Why Do We Practice Ahimsa?

Path to Siva Commentary, Lesson 48


"Ahimsa is called the mahavrata, the great vow." Not harming others, is three-fold: thought, word and deed. Because you see God in everyone you would not want to hurt anyone. And there is the law of karma: Everything that happens to us, positive or negative, we attract due to past action. Use proper channels when harmed; never retaliate. Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Tirukural, Gurudeva's teachings all give examples of how to avoid harming others. T-H-I-N-K.

Path to Siva, Lesson 48.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning everyone.

This morning we're reading from Path to Siva, Lesson 48:

"Why Do We Practice Ahimsa?

"Our basic beliefs as Saivite Hindus naturally inspire us to practice ahimsa, or noninjury. Because we see God everywhere, we feel a deep closeness and affection for all beings. We would never want to hurt that which we love and revere. Knowing that God is in every person, every creature, every thing bestows an attitude of sublime tolerance and acceptance. We reject the idea that some people are evil and deserve to be treated badly. People do act in evil ways, but deep inside they are all divine beings; they are experiencing a difficult part of their evolutionary path. The second belief behind ahimsa is the law of karma. We know that any hurt we cause others will one day return to us. Being aware of this basic principle, we wholeheartedly practice ahimsa--refraining not only from causing physical harm or violence, but also from hurting others with our words and our thoughts. Such gentleness gives rise to respect, courtesy and appreciation for others. Noninjury is the product of spiritual consciousness. Hurtfulness arises from lower, instinctive consciousness--fear, anger, greed, jealousy and hate. It is based in the mentality of separateness--of good and bad, mine and yours. We never retaliate. It is wiser to accept the hurt as self-created karma and respond with understanding and forgiveness; to retaliate would only perpetuate the karma. However, ahimsa does not mean pacifism. We may defend ourself to protect our life or the life of another or turn to the police, who are authorized to use force. And we support our country's use of military force to safeguard its citizens. Ahimsa is also a powerful tool for changing and improving society and government. Gandhi proved this with his civil disobedience movement, which freed India without resorting to fights or force. Ahimsa is called the mahavrata, the great vow. Among all the yamas and niyamas, it is the most important virtue."

And Gurudeva's quote: "It is good to know that nonviolence speaks only to the most extreme forms of forceful wrongdoing, while ahimsa goes much deeper to prohibit even the subtle abuse and the simple hurt."

'Ahims-ah' is a challenging word is pronounced because it has a long "a" at the end. You want to say ahimsa, right? That the English way of saying it "ahimsa" but it is "ahims-ah.That "a" at the end is long.

As the text points out, there's two beliefs that are the basis for ahimsa. And in looking at that it reminded me of the Tirukural which approaches many subjects in three ways. The first way it approaches something is: High minded people, just do this. So if you're high minded you do it. There's no logic given. Just, this is what cultured religious people do. Practiceahimsa.

Then it gives the reasoning basis, how it benefits you. So in this case, obviously, if we hurt someone else the hurt's coming back to us, so reasonable people don't hurt others because they know they're going to get hurt back. So this was a step down from just doing the right thing because it's the right thing.

And then sometimes, but not always, he puts a little fear in that, he says: Boy, if you do this you're really going to suffer. That's what the low minded people that, you know, that life is, must be really paint a negative picture; they're not going to follow this principle.

So he speaks to three different levels of mankind and then in practice. So this is speaking two levels, it's saying: It's the right thing to do. Because we see God in everyone. We wouldn't want to hurt anyone. So, it's the right thing to do. And the other is the law of karma, we don't want to harm someone because we know then we're going to harmed in the future. So, that's illogical.

And then as Gurudeva points out in his quote, what he's saying is: Usually when we think about harming people, we shouldn't harm others, we think about actions. So, harming someone through our actions. But Gurudeva is pointing out that ahimsa, more subtle than that, it's three-fold. Actions, words and even our thoughts. So I'm not going to go into thoughts this morning; that's a topic in itself. How can our thoughts harm someone else? But they can, because people feel. But I just going to talk about words.

So, in fact, words are the way that individuals, I generally relate to, what end if up harming someone. You're not going to go around hitting people. You know,It doesn't make sense to go around hitting people. That would be, or hit people. But sometimes they get upset and harm people with angry words. So that's the way that usually ahimsa is not being followed. It's through words.

So we'll come back to that in a minute. Wanted to take you thought the idea that's in the lesson.

An important idea is not to retaliate. In some, what would you say? Some traditions, some family traditions, in some sense of what's right and wrong. If someone does harm to us we have to do harm back to them. That's just the way things are done around here. You know. You wouldn't think of getting injured and then not retaliating back. It's just, it's unthinkable. Then it points to in the principle of ahimsa where we're creating, we're creating an endless cycle, right? Well he did something to me and we come back to do something back to him and then the other person has the same belief, that they hurt, so I have to retaliate and this could go on for quite a while, right? And exactly, they still makemovies based upon that. It's theme that never dies away--retaliation.

So it's not taking into account two things. Obviously, the law of karma, it you harm someone else you are going to get harmed back, and if you believe that you have to have to retaliate, when get you get harmed back then you've created an endless cycle. You're stuck forever. But it's, it's also ignoring, a very important point is: Why did you get harmed in the first place? Because it was your karma to get harmed. Because you harmed someone in the past. Everything that happens to us, positive or negative, we attract. So we're not expecting that future for us if we retaliate. We're thinking: This person did something to me. We're not thinking: I did this to myself. But that's a wiser way of looking at it. Every time it happens to me I caused; I did in the past. And you've heard me say before, we have a big magnet in us. It's a big magnet; whatever happens we're attracting it. The good and the bad, we're attracting it. Why? Because what we did in the past. That's what creates the nature of this magnet. Attraction based upon what we did in the past. If we can really see that then we realize: Well if that person hadn't done it somebody else would have to. It's just going to happen. And this, and to have this happen to me and to blame the person who is the instrument, the vehicle for the returning of my karma is very short sighted. If fact in know one devotee who likes the idea of thanking people. "Thank you for giving my karma back to me. Thank you very much for this tutoring; now that 's karmas done." As long as I don't retaliate, it's gone. Really takes it to the extreme, very nice way.

Don't retaliate. Well what do we do if we don't retaliate? We learn to use the proper channels. So in school for example there are individual, the principle is obviously one person, and even there are others in the system of the school that are set up to, you're supposed to report the misbehaviors to them and then they handle it for you. You don't just go and retaliate with someone. People are mistreating you all the time in school, you use the channels that are set up.

And likewise, in the community we have the police. We've been seriously mistreated that we need to bring in the police. And the police are different than an ordinary person in that they've taken an oath. We think: Oh, the policeman takes, I have to behave this way, I could use my oath in certain circumstances etc. you know. And if they don't follow the oath, be under control of themselves. They don't have this carte blanche, they don't have freedom to use violence whenever they want. They've taken an oath to correct situations in a certain way. And because they've taken that oath they don't create karmas as long as they follow the oath. So it's a very interesting way that controlled violence used by someone such as a policeman without creating karma.

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras has an interesting section. Verse 34, Chapter 2.

"Unwholesome deliberations such as harming someone and so forth, whether done, caused to be done, or approved, whether arriving from greed, anger or infatuation, whether modest, medium or extreme, find their unending fruition in ignorance and sorrow. This is why one must cultivate their opposites."

We're saying, I talk of important point, the first point is: You don't have to be the person to do it to get the negative karma. If you have incited someone else to do it, then you still get the negative karma as well as they get it too. So if you're involved in any way. "Done, caused to be done or approved." Even if you've just approved it. I want to do this negative act. Approved! You've taken on part of that karma.

And the last point, we mentioned in the previous verse. Cultivating the opposite, I'll read the previous verse.

"For the repelling of unwholesome deliberations, one should cultivate the opposite."

It may not be self-evident what that means: "For the repelling of unwholesome deliberations one should cultivate the opposite."

In the speech, in the principle of ahimsa which is what we're talking about. The action we're trying to, the unwholesome deliberation, the action we're wanting to avoid is harming someone through our speech, right? So we don't want to do it, harm someone through our speech.

So what's the opposite? Helping some through our speech, right? It's obvious. We don't want to harm them. The opposite of harming is helping. We're benefiting. There's a couple of, I like them because they're very poetic verses in the Tirukural, Chapter 10, "Speaking Pleasant Words." Verse 100:

"To utter harsh words when sweet ones would serve is like eating unripe fruits when ripe ones are at hand."

A ripe mango is much nicer than unripe mango, right?We can all agree on that. So, who would want to eat the unripe mango when the ripe one is sitting on the same plate. That's what we're doing if we choose harmful words.

Another verse: "Why would anyone speak cruel words having observed the happiness that kind words confer?"

So in Gurudeva's teachings, as you know, the speech needs to pass a four-fold test. We all remember that right? "Speak only that which is true, kind, helpful and necessary," Right? True, kind, helpful and necessary. And then if you want to remember it, you take the word think and you drop the 'i'. You have T-H-N-K. True, helpful, necessary and kind. And one of my ideas which I've written about a few times is we can also put the "i" back in which makes it the whole word in terms of a guideline for speech and have a fifth guideline. Which has, it goes along with the idea of speech stays helpful, kind. It trying to give a guideline. What constitutes helpful speech?

So the "i" is for inspirational. When it applies to speech it refers to speaking something valuable and uplifting which motivates the listener to bring out the best in himself or herself. So we want to help the person by inspiring them, encouraging them. So Gurudeva was an expert at that; he was always speaking words to encourage rather than discourage, words to praise rather than criticize and words to emphasize that we can succeed rather we'll fail. Those are the qualities that wordsinspirational speech involves.

We're encouraging not discouraging. We praising, we're not criticizing and we're giving someone confidence that they can succeed rather than making feel that they won't succeed. Interesting. Interesting to think about it. Inspirational speech, the opposite of harming somebody, is one form of helpful speech. Not the only form of helpful speech that works. But it's the form of helpful speech that fits in to Patanjali's idea: "For the repelling of unwholesome deliberation one should cultivate the opposite."

Thank you very much. Have a wonderful day.

Photo of  Gurudeva
Sins are the crippling distortions of intellect bound in emotion. When we sin, we take the energy and distort it to our instinctive favor.
—Gurudeva