ahimsa muse by sharon gannon

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i wanted to share this thought-provoking piece on ahimsa (non-harming) by sharon gannon – co-founder of jivamukti yoga. stay tuned for a podcast with her coming soon.

Ahimsa: The Foundation of the Yoga Practice

Yoga is suddenly becoming popular all over the world, and at the same time, we are in the midst of a global crisis. Human beings have caused this crisis, but yoga may hold the potential to save the planet, because yoga teaches us how to live harmoniously with the world, and with all other beings and things. As a species, we have forgotten how to do that, and yoga is waking us up and reminding us how to live. When we rediscover our connectedness to the whole, the shackles of culture will fall away and we will find ourselves in the land of freedom. Yoga teaches us that every action we take matters, and everything that we experience in our life is a direct result of how we have treated others in our past, kindness is the only action worth pursuing and the best way to uplift our own lives is to do all we can to uplift the lives of others. Ahimsa is the foundation practice for these realizations, and is vitally important for the understanding of yoga and how it works.

Ahimsa allows compassion to arise within us. This compassion provides us with the means to let go of “otherness” in order to see our self in the other, our true Self. The biggest obstacle to that realization is seeing others as separate from you. What is realized in the enlightened state is Oneness: the interconnectedness of all beings. Ahimsa is a key practice in facilitating this awareness.

Patanjali gives us the very practical practice of Ahimsa as a means to this yogic realization of the interconnectedness of all beings. As the first yama, meaning restraint, ahimsa provides a suggestion of how we might direct our behavior towards others – as long as you see others, don’t harm them. Patanjali also tells us that if you continue to practice non-harming, you change, as well as the people around you, and eventually the whole world positively changes. He says that when you become established, pratisthayam, in this practice of not harming others, then others will stop harming you, not just physically, but through their thoughts and words, too.

Wow! Imagine living your life in that kind of security and ease; never worrying that someone is thinking or dreaming something negative about you. You always appear as a benevolent presence in their waking, as well as nightly dreams. No one speaks harshly to you or gossips about you. No one is looking to hit you or bang you over the head. No one will ever wish to terrorize you, exploit, or harm you in any way. You will live within a society of peace.

In order to create that society of peace, we must understand how karma works. According to the laws of karma, everything has a root cause, and so whatever we want, we can have, if we are willing to provide it for others first. If we want happiness, then we must make others happy. If we want to be free, then it seems we shouldn’t make a slave of anyone. If we want enlightenment for ourselves, then we must begin to see others as holy, enlightened beings. Through such purification of perception, one becomes enlightened, because ultimately, it will take an enlightened being to see another enlightened being (it takes one to know one). The practice of ahimsa helps us to further understand the laws of karma in order to alter our perception of ourselves and others.

To live in a way that our own life would enhance the lives of others is a radical concept, as it gets to the very root of how happiness comes about. If we want to be happy, we do what we can to bring others happiness, not suffering. Yogis by nature are radical; not content to live superficial lives, but instead, they enjoy diving into root causes. Patanjali opens his Yoga Sutras with: atha yoganusasanam PYS 1.1, which translates as: “Now this is yoga as I have observed it in the natural world,” implying that any of us could come to these yogic realizations if we were willing to look deeply into causes, and not just skim the surface by identifying with superficial, disconnected symptoms.

We live in a culture that tells us that the earth belongs to us, and it is our right to exploit others for our own needs and desires. A yogi on the other hand, realizes that violence only brings more violence. Violence can never bring peace. By understanding how things come about, a yogi then consciously attempts to choose their actions wisely, doing their best to plant only the seeds they wish to reap.

–Sharon Gannon November 2007