“Ahimsa denotes an attitude and a mode of behavior towards all living creatures based on the recognition of the underlying unity of life.” (1)
This says it all: Can I viscerally feel that the person, plant or animal (and even a supposedly inanimate object) in front of me is really part of the One Being which I am?
Here again, I come upon that special symbol “I”. It is so close to me that it is very difficult to observe it and see what its truth is. A direct experience once gave me a wonderful perspective. On my day off, sitting on the porch in Belize where I lived then, I began to hear “I”… “I” … “I” coming from all the plants nearby, and also the stones and other objects, like the vehicles parked in the drive. Every form, whether sentient or inanimate was “speaking” this “I”.
The experience lasted for some minutes (timeless minutes) and created a living connection to all that was in my field of perception. A true “innerstanding” arose in me that corresponded to my experiential insights while using psychotropic substances 30 years earlier: Oneness is not a metaphor but the simple, “ordinary” fact of what is.
The symbol “I” and the thought that it expresses is actually what Existence calls Itself. In my ignorance of this fact, caught in the delusion of being a separate entity, I see this “I” as referring to the ego, but that is a mistaken perception.
Here is the voice of an Indian sage on this topic:
“O mind, what are you searching?
Inside and outside it is one only.
It is the concept that makes you feel inside and outside.
Once the earthen pot bearing the name Nanak is broken, by getting rid of the concept that I am the body, where is inside and outside?
It is “I” only prevailing everywhere.
Like the fragrance in a flower, like an image in a mirror, this sense of “I-am-ness” is felt in the body.
Abide in the sense of “I-am-ness” and you shall be liberated.”
Guru Nanak (2.)
and another modern sage, Ramana, puts it thus:
“…not even uttering the word “I”, one should inquire keenly thus: “Now, what is it that rises as ‘I’?” Then, there would shine in the Heart a kind of wordless illumination of the form ‘I-I’. That is, there would shine of its own accord the pure consciousness which is unlimited and one, the limited and the many thoughts having disappeared.” (3.)
From this experience a gentleness of mind began to develop that now, eleven years later, has replaced my former injured and fearful mind that was prone to violence when threatened. The violence was generally subtle passive-aggressive behavior and other forms of attempting to protect myself, but nonetheless it was violence as understood in the yoga sutras.
Ahimsa is the first of the five yamas of the yoga sutras, which can be understood to be existential imperatives for anyone on the Path of Yoga (see “Third Exploration”).
hims = to strike
himsa = injury or harm
a – himsa = opposite of this, avoidance of violence
As this is the first of the yamas, one of the principal precepts of medical ethics “First, do no harm.” comes to mind. Before I consider any action, I need to be mindful of this precept before all else. Since the discipline of yoga encompasses all levels of human activity (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual), this “do no harm” refers to all thought, words and deeds.
So I recognize that thoughts, feelings and physical actions may cause harm and I am therefore called upon to consider the repercussions of what I do, think and feel. Of course I feel that I want to refrain from causing harm so as to live a life of high integrity. The Path of Yoga tells me further that any such actions will create vrttis in my energy field and thus prevent the mind-stuff (citta) from subsiding into resonance with the greater whole.
My deepest inner goal of Unity Consciousness is thus a powerful driving force to adhere to this yama. Greater conscious experience with the dynamic of vrttis arising allows me to monitor my overall frequency, such that I often notice the inception of vrttis of this type. I can then ‘cease and desist’ at their first budding, before they gain momentum and pull me into the whirlpool of emotional turbulence. It is this turbulence, accompanied by blind reactivity born of ignorance that makes violence possible.
(1.) I.K Taimni, The Science of Yoga, p. 210
(2.) quoted by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
(3.) Sri Ramana Maharshi, Self-Inquiry p. 6