Ahimsa – Cause no harm
When loosely translated, the practice of ahimsa means respect for all living things and avoidance of violence towards others; it is also often described as the link between yoga and veganism. Eugene Vegan Butcher, the founder of AcroYoga Dance, reveals exactly what ahimsa is and how people can incorporate the practices into their everyday lives.
What is Ahimsa?
Ahimsa in a nutshell means peacefulness and non–violence to all living beings; it’s also the principle of yoga.
How does it work?
The literal translation means to do no harm. The idea is to be peaceful and non–violent towards all living beings, physically, emotionally and mentally. ‘All living beings’ not only include other species of animals, but also includes other people, and most importantly ourselves.
How do you incorporate ahimsa into your life?
Well, in regards to other people, I try and find a way to be patient and understanding. For example if I was to get a call from someone trying to sell me a product I really don’t want, I wouldn’t spend ages talking to them or listening to a sales pitch I’m not interested in, instead I will be peaceful and kind and say something like: “Look, thank you for calling me, have a really nice day.”
In regards to animals, I’m vegan. In my opinion, I think it’s the only way to avoid supporting violence and cruelty to other beings. I used to think that being vegetarian was enough and that a bit of cheese now and again didn’t hurt. However, five years ago after watching Earthlings and listening to a talk by Gary Yourofsky I discovered the truth behind the dairy industry and realised it was just as cruel as the meat industry, if not more so, and decided right then to make the switch to veganism.
When it comes to respecting myself, I just try to stay true to me. Embracing the principle of ahimsa doesn’t mean we need to be a martyr in anyway. It should mean a peacefulness and non–violent attitude towards ourselves. Personally speaking, this was definitely something I needed to work on. I used to have a habit of berating myself and calling myself all kinds of names when I made a mistake. Focusing on ahimsa helped me break that pattern and replace it with a more compassionate and empowering response to myself when things weren’t going well.
How can other people incorporate ahimsa into their daily lives?
Going vegan is an obvious first step when considering compassion towards other species. Finding new supportive peer groups, for example on Facebook and Instagram, can also really help.
I think it’s for each individual to decide, to one person it might mean trying to be a little less critical with friends or family when they make a mistake. To another person it might mean being more patient and understanding with themselves, not beating ourselves up when we make a mistake. In regards to changing my responses to others and myself, I found the Steven Covey book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People really helpful.
Habit one is to be proactive, to choose our response rather than going with our automatic knee jerk reaction, which may be based on a pattern we picked up from friends, family or a peer group. It might be a positive pattern, but it also might not. Incorporating ahimsa into our lives I feel is very much a practice of developing more awareness of our own patterns or behaviour, not only relating to our eating habits, but other habits and things we may have done all our lives but may no longer serve us.
I’m not religious, how would ahimsa help me?
Ahimsa isn’t religious in and of itself, however it is a principle embraced not only by yoga but also Buddhism and Hinduism.
People should embrace ahimsa as ultimately it can help you live a more peaceful life while feeling good about yourself and your actions. You’ll also be able to witness the impact you’re having on those around you and the world.
And in conclusion…
Ironically one place where the principle of ahimsa could be really handy is talking or interacting with people who are not vegan, assuming that we are vegan of course. What I mean is, not everyone finds it easy to change the habits of a lifetime. Some people embrace change more quickly and easily than others, and I think that vegans who have been able to make that change can be a little bit more compassionate to those people who haven’t been able to yet; even if we feel they are in denial about the cruelty involved or the effects on their health or the environment. Our culture, society, the food industry, marketers and advertisers have done a very good job convincing us for the past 60 years that we need milk and meat to be strong.
It’s no wonder some people are confused, or uncertain, so some peacefulness and compassion towards people not yet vegan could be a very good place to practise ahimsa. The acceptance that other people will make that decision when they are ready, just as we did, could go a long way to supporting the growth of a compassionate vegan lifestyle.
Eugene Vegan Butcher is an AcroYoga teacher with AcroYogaDance an all vegan organisation he co–founded with Pip Elysium. They are also co–founding Vegan Yoga Teachers a project set up to support vegan yoga teachers and students in bringing ahimsa back onto the table as a positive concept and topic of conversation.