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Okay, let's start at square one: what in the world is "ahimsa"? Friends, Romans, Countrymen, let me introduce you to a beautiful concept I discovered recently. Ahimsa is the concept of compassion to all living things. It comes from Sanskrit "himsa" which roughly translates to "injury" or "harm". Ahimsa is the opposite of this. So, "to cause no harm or injury."
I discovered ahimsa while browsing the web one day and initially filed it under the "Read About Later" section of my brain and promptly forgot for a week or two. A few days ago I actually got to reading about the topic and I loved it more than I expected. I love the simplicity behind it. Compassion. Plain and simple. Strive to cause no harm or injury to those around you.
The Beauty of Ahimsa
Ahimsa is more than just the opposite of violence. It's compassion in a very full sense of the word. Ahimsa extends beyond the self to encompass all living things. It's an important concept in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, which attests that all living things have a spark of the divine in them, an underlying energy that connects all things. So, under ahimsa, to hurt another living thing is like hurting yourself in some way. That's pretty out there, but it brings a beautiful rationale to the whole concept.
Where the Himsa Is Our Ahimsa?
Ignoring that really bad sub-title, the question is still a valid one. Where is our compassion? This isn't to say most of the people in the world are void of compassion and are degenerate reprobates (say that five times fast), it's just to say that our compassion and kindness to people, animals, and things have certain bounds.
I'm sure most people have the basic human compassion to help a person in need directly in front of them. Or even the compassion to go out of their way to sacrifice something of theirs for the benefit of someone else. I believe the majority of people are inherently good. Bob Marley would literally hand out money from his house in Kingston, Jamaica to people who needed it. They would line up in the street for it. He was famous for saying that he didn't lock his doors. People would ask him in interviews why that was and he would say something to the effect of, "I don't want to think the worst of people."
Please don't take this as an invitation to leave everything you own unlocked, but it shows the kind of mindset Marley had and how he viewed other people. Where I think we lack some compassion is where we draw socio-political lines in our society. The dichotomy can be mind-boggling sometimes.
Obviously, there are a ton more examples. But these are just a few that are clearly defined lines in society. Somehow it's easier for us to justify showing less compassion to people that we consider on the opposite side of the spectrum from us.
A Practical Approach
Ahimsa has many implications in the way we live our lives today. I think we can all afford to be more compassionate with other people, especially people with whom we disagree. Ahimsa is a beautiful separation of a person for who they really are and our perception of that person. It can teach us to love people for their inherent value as a human being. To hell with race, social status, or political inclination, they're a member of the human family so, I'm going to love them. There's real power in that.
I would be remiss if I didn't include some unapologetic vegan plug. But really, for me, and this is important to stress, part of ahimsa extends beyond just human beings but to animals as well. Personally, I wanted to make sure I was limiting as much suffering as I could and not consuming animal products anymore was a huge part of that. Now, I stopped eating animal products before I learned about ahimsa and there are a myriad of reasons why I made that decision, but it was a great reaffirming concept to discover.
The little things in our life can end up having a large impact. Even with bugs in my apartment, it takes me an extra minute or two to let the bug outside instead of killing it and flushing it away. It's a small thing, but it contributes to my over-all feeling of well-being knowing that I'm trying to limit suffering and show compassion to all things.
I recommend doing some reading on ahimsa. Whether or not it takes the form of any large change in your life, it's still some positive reading. If nothing else, it may just improve your mood.