Yoga, Ayurveda and acro yoga in Budapest - classes, philosophy also in English

2010. június 18., péntek

Ahimsa - not a passive approach

Yesterday I wrote in Hungarian, but I think this is worth making an English version too.

Previously, I started to discuss that yoga does not only start on the mat, it starts the moment you get out of your bed. It is a lifestyle, a state of being. This is also reflected in the system laid down by Patanjali the great saint, who compiled the unwritten rules of the yoga tradition in his Yoga Sutras. In this work he sets out the so called system of ashtanga yoga, or eight limbs of yoga (ashta-eight, anga-limb, branch). Without getting too much into the details, I just wanted to highlight that asana is only the third step and before that a yoga aspirant shall start with some moral rules.

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The first rule is yama, things to avoid or social behaviour patterns, and the second rule is niyama, things to do or personal behaviour patterns. They seem like moral rules, somewhat reminding us of the Ten Commandments, but in fact these are rather suggestions to make your life happy and balanced. They are not requirements laid down by a god and sanctioned by punishment. If you don't follow them no devil will cook you in a pot in hell, maximum you will not realise your human potential in this life. By the way, this is why I like yoga philosophy so much, it treats you like an adult and wants you to understand scientific truths, wants you to KNOW not to believe blindly. You are not required to accept anything until you haven't tested it.

So, yamas:
*Ahimsa - abstain from violence
*Satya - refrain from telling a lie
*Asteya - refrain from stealing and cheating
*Brahmacharya - self constraint in sexual matters and moderation in all you do
*Aparigraha - non-attachment, abstain from greediness, envy, jealousy or unhealthy competitiveness

* Sauca - purity
* Sauca - contentment
* Tapas- self-discipline
* Svadhyaya - Self study, or self knowledge
* Ishwara-Pranidhana - respect for the Divine

Ahimsa is the topic today, the fundamental rule of non-violance. This means of course that we do not even wish harm for anyone, not even by a thought. I have two questions though:
1. Why is it good for us if we follow this rule?
2. Does this rule have any active aspect too? To be honest, since I was a child I had difficulty learning in church that if they hit me I shall not hit back. Why not? Shall I accept all attacks so passively?

Why is it good then? Yoga philisophy starts from the point that all of us, human, animal and even the stones, the created environment around us (yes, even that has a soul according to yoga) is coming from the same absolute divine consciousness. We are like the flames on a stove, being fed all by the same gas pipe. We are impregnated by the same quality, same life-force, we are all the manifestations of the same universal consciousness whether we like it or not. Of course we have different potentials, and the expression of our consciouness has different possibilities, still we come from the same source. This theory parallels the Christian principle "love your neighbour as yourself", since if we are all the same, then hurting another means hurting yourself. For me this becomes clear through my own experience, that when I cause pain to someone, then I am aware that my conscience will trouble me. I hear already some of you saying, that yes, but some ardent criminals or the big wrong-doers do not suffer from this problem, in Hungarian we say that the skin on their face is thick enough to put up with anything.
Well, in Hungarian it is funny but the word for conscience(lelkiismeret) comprises of the word 'soul' (lélek). Actually the combination of the word soul (lélek)+knowledge (ismeret) gives the word conscience (lelkiismeret). In English, I see consciousness and conscience which seems to make the same play with the words. So I think it is even reflected in the language that since we all must have a soul, or consciousness, therefore our soul+knowledge or our conscience will sooner or later manifest. No one can avoid this. Even the worst criminals might cry out for a priest on their death bed, and the moment will come that you shall look into your mirror and face yourself, see yourself reflected in the Mirror of Your Self, your SOUL.
You cannot carry on with all that burden of your conscience. That is why it well worth it (yes, in our money oriented world this is the only argument commonly understandable) to practice ahimsa, to not to harm your own self.

And there is the other question: Shall ahimsa be always a case of abstention? I remember, when I was an adolescent following a sunday school education, this problem came up with the principle of Thou shall not kill. Then we concluded that if violence is necessary to protect a threatened life or our own, then intervention is even our obligation. Of course, if possible, you shall have recourse first to other means to avoid taking a life, but if there is no other option left, then it is of utmost importance to protect an inoccent life. Or, if I take a simple example from everyday life; how often does it happen that a drunkard or a bunch of silly teens start attacking or mocking someone on a train or a bus. And what is the common reaction? Everybody just stares and does nothing. That poor chap can be hit or just verbally insulted but the crowd around, even in case of only one assaulter, even if they are the CROWD, and the more should be the merrier, they will remain silent and im-POTENT. Although this should be a case of ahimsa too, really simple.

In such a situation, people could raise their voice and stand up. They could express that something wrong is going on here and we do not agree with that. And if you stand up this is in itself an invitation towards others to express themselves, to show themselves so that we like-minded people could come together. There is power in Unity, as it was suggested by the famous latin words on the battleships of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy: Viribus Unitis (with united forces).

But this brave reaction, be it individual or stemming from it as a common action, to stand by someone or something, is mostly missing today. However, this is an essential aspect of ahimsa, namely that we do not allow dark forces to prosper and with peaceful means but we try to thwart their spread. Thich Nhat Hahn in his book on the Art of Power introduces this idea in the context of global politics and the challenge of ever growing agression, that as a human, especially as an awakened being, this is our task and duty to help to raise global consciouness. Nowadays, all is showing a tendency towards going further away from the Divine, forces of pulling down are dominant (in yogic terms all gets tamasic). Although all of us have the seed of potential to change it, just by doing our little "fair share". If you stand up to support universal values common to mankind, you will become a motivation for others. You will be a torch in the dark. And as the Bible says: "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."(Matthew 18:20) And does a Christian need more than this? But even if you only consider Christ as a mighty source of energy, then even irrespective of your religion you can understand how powerful is collective support.

Stand up and raise your voice, take responsibilty for yourself and others, and help to lift human consciousness since this is the only way to create a change in the world.

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