days researching ahimsa. The first
thing I should say is that I’m not going to define it for you. Not yet,
anyways. So, if you don’t know what it means, you’re just going to have to wade
through this sea of ideas with me until we come to a conclusion. Or, at least,
of what the word means. Ahimsa is
usually translated simply as “non-violence,” or “non-harming.” Some
translators, perhaps seeking to focus on the deeper causes of violence, translate ahimsa as “the absence of
the desire to harm or kill.” In the
eightfold path of yoga (per Patanjali), it is listed as a yama, a restraint.
articles on the internet about yoga and ahimsa.
902,000 in 27 seconds to be exact. That’s a lot of people out there thinking
about yoga and non-violence, which is great. Right? Right. Of course. I love
the idea that yogis are out there thinking hard about philosophical concepts.
hard, I mean. The main gist of most of the missives out there seems to be
something like, “just don’t hurt anyone, mmmkay?” Interspersed with this sort
of impotent attitude towards ahimsa
are a lot of conversations/arguments/apologies about why “doing no harm” does or does not include vegetarianism and is or is not compatible with capitalism.
discussions of ahimsa seem to equate
not harming with being nice: being nice to ourselves, being nice to each other,
being nice to the planet. But if we can’t bring ourselves to be nice, it’s
enough for our intentions to be good. It’s sort of the, “If you don’t have
something nice to say…” school of philosophy, as far as I can tell.
are real things in this world and they must be met with real action. And real
action means taking what you learn off of your mat and into your community. It
means not just, “not harming,” but actively doing good. It means that having good
intentions isn’t good enough.
were written a really long time ago, which means they may deserve a little
re-interpretation here and there. And secondly, Patanjali did not write the
sutras for middle class American yogis who have both the time and the resources
to take political action.
The Patanjalian categorizing of ahimsa as a yama (a restraint), may no longer be accurate. The etymology ofyama suggests that its practice brings a kind of death to an aspect of one’s personality. The common meaning we retain today is that the yamas kill egoic selfishness. But if we restrain ourselves from justice, our selflessness is in question. In the face of multiple levels of actual and threatened violent oppression in the Majority World and our environment, ahimsa may be better positioned as a niyama (something to be unleashed). A promise to connect, and act.
that’s more like it.
about it. Do you want your yogic commitment to be a flaccid negation of
violence or a virile something to be
unleashed against forces of oppression?
his remix of The Yoga Sutras, threads of
yoga, Remski offers a re-translation of ahimsa
as protection. He contends that making a
vow of non-violence might be better thought of as an active process of
protecting ourselves, our neighbors, and our world.
means that instead of asking ourselves the somewhat benign questions, “Am I
hurting anyone/anything right now?” or, “Are my intentions good?” that we should
really be asking ourselves, “Am I actively protecting myself, my friends, and
my community from violence and oppression?”
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