Ahimsa is the Sanskrit word meaning "non violence". This is the same principle of non-violence espoused by great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Ahimsa is the very first principle of Yoga, in a long list of principles called the "Yamas" or ethical considerations that support the full flowering of our human potential. The word himsa means "injustice" or "cruelty". The prefix a- means "without". So the concept of ahimsa is about the absence of cruelty and injustice in thought, word, and deed. But, as TKV Desikachar, son of the great Krishnamacharya points out, in his book, "The Heart of Yoga,"
"Ahimsa is more than just lack of violence. It means kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things. We must exercise judgement when thinking about ahimsa. It does not necessarily imply that we should not eat meat or fish or that we should not defend ourselves. It simply means that we must always behave with consideration and attention to others. Ahimsa also means acting in kindness toward ourselves. Should [a] vegetarian find [them self] in a situation where there is only meat to eat, is it better to starve to death than to eat what is there? If we still have something to do in this life, such as family responsibilities, then we should avoid doing anything that may cause us harm or prevent us from carrying out our duties. the answer in this situation is clear - it would show a lack of consideration and arrogance to become stuck on our principles. So ahimsa has to do with our duties and responsibilities too. It could even mean that we must fight if our life is in danger. In every situation we should adopt a considered attitude."
There are many nuances of this topic to consider personally and collectively and on a case by case situational basis. I look to the strategy of Mahatma Gandhi, who's philosophy of satyagraha, "adherence to truth", was studied and adopted by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other pioneers of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.
Gandhi wrote, "Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement Satyagraha, that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase “passive resistance”, in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word satyagraha itself or some other equivalent English phrase......I have also called it love-force or soul-force. In the application of satyagraha, I discovered in the earliest stages that pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one’s opponent but that he must be weaned from error by patience and compassion. For what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but on oneself." (Wikipedia)
I welcome conversations about this topic with you.
Author, Nicole Becker
Yoga Therapist, Retreat Leader, and Heart of Yoga Teacher, Nicole Becker offers yoga and self-care insights and tips.