How to practice ahimsa or non-harming

Post By: Published on: December 12, 2016 Reading time: 6 minutes

What is ahiṃsā or non-harming – the first aspect of yama?

Ahiṃsā (non-violence) introduction: Firstly, to understand non-violence, one must understand violence and its relationship to anger, fear, frustration, sexuality, ambition and power.

To begin, violence can be defined as any act which physically or psychologically harms another.

We know the obvious types of violence, such as war, abuse, mistreatment etc. In fact, violence covers a vast spectrum – from subtle abuse to genocide, where entire populations are exterminated.

However, there are many actions which we perform every day which have an element of violence, such as,

  • Butchering an animal for food.
  • Neglecting another person.
  • Pollution – abuse of the environment.
  • Injecting a cow with chemicals to get more milk.
  • Use of pesticide to kill pests.
  • Suicide

So, can we really avoid violence or hiṃsā. Conversely, is non-violence possible at all?

How can we understand non-violence or ahiṃsā?

Where does violence come from? It comes from perceived threat to the sense of identity or asmitā.

  • When our sense of identity is threatened, there is fear of loss of identity and a reaction. This is hiṃsā or violence.
  • It also occurs when the other person does not reciprocate to our expectation, or our desire (rāga or affirmation need). Consequently, our sense of identity reacts to being rejected (dveṣa).

Some aspects of non-violence or ahiṃsā.

What is non-violence? How can one stop reacting to fear of loss of identity?

  • Obviously, we cannot control the stimulus, so we must control the response.
  • So, the only way we can do this is with awareness or prajñā.
  • Also, when we are aware of the impact of the stimulus on our Self, control of the transformation process of stimulus into reaction becomes manageable.
  • In fact, violence is a guṇa or attribute.
    • As a reaction to fear of loss of identity or Self (asmitā). This is tamas.
    • Passion is an outward flowing sense of identity manifesting as desire, greed, want etc. This is rajasic.
    • When the reaction is measured and applied only to the extent required, and without the sense of identity (asmitā). This is called sattva.

How are attributes (guṇa) related to violence? 

There are 3 types of guṇas: tāmasic (confused or anxious), rājasic (passionate) & sātvic (balanced or harmonic).

Tāmasic violence comes out of lack of knowledge and is driven primarily by inertia, fear and confusion.

Example: All forms of segregation and separation, whether of colour, caste, religion or creed arise out of ignorance because there can be no difference between entities.

Rājasic violence primarily out of passion and is driven by emotions such as anger, lust, greed, ambition etc.

Example: All forms of sexual assaults are driven by rajas.

Sātvic violence is very difficult to achieve and is characterized by high communication, harmony and patience.

Example: Let us look at some scenarios of a parent scolding a truant child. When the parent scolds the child because he or she is afraid of what society will say, then it is tāmasic. However, when the parent is trying to push his or her own agenda on the child, that it is rājasic . Finally, when the parent scolds the child for deviation of a value that has been explained often, then the reason is sātvic. Consequently, this is characterized by the parent trying to separate the person from the problem.

Is there a way to increase sattva in violence?

Yes, this is called escalation-method or upāya.

Escalation mechanism in dharma is called upāya (method). The recommended various escalation path is sāma (discussion or negotiation), followed by dāna (inducement or trade-off), bedha (influence / splitting / discord / rupture) and finally daṇḍa (stick / violence) when everything has failed.

The only problem of using daṇḍa (stick / violence) is that, it is difficult to retract and damages the relationship.

Anecdotes, experiences and situations to help you understand ahiṃsā.

Abdul Hamid

Situation 1: (Wikipedia extract) COMPANY QUARTER MASTER HAVILDAR ABDUL HAMID won India’s highest battle honour during the Indo-Pak war of 1965. The abridged citation reads;

Enemy forces launched an attack with Patton tanks on a vital area ahead of village Cheema in the KhemKaram Sector. Intense artillery shelling preceded the attack. They penetrated forward positions. Realising the grave situation, Havildar Abdul Hamid, a commander of a RCL gun detachment, moved out to a flanking position with his gun mounted on a jeep. Taking an advantageous position, he knocked out the leading enemy tank and then, sent another tank up in flames. By this time, the enemy tanks spotted him and brought his jeep under fire. Havildar Hamid kept on firing and while doing so, he was mortally wounded by an enemy high-explosive shell.

Havildar Hamid’s action inspired his comrades to fight and to beat back the assault.

Chittorgarh Fort

Situation 2: (Wikipedia extract) In 1303 AD, Ala-ud-din Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi besieged Chittorgarh Fort, Rajasthan, India, because he desired Rani Padmini, the queen of Chittorgarh and a famed beauty. Frustrated in the siege, he ultimately agreed to have a glimpse of Rani Padmini in a mirror. But the Sultan, besotted by the queen, reneged and invaded Chittorgarh again. Realising the impossibility of the situation, the Rajputs, under Rana Rawal Ratan Singh decided to commit Jauhar and Saka. The women committed ritual suicide (jauhar) within the fort while the men sallied forth to certain death (saka).

The Rajputs committed jauhar again on 8 March 1535 when Bahadur Shah attacked Chittorgarh and on 22 February 1568 when Akbar attacked the fortress.

Points to Ponder on ahiṃsā.

Internal Tags: Karma, Dharma (conditioning)Stress and Situational AwarenessStress and pranaAwareness measures, Bhakti Yoga fundamentals, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga.

External Tags: Consciousness

Share your opinion and experiences on ahiṃsā.

  • Can we control anger? What is the source of anger? How do we control it?
  • What is anxiety? How does it manifest as a reaction? What are the available coping actons?
  • How important is communication in managing anger?
  • Is a soldiers sacrifice for his country an act of ahiṃsā?
  • Importance of patience in management of violence.
  • Does our ability to control violence improve with age?
  • When is killing for food hiṃsā (violence)?
  • Is satyāgraha hiṃsā or ahiṃsā? Reflect, when one’s actions provoke a violent reaction, is it hiṃsā or ahiṃsā?
  • Is killing for God or in th name of religion hiṃsā or ahiṃsā?
  • How do you convert tāmasic or rājasic anger to sātvic response? Try it today…

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