I read an article about ahimsa recently, & the author paraphrased a story:
Once there was a snake who was hated by all the villagers for his aggressive behavior. The snake didn’t know what to do, so he asked a visiting sage for advice. The sage told the snake to quit biting people.
(Seems pretty obvious advice to me.)
A few months later, the sage returned & found the snake battered & bruised. The sage asked what happened, & the snake said, “I followed your advice & the villagers attacked me!”
The sage said, “I told you not to bite … I did not tell you not to hiss.”
Nonviolence can seem passive, soft, wet noodle-ish — like sitting in lotus pose with eyes closed, allowing whatever to come at you. Or succumbing to the phrase “you won’t be given more than you can handle.” Or allowing someone’s bad behavior in the name of “it’s not my business.”
(NOTE: If you or someone you know is in a dangerous situation, please do not put yourself in harm’s way unnecessarily. Contact the authorities, a friend, find an advocate.)
Yet ahimsa, according to Yoga philosophy, is a powerful practice not to be taken on by the faint of heart. “The one thing a yogi cannot tolerate,” says Hari krishna-das, “is injustice.” This practice of ahimsa seems to require quite a lot of savvy, discipline & guts.
Think on the named & unnamed people of color in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, or Gandhi’s freedom movements in India, or Nelson Mandela’s work to dismantle apartheid. Grounded in nonviolence, the images & stories speak profoundly of the strength & discipline of oppressed people & their allies seeking justice.
Tonight my husband came home angry & frustrated after attending a youth sports game. One of the youth he mentors is on the team, & didn’t get a chance to play … again. “The kid NEEDS this, Erica … he’s had every imaginable block stacked against him as a kid … he LOVES this sport … couldn’t the coach put him in for 20 seconds?!”
This is one (of the many) qualities I love about my husband. Jim can’t stand injustice. He gets ANGRY about it.
And yet … he didn’t scream, yell or fume quietly.
He simply asked to chat with the athletic director. To his credit, the athletic director gave Jim his undivided attention, taking him into his office. When Jim explained the situation, he & the athletic director proceeded to have a respectful conversation about the whole thing. While the kid may / may not get in the game more often, Jim spoke up for a kid who needed it.
In addition, on the way home, Jim sought counsel from a trusted friend after the game, seeking to understand where he might have misinterpreted the situation.
This, in my humble view, is the art of ahimsa, the practice of nonviolence. Not sitting back … not acting out in a rage. It’s a powerful stance, an often tenuous stance to maintain.
In the face of injustice … no matter how small … we must act, according to the principle of ahimsa, with the intention of eradicating the injustice without harming (or creating the least harmful path possible). This action requires disciplined practice & deep commitment.
“I told you not to bite … but I didn’t tell you not to hiss.”