the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Ahimsa - A Yoga and Martial Arts Perspective on Non-Violence (Part Four)

We find similar situations in our relationships with others. We see ourselves as separate entities and the others as “others”. And we start to play all kinds of games with them. Here also we can distinguish different kinds of Himsa based on our different trappings in the “I”. If we are so caught up in our problems, in our projects, or in our self admiration, we may not even be aware of others. We may keep on bumping into people on the streets. We may step on their toes. We can do this physically but not only. We can also emotionally or mentally bump into people or step on their toes by saying harsh words to them, or even by just ignoring them. Then we can be violent, in a conscious manner. We do not like somebody and so we feel justified to use Himsa against him. And we may also be violent as a result of our fundamental Avidya, of our fundamental insecurity stemming from our identification with duality. We feel we must help others, save the world etc. But maybe the others or the world do not need or do not want our help. Although clothed in nice justifications, often even “doing good” is just an expression of basic agressivity, which we could maybe define as the basic thrust to “go out”. “Going out” means leaving the center. It means leaving consciousness, leaving oneness, for the periphery. The further “out” we are, the more “closed we become” and the more “aggressive” our life becomes. So, in order to really understand and practice Ahimsa, we may have to return to the center, raise the veil of duality, recognize the Maya of Avidya. Return from “going out” to Being. This leads us to the third lesson to be learned from the story.

     3) Until now we have looked at the teachings of the story from the point of view of the Samurai, the “student”. For him it is the lessons of restraining violent actions and increasing awareness that are paramount. But what about the Master ?? It is said in the Yoga Sutras that the one who attains perfection in Ahimsa has the power to subdue all violence or animosity in his presence. So a first way of reading the story, would be to remark that the Master did not even have to draw his sword. His reaction to almost being slain, was just to say “Here open the gates of hell.” And the warrior withdrew his sword. A profound disarmament of ourselves roots us in Reality, in Sat. This opens up completely new, unexpected, possibilities for action. From a “normal” perspective, there seemed to be only two options for the Master : either run away if he did not want to fight, or fight back. He did neither. He remained. But instead of retaliating, “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, he “presented the other cheek”. He did not reply to the animal nature of the warrior with his own animal nature. He did not instinctively fight back. He did not even react in a “human” way, if we see this as a way informed by conscious, but still I-based action. Indeed, considering his skill, he could probably have either killed, or, more gently, disarmed his opponent – thus proving his superior skill to himself and to the warrior. But this too he did not do. Indeed, his reaction came from his higher Self, not from his limited self. He showed his other cheek, his other side, his divine nature. He could have harmed, but he didn’t – which is real Ahimsa : refraining from the use of personal power; which first of all implies that you do possess some. He acted as an ambassador of Reality. The warrior needed to learn something, the master was there and the teaching happened.

     On an ultimate level, Ahimsa leads to Aparigraha, Ishwara Pranidhana and basically Samadhi. Indeed, while disarming the ever more subtle manifestations of Himsa, we develop Aparigraha, non-greed, non attachment to our limited existence and we replace it little by little by Ishwara Pranidhana, which I would like to render here as “being an ambassador of Reality”. The lesser our “I” becomes, the more the veils of Avidya, of the fundamental ignorance, of the dualistic fallacy, are removed. Ultimate freedom, Samadhi is achieved. Having ceased the identification with our limited “selves”, the Self can shine. Our action becomes entirely free and entirely appropriate to any given circumstance. As Omraam Mikhaël Aïvanhov, a Christian Master, once put it : the more we identify with God, the more we become free. Indeed God – or Reality – is the only one to be free. The further we are removed from it, the more we identify ourselves with our limitations, with our periphery, the more bound we are. The more we return to our center, the more we disarm our aggressive projections of “I” and duality, the more we incarnate Ahimsa, and ultimately Sat, Being.

     It should be noted that in this perspective, the conventional assessment of behaviour does not hold anymore. In the particular context of this story, the Master’s action was appropriate because the Samurai was ready to get moved by the teaching. In another context, with a less aware opponent, the Master may have cut him into two. But not out of aggressiveness or violence. But just because, reality is what it is. There are rules and natural laws. And on some level, foolishness is not tolerated. As Swamiji used to point out : “you cannot break the law, you can only break yourself over the law”. If you do not have awareness, you may have to learn through hard knocks. If you are so caught up in your agressivity that you do not perceive the world anymore, you may have to be cut down, to bring home the point that you are an open and vulnerable, non-eternal entity that has to learn to open up to the world, to Life, to the Self, to Sat. The Master is but an ambassador of reality – he is not acting on the base of the “I”. He just performs his role, his natural function of serving as a mirror of Reality. Or rather, he lets this role, this function being performed. As is said in the Bhagavad Gita, “One fixed in equanimity (Yoga) also called Sama Bhava, frees oneself from virtue and vice” – he is not bound any more by conventional morality, but is an agent of “cosmic law”.


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