The First principle of Yoga is ahimsa, non-harming. But does that mean being a doormat for whoever wants to walk on me? No, that’s not the meaning. If someone is harming me, and I do nothing to protect myself or get away, I’m contributing to the harm. In addition, by enabling the aggressor’s actions, I’m harming that person by allowing them to do violence and to earn the consequences of that violence.
Similarly, when harm is being done to others, and I could easily stop it but choose to do nothing, that is the same as condoning the violence and supporting the violence.
It’s important to consider this today, when harm is being done to innocent people on a large scale, when hatred and harm are on the march against the weak and oppressed, do I stand idly and do nothing or do I act?
The doctrine of ahimsa requires action.
Fine, but how to act with ahimsa? One time, many years ago, Swami Veda Bharati told me that ahimsa requires protecting ourselves (and others) with the least violence necessary to do so. So, where running away would resolve the problem, run away. Where befriending the aggressor would work, do that. Where protesting and interfering with the harmful acts of another would stop the violence, do that.
We don’t have to put ourselves at great risk. We have choices. Now, just to be complete, there are times when being passive may be the very best that can be done in a situation without getting ourselves greatly harmed. The practice of ahimsa requires us to find the least violent but most effective way of staving off the violence.
Mohandas K. Gandhi built his movement to free India from British rule on this principle. His movement was anything but passive. He got in the face of the oppressor with protests, marches, anything that would disrupt the normal activity of the oppressor while at the same time being scrupulously nonviolent. Also, he made sure to hate the actions of the oppressor, but not the oppressor him/herself.
What can you do to alleviate harm and to reduce the suffering of the weak?