsa, the philosophy of love, we accept ourselves and others as they are and this will naturally lead to the cessation of destructive emotions such as anger, jealousy or fear.
Ahimsa is strength and power
Ahimsa is not a synonym of weakness but on the contrary is a manifestation of strength and power. It is easy to retaliate back whenever we feel we have been threaten or attacked but to respond with love instead of anger requires a lot more self control and character. Jesus gave us the best example of ahimsa when even while being crucified he demonstrated no anger but compassion for those who were crucifying him, and Ghandi liberated a whole nation from the British empire by using the power of ahimsa, non violence.
Ahimsa is fearlessness
"Non violence and cowardice cannot go together because nonviolence is a perfect expression of love that cast out all fears. To be brave because one is armed implies an element of fear." Swami Rama's reflections on ahimsa after meeting Mahatma Ghandi - Living With The Himalayan Masters
Fear leads to violent thoughts, words or actions. For instance if we experience fear against a cockroach, a spider, a mouse or a snake the fear will lead us to a violent behavior like harming or killing those creatures.
Fear can also invite a violent behavior from others. We all know that if we approach a dog with fear the dog will somehow sense our fear and become aggressive.
But if we could remember that we all come from the same Source and that we all have the same right to be here, how could we experience fear then? How could we become violent? Imagine if instead of fear we could experience love or appreciation for these species, how would our behavior change? How would their behavior change?
I definitively need to work more on this cause whenever I see a cockroach or one of those big black hairy spiders in my room I'm unable to see them as God's creatures even if I try to. Instead I can see how my fear motivates me to violently get rid off those little beings. Now, I'm not saying that we shouldn't clean our homes, I'm rather talking about the motive behind our actions. Is it only a desire to keep our space clean or is it actually fear and hate what motivate us?
"Patanjali's meaning was the removal of desire to kill [...] This world is inconveniently arranged for a literal practice of ahimsa. Man may be compelled to exterminate harmful creatures. He is not under similar compulsion to feel anger or animosity. All forms of life have equal right to the air of maya. The saint who uncovers the secret of creation will be in harmony with its countless bewildering expressions". Sri Yukteswar teaching Yogananda after Yogananda had refrained himself from killing a mosquito - Autobiography of a Yogi.
How to practice ahimsa?
The most common way to start the practice of ahimsa is by refraining from killing or harming any other living creature. But restraining ourselves from killing an insect is not enough, why should we do so anyway? So in order to put this in practice we need to develop wisdom and understanding by constantly remembering that every single creature in this Earth is a perfect creation of the Lord of life. If we could keep this in mind, how could we feel any contempt or fear towards any creature?
And the same things goes about avoiding harming our fellow human beings. If we could understand that we are not really separate from each other but actually brothers and sisters and ultimately one and the same, how could we have any harmful thoughts toward others? Hurting others would be like hurting ourselves and loving others would be the same as loving ourselves. Love leads to union, hate leads to division.
"You begin to injure others the moment that you forget to see God in others" Swami Sivananda
With whom to start the practice of ahimsa?
Since ahimsa does not only involve our actions but also our words and thoughts and since our thoughts are the root cause of our words and actions then the best place to start this practice is in our minds by becoming aware of the way that we think, and since we are the closest person to ourselves then the first person with whom to practice ahimsa is with ourselves.
Therefore we can start the practice of ahimsa by becoming aware of the way that we think about ourselves, identifying and trying to avoid any kind of negative thoughts such as: "I'm a looser", "I'm useless", "I should have known better", "nobody loves me", "I'm a bad person because of what I did", "I'll never forgive myself" and so on, all different forms of self judgement or criticism.
Ahimsa is the philosophy of love
And how do we avoid this kind of violent thoughts towards ourselves? The answer is by learning to truly love ourselves, to forgive ourselves, to fully accept ourselves as who we are. If we could realize how precious and valuable we are we will certainly make a determination to never again judge ourselves, criticize ourselves or punish ourselves in any way. Why would we ever do that to us?
Once we learn to stop judging ourselves because we love who we are we will naturally be able to accept others as they are, we will naturally be able to love others without any limitations.
And starting with ourselves does not means that we are more important than others or that we need to postpone being good to others for later. The point is, how can we truly love others or expect others to love us if we don't love ourselves? How can we bring peace to others if we are not at peace with ourselves? How can we truly laugh with others if we are not happy with ourselves?
As you can see although ahimsa has a negative tone "non-violence" it is actually the philosophy of love because when we truly love others we will make sure that we don't cause them any suffering or we will feel motivated to actively help reduce their suffering. If the sages would have said instead of non-violence to practice love how would we go about practicing love? Knowing what not to do gives us more clarity.
"Don't hurt, don't harm, don't kill and don't injure. By not doing this you are expressing your love. This is called a negative virtue. By practicing this you are loving." Swami Rama - Conscious Living: A Guidebook for Spiritual Transformation
Ahimsa is learning to forgive
Holding to old resentments and anger is also a form of violence and it's repercussion can not only be mental but also physical. Our facial expressions and even our whole bodies will reflect in one way or another our deep thoughts and feelings.
Forgiving ourselves for all our past wrong deeds and forgiving others is necessary even for our own health. I strongly recommend you read the book "You Can Heal Your Life" by Louise Hay. She writes about the effect of our thoughts and emotions in our bodies and how to heal ourselves from all sorts of diseases by changing our beliefs, by releasing the past and forgiving everyone.
You might also like: Inner Healing: removing obstacles in our relationship with God
Ahimsa leads to world peace and harmony
Yoga sutra II.35 says "On being established in non-violence all hostile thoughts are relinquished by others when they come into your presence".
Quoting this sutra yogis usually tell stories of how even wild animals like lions, tigers or snakes would leave any violent behavior and become like pets in the presence of a yogi. That's the power that has been achieved by somebody who has mastered ahimsa and has no trace of violence and fear within.
"Hate melts in the presence of love. Hate dissolves in the presence of ahimsa. There is no power greater than ahimsa. Its practice will make you fearless. He who practices it with real faith can move the whole world, tame wild animals, win the hearts of all and subdue his enemies. He can do and undo things. Its power is ineffable, its glory is indescribable; its greatness is inscrutable." Swami Sivananda - YogaLife2008
This is not such a difficult thing to believe. We all know that to have a fight we need at least two people and if one person is really not willing to fight and instead truly and honestly expresses love, acceptance and understanding then the other person will naturally let go of the anger and leave any desire to fight.
And even in wildlife, where there is love, friendliness and no fear there is non-violence as you can see in the video below.
I'm not suggesting that you should go to a safari and start playing with the first lion that you find, I'm just pointing out that it is indeed possible for all of us to live in peace and harmony with understanding and love instead of fear and hate. Wouldn't that be awesome? Wouldn't you like to live in such a world? I know I do.
How can we attain world peace? I think each one of us can make a difference by doing our little part, instead of forcing peace in others we can start by practicing ahimsa in ourselves and then sharing our love and peace with our families, friends and all those around us. We don't need to become or pretend to be saints, but If we could make a difference in at least one person's life starting with our own, then I think the effort is totally worth it. What do you think? Please feel free to share your thoughts or insights in the comment section below.