Ahimsa or non-harming – the first aspect of Yama

School of Yoga explains – Ahimsa or non-harming – the first aspect of Yama

Ahimsa (Non-Violence)To understand non-violence, one must understand violence and its relationship to anger, fear, frustration, sexuality, ambition and power.

To begin with, violence can be defined as any act which physically or psychologically harms another.

We know the obvious types of violence, such as war, abuse, mistreatment etc. In fact, violence covers a vast spectrum – from subtle abuse to genocide, where entire populations are exterminated. 

However, there are many actions which we perform every day which have an element of violence, such as …

  • Butchering an animal for food.
  • Neglecting another person.
  • Pollution – abuse of the environment.
  • Injecting a cow with chemicals to get more milk.
  • Use of pesticide to kill pests.
  • Suicide

So, can we really avoid violence or himsa. Conversely, is non-violence possible at all? 

School of Yoga – Understanding non-violence or Ahimsa

Where does violence come from? It comes from the sense of Identity or asmita.

  • When our sense of identity is threatened, there is fear of loss of identity and a reaction. This is himsa or violence.
  • It also occurs when the other person does not reciprocate to our expectation, raaga or desire. Consequently, our sense of identity reacts to being rejected.

School of Yoga – Introduction to Non-violence or Ahimsa

What is non-violence? How can one stop reacting to fear of loss of identity?

  • Obviously, we cannot control the stimulus, so we must control the response.
  • The only way we can do this is with awareness or pragnya. 
  • So, when we are aware of the impact of the stimulus on our Self, control of the transformation process of stimulus into reaction becomes manageable.
  • In fact, violence is a Guna or attribute.
    • As a reaction to fear of loss of Identity or Self. This is Tamas.
    • Passion is an outward flowing sense of Identity manifesting as desire, greed, want etc. This is Rajasic

School of Yoga – Attributes (guna) and violence 

There are 3 types of gunas: Tamasic (confused), Rajasic (passionate) & Sattvic (balanced).

Tamasic violence comes out of lack of knowledge and is driven primarily by inertia, fear and confusion.

Example: All forms of segregation and separation, whether of colour, caste, religion or creed arise out of ignorance because there can be no difference between living beings.

Rajasic violence primarily out of passion and is driven by emotions such as anger, lust, greed, ambition etc.

Example: All forms of sexual assaults are driven by rajas.

Sattvic violence is very difficult to achieve and is characterized by high communication and patience.

Example: A parent scolding a truant child. When the parent is trying to push his or her own agenda on the child, then it is Tamasic. However, when the parent scolds the child because he or she is afraid of what society will say, that it is Rajasic. Finally, when the parent scolds the child for deviation of a value that has been explained often, then the reason is Sattvic. Consequently, this is characterized by the parent trying to separate the person from the problem.

Escalation mechanism in Dharma is called upayas (method). The recommended various escalation path is sama (discussion), followed by dana (inducement), bedha (discord/ rupture) and finally dhanda (violence) when everything has failed.

Anecdotes, experiences and situations to help you understand ahimsa


Abdul Hamid

Situation 1: (Wikipedia extract) COMPANY QUARTER MASTER HAVILDAR ABDUL HAMID won India’s highest battle honour during the Indo-Pak war of 1965. The abridged citation reads;

Enemy forces launched an attack with Patton tanks on a vital area ahead of village Cheema in the KhemKaram Sector. Intense artillery shelling preceded the attack. They penetrated forward positions. Realising the grave situation, Havildar Abdul Hamid, a commander of a RCL gun detachment, moved out to a flanking position with his gun mounted on a jeep. Taking an advantageous position, he knocked out the leading enemy tank and then, sent another tank up in flames. By this time, the enemy tanks spotted him and brought his jeep under fire. Havildar Hamid kept on firing and while doing so, he was mortally wounded by an enemy high-explosive shell.

Havildar Hamid’s action inspired his comrades to fight and to beat back the assault. 


Chittorgarh Fort

Situation 2: (Wikipedia extract) In 1303 AD, Ala-ud-din Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi besieged Chittorgarh Fort, Rajasthan, India, because he desired Rani Padmini, the queen of Chittorgarh and a famed beauty. Frustrated in the siege, he ultimately agreed to have a glimpse of Rani Padmini in a mirror. But the Sultan, besotted by the queen, reneged and invaded Chittorgarh again. Realising the impossibility of the situation, the Rajputs, under Rana Rawal Ratan Singh decided to commit Jauhar and Saka. The women committed ritual suicide (jauhar) within the fort while the men sallied forth to certain death (saka).

The Rajputs committed jauhar again on 8 March 1535 when Bahadur Shah attacked Chittorgarh and on 22 February 1568 when Akbar attacked the fortress.

Points to Ponder on ahimsa:

Internal Tags: Dharma (conditioning)Stress and Situational AwarenessStress and pranaAwareness measuresHatha Yoga PradeepikaPatanjali Yoga Sutra, The Bhagavat Geeta

External Tags: Consciousness

Share your opinion and experiences on ahimsa:

  • Can we control anger? What is the source of anger? How do we control it?
  • What is anxiety? How does it manifest as a reaction? What are the available coping actons?
  • How important is communication in managing anger? 
  • Is a soldiers sacrifice for his country an act of Ahimsa?
  • Importance of patience in management of violence.
  • Does our ability to control violence improve with age?
  • When is killing for food himsa (violence)?
  • Is satyagraha himsa or ahimsa? Reflect, when one’s actions provoke a violent reaction, is it himsa or ahimsa?
  • Is killing for God or religion OK?
  • How do you convert tamasic anger to sattvic anger? Try it today…
Editor at School Of Yoga
School Of Yoga is a single point resource for all aspects of Classical Yoga practise. We try to achieve this by placing Yoga's traditional methodology in front of the reader and eliciting his or her experience. We value everyone's Yoga experience and would like you to share and enrich other practitioners so that everyone benefits.
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[…] key elements in yama which cover most aspects of behaviour with the external environment are ahimsa (Non-violence), satya (Truth or integrity), asteya (Non-stealing), aparigraha (Renouncing […]

[…] 6 elements: ahimsa (non-harming), sathya (truth), astheya (non-stealing), brahmacharyam (sexual countenance), aparigraha (renouncing […]

[…] Ahimsa is not “turning the other cheek”. The reason is that, if the other person doesn’t respect your sacrifice but slaps that too, the damage to the sense of identity can be devastating. Not everyone can absorb an assault on one’s sense of identity without damage to the Self. […]

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