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Ahimsa is one of the 5 Yamas or restraints; Yamas being one of the 8 limbs of Ashtanga (Ashta = 8 + Anga= limb) Yoga as prescribed by Pathanjali Maharishi.
Ahimsa is a Sanskrit term meaning to do no harm (literally, the avoidance of violence – himsa or injury).
If one were to practice ‘Ahimsa’ or ‘non-injury/violence’, obviously killing would be a strict ‘no-no’. Killing would represent the most extreme form of ‘Himsa’. As we move further up the spectrum of ‘Ahimsa’ there would also be not causing physical, mental or emotional injury., ie. being non-violent in deed, thought or word.
Most of us, normally functioning humans, instinctively understand this concept of not causing hurt to others. The reason being, we kind of know or guess how it would feel if we were injured. The ability to know this would come from the capacity to empathize or understand the feeling of others. This would mean, that most of us posess the quality to empathize to a greater or lesser degree.
But where many of us could do better is in applying this ‘Yama’ or restraint to ourselves. Life gives us moments to which we react with stress, anger, anxiety, depression, grief, confusion, etc. Typically, we respond to these emotions by being self-critical or ashamed. “Why am I like this?” or “What’s wrong with me?”. We fight and resist, instead of observing and accepting them for exactly what they are, with equanimity and with the faith that they will pass. If we asked these same questions of another who were experiencing them, would we not be criticizing them? And wouldn’t this be considered causing injury through thought or word? I believe yes.
So… if this is what we are doing to ourselves are we not inflicting violence/injury upon ourselves? If we possess the capacity to empathize with others surely we can use the same resources to treat ourselves with a little more compassion. And wouldn’t that greatly enhance our capacity to practice a genuine ‘ahimsa’ in our relationship with others, as we have experienced the healing quality of self-compassion?
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