The meaning of non-violence (ahimsa)

In the 1970s, my spiritual Teacher Sri Chinmoy met with Mohammad Ali. On one occasion the two meditated together. Although they outwardly had very different occupations (spiritual teacher vs boxer), there was a connection of spirit. After this meeting, Sri Chinmoy wanted to watch a boxing match in which Mohammad Ali was in. A student of Sri Chinmoy’s was a little surprised that Sri Chinmoy would watch the boxing because, according to his understanding boxing was seemingly quite un-spiritual.

Sri Chinmoy replied in a perhaps unexpected way. He said words to the effect that although yes, there was a lot of physical violence in a boxing match, there was often much more fighting on the inner plane between two people who were in inner conflict. The physical world is one reality, but the inner world of the mind and vital is also just as real. If we harbour very strong negative thoughts about somebody, it can be very damaging in an inner way. We may not always be aware – but this inner conflict can be like getting punched on the inner level, and eventually can manifest in different ways.

Non-violence – a timeless spiritual ideal.

Sri Chinmoy writes in The Vedas: Immortality’s First Call, Agni Press, 1972:

“The Vedic commandment for the human vital is ahimsa. Ahimsa means non-violence — non-violence in the vital and non-violence of the vital. It is from non-violence that man gets his greatest opportunity to feel that he does not belong to a small family, but to the largest family of all: the universe.”

However, non-violence isn’t just about restraining from physical violence, but also, just as important, is non-violence in our thought, motive and deed. We may assume we are being non-violent, but sometimes we have to check our thoughts and inner will to see our real attitude to other people – including our friends and family.

From a strict point of view, every time we powerfully hold a negative thought about somebody that thought can adversely affect them. If our will is strong and determined, it can cause significant suffering. If the thought is fleeting and not serious, it may have much less effect; though even from small thoughts, the idea can grow stronger and bigger.

Real non-violence means we have to constantly try to offer good will and seek the best outcome for others. We have to make sure we are not indirectly offering ill will – through the form of jealousy, envy, frustration or pride. Non-violence means we need to cultivate our own inner peace.

Non-violence doesn’t mean we always hide from confrontation. For example, if we are angry with someone, it is tempting to say nothing, but inwardly hold on to all this inner resentment. However, this inner resentment can harm both ourself and the other person. If something is wrong, we can speak openly and point out the bad behaviour. This may be a difficult conversation, but at the same time, it is more healthy to get it in the open and avoid the inner fight we try to suppress on an outer level.

It is not necessarily what we say or do, but what we wish for that person. If it is really for their best without selfish motives than there is real ahimsa – we are acting with compassion and their Higher soul in mind.

Non-violence and defence of the truth and goodness.

Non-violence doesn’t entail pacifism where we always surrender to the evil forces and movements. If we allow bad people to flourish, we can cause harm and suffering in the present and future. It may be necessary to even fight to defend a certain principle if the aim is to secure a peaceful outcome. These situations are fortunately rare and we have to be always careful, we are not too quick to justify force when our cause is less than just. A test is the motive. If we fight for ego, wounded pride or a desire to prove supremacy; this is not motivated by the principles of ahimsa.

Practical ahimsa

This blog was partly motivated by a much less serious dilemma about whether to kill slugs who were eating my plants. I don’t like killing animals, but at the same time, I didn’t want my plants to be decimated.

Ahimsa and universal compassion

Ahimsa is not just a law to follow. To really appreciate ahimsa we have to expand our consciousness and feel the rest of creation as part of our extend consciousness. Whilst in prison, Sri Aurobindo spent many hours in meditation becoming aware of God in everything; it transformed his understanding of life . Sri Aurobindo writes in “Tales of Prison Life’

“At Alipore I could feel how deep could be the love of man for all created things, how thrilled a man could be on seeing a cow, a bird, even an ant.”

In solitary confinement, Sri Aurobindo placed great attention on these smallest creatures ants, and expressed the intense sympathy he felt.

“Soon there was a big battle between the black and the red, the black ants began to bite and kill the red ants. I felt an intense charity and sympathy for these unjustly treated red ants and tried to save them from the black killers.” (Tales of Prison Life)

Non-violence and reincarnation

From one perspective there is no such thing as death only the endless process of death and re-birth – the slow gradual evolution. Death is inevitable in nature, but so is rebirth and the long slow wheel of evolution. But, at the same time, the law of karma reminds us that what we do to others, will invariably come back to us in some form. “Those who live by the sword die by the sword”. Those who live by non-violence help to create a more peaceful karma. If we hold attacking thoughts about other people, these kind of thoughts will rebound.

Different paths

There are different approaches to ahimsa. The Jain religion takes ahimsa as an abiding principle. For Jains the devotion to ahimsa is part of their spiritual practise. For other spiritual Masters, there is a different emphasis. To Sri Aurobindo, killing insects, such as mosquitoes doesn’t bring bad karma. If you do an action with the right motive, then it helps avoid suffering of being bitten by mosquitoes.

Each seeker can choose his path, and has to decide how to apply the principle of ahimsa in his own life. But, the real test is to avoid getting into inner and outer conflict, by seeking to live in the soul rather than mind and vital.

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