When I wanted to learn the English language, many decades ago, I started with A for Apple. Pretty soon, I graduated to B for Ball and so forth. It didn’t take too long to master the language, although I am still a learner.
When I want to learn spirituality, where do I start? According to the yoga tradition, we start with the Yamas (observances) and the Niyamas (disciplines). The very first Yama is Ahimsa, or non-violence. Hence, for me, the best starting point is:
A is for Ahimsa.
At first glance, I thought I was already there. I am not very violent by nature, and I don’t go around hurting people. However, digging a little deeper, I realized there is much more to non-violence. We need to be non-violent in thought, word and deed. With these criteria, I realize I am failing on all fronts.
Deeds begin with the body, and I soon realized I have been violent even to my own body. If violence is within me, how can I be at peace with others?
I am violent when I abuse my body, as I have been doing most of my life. I have been giving it to the wrong food, for starters. My only justification is that I was born in India, the country with the tastiest food in the world. It’s very hard to be non-violent to the body when confronted with tasty snacks like samosas, pakoras, vadas or chola Bhatura. All the snacks have one thing in common: they are all deep- fried. They also have another thing in common: the body shows its resentment as soon as they enter the digestive system. It’s not easy being non-violent, not with all this Indian food around.
We could be non-violent by choosing a diet plan; there are, literally, hundreds of options. India has its own version of a diet plan, classifying food into tamasic, rajasic or sattvic. However, I decided to follow my own diet plan: listening to the body. If we listen carefully, the body will tell us what to eat and what works best with our body type.
I also abuse my body by not doing enough exercise. I have studied yoga, even learnt yoga under a good teacher. However, none of this knowledge helps, unless I do my regular practice. It’s not easy being non-violent.
Non-violence applies to the words we use, and I would give myself just passing marks for this. Luckily, I grew up in Lucknow, a city known for its politeness, and ended up in Canada, a country known for its politeness. However, my sense of humor gets me into trouble quite a lot, especially with my wife. For some obscure reason, she doesn’t react well to my witty responses early in the morning. I also have opinions about many things, and so far, I have not met anyone who has exactly the same opinion as me, on any subject.
The words we use are important in our everyday interactions. Most communication nowadays is virtual, using e-mail, texting or virtual meetings. Even in this type of communication, the tone of the messaging says a lot. With a little conscious effort, we can keep it violence-free.
When it comes to non-violence in the mind, I fail very badly. Thanks to Google news, I like to stay well-informed on what is going on around the world; unfortunately, much of what gets reported is violent stuff. I also like to read a lot, but violence is imbedded in every piece of fiction; it’s what moves the story forward. Non-fiction is full of violence, too. Most religious books portray violence, including our own epics. All of this reading has an impact on the mind and on the thousands of thoughts that course through our mind every day.
There is only one thing that seems relatively free from violence and that is music. The raga structure is all about musical notes that work closely with each other. The essence of western classical music is harmony; it’s about a large number of instruments playing harmoniously together, guided by a conductor. Playing music, or just listening to it, soothes the mind. It’s the best thing to do before falling asleep. Some forms of music are violent, like rap music, but luckily for me, I don’t understand this type of music at all.
I soon realized that being perfectly non-violent is impossible while living in this human body. However, I have set myself some guiding principles to reduce the amount of violence in me.
– be kind to my body; practice yoga, watch my diet
– do meditation, learning from the great master, Om Swami ji
– practice kindness, do random acts of kindness every day
– watch less news, form less opinions, maybe have no opinions at all
– listen to more music; learn to play an instrument
– suppress my wit, especially when it’s at the expense of others
– write more blogs but only on spiritual topics
– become an observer, less of a participant
– make a firm intention to be non-violent in thought, word and deed
– reinforce this intention every day
I also realized that Ahimsa comes before Truth in the list of Yamas. Sometimes, it’s more important to be kind than to speak out the hurtful truth.