Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:35 In the presence of one established in non-violence (ahimsa), all hostility ceases.
Defining the Sutra
Peace happens in the presence of those who are peaceful.
Modern Day Application
First, this is not magic. Peaceful people do suffer violence. Buddha, Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr, and JFK to name a few. There are two analogies that help me to make sense of this.
Fan/Momentum Analogy: When you cut off a fan, the blades will continue to move for a few moments. When someone does harm, the momentum was building prior to the moment of execution. Even if it seems like the anger came from a sudden event like cutting them off in traffic or being fired from a job, a person who will become violent, had the tendency before the event. People get fired everyday and are fine. If someone snaps, the momentum started before that moment. Picture a human in front of a moving train. No matter how peaceful the person is on the tracks, the train may not be able to stop. No matter how peaceful you may be, it may be too late to stop the perpetrator’s momentum.
Camera/Full Picture Analogy: Two people take pictures at an event. One person only takes one picture. One person takes pictures throughout the day, moment by moment. Something happens and both people misplace their phones. The cop who finds the camera with only one picture, has to fill in all the blanks of the day. The cop who finds the second phone knows how everything happens and unfolds moment by moment and has a full picture of the days events.
Usually, we live our lives as the first cop. We cannot see the whole picture. Depending on what you believe in, that is what we signed up for. We came to this earth as limited beings, because if we knew everything, the experience would be totally different. Not knowing brings up curiosity and we explore more pathways and have more experiences.
Even the seemingly bad stuff is an experience and changes how we interact in the world. The deaths of Emmett Teal and the children who died in the Birmingham church bombings of 1963, lit a fire in America that resulted in the victories of the Civil Rights Movement. Some could argue that these deaths were unnecessary. Some could argue that they catalyzed the movement. People like Martin Luther King, Jr came forth because of events like this.
If Maya Angelou had not been beaten by her husband, pregnant as a teen and a sex worker, would we still have her beautiful words and wisdom? Maybe these seemingly negative events helped her find her voice. I don’t know. The premise of the Full Picture Analogy is that we don’t know the full picture of why things happen and what would have been different if they hadn’t.
If we are peaceful, we are not invincible. However, we can all agree that, when we calmly interact with people, they are more likely to calmly interact with us. When a baby falls, if the mother laughs and doesn’t make a fuss, the child laughs and is fine. If the mother gets upset, the baby gets upset. If I am chill, my dog is chill. If I call her name in a high pitched voice and start jumping around, she gets excited.
The Yamas are there to make our lives easier so that we can put our energy on the spiritual path. If we cultivate inner peace, the people around us are more likely to be peaceful with us. The more peaceful our lives are, the less time we spend embroiled in drama. Without the drama, we can spend our time on our mats, in contemplation, or pursuing our hearts desires. It does not mean that you should go pet a rabid dog or jump in front of a gun.
Why It is Important
Ahimsa brings up a lot of ethical arguments such as vegetarianism, going to war and the environment. Many ask, “is telling someone a lie that makes someone feel good wrong?” or , “if telling the truth hurts someone, is it against ahimsa?”
In the words of Sadhguru, “a Yogi does not do what is right. A Yogi does what is appropriate.”
Yoga teaches us that, if we are not present, we see the world through the eyes of the past, which means we are not seeing the world at all. All of the questions, that come up around Ahimsa, have to be viewed through the lens of the present moment so that the Yogi can see what is appropriate for this moment. The Yogi also has to take their ego out of it.
For instance, when vegetarianism usually comes up, it is hardly ever a true open minded discussion. It is usually people who love meat looking for reasons to continue eating it and people who think that eating meat is harmful looking for reasons to make everyone stop eating it. It is peppered with comments like, “well, plants have feelings too. So you are killing something as well” or “you wouldn’t eat your dog but you will eat a chicken.” How often do people really take an open minded look at the world we currently live in, the bodies nutritional needs, the agricultural industry, and the well being of plants, humans and animals?
The Yoga Sutras says that the Yogi has permanent discernment. If everything was black and white, there would be no need for discernment. Ahimsa also takes discernment.
Ahimsa makes the whole world an easier place to live in. Not just for you, but for everyone. All beings deserve space in their lives for pursing their hearts desires and spirit. The question becomes, how can I facilitate that for as many beings as possible, including myself? When we have discussions about Ahimsa, they cannot just be discussion about our own needs and wants. No one lives in a vacuum. Humans, because of our level of consciousness, are stewards of the Earth. Ahimsa has to extend beyond us.
P.S. Just for clarity, traditionally, Yogis are vegetarian and it is written that Yogis should not eat meat. I am not going to discuss that in this article because I do not want this article to be about vegetarianism. It is about Ahimsa in general. Please, do not start arguing with me in the comments about vegetarianism and eating meat. I won’t answer. Sorry. I love you.