667th Week: Practicing “Ahimsa”, Harmlessness
One of the truly challenging practices for many of us is to live with harmlessness, called “ahimsa” in Sanskrit. A question that arises is, how do we engage the world actively without causing harm? I remember someone once saying that the Buddha said it’s impossible not to cause harm in many small ways, simply by living. We eat other beings as food, we inadvertently step on insects when walking around, we use and then throw away many things throughout the course of our daily lives. And, when it comes to social action, how do we engage that if we have a commitment to ahimsa?
I found an example of a person who engages in social action and also expresses harmlessness and non-violence on a daily basis. Hearing his story vividly illustrates that ahimsa arises from a deep, internal sense of the value of every living being. Here’s a link to an article about him. His name is Pancho Ramos Stierle and he demonstrates his respect for others in words and action, even as he exercises civil disobedience. https://parabola.org/2017/01/28/if-you-want-to-be-a-rebel-be-kind-by-nipun-mehta/
As I learned about Pancho, I decided to take on a practice of being even more aware of ahimsa, of living as much as possible from a context of harmlessness. As you will see in Pancho’s story, this doesn’t mean agreeing with people who represent conditions and actions with which you disagree and which you cannot in good conscience support. It doesn’t mean giving in to situations that you feel are unjust or unkind. Rather, it’s a fundamental sense, deep inside, that we are all in this together, even when we disagree with one another.
For this week’s experiment, I invite you to explore, perhaps more deeply than you may have done before, your relationship with practicing harmlessness as part of your daily activities. On a mundane level, I think that most of us have many opportunities to track this quality in ourselves whenever we’re on the phone dealing with a tech call, or representatives from a company where we have a problem. Notice what happens when you keep in mind that the person on the other end of the phone has the same needs and wishes as you, even when they represent a company with policies that make you want to tear out your hair with frustration.
Keep in mind, as well, that practicing ahimsa means also tracking your use of language. Language can be either violent or non-violent and engaging in a practice of harmlessness means to use non-violent language, even when you are agitated, frustrated, upset, or otherwise activated. To make this practice even more challenging, also track your self-talk, noticing if your internal conversation contains violent language toward yourself or others. If you notice that you are using aggressive language internally, see what happens if you mentally wrap a comforting arm around the part of you that is activated and notice what happens if you shift into language that reflects kindness and harmlessness.
As with all these experiments, there’s really no right or wrong way to do this one. Your relationship to ahimsa is personal and shapes itself to who and how you are in the world. The key thing is to invite curiosity as your constant companion and be sure to remember to pat judgments on the head when they arise, allowing them to move on through without your needing to pay much attention to them.