The first petal or limb of yoga is yama. I’ve seen it defined as universal morality, one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life, the reflection of our true nature. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.. It is the place from which we start are yoga journey, our understanding of yoga.
Yama is broken down into five “wise characteristics.” Rather than a list of dos and don’ts, “they tell us that our fundamental nature is compassionate, generous, honest and peaceful.”
The first “wise characteristic” is Ahimsa, nonviolence, non-harming, compassion for all living things. The Chopra Center states, “Every thought, word, and action stems from a place of love and equanimity for all sentient beings, our planet, and all of creation. When we come from a place of love in our thoughts, words, and actions, there can be no act of violence. Practicing nonviolence every day would have a tremendously positive impact on our families, communities, and the world.”
“As babies, we see the world through pure hearts and open eyes. We live the purity of Ahimsa, experiencing oneness with everyone and everything. With the development of the mind’s ability to discriminate, differences emerge. We must then be constantly reminded that even though people and things appear to be different, in our essence we are all the same.” (The Secret Power of Yoga)
So what does Love Thy Neighbor AND Thyself have to do with Ahimsa?
As we open our hearts, Ahimsa elegantly beams reverence and love to the many facets of our life. We accept the importance of respecting all, even those who threaten or harm us physically or emotionally. Yet the part that many of us forget is to treat ourselves with the same reverence and love. (The Secret Power of Yoga)
In the Bible Jesus said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (Matthew 22:36-39)
I’ve heard and read these verses many times in my life and most of the time the emphasis is on “love thy neighbor”, but can we love our neighbor if we first do not love ourselves? The difficult lesson for many of us is to learn to love and serve ourselves first. Practice nonviolence with ourselves. Thus, Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor AND Thyself.
I could write a whole article about “how to” love thyself, but, perhaps that is part of your journey to discover on your own. Our purpose today is Ahimsa and perhaps the next step is to love our neighbor.
Mahatma Gandhi employed the principles of Ahimsa, which he so dearly cherished, in dealing with the foreign intruders ruling India. He inspired all the citizens of India to love their enemy. The foreign empire, confused by the unforeseen attitude, was brought to its knees. The British retreated in peace, holding Mahatma Gandhi in the highest esteem. By encasing the principles of Ahimsa in his heart, he dearly respected even those who caused him harm. Gandhi remains a great inspiration, exemplifying compassion in the face of adversity.
“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ahimsa emplies that our nature is to be compassionate, and when we practice Ahimsa fully, all living things that come into our presence experience it.
“My religion is kindness,” humbly says His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a distinguished living example of Ahimsa.
Embracing the great virtue of Ahimsa brings the knowledge that each of us feels pain, joy, disappointment, love. We develop an empathy with others and our individual experience becomes the experience of all.
Embracing reverence and love for all (Ahimsa), we experience oneness. (The Secret Power of Yoga)
A practice for Ahimsa: Inspire yourself to practice nonviolence. There are many examples of those who have dedicated their lives to ahimsa, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Tich Nhat Hanh, Mother Teresa, and Mahatma Gandhi. Read their biographies or books written by them to learn about their journeys to living in peace. (Living Your Yoga, Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., P.T.)
Mantra: My intention today is to invite peace into all my thoughts, words and actions.