The Deeper Meanings of Non-violence

Saturday, February 9, 13

Maya Chilam
The Deeper Meanings of Non-violence
—Contemplation on Ahimsa and Satya

Ahimsa – No Harm
Satya – Truthfulness
1.33 In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy… and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil.
(maitri karuna mudita upekshanam sukha duhka punya apunya vishayanam bhavanatah chitta prasadanam)

In the 8 limbs of yoga, there are so many subtleties involved. When you look deeply into those 8 principles, they can seem to conflict with each other. But the most conflicting pairs are Ahimsa and Satya.
Applying sutras in real life yoga is far more important than explaining the theories. Here is one example. 15 years ago, I started a Chinese Cultural forum with minimal resources and support. But I firmly believed that a small group of creative, talented and determined people could bring changes to the world. Its mission is to promote cultural awareness through arts, music and creative writings via new media to build bridges between Eastern and Western cultures. I put lots of energy/personal money and time into this cultural charity without much support.

The membership of this forum grew rapidly but organically without any publicity. It attracted the most talented Chinese intellectuals/writers and artists from all around the world. I believe the best way for any healthy organization to grow is to be organic and build a strong foundation. My concepts were supported by two other members and 2 years later they became my partners. We had many differences and had many obstacles (the site was banned by PRC government in 2006 till now, we lost many members due to this blockage.). In year 2010, I was facing a big challenge in life, and I had no time or resources to be continuously involved with its daily activities. Mostly, I found that the forum has gone to a direction that has departed from my original philosophy. So I handed this forum to these two partners to manage. Purely to satisfy their own egos, these two partners wanted to make profits on members’ works without consulting with me. I was occupied with many other projects and fully trusted them, and I did not pay any attention of what they were doing behind me. And I did not say anything to them or any other members of the forum. They continued to drift away and betrayed me at the most difficult time in my life. I feel devastated and heartbroken. I thought we are great partners, and communications between us were all truthful. It turned out what they told me were all lies. At that time, I had a good control of my emotions. I did not react and be indifferent to their wrongdoings. I thought, with time went by, they would be aware of what they are doing. I also wanted to maintain a harmonious and peaceful environment for all the other members and bring no harms to anyone.

However, I internalized those pains and brought the psychological pain to my physical body. I developed serious illness in my fifth chakra, which related to speaking the truth and express my feelings. I gave too much considerations to other’s feelings(Ahimsa) and did not have the conviction to express my innermost beliefs(Satya). This is not a balanced yoga practice I recognized, after two years of internal forbearance.
I finally decided to take an action.

The first step was writing them a letter. It was a long letter and it was painful because I treated them as my brother and sister. It took me almost a week to finish the letter. And I let the letter unsent for another week, just to make sure that I was balanced and fair in my words. When I detached myself from the outcome, I sent it out. This letter intended not to cause them any embarrassment or hurtful feelings but to speak the truth firmly and calmly with compassion. In this letter, I truthfully pointed out the fact that our path has showed great differences and had the tendency to part away. We needed to check out our fundamental beliefs again before we went any farther.

I told them: if it is the end for our friendship, then end it without tormenting ourselves any longer (Ahimsa). If they understand what I said with genuine compassion, that’s wonderful. We can find a common goal to work together again. If they feel hurt, embarrassed or angry, great. Feeling a bit of heat (tapas) is good for us. We need the purification. Let’s burn out those toxic feelings among us and don’t deny our differences. If they receive this letter with disagreement, then we should walk on to different paths. Simple as that, truth and no harm can live together. I have detached myself from the outcome. I forgive and I let it go.

Contemplation on Pratipaksha Bhavanam to achieve Ahimsa

Contemplation on Pratipaksha Bhavanam to achieve Ahimsa

Vitarka badhane pratipaksa bhavanam.

When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.
[ Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 2.33]

Ahimsa pratisthayam tat vaira-tyaga
In the presence of one firmly established in non-violence, all hostilities cease.
[Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 2.35]

Being a Chinese, I found that these two sutras are very much resonated in Chinese philosophy. From a very young age, we have been taught to see things from both sides, Yin and Yang, positive and negative on all matters. We have been taught that when negative thoughts emerge, we shift to its opposite. When challenges come to our lives, we welcome them as opportunities. Nothing lasts as time goes by, so is negative thoughts and events. We cannot hold on to any thoughts positive or negative because they are like water in a flow. This mental exercise has been a core practice for many Taoist practitioners.

Even though theoretically this concept is easily understood, it remains a life long challenging practice for almost all human beings even for advanced spiritual beings because we like to be attached and get stuck on obsessive thoughts. I can give out many real life examples to prove.

In my life, I had experiences treating people with addictions. They know very well that addiction brings them down to hell and they are harming themselves. Why can’t they exercise Ahimsa? Because they can not control their mind. For alcohol addicts, that uncontrollable thoughts of just have one last drink keeps coming back to their minds. They cannot let go of that bottle of wine. Using the technique of Pratipaksha Bhavanam (PB), I developed the following steps with addictions; I like to use alcoholism as an example, although I am not an alcoholic.

Observe the thoughts and withdraw the attention
Modern psychology tells us that where our attention goes, energy flows. And when we place attention on what we cannot have, our energy pools into one big craving desire for it. When the craving for alcohol comes, I simple tell myself: “I am aware this craving is coming and I can dilute it with other thoughts.” Asana and meditation are great aids to watch my thoughts flow.

Now Ahimsa comes into the picture. I should not become too upset about any negative thoughts, because that will only give additional energy to the craving and intensify my anxiety. Often people fight their addiction with force. I should not use force or violent language to myself or call myself “a loser or failure”. Rather, we use PB to dilute and re-direct our energy to other thoughts. I admit that this shift is not easy.

Cultivating other (positive) thoughts
I like to think that PB is a minute-by-minute constant practice. I like to use “cultivating” this word to build up this practice. Slowly I believe that I can build the mental muscle strong enough to switch back and forth, get in and out my thoughts, feelings, and actions. I found that visualization is very helpful. The opposite thought of getting high is: Alcohol cannot bring me high, how miserable and depressed I felt last time after I drank! Focus on those miserable images and feelings.

Practice slowing down, be restorative
We are not saints, and the craving is very strong, the high that alcohol can bring is seductive. It keeps surfacing like waves keep on coming back to the shore. This battle with addiction might be a life long journey. So it doesn’t hurt to slow down a bit, does it? Let’s relax and lie down to be restorative. Very soon that craving will gradually dissipate and lose its force and momentum because slow motions calm down the nerve. A restorative yoga would be ideal at this stage. I can leave home and leave those wine bottles behind.

Using breathe/asana to realign one’s energetic patterns
Like a powerful magnet, our energetic patterns pull our lives in a specific direction. The more we resist the pull of our lives, the more our innate energies draw us towards what we are resisting. I found that pranayama and asana are great ways to realign our energetic fields towards a new healthier configuration.

Have faith in yoga
I believe the spirit of Ahimsa is gentle and subtle. It is so subtle and it might take a while to notice it. We cannot expect an over-night change, especially with destructive power like addiction. Ahimsa requires patience. Exercising on PB sure will build our mental muscle to defend negative thoughts harming us, and later on we can effortlessly flip it over to positive thinking. Here again, I like to include the Chinese wisdom that nothing lasts, even obsessive thoughts. Negativity is just like a mirage; it is only a temporary illusion. With sustained practice, the negative becomes sublimated and, to your surprise, soon vanishes. It will lose its power and can no longer grab you and suck your life energy away from you.

I like to make PB a daily practice on all life matters, be more aware of any negative patterns, and move gently/non-violently towards Samadhi.

The Four Margas (Paths) of Yoga

Yoga is a way of life, an integrated system for the body, mind and soul. This art of living was perfected and practiced in India thousands of years ago. Yoga is a science of universal truth and its teachings are as valid today as they were in ancient times.  According to yoga, the goal of life is to discover our true nature to connect with our divine nature. As people have different temperaments, there are different techniques, yogas, to help them find the truth.  There are various paths to the union of yoga but there is ultimately only one truth.   Swami Sivananda recognised that every individual possesses and identifies with the Intellect, heart, body and mind. He therefore advocated everyone to practice certain techniques from each path. This came to be known as the Yoga of Synthesis. Swami Sivananda also taught that according to our own individual nature/personality, we may be drawn to going deeper into one path of yoga. For example, a person of a more loving, devotional nature, may naturally be drawn to practice predominantly Bhakti Yoga.  There are four main paths of Yoga -

  • Karma Yoga
  • Bhakti Yoga
  • Raja Yoga
  • Jnana Yoga

Karma Yoga – The path of action (selfless service)
Karma Yoga is the path of action, service to others, mindfulness, and remembering the levels of our being while fulfilling our actions or karma in the world.

karmany evadhikaras te ma phalesu kadacana ma karma-phala-hetur bhur ma te sango ’stv akarmani  
“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty”
- Bhagavad Gita 2.47

Bhakti Yoga – the path of devotion
Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion, emotion, love, compassion, and service to God and others. All actions are done in the context of remembering the Divine

patram pushpam phalam toyam yo me bhaktya prayacchati tad aham bhakty-upahritam ashnami prayatatmanah
“Whoever offers Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit or a little water – that, so offered devotedly by the pure-minded, I accept” Bhagavad Gita 9.26

Jnana Yoga – the path of knowledge
Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge, wisdom, introspection and contemplation. It involves deep exploration of the nature our being by systematically exploring and setting aside false identities.

śrī-bhagavān uvācaprajahāti yadā kāmānsarvān pārtha mano-gatānātmany evātmanā tuṣṭaḥsthita-prajñas tadocyate 
“When a man puts away all the desires of his mind, O Partha [Arjuna], and when his spirit is content in itself, then is he called stable in intelligence” Bhagavad Gita 2.55

Raja Yoga – the path of the mind & meditation
Raja Yoga is a comprehensive method that emphasizes meditation, while encompassing the whole of Yoga. It directly deals with the encountering and transcending thoughts of the mind.

bandhur atmatmanas tasya yenatmaivatmana jitah anatmanas tu satrutve vartetatmaiva satru-vat
“For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy” – Bhagavad Gita 6.6

Firm But Calm

Sutra 2.46  Sthira Sukham Asanam   Asana is a steady, comfortable posture. (Translated bySri Swami Satchidananda)

 There are many misled information about yoga in popular media these days. On January 2012, there was an article on NYtimes with the title of “ How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”.  The message from this article is that:  although yoga is a very gentle and non-aggressive exercise, but it can be risky for modern urbanities.  If not been taught correctly, quite a few poses can cause harm even permanent damages to your body. In the old days, Indian practitioners of yoga typically squatted and sat cross-legged in daily life, and yoga poses were an outgrowth of these postures. Now urbanites who sit in chairs all day walk into a studio a couple of times a week and strain to twist themselves into ever-more-difficult postures despite their lack of flexibility and other physical problems.  I believe the critical point that the article missed to point out is that yoga is not a fitness exercise, although it definitely gives out those physical benefits. But more importantly, yoga is a spiritual practice.

First of all, we need to be very mindful when we practice yoga, really be aware of our limitations and feelings. We have to learn to communicate with our own body.  Talk to the sore and painful part of our body. Ask constantly how do I feel at this moment.  Can I be in this pose still without pain? The transformational power of yoga can only be manifested through quietness and mindfulness. Every asana has a place between solidity and comfort. This place is often described as feeling suspended in time or coinciding with the infinite. It is a state where the body and mind are united in a state of tranquil composure. When practicing with a sense of “sthira sukham” you flow through the physical postures with power and intensity yet remain soft and relaxed in your body and mind. You learn to know the limits your own body and watch the progress whiles detaching yourself from restlessness and remaining confident and calm.

We are living in a restless world. Every day we are pushed or pulled to all directions and have many obstacles and struggles. It seems as if we must do something if anything is to happen. Yoga teaches me a great lesson of not so much by doing but of not doing. Surely we have to put some effort into training the body to sit straight and be aligned. However, after that is accomplished, the next step is to learn to do nothing, allowing the posture to settle in for deep imprints and allowing attention to merge with the infinite.