A recent Thought Bite examined how Ahimsa—non-harming—doesn’t generally mean being passive. Action is usually required to protect ourselves and others.
Today’s Thought Bite further delves into Ahimsa: Even though I might be doing an action that is non-harming, I must look at the entire chain of actions between myself and others to determine whether my action goes against the precept of ahimsa. This is made clear by this quotation from the Law Book of Manu (props to Pandit Sanjay Kumar Shastri for offering this excerpt and comment):
[5.51] “The one who gives permission, the one who butchers, the one who slaughters, and the one who buys and sells, the one who prepares it, the one who serves it, and the eater—they are killers.” This quote from the Laws of Manu is in the context of meat-eating. But it can be used to demonstrate how we contribute to violence and injustice by allowing, participating in, reaping benefits from, etc.
So, when I buy a yoga mat that was produced in a way that harmed the lives of indigenous people in South America, I am violating the precept of ahimsa. When I buy a shirt that was made by slave laborers, I am engaging in that slavery—I am violating ahimsa. When I buy a normally expensive cellular phone at a swap-meet at a ridiculously low price (because the phone was stolen), my action is part of the theft, part of the harm, and I am committing himsa (harm).
The practice of ahimsa requires us to examine the chain of actions that brought the item into our hands.
In the modern age, most items are produced in ways that create harm, to those who live on the land, to workers, to animals, to the environment. So, it’s not possible to be perfect, as a person living in the world, in practicing ahimsa. Rather, we do the best we can—be aware, be awake, and make discriminations to minimize the harm of which we are a part.