Ahimsa: Non-Violence Towards Living Beings

I was first introduced to non-violence towards living beings in my first 100 hours of yoga teacher training. It was suggested that being violent to living things could cause more violence or slowly create hate and resentment in one’s heart. I was taught that Buddhists refrain from eating meat because it was a pure form of non-violence, and an example of how we could make a personal commitment to respect life. We weren’t told that if we kept eating meat we would become man-hating zombies; but if we wanted a clean slate, a soft heart, and be able to have a better life overall – physically, mentally, and spiritually - then we should adjust and not abuse anything with a heartbeat for our own satisfaction. The ultimate goal for a Buddhist to practice non-violence was to have compassion and understanding for all living things. A small example would be getting a purse made from plant fibers instead of getting an authentic leather purse from a cow’s butt.

After my teacher training I was a vegetarian for 4 years, eventually the smell of meat was discouraging and would make me nauseous. Meat honestly smelled like dead flesh. Eventually I brought meat back into my life, and I noticed that I was quicker to judge, a little impatient, and eager to rationalize certain thoughts or behaviors. I also noticed my yoga practice was slow and sluggish; it was difficult to not only make certain shapes but to maintain them as well.  I started to wonder if using animals was hardening my heart and clogging my body.

But does being non-violent really mean to stop killing? Or does it mean to have more ­compassion and unconditional love. Is there a chance that if one person treats one human with kindness, that the care will spread? From what I have seen, when someone has compassion or unconditional love; letting go of hate becomes more natural. When you let go of hate, in turn there will be less violence.

The famously quoted and well noted Gandhi thought of nonviolence as a ‘positive sense of love’. All while the definition of unconditional love is to love without conditions or limitations. He also believed that nonviolence was not just about abstaining from killing or war; or being passive towards violence. He firmly believed that forgiveness is much more rewarding than punishment, and to love the wrong doers, but not the wrong. This reminded me of the prophet Jesus, and a common saying associated within Christianity “Love the sinner, but not the sin”.

As a child I went to religious schools from kindergardten to highschool, so I feel reasonably well versed with the Bible. My least favorite stories (but recently has hit my heart with a soft arrow) of the Bible involved two brothers that split their fathers’ estate in the book of Luke. The story goes that the youngest of the two brothers thought it was time that their father’s estate was spilt amongst them both. The eldest stayed and worked on the farm with their father, while the youngest son traveled and ‘sinfully’ spent his riches on gambling, food, and women. After a while the youngest son became hungry, and decided to go back home. Willing to admit defeat to his father that he was a sinner, and unworthy to be called his son. When the son came home, the father rejoiced “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and now is found!”. The family had a grand feast and celebrated, but the eldest brother was not so pleased. For he had worked beside his father the whole time and never got so much as a ‘thank you’. The eldest son explained his frustrations and the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again...”

This particular Bible story frustrated me for years! I legit remember thinking, ‘That is a terrible father. Who does he think he is’? Hearing this preposterous story at the age of six in bible class, I thought it was ridiculous that the eldest son wasn’t rewarded for ‘doing good’ the entire time. It was absurd that your just supposed to do good and not get a pat on the back every now and then. It honestly bewildered me this father would allow someone back into his families’ lives that took advantage of their income. As I grew up, my home that was corrupted from my stepfather stealing over $30,000 from my family over the span of 9 years. As well as another relatives spending roughly $800,000 of our families’ inheritance on rehabilitation centers, halfway houses, and lawyers (and the unfortunate addictions themselves) over the course of 12 years.

I always told myself that these family members were so selfish; they have no soul, why should we help them. I certainly had no security in thinking that they would help me if it came to it. But the real truth is that they hurt themselves so much more than myself or any other family member could ever do as punishment. A Buddhist quote that hit home for me while studying Ahimsa, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Those words spoke very clearly to me after 20 years of resentment. At the end of the day there was nothing I could fix for those that hurt me, all I could have done was not be afraid and give them a listening ear.

In Gandhi’s eyes, there is no place to hide or to be a coward, because in the end fear creates violence and misunderstanding. Nonviolence is the personal practice of being harmless to the self and others under every condition. We should not be intimidated by the mighty roar of violence, because it is our jobs as warriors of non-violence to stand strong and still with an unwavering heart. Christian and Buddhist alike, one principle is the same; unconditional love will heal a hardened heart.

Asteya: Treatment of the Earth and Other Resources

In my freshmen year of college, I was with some friends outside eating an apple. When I got to the core, I tossed the remains into a bush. My friends threw an uproar, “How can you be a hippy and litter like that?!” I replied, “Dude, I just made a bird or ants day.” Yes, by the laws that other human beings have created, throwing an apple core into a bush is technically ‘littering’. There is a small chance a homeless person would have taken it, but not likely. In the end, I dare suggest that it’s better to throw an apple core into a bush rather than knowing its wasting space, creating methane, and slowly decomposing in a landfill rather than a hungry stomach.

In yogic philosophy the art of Asteya teaches about non-stealing, or how to avoid taking possession of something that doesn’t belong to us in the first place. As human beings, we are all in debt to the earth and everything we use. Asteya teachings suggest that everything is on loan to us. For example, if I were to say, ‘I gave that person my jacket’; there is possession behind the sentence, stating that I own the jacket in the first place when in reality I’m just wearing a jacket. I might say, ‘I had such a bad day, my car has a flat tire’ when in reality the car is having a bad day. The tragedy for the car is that it can no longer fulfill its main task in life, transporting goods safely from point A to point B. Yes, the car is an inanimate object – but its ‘life’ is still temporary just like everything else on this planet.

A quote from the book The Yamas and Niyamas:

“The ancient Vedic scriptures speak of taking nothing without giving something back. Imagine what would happen if each time we took something, we gave something back.”

This scripture became very apparent to me while on a backpacking trip with a previous lover in August 2015. We only camped one night, but on the morning of our departure he took a moment to spread flower seeds near our campsite and said, ‘Think about how much air we used and how many plants we killed. We have to give something back.’ That statement struck me like lightening! I was making sure to pick up previous campers garbage, but he was seeing the bigger picture. He was doing his best to reciprocate what the earth had just given us the night before.

Asteya also teaches us that stealing isn’t only tangible objects. We can unintentionally steal from people we love. For instance, Mark and Jack are telling each other about their weekends a following Monday morning. Mark says, “Oh my god I had the best weekend with my kids. We walked to the park, my son spotted a dear. It was so wonderful!’. Jack in reply says, ‘That remind me of a time a saw a dear backpacking in the Redwood Forest of northern California. Have you been? It was such a wonderful trip.’ Now Jack was genuinely carrying conversation and relating to Marks story, but Jack stepped all over Marks interpretation of ‘a wonderful trip’. Of course, backpacking through northern California is going to trump most ‘dear sighting’ stories, it’s a nationally acclaimed park. Jacks notion was unconscious and not out of malice, but it still stole Marks thunder.

As an artistic-yoga loving-hippy, I like to think of myself as an earth conscious gal, but as an American consumer, I can be blind of the reality of how much I use. For instance, I was terrible with energy and gas this past winter. There were several days where I was using a laptop, had the TV and PlayStation running, gas fire place burning, slow cooker boiling bone broth, laundry agitating, dryer tumbling, and the dish washer spinning. I can try to tell myself that I am at least better than a New Yorker, but I have been told it’s not fair to compare because it can lead to unjust rationalizations. After all you can compare yourself to a murder who just stole someone’s life and suggest that at least you’re a better person while taking something that doesn’t belong to you either.

However, there was a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences. They examined 27 metropolis cities all over the world, specifically their flow of incoming and out coming recourses. In the study, New York City was deemed the most wasteful. Without even holding the largest population in the world, New York used what is equivalent to one oil supertanker every 36 hours. In case you’re wondering, one oil super tanker can carry up to 2 million barrels of oil (aka 84 million gallons). In two days,

In the past, I have learned that some religions/beliefs, their goal is to make sure that they leave no footprint in the earth and to use everything without leaving waste. For instance, if they slaughtered a cow, they would use the skin for leather, clothes, or pelts. The bones would be used for various utensils, weapons, or hair combs. The meat of course was for nutrition, organs for hand bags, blood for coloring or dyes; etc. I like to think that I act the same way as these natives and that I know about recycling and giving back to planet. When in reality one cow can be used to feed 5 families, but the entire cow may not get used. For instance while making bone broth, I pray to the cow gods that the bones are from the same grass fed cow that was on my coffee table for dinner the night before, or that their skin was used for a purse which I love the smell of so dearly. Unfortunately, I can never truly know this unless I started hunting, but I hold on tightly to the ounce of hope that I might be using the most the same cow.

While practicing being a decent human being, whenever I take - I do my best to give something back. I will admit I don’t actively try enough to give back to the earth specifically as much as I would like to; but I do try to give back to other people when I can. For instance, seeing a homeless woman at Target during wintertime, and giving her the jacket I am wearing because there are more at home. Or handing a traveler the leftovers from a meal as I walk out of a restaurant, because I know my fridge in my climate controlled apartment is full. While practicing Asteya I understand better that there is more to give than to take, you just have to keep your eyes open.