“Ahimsa is not just harmlessness or non-violence; this is the passive or negative state of ahimsa. The active or positive state of ahimsa is Love. Love for all beings, even the evil doers”. Gandhi
Ahimsa is typically discussed as non-violence or harmlessness, however, as Gandhi points out, this is only half of the story.
Simply restraining the outer expression of violence and aggression is not sufficient. For if our mind is still swirling with anger, rage or hate we have not achieved a state of ahimsa.
The Bhagavad Gita relays this message clearly in verse 3.6 where it states: “The individual who forcibly controls the organs of action, but whose mind rotates around thoughts of the things restrained, is said to be a hypocrite, deluding himself”.
The precursor to the outer expression of violence is anger and fear. We cannot dissolve these simply by restraint. That is repression and does not remove the underlying perceptions causing the anger or fear. If we are filled with these emotions, they will eventually spill out no matter how strong our will is to contain them.
Love is the antidote to anger and fear which are the causes of violence and harm. Love dissolves these emotions and is therefore the ultimate expression of ahimsa.
Love arises naturally from the realisation that we are all One. Yoga teaches that there is only One Universal Self (Atman/Brahman) that manifests in the many forms of existence.
“The Self is One, though it appears as many”. Chandogya Upanishads
“Only when we pierce through the magic veil (Maya) do we see the One who appears as the many” Shvetashvatara Upanishad
“When One realises the Self, in whom all life is One, then he fears no more” Taittiriya Upanishad
When we awaken to the Truth that the One Universal force flows through each of us, that we are all connected, we understand what Jesus meant when he said, what you do unto another you do unto yourself. For every thought or action has consequences that ripple out through life’s intricate web of interconnections.
“The deepest level of truth uncovered by science and philosophy is the fundamental truth of unity. At the deepest subnuclear level of our reality, you and I are literally one”. John Hagelin – Physicist
Oneness is not just a ‘spiritual’, yogic idea. Quantum theory explains that at the deepest subnuclear level there is no separation, no solidity. Just one Unified Field of energy from which all phenomena arise. The sense of separation is an illusion produced by our sensory mechanisms through which we detect the outer world.
“Our human sensory perception and mind-brain activity is required for to see forms and structures in the way we do. All manifested substance is actually only patterns of energy in space, spun out under the influence of our minds”. John Davidson – Physicist
Naturally flowing from the perspective of Oneness, is the recognition that all human beings, animals, nature, and the Earth should be treated with reverence, honour, and respect, for our existence is interrelated and interdependent.
Martin Luther King said, “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality and whatever effects one directly, affects all indirectly”.
From the state of Oneness, we realise that everyone and everything is an expression of an aspect of the Universal Self. All are part of the Divine, saint and sinner alike.
Verse after verse in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita instructs us to practice seeing God in everyone.
“Seeing him in all creatures, the wise forget themselves in the service of all”. Mundaka Upanishad
Mother Teresa expressed this principle when she said, “Every day I practice seeing Jesus Christ in all his distressing disguises”.
I love this quote as it not only recognises that we should practice seeing the Divine in everyone, but also how difficult that is in reality. We humans do indeed behave in many distressing ways. The job of the spiritual aspirant is not to be misdirected by this, but rather to see through people’s conduct and recognise their Divine core.
Love is the ultimate expression of ahimsa, and it is grounded in an appreciation of the Unity of existence.
I’ll leave you with the words of Eknath Easwaran from his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita:
“There is an ancient Sanskrit epigram, Ahimsa paramo dharma: the highest dharma is ahimsa, non-violence and universal love for all living creatures; for every kind of violence is a violation of dharma, the fundamental law of the unity of life”.