Ahimsa is the highest precept of yoga science. It is the first of the yamas and niyamas–constructive observances and disciplines codified in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Ahimsa means non-violence or non-harming, and it is the guiding yogic principle underlying every successful relationship–within and without, subtle and gross, with yourself and with others.
In practical terms, ahimsa is the same wisdom as the Golden Rule, which instructs human beings to “Do unto others as you wish to have done unto you,” or as Jesus the Christ teaches: “Love thy neighbor as thy self.” Mahatma Gandhi always insisted that, “Ahimsa is an attribute of the soul–to be practiced by everybody in all affairs of life. If it cannot be practiced in all circumstances, it has no practical value.” The logic behind all these instructions is one and the same: on the highest level of consciousness, thy neighbor is thy Self.
Yoga science teaches that every thought, word and action must be in harmony with ahimsa. If you serve ahimsa in mind, action and speech, you will automatically be in harmony with the universal law of dharma–that which maintains individual and social order by guiding humanity toward its highest destiny. If you practice ahimsa you will experience a loving, healthy, creative and productive life. If you do not practice ahimsa, the consequence will be some form of physical, mental or emotional dis-ease or pain.
Although yoga science acknowledges the multiplicity of changing names and forms, it recognizes only One Absolute Reality. Therefore, if you think, speak or act in a harmful or injurious manner, that injury will ultimately come back upon you. The Bible teaches that “As you sow, so shall you reap,” or, in modern parlance, “What goes around, comes around.”
Your senses, ego and unconscious mind took control of the city of life many years ago. Yoga science helps you rectify that situation by placing them in service to an intelligence greater than the mind and a truth that never changes. Even in the midst of a sea of change and turbulence, the wisdom of the eternal soul serves as a beacon of light leading you toward your highest and greatest good.
Our present world view has been formed by a culture that does not wholeheartedly embrace this philosophy, so it may take a little effort to practice ahimsa in every thought, word and deed. Because of the power of habit, you will need to exhibit a great deal of patience and kindness toward yourself. In fact, the successful practice of ahimsa always includes yourself. Charity must begin at home; it must include every relationship that involves you.
“Oh, no,” you say, “If I indulged myself, others might think I’m selfish and that’s not good.” Well, yoga science explains that there’s nothing wrong with being selfish–if the real Self being served is the Lord of Life. If you disregard the wisdom of buddhi and you’re not kind to yourSelf in mind, action, and speech, you cannot truly benefit others–because there is no “other.” When you serve the buddhi and make the effort to be gentle and kind to yourSelf, everything and everyone benefits–including you. If you drop a stone in a pond, the ripples stretch to the farthest edges. Even the most simple and inwardly loving actions you take toward yourself (including your thoughts) have effects more far-reaching than you can imagine.
As children, we often watched Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town” television show on Sunday nights. Among the performers we saw over the years, one old-time vaudeville act always held our attention and we’ve thought about it often in relation to yoga science.
This performer had a rather simple act. Before him stood three long banquet tables. Secured to the tables were upright wooden dowels, each measuring about three feet in height. The performer proceeded to balance a spinning dinner plate atop one of the dowels on the table, and kept it balanced by twirling the dowel. Then he balanced a second and a third plate. By the time he started to balance the fourth one, he had to run back to the first and re-twirl the dowel. And then he’d run to balance the fourth plate and a fifth plate and a sixth plate–until there were twenty or so! By the end of the act, to keep all his plates in the air simultaneously, he was dashing back and forth like a madman. Needless to say, it was a riveting sight.
That old-time vaudevillian was a great teacher; a true guru. His act has taught us a lot about our own habits. When we were twenty, we said to ourselves, “We can do that,” and we balanced a few plates in the air. When we were thirty, we said to ourselves, “We can do that, too,” and up went a few more. When we were forty, “We can do that.” When we were fifty, “We can do that.”
But as we entered middle-age, we began to realize that a lot of our time was being spent rushing to keep all those plates in the air. We had taken on so many obligations, it sometimes felt as though we were enslaved to tiring and stressful expectations, disappointments and hassles. We had become so busy keeping all our plates in the air that we hardly had time or energy for nurturing ourselves and our loved ones.
To help us end our bondage, yoga science poses this question: “Who is it who is choosing to balance all these plates?” In other words, “Who am I?” That is always the key! ”Who am I, who has all these plates in the air? Who am I, who desires to have these plates in the air? Am I practicing ahimsa by keeping so many plates in the air?” Remember, each and every thought is merely a suggestion of what to give your attention to; it is not an imperial command. You can always have control over your actions.
Swami Rama of the Himalayas always marveled at the intelligence of his Western students, but he also recognized our lack of patience. He likened our condition to that of a first-time gardener. The novice farmer tills and fertilizes the soil, carefully plants the seeds, covers them gently, waters them, says a prayer and retires for the night. Waking the next morning filled with exuberance, he races to the garden to survey his new crop, only to be emotionally devastated because nothing has sprouted. Concerned that the seeds might have been defective or eaten by some pest, the gardener digs up the seeds, trying to discover the problem. Of course nothing is really wrong with the seeds. The problem is a lack of patience and understanding of the process. Anything worthwhile takes love and self-discipline.
Remember: be kind to yourself; put some conscious effort into learning to love yourself. Be patient, and try not to take on too much too soon. Throughout your entire sadhana, start with what’s easy and the choice will be exactly right for you. In order to be the right choice, it must be easy. If you wanted to become a body builder, you wouldn’t rush into the gym and, with no prior experience, begin to bench-press two hundred pounds. You’d start by lifting just the bar with no additional weight. Then, you’d gradually add five pounds, then ten pounds, then twenty–until you reached your ultimate goal.
Ahimsa must begin with you, and in order to apply the precept of ahimsa to every thought, word and action, you must exhibit patience and love. Give your sadhana a little time, but continue to test, experiment, evaluate and trust the teaching. Slowly, slowly, you will begin to recognize that there is a perfectly compassionate and benevolent wisdom beyond the mind–always eager to lead you for your highest and greatest good.
In service – with love,
Leonard Perlmutter & Jenness Cortez Perlmutter.