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Meaning of "Ahimsa"

The Sanskrit word Ahimsa is often interpreted to mean something like "the state of the heart that knows no enemies". It's a pretty inspiring image, and I've marveled more than a few times at what it's like to be in this state, especially when in the heat of tough situations. This is the high hope we have for all humanity - that we can differ without being enemies, and perhaps even rejoice in the differences and challenges. It sometimes feels a long way from reality in our world, but hey, we all need a vision for inspiration.

I think it's also important to consider the more literal translation of the word - himsa meaning "injury, harm", and a- being a negative prefix. So the translation is literally "to do no harm". It's not just accuracy for the sake of accuracy (my strong detail-oriented side coming through). There is a real practical reason why this matters.

There are many times when, in the heat of tough situations, I am in a state of full-on attack. Or maybe stonewalling. Or passive aggression, or any number of emotional states related to fight/flight/freeze reactions. In these moments, my capacity for conscious connection from the heart is very diminished, and in extreme cases even totally blanked out by anger, fear, hurt, etc. And my logical side is likely pre-occupied with analysis, evaluation, and judgment. 

In these moments, I am most definitely not in a state of the heart that knows no enemies. This state is not even remotely accessible to me, and I can't possibly make the leap there without some smaller steps. In these moments, all I can access is a commitment to avoid doing harm to others, and just enough of a sliver of awareness about my own state to choose a path that minimizes harm. And perhaps a bit of past experience that reminds me that this state changes, and I'll return to my senses in time. 

I remember one time when I was furious about something my wife said or did, and I managed to say to myself something like "I know that I'm in a state of blame right now, that I'm not in full ownership of myself. I can't see it clearly, but my training tells me this is so". Every instinct in my body pushed my to attack, defend, accuse, retort. But I found enough commitment to nonviolence to walk away, of course later I was able to more clearly see how my thoughts and stories about the situation were leading me to be angry. But no way could I access that awareness at the time.

I want the concept and commitment of ahimsa to serve me even when I am far way from inner peace. So that's why I like to have this more literal translation in my back pocket, as well as the higher vision of a world with no enemies. 

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