Wild Metta

I rely upon the Bhagavad Gita for those moments in life when I am at a crossroads regarding circumstance.  Essentially, how to act (instead of react), how to sponsor (instead of respond).

Which brings me to ahimsa.  Here in the West, it is (more often than not) translated as “non-violence”, when in fact it means “non-harming/injury”.  Now, these two may sound the same (even similar), but they are not.  The antonym of violence, for example, is peace, whereas the antonym of harm is benefit/blessing.  So that ahimsa is not “peace”, but an assist, an aid –  something good and right.  In short, its dharma (more on this below).  And this explains how ahimsa involves self .. as in, for example, self-defense, -concern, -responsibility, and the like.  So that, Yoga philosophy recognizes that injury occurs in life, so that we should strive to not injure either our self or others in our dealings.

What I have experienced firsthand among Yoga pracitiones and new age advocates is an adherence to ‘ahimsa’ as popularized by Mahatma Gandhi; namely, ahimsa paramo dharma.  This phrase was written by Swami Chinmayananda (a disciple of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh).  Specifically:

Ahimsa Paramo Dharma / Dharma himsa tathaiva cha

“Non-injury is the ultimate dharma.  So too is injury in service of Dharma.”

What this means is that – for the every day person, the householder: if one were to hurt another in defending their self, that would be ahimsa.  That when a government executes a mass murderer, that is ahimsa.  When a parent admonishes an unruly child, that is ahimsa.

The word ahimsa is found four times in the Bhagavad Gita.  The phrase ‘ahimsa paramo dharma’ never is.  And in all four references (*), ahimsa is listed as a divine attribute, and for those who live by it, it is not a selective application.  (*Chapters: 10.5, 13.8, 16.2, 17.14)

For example, ahimsa (as I witness it here in the West) is both conditional and lateral, so that one may practice ahimsa towards strangers but not loved ones.  Some examples I have seen include:

-One may donate money to a local shelter but not give an eating out allowance to a loved one.

-One may refrain from being angry at a stranger, only to turn on a loved one later.

-One may practice a religion yet refuse to tolerant the application of another’s idealogies.

-One may promote ‘freedom for all’ while purchasing goods/services from organizations that promote slavery/human trafficking.

-One may forgive others for wrong-doing while privately admonishing them self.

-One may apologize for a wrong-doing while regretting their words in private.

-One may practice ahimsa as a form of appeasement.

-One may be an animal rights activist while treating fellow humans poorly.

-One may be a lacto-vegetarian yet consume dairy from industry farmed, injected animals that live in cramped,  unsanitary and cruel conditions.

-One may promote a spiritual lifestyle while struggling with self-doubt.

So that from my experience, what I enocounter are those who confuse ahimsa with metta, “loving kindness”.  Being kind, having good will, or respect for the rights of others is a human virtue, therefore, according to the Bhagavad Gita, a “duty” .. our dharma.  But in all examples, this must include self.

Bottom line: There is no ‘selective ahimsa’, because ahimsa does not apply ‘here’ but not ‘there’.  For true ahimsa one must adhere to non-injury in every facet of their life .. making ahimsa their number one priority in all decisions, every day, in every situation and in all circumstances.

Therefore, it is best to practice metta while striving for ahimsa.  And in all things, apply metta to one’s self.  For there is no greater gift than loving kindness .. for in loving our self, we truly learn what it means to ‘love others’.

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