What is “Ahimsa” and How Can We Use It To Change the World?
The Sanskrit term “Ahimsa” roughly translates to mean non-violence. It’s a concept in yoga philosophy with roots in the ancient Indian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, and forms one of the central tenets of these spiritual belief systems: that of living a life of non-harming. It’s a sentiment that is echoed throughout the world’s moral frameworks and one we can all agree we should aspire to. If we want a world of peace and prosperity for all, then we need to bring about an end to all forms of violence, oppression and harm. But when it comes to our individual lives, what does it mean to truly embody Ahimsa? And how can we apply this ancient practice to the complexities of modern life in order to make the world a better place? Let’s dive deeper.
Living without harming
Committing to a life of non-violence might seem pretty straightforward – after all, most of us aren’t going about intentionally causing physical harm. But Ahimsa isn’t just about how we act towards our fellow humans. It’s about how we treat all living beings, our environment, and ourselves. It incorporates our thoughts, emotions, and intentions, and stands as the moral core of yoga philosophy. Ahimsa is a lifelong practice that involves consciously examining the ways our thoughts, words, and actions might be causing harm, and putting in the work to actively prevent that. One of the main lifestyle choices for many people practicing Ahimsa is adopting a vegetarian, vegan or plant-based diet that prevents harm to animals and the earth’s ecosystem. Other ways to practice Ahimsa include finding peaceful methods for conflict resolution, managing emotions to mitigate hurtful reactions, and cultivating more compassion and kindness towards others.
Ahimsa begins within
Practicing non-violence towards ourselves is an aspect of Ahimsa that is just as important as managing our outward actions. For some people it is much more difficult to see how much harm they are directing inwards. This includes negative self-talk, shame, self-blame, criticism, and physical self-harm. There are plenty of people doing kind and loving things in the world that are unable to treat themselves with the same care that they extend elsewhere – and on an energetic level, this amounts to violence. Neglecting our own needs is as cruel as neglecting the needs of someone else who might be dependent on us, and can also lead to unintentional harm to others. So practicing Ahimsa includes keeping up with the emotional and physical self-care that helps prevent harming thoughts and behaviors. This can be as simple as establishing a healthy and balanced routine, getting enough sleep and maintaining a nutritious diet. It might also include working with a counselor or coach to root out core feelings of unworthiness.
Embracing Ahimsa in modern life
Considering the amount of stress and conflict that exists in the world today, it might seem like the most non-harming thing to do would be to hide away and try not to contribute to any more damage. But Ahimsa is not a passive pursuit. One popular modern interpretation of Ahimsa is “do no harm, but take no s**t.” Alongside examining our own culpability, the principle of Ahimsa tells us to stand against the violence we see in the world. Mahatma Gandhi’s successful non-violent resistance of India’s colonial rule in the 1940s embodied the concept of Ahimsa in this way. In the 21st-century, we can interpret this by using our hashtags and our clicks to not support harmful systems, while in the face of corporate greed we could aim to be more intentional in spending our money in ethical ways that don’t exploit other people or the environment.
But the ultimate power of Ahimsa is that peace begets peace. Cultivating a deep sense of inner peace can, according to the ancient sages, bring peacefulness to others through contact. Radiating Ahimsa could, so the theory suggests, cause a violently-motivated person to drop their weapons. We see this happen when we approach a disagreement with compassion and openness – it can make another person drop their defenses and engage more meaningfully. In a world of discord and difference, that’s an incredible superpower to have.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: “Ahimsa” Principles in the Religious and Cultural Practices of Ancient and Contemporary India; The Concept of Ahimsa from the Yoga Tradition as the Master Ethic for Business Organisations.
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