Shantideva was an 8th century Buddhist monk whose teachings continue to be relevant long after his death. As Yogis, our first and most important guideline is the idea of non-harm or ahimsa. Thankfully, most of us don’t need a guideline encouraging us not to punch anyone we disagree with. And certainly on our mats, it’s wise to move mindfully so we don’t hurt ourselves. But ahimsa is actually much larger and nuanced than just not beating up our bodies (or kicking the dog). It takes awareness and commitment. This is why Shantideva calls it the perfection of discipline. Whatever we practice, grows. If we practice even small harms – be it through our actions, words, or even our thoughts – those things grow. Do we indulge habits that break us down without giving us much in return? How often are we self-critical or judgmental of others? Do we speak unkind words behind a friend or family member’s back? You get the idea of how much discipline it would take to live a life free from all forms of harming. Any form of impatience or jealousy, judgement or aggression is a place to focus compassionate curiosity and practice the discipline of non-harming. If we practice replacing hurtful thoughts, words, and actions with gentleness and compassion, our experience of life softens. It is said that anyone who masters this skill will exist in a state of fearlessness – nothing to fear and no creature, human or animal to fear them. Saint Francis was an example of a being who thoroughly embodied ahimsa. Although I may fall short (countless times a day usually) in my efforts to live a harmless life, I think these big and idealistic aspirations are often exactly what we should set our sights on. Why not see how close we can get while reaping the benefits along the way?
Less Harm and More Love,