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The Power of Ahimsa in Everyday Life

By Swami Veda Bharati



A sage of our times: Swami Veda Bharati, disciple of Swami Rama of the Himalayas, brings the message of the power of non-violence in everyday life to America. Speaking to a group of students near Albany, New York, Swami Veda says, 'act is not vilolence, mind is non-violence'. And he urges us to be free of the deepest fear in our lives--the fear of death.The source of that fear is that we are aware, deep inside us, that we visit death upon others all the time.


All that glows in the living human being is of the Divine origin, of the Divine Presence. Dark shades are of matter. You are not of the matter. You are an exile from the glowing world of Light's delights, in this world of appearances of material forms.

An exile in a material body prison, confined, delimited, thinking yourself to be a being who is 5'6" or 6'2"... whereas when you are in your own country in a world of unlimited delight, in which there are no dark shadows of limitations.

The being whose body this is, containing trillions of cells, is a puny being compared to the being whose body is the universe, containing trillions of stars, planets and space of purity and of Light alone... you are that being whose body is the universe. Know Thyself. Come out of this prison, this confinement, this exile where everything disturbs you, and yet you hang on to this source of disturbance -- like a prisoner who has lived in a prison for 40 years and considers that to be his home, and is afraid to come out of the prison into the wide world. Such a prisoner you are. Break the bars and shackles that have boxed your consciousness into a confined space.

When you think of yourselves as one, small unit of consciousness confined to a box, placed inside the bars of a prison, you become little, you become small. Divorced, separated, divested of the supreme identity, which identity is not of multiplicities, but of unity in infinity.

Then there is no 'other'...


I always advise my friends and students to become Self-centered. But first find who this 'Self' is, who is to be your center.

That Self, upon re-cognizing which as your own identity, no 'other' remains.

The one without a second. That one, you are.

There is no other but you in the entire universe.

You say, 'But I am I, he is he, she is she, what about all of these multiplicities?' How many units, numbers is takes to constitute infinity? All the numbers arise from infinity, no matter how many numbers you subtract from infinity, infinity is thereby not reduced, infinity is thereby not increased.

Such is this unity in infinity. All of you numbers who think you have been subtracted from infinity, are not subtractions. All of you numbers merged back, added to infinity, are not additions. You, the number, were never outside infinity.


When you know that to be so, then God is not one.

I do not believe in one God...for one is a number, and God cannot be numbered. God is infinite.

So also you, a dweller in your homeland called infinity, when you view yourself as a number, you exile yourself from your homeland.

This knowledge, this re-knowing, re-cognizing is called ahimsa, is called non-violence, and without this knowledge, there is no non-violence.


Then, there is fear.

In the Yoga Sutras, in my commentary on Chapter II, 'fear' and 'violence' are interchangeable words, they are synonyms. Only someone afraid carries a gun. The bigger the gun, the greater the fear. You want to see the size of someone's fear, just look at the size of his gun. And what would you say of a nation afraid, with this terminology?

Fear arises from the concept of a second, the concept of 'another'. When there is no 'other', then there is no fear.


All the millions of nations that are at war with each other inside your scull, projected outwards, become the intrnational conflicts and no number of treaties, no amount of signing truces and cease-fires brings peace, so long as there are these nations fighting in each individual scull.

Peace begins in your mind, non-violence begins in your mind, ahimsa begins in your mind.


The acts are only a natural stream, flowing our of that sam-adhana, that harmonizing, that bringing together.

You are walking alone, in a narrow, dark street at night. You hear footsteps. 'I'm alone, I wonder who that is, whose footsteps I hear..Oh, they're coming toward me...I wish I had a knife in my pocket, I wish I had a gun, I'm afraid'.

The other person -- now transfer your "I" into that person's "I" -- the other person is alone, in a narrow, dark street, and he or she hears your footsteps...'Oh, footsteps! I wonder who that is? I wish I had a knife in my pocket!'


Which of the two is the source of that fear? Did you generate the fear in him, did he generate the fear in you?

You did not generate the fear in him, he did not generate the fear in you. The thought of the 'otherness' generated the fear.


When you become the being whose body is the universe--there is a term in the Bhagavad Gita, "vasudeva" -- vasudeva principle, the in-dwelling deity in all beings and in all entities, this 'vasudeva' is ALL. In the Sanskrit language, one of the names of God is 'sarvam' -- meaning "all".

See, the name of God is "all" -- God is all-being...and when you discover this all-being, then you become 'Self-centered', by a different definition of Self. At present, you are ego-centered, not Self-centered. You're centered into that box which is placed behind the bars of the prison that is time and space, a box made of the three metals, sattva, rajas, and tamas ... the three gunas, and that is a box that is very difficult to break out of.

For other boxes to break out of you need a hammer and saw--for this one, you only need sankalpa - will. Not a 'wish', but a 'will'! There is a difference between a wish and a will...most people are not willing, they are only wishing.


A meditator gathers his consciousness, focuses it. The amount of light that is lighting the walls of this room and the faces in this room -- the same amount of light, gathered together, passed through a gem, becomes a laser beam with which you can operate on a cancer, can operate on a cornea, or send a message to the moon. It only takes this amount of light, no more.

It only takes this amount of will, no more.

Pass it through the jewell of concentration and your will cuts through this dry, metallic box and releases you beyond the confinements of the delimited spaces and times, back into your homeland called infinity, in which there is no 'other'.


You think with the gray matter inside your scull, you see with your eyes, you smell with your nostrils, you hear with your ears, you touch with your skin, you lift, receive, grab, give, caress, slap with your hands. You move with your feet, you digest with your digestive organs, you breathe with your respiratory organs, you cleanse with your system of elimination, you speak with your mouth -- no, you speak with your MIND first, then you produce the speech, utter something with your mouth.


All of these outwardly, apparently separate functions--they belong to whom? They belong to one.

To someone who thinks, the same one who sees, same one who smells, hears, touches, breathes, moves, grabs, receives. Through all of these organs, through all of these limbs, through all of your cells and pores in which each cell has a life of its own -- through all the different parts of the brain courses that unity, that oneness, and you do not doubt that that one who is in the hand is the same one who is in the head. And the same one in the navel and the same one in the lungs...


But they are all performing different functions.


Once upon a time, in the concourse of an artery, two genious, prodigeously intelligent cells met. And one said, 'Listen, I just found out something, a realization dawned on me, a very high realization -- I do not know why it does not dawn on all the other fellow-cells of mine, brothers and sisters -- that there is some being, from whom we arise, in whom we dwell, into whom we dissolve. There is a being, it is from that being that our life proceeds, and when our individual cellular bodies die, the life continues into that being'.

And the other cell says, 'You're crazy! Show me that being!'

Show a human being to this cell!

There is no proof of your being the unity of all those cells in your body, each one of which is performing a different function-- a stem cell could become liver, or could become pancreas, or could become eyes.


You and I are in the position of the same two cells.

There is a being from whom we are born, in whom we dwell, into whom we dissolve.


Show me! Where is this God of yours? Show that cell where is that human!

Those in whom this realization has dawned, are 'the awakened ones'.


The word Buddha means 'the awakened one'. They are the awakened ones. They are awakened to this reality in which there is no 'other'.

Ahimsa begins at that point.


Just as from the cell of your brain to the cells in your toes, there is a diversity and there is a unity.

There is a continuum...and in that continuum, the multiplicity of functions is united.


When you see all beings with the same view, that we are all cells in a single body called the universe.

So then the cells in the eyes do not contemplate murder of the cells of the hand which are holding an ugly object which the eyes do not wish to see, because between the eyes and the hand, there is a continuum.


Only when you realize that between this cell that you call your personality and all the other entities there is a similar continuum, then there is no 'other'.


Non-violence, ahimsa, Gandhi said repeatedly, is not to be confused with fear, with cowardliness, with running sway. Gandhi also said that if your sister is being assaulted by someone and you just stand there doing nothing in the name of non-violence, that is cowardice.

All the martial arts of the world have been invented by monks. All the martial arts of India are invented by the yogis. All the martial arts of China and Japan are invented, taught and maintained up to this day by monks!

How do you reconcile this dichotomy?


Think about it.

The yogis invented all the martial arts of India, and still continue them. There was no greater martial arts expert than Swami Rama of the Himalayas. One day he was carrying some large amount of money for his mission, on some lonely road between Dehradun and Rishikesh--at that time it was all forest areas-- and he was stopped by some robbers--hefty fellows--carrying big sticks and whatever else--'Show us what you have!'


'I'll show you what I have--you got that big stick. Just hold that stick like this, in both hands in front of you...and Swami Rama hit it with one finger in the middle, and broke it. And said, 'This is what I will do to your scull!' The fellows ran away...

So here we are not talking of 'situational violence' and 'situational non-violence', we are talking of something other: FEAR.


What is fear?

Another word for fear in the Yoga Sutras is abhi-nivesha. Which means an obsession. An obsession with the thought: naham nasyam -- an obsession with the thought 'May I not cease to be'.

'May I not cease to be what I now am!'

What am I now? I'm a man, 6'2", I'm a woman, 5'3", I'm tall, I'm short, I'm young, I'm old, I'm rich, I'm poor, I'm somebody's daughter, I'm somebody's mother, I'm somebody's husband, I'm somebody's wife, somebody's daughter-in-law, mother-in-law, what have you.


All of these divisions imposed upon single infinity, cutting and quartering it. The Upanishads say, 'The day someone will walk down to a market place and will order a piece of space, cut to a certain length and will wrap it up and carry it away, that day there will be peace without knowing the Supreme Self'.

That peace, without knowing the Supreme Self, is as impossible as someone taking a pair of scissors and cutting a piece of space, and wrapping it, selling it and buying it.


This space is the continuum that cannot be cut.

Therefore comes the doctrine of karma, 'What you do to the one you consider 'another', comes back to you!' ... because there was no 'other'.


And Krishna, the Lord incarnate in the Bhagavad Gita says, 'And seeing me as the 'other', they then hurt me, who am the same one as themselves; in that 'other', not knowing I am vasudeva, the in-dwelling deity who is the ALL.


And that is why, the very first word in the practice of yoga is what? AHIMSA!

And it says there in the sutras and the commentaries, that the five yamas and the five niyamas -- which you have been taught so thoroughly and so deeply by your teachers (seeing you, we have a tradition in India, if you want to know how great a teacher is, see their students! -- by seeing you, I see how great they are, and they taught you) ...

... it says all the yamas and niyamas derive from ahimsa, are based in ahimsa, support ahimsa, and are supported by ahimsa.

And without ahimsa, none of these appply.


Because the ultimate in yoga is this Self-realization--realization of the Self, in which there is no 'other'. And until there is no 'other', there is fear.


Walking through a forest in those days when there were tigers, once my master asked me 'you go diving (because scuba-diving was personal hobby for a long time, and I dived in all the different oceans of the world), so he said 'Aren't you afraid of the sharks?' And I was in a naughty mood, so I said 'Swamiji, are you yogis afraid of tigers?' He says 'no'. And I said, 'Well, it is the same thing'.


You encounter a tiger, and if you are a coward, you run. And the tiger smells the release of the hormones in you--the hormones of fear, and attacks. Chases after you and attacks...you've seen that with the dogs.

Or, you're prepared to defend yourself, it is exactly the same hormones, no other that are involved in the counterattack. Physiologically, there is no difference between the fight and flight response, both are tension responses, both are fear responses.


But there is a third response...

The flight response is a coward's response.

The fight response is a response of a brave person, who equals bravery with offence and attack.


There is a third response, and that is yogi's response.

The yogi sits in his forest cave, and the tiger -- who lives by the universal unconscious (unlike you) senses the waves you are generating from the superconscious both into the conscious and the universal unconscious, senses (he has no words for it) and is drawn to the source of those waves, and sits down by your side, like a cub approaching the mother.


Those who knew Swami Rama of the Himalayas 40 - 50 years back talk of his pet bear, who one day sensed him and his master and another swami, sitting in the cave meditating, sat down outside the cave like a dog. And the swamis came out, and he is sitting there, receiving the petting... Wherever Swami Rama walked, the bear walked behind him, like a dog.


That is non-violence.


That glow is called universal love.


But until you have reached that state, don't walk unarmed and step off your car, or wherever you are, and you encounter a grizzly bear and want to pet him!


So, as you see, I'm not going into the situational thing.


'Oh Swamiji, why is all this going on in the world, is the world coming to an end?'

Soon after this horrible event, soon after September 11, 2002, one of my very dear spiritual daughters wrote me 'Swamiji, what do you think of the war?' I wrote back, 'Of the 36 wars now going on around the planet, which one might you be referring to?'


You stop one war, I assure you, don't worry: there will be another. And another. And another.


For different causes. For different purposes. If it is not a crusade, it is a jihad. If it is not a jihad, then evil people in the 1965 Russia, or somebody else--will continue.


And if it is not this group murdering that group, some other group will be murdering some other group.


Remember the massacre of the Huguenots.


So, situational responses without full spiritual power and strength and realization behind them will only be temporary solutions.


No amount of shouting for peace will bring peace, because those very people who are shouting for peace now (generally speaking), when they get in power, they do exactly the same thing.

You know why? They do not realize that they have the same kind of ego, out of which the preceding tortures have emerged. Each group stands up in the name of justice, in the name of equality, in the name of giving people security and peace, comes into power, and does exactly the same thing. In every country, throughout history, because the leaders of these movements have not worked on their personal emotional purification.


When you are shouting, that is not non-violence.


And you talk of peace in the world, and your wife did not put enough salt on the table, and you blew up. By that moment, you have blown the chances for world peace.

Your child did not complete his or her homework, and you started shouting and yelling at the child, you have destroyed the chances for world peace.


It is your personal angers that you must first conquer.


Whether you are among the leaders, or you are among the led. Whether you are among the powerful, or you are among the weakest sections of society. Whether you are white, black or yellow, whether you are tall or short, man or woman, and you have NOT conquered your PERSONAL anger, and you talk of peace and non-violence--not workable!


Abhi-nivesha -- fear 'May I not cease to be!'


Why do we fear?


Because we fear dying.


All fear is a variation of the fear of death.


Why do we have such fear of death? Do you know why?


Because we are aware, deep inside us, aware of the death that we visit upon others all the time.


And I'd like to pause here...


The death we visit upon others all the time.


We know it is going to recoil, like a boomerang, as in the law of karma, as in Newton's third law of motion, and that is why we are afraid.

And conquest of fear will begin by stopping the death we visit upon other living beings. I do not use the word 'human beings', I use the word 'living beings'!


So, if you want to practice non-violence, do some introspection on this question, 'In what from, in what way, subtle or gross, do I visit death upon others?'


This piece of cloth I am wearing ... what has died? I do not mean only literal death, it can also be figurative death.


I start from the grossest manifestations, the most apparent manifestations, and your sensitivities will increase. And over a period of time, you will eliminate subtler and subtler forms of violence and anger from your life.


Enough people doing that will change the face of the earth. One Gandhi did. One Martin Luther King did.


It is possible for an average individual--Gandhi was a very average individual--you couldn't enter him into a 'Mr. Universe' competition... 'A bag of bones', somebody said. And when he fasted, no more bag, only bones! Not the most handsome man in the world, but beautiful! Not handsome, but beautiful!


You know the difference between being handsome and being beautiful?


He was not working for the independence of India. He was not working for the justice in the society. He was working for his self-purification. That is all.


'May I do the right. May I become the right person. May I complete myself. And when you work on completing yourself--Swami Rama used to say 'We human beings are unfinished products, we are raw materials for humanity, we are not full humanity yet' -- and Gandhi reshaped himself.


And as he reshaped himself, he was so full that it overflowed and it filled the consciousness of his friends and of his enemies. When he was the first time imprisoned in South Africa for opposing the racial discriminations, with his own hands he made a pair of slippers, and sent them to the prime minister of the country, or the governor as a gift. And the man who was responsible for imprisoning him wrote back 'It is my honor to have a prisoner of your caliber'.


And in other countries, people fight for independence, and when independence comes, they want to become presidents, prime ministers--Gandhi took no positions in the administration of India. He was not even present at the celebrations-- he was there, where there were riots going on for the partition of the country. He was walking among the people. He took no part of the celebrations. He was not Prime Minister of any country, he was not President of any country, yet when Gandhi died, the United Nations lowered its flag.


So the power does not come from the social and political position you hold. If you want to change the society, your power comes only from your internal realization of this continuum I have spoken of.


Question: Why did Krishna teach Arjuna to fight? Why are the monks the inventors and keepers of martial arts?


In admonishing Arjuna to fight, the first thing Krishna says is to overcome his fears, his cowardice.

Arjuna was not refusing to fight because of his commitment to non-violence, but out of cowardice. But a coward, given the opportunity, can be more violent--hand a big gun to a coward and see what he does!


So the words in the Bhagavad Gita are, 'Arjuna, fight; but first abandon your feverishness! Then fight.'


The principle in the martial arts is 'The body moves, but something inside you must remain absolutely still.' Have you seen that movie "Karate Kid'? That is the message.

The body moves, most effectively, but the center of consciousness maintains its stillness, which only a monk can do.


So my favorite story on this question is from a Sufi text about two soldiers...



So the form is not non-violence, the interior self-examination is non-violence.

And that is the most subtle and most difficult part of non-violence.


You cultivate, you cultivate it slowly, you make a decision. 'Let me look--in what forms, in what way, directly or indirectly, am I visiting death upon others?'


In my thoughts, in my words, in my language, in my voice, in the way I speak to my employee, in the way I resist my boss, in the way I try to resolve a conflict between me and my wife, and children and generations?


Forget about world peace-- this is the place here, this frame, what you do inside. Like Gandhi, like the masters of martial arts, who are by their teachers at one time or another artificially put into the position of anger, and if they respond with anger, they are disqualified.



(I used to be a very, very angry young man .... the story how his nose bled all night due to anger) ...



The conquest of the world is nothing--the conquest of self is what matters.


You have to overcome anger in everyday life...


You can make these experiments in life.

Starting with the conflicts in your mind, starting with the conflicts between you and those who are closest to you, and finding the path of least resistance, yet being effective.


Being effective through least resistance. You can accomplish it, I assure you of that.


That is where the real base of human power is, that it can convert a disturbed person's mind into a place of tranquility.


One of my favorite stories is about the great poet Tagore--Gandhi and Tagore were both blessed by the same Himalayan masters, I have that on the authority of my own master. And what Tagore has written is not poetry...it is a description of his own mystical experience. And because for such an experience there can be no other language, so what he writes, appears to be poetry.


In India, there is a tradition that every saint has been a poet, every saint. Whether is is Kabir, Tulsi, etc., every saint is a poet. Because there is no other language. It seems like poetry to others, but for them it is the accurate description in the language of the metaphor.



(Story about Kabir writing a poem and someone coming to murder him...'the only time in history a poem was used as a weapon of self-defense'...)


Act is not violence. Act is not non-violence. Act is neutral.

Mind is non-violence.


Realize the need for self-purification, self-conquest, conquest of your own personal angers, replacing them with harmony--not repressing, but replacing them with some other tools that are at your disposal. In the same situations, in which an untrained mind becomes agitated and excited, same very situations that bring about in you a tension response, the very same situations in a trained mind bring about a relaxation response.

Then you have mastered the relaxation techniques, if the first response to a situation of agitation is relaxation. Not that tension arises and then you relax it. Not that anger arises and you suppress it.


That anger no longer arises. Or something else arises. A different kind of emotion arises, a different kind of sentiment arises, that generates a smile. And remember the story of the Sufi soldier...


And as you gradually grow, you realize the continuum in all beings, and there being no 'other', there is no fear, no defense, there is no offence, and you are terminating your exile in the world of multiplicity and returning to your homeland in infinity.


God bless you.


Copyright 2002 Swami Veda Bharati

Lecture given in Albany, New York on June 17, 2002 at the American Meditation Institute.




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