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The first yama is non-violence (ahimsa). While in the negative aspect this means to not be violent, the positive statement would be called peace. It is this initial rule that all the others are based on and must refer back to. It is most central to all spiritual practice so we will spend a little more time with it. If you do something with any level of violence, the practice is faulty. On the gross level this refers to not hurting others physically. Obviously most of us would never outright hurt another human (or animal for some of us). Non-violence is not that simple. We still have many moral hang ups and don’t recognize the seeds of violence in our life that this aim is pointing to. The most obvious way that we harm ourselves every day is through how we treat our bodies. The world that we live in is increasingly demanding our resources - both individual and globally. Whenever we stay up too late, overeat, overwork, take in substances such as drugs and alcohol, or indulge in any number of things, we are bringing violence into our lives. Many of us will justify our violence to ourselves, or not even see it as problematic which only perpetuates the cycle. As we become more sensitive we can feel the pangs we put ourselves through more intensely that impel us to change. In Ayurveda the three main causes of disease are conjoining the senses with improper physical and energetic impressions, failure of our intellect (buddhi) to discriminate what we should be doing, and time. These are simple ideas, yet profound in their application as they put the responsibility for our own health in our hands. If we live with the idea of ahimsa then two of these three causes can be avoided. While no one is free of the effects of time, the yogis measured life in terms of breathe and pranayama can help in prolonging life in these regards. It is important to note that merely changing an outward physical habit without understanding the underlying mental constructs that produce it will generally fail in the long run. This occurs since our minds will likely revolt due to the physical impositions we have put on our habits. This can create even more violence within our minds and our habits tend to return with vengeance. Fad diets are prime examples of this type of behavior. This can also be seen in beginning meditators who actually create more mental agitation through forcing themselves to sit for longer periods of time without doing other types of practices or work. Pranayama can be of great help in this regard as it is easier to use the breathe to access the mind than controlling the mind directly. On the more subtle level, if we are not truly at peace in our lives then it is a good indicator that there is some subtle form of violence in our life happening or waiting to happen. The root of violence stems from our false sense of self (identifying with our actions, thoughts, emotions, possessions, etc.). This creates a barrier between ourselves and the world. While we need to secure things like a house and a job to maintain our physical existence, we all too often choose to define our sense of self-worth in relation to things of the outer world. We think we are nothing more than our associations with objects and ideas, which is not true within these philosophies. Since we have now circumscribed a wall around who we think we are inside and the world outside , there are certain mechanisms at work that make us protect this wall and the contents within it (i.e.- My business. My wife. My children. My certification. My country. My guru, etc.). The issue arises when things change or this false wall is challenged in any way. Someone dies, someone says they don’t like my clothes, we feel we aren’t adequate enough, or any other number of things that create conflict for us is a subtle form of violence always at the brink of our lives. This conflict between us and the world is also the root of violence on a community based and national level. While few people would associate themselves with violence such as a war, it is really the same process going on and we are all culprit on some level. The main problem once we have built our walls, is that of control. Since whatever we have circumscribed within ourselves is not eternal, we fight to protect it with our egos to give it the illusion that it is really a solid entity. On this level, it is important to watch your mind for how you talk to yourself and react to the world. Since this self-identification is always a partial reality, we never experience wholeness within our lives, or ourselves as spirit. Due to this, people tend towards negativity. We criticize ourselves and others since we are constantly trying to control what we think, feel, and do in order to keep up this notion of a separate self. We all have our own stories we tell ourselves, “ I need to lose weight”, “I’ll never find a husband”, “ I love my husband”, “ He doesn’t know what he’s talking about”, and so on. This self-talk and criticism of ourselves and others is the root of violence. While it does not seem like this division is a problem to most people, if you pierced these veils of the ego, it can be quite a frightening experience. It asks us to unravel the mystery of death and is no small feat. We rarely meet others on this soul level that is at the backdrop of everything . Instead we merely touch a few circumscribed circles that we choose to identify with. Even with those we deem closest to us quite often. It can be quite a limited and chaotic affair in general. Please see the chart on the following page for a visual representation of what the text is suggesting. The entire white space is the field of Purusha which stands behind and encompasses all of our various associations and proclivities. While some of our little bubbles of interest connect with others, they are just a small part of the whole picture and always limited in the scope of what we’re really trying to find. Depending on our personal constitution, this control of ourselves can often lead to an attempt to control others as well (generally seen in pitta and kapha imbalances). This can take many forms such as telling another person what to do or even feeling like we can change someone’s life by giving them our advice. A classic example of this might be constantly badgering your friend, partner, or child about something that you really think they should change. More often than not we have a similar problem which is why it bothers us so much and why we fail to see it. Such form of control is subtle but it suggests that we know better than them and does not allow for the fact that we cannot truly change anybody by force. Rather it is essential that we be free of any imposition ourselves and create the ability to hold a space for others to exist peacefully in. This will have a much more radical effect on the world around us than any philosophy or speech we might give someone. On the other end of the spectrum there is also the violence that comes out of the loss of control. On a lesser level it is seen in our “do as you please” culture where freedom of choice and personal identity is highly protected. Doing whatever you want does not take into account the world around you and modern capitalism is a great example of what it does to the world and the materialism it breeds. In the extreme cases we can see this in psychopaths or drug addicts. Past this, when we personally lose control in our life over choices or events that have happened to us, the tendency to blame others is strong (generally seen in vata or some pitta cases). When the loss of control is complete, then we act in any manner we see fit and do not take the world or others into account. Such an approach is violent and does not recognize the fact that we are ultimately responsible for how we feel and react to anything that comes to us in life. If we look at the law of karma, there is also the fact that we have created these circumstances which is hard pill to swallow the harder the karma is. Karma or not, it is important if we find ourselves blaming anyone in life for our circumstances or getting angry about how things have turned out that we need to reflect on how the control of our life may have been lost. We are truly interdependent on others and is the lesson we need to learn here. This can be seen in many different situations, and each of us can probably think of examples where we have lost control and blamed others for our pain. Forgiveness is often one of the most difficult thing we can face, yet it is essential in cases such as this. The faster you can forgive both yourself and others for where you find yourself in life, the more you can let go and live without violence that stems from lack of control. PRACTICE Stop yourself any time you feel the need to tell someone else how to do something, blame them or yourself, or judge a situation. Try to remember to let go of controlling the situation. Just repeat “control” when you see these things arising as a reminder of what you're actually doing. Make a note every time you do this for a set period of time and learn to identify this tendency in yourself.


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