An exceptional recurring pattern I find in spiritual ideas is that they are slippery – they can’t be locked down and mindfully assigned a clear and simple explanation. Spiritual ideas die in mind and flourish in heart. I find that when I embrace a spiritual idea it can, if I let it, move within me and in time even move me. If I am patient, I may in time, gain a sense of clear perception, but not a fixed explanation that I can, for example, communicate with others.
Ahimsa is a great example. A literal translation of Ahimsa is non-violence. A popular expression of Ahimsa is ideological vegetarianism. Ideological vegetarians refrain from eating meat (and sometimes even dairy products) because of the violence involved in killing animals. In effect their choice saves very few animals and they know this, so they try to organize into movements so that many people adopt their ideology – so indeed some animals may be saved.
My diet is vegetarian but this was a consequence, never an objective. My eating ideology is to eat what’s good & right for me. I also refrain from eating things, such as fried foods, that “vegetarians can eat”. My diet changed over a long period of time as I grew more aware of my body and it’s reactions to foods I ingest. When my eating awareness expanded beyond my taste-buds – I made different choices, I refrained from certain foods, and sought other alternatives – a process that continues to this day, as & my bodily needs change. This has nothing to do with Ahimsa. But I digress.
What if there is a deeper intent to the idea of Ahimsa? one that appeals to heart instead of mind? What if a key to Ahimsa is actually intent and not definition? What if Ahimsa is actually an intent of non-violence? That small change can make a big difference. It is no longer about your actions or their direct consequences (death is waiting for all living creatures!) – but about your intents and how they drive your actions. Are you eating meat because it is vital to your health, and if so are you (can you be?) grateful to sacrifices that have been made so that you can eat that meat? Or are you eating meat as an indulgence without any recognition and appreciation of those same sacrifices? When you are negotiating a deal – are you expressing nonviolent intents to other people involved in the negotiation? When you are defending yourself in a violent war – are you expressing non-violent intenst as you shoot and aim to kill? To really integrate Ahimsa in your life can be a very consuming task – and it can change your life and radiate outwards from you to others.
When I started writing this post I ended the first paragraph with this sentence, but I also cut it out:
I have also come to recognize that when I do find an explanation – I am usually in a state of misapprehension – or in other words – I am wrong!
A literal translation, such as Ahimsa as Non-Violence, is easily adopted by mind – because of its simplicity and fixed meaning (even though it is an impossibilty, like Ahimsa!). With every breath you take you are killing micro-biological creatures, With every step you take you are probably killing larger creatures – such as ants and insects. Recent news has been flooded by a headline about president Obama killing a fly on camera.
Jainism was a religion devoted to Ahimsa. I was once told that Jainism is symbolized by a man wrapped in vines that have grown over his body because he keeps still so as not to cause violence to any living creatures. When I began to write this post I had Jainism and mind and I went searching for this symbol. I found this:
What I also found and took my breath away was that this is not the symbol of Jainism – a religion devoted to non-violence. This is: