Peace be to earth and to airy spaces! Peace be to heaven, peace to the waters, peace to the plants and peace to the trees! May all the Gods grant to me peace! By this invocation of peace may peace be diffused! By this invocation of peace may peace bring peace! With this peace the dreadful I now appease, with this peace the cruel I now appease. with this peace all evil I now appease, so that peace may prevail, happiness prevail! May everything for us be peaceful!
Atharva Veda 19.9.14. VE, P. 306
The Hindu Way: To Do No Harm
Hindu wisdom, which inspires humans to live the ideals of compassion and nonviolence, is captured in one word, ahimsa. In Sanskrit himsa is doing harm or causing injury. The "a" placed before the word negates it. Very simply, ahimsa is abstaining from causing harm or injury. It is gentleness and noninjury, whether physical, mental or emotional. It is good to know that nonviolence speaks only to the most extreme forms of forceful wrongdoing, while ahimsa goes much deeper to prohibit even the subtle abuse and the simple hurt.
In his commentary on the Yoga Sutras, Sage Vyasa defines ahimsa as "the absence of injuriousness (anabhidroha) toward all living beings (sarvabhuta) in all respects (sarvatha) and for all times (sarvada)." He noted that a person who draws near one engaged in the true practice of ahimsa would be freed from all enmity. Similarly, Patanjali (ca 200 BCE) regards ahimsa as the yogi's mahavrata, the great vow and foremost spiritual discipline, which those seeking Truth must follow strictly and without fail. This was not meant merely to condemn killing, but extended to harm caused by one's thoughts, words and deeds of all kinds -- including injury to the natural environment. Even the intent to injure, even violence committed in a dream, is a violation of the principle of ahimsa.
Every belief creates certain attitudes. Those attitudes govern all of our actions. Man's actions can thus be traced to his inmost beliefs about himself and about the world around him. If those beliefs are erroneous, his actions will not be in tune with the universal dharma. For instance, the belief in the existence of an all-pervasive Divinity throughout the universe creates an attitude of reverence, benevolence and compassion for all animate and inanimate beings. The natural consequence of this belief is ahimsa, nonhurtfulness. The belief in the duality of heaven and hell, the light forces and the dark forces, creates the attitude that we must be on our guard, and that we are justified in inflicting injury, physically and emotionally, on others whom we judge to be bad, pagan or unworthy for other reasons. Such thinking leads to rationalizing so-called righteous wars and conflicts. We can sum this up from the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain traditions: ahimsa is higher consciousness, and himsa, hurtfulness, is lower consciousness.
Devout Hindus oppose killing for several reasons. Belief in karma and reincarnation are strong forces at work in the Hindu mind. They full well know that any thought, feeling or action sent out from themself to another will return to them through yet another in equal or amplified intensity. What we have done to others will be done to us, if not in this life then in another. The Hindu is thoroughly convinced that violence which he commits will return to him by a cosmic process that is unerring. Two thousand years ago South India's weaver saint Tiruvalluvar said it so simply, "All suffering recoils on the wrongdoer himself. Thus, those desiring not to suffer refrain from causing others pain" (Tirukural 320). A similar view can be found in the Jain Acharanga Sutra: "To do harm to others is to do harm to oneself. You are he whom you intend to kill. You are he whom you intend to dominate. We corrupt ourselves as soon as we intend to corrupt others. We kill ourselves as soon as we intend to kill others."
From Violence To Nonviolence
So many today are wondering how we might move from violence to nonviolence, how mankind might transform itself from approval of killing to opposition to it. There are millions of Hindus who are born into the Hindu religion because their parents and forefathers profess that faith, but who are not educated in the beliefs that will produce proper attitudes. Because they are Hindus, their desire to pursue the depth of their religion wells up often in later life. Through soul-searching, self-examination and psychological overhaul -- not without a lot of mental pain attached -- the old beliefs are replaced with new ones. A conversion has taken place within the subconscious mind. The computer program within the muladhara chakra, which contains the memories of the deepest past, has been updated. Through this process, the meat-eater becomes a vegetarian, a hurtful person becomes kindly, himsa becomes ahimsa.
The Hindu knows that at this time on this planet those of the lower nature, unevolved people, are society's antagonists. Being unevolved, they are of the lower nature, instinctive, self-assertive, confused, possessive and protective of their immediate environment. Others are their enemies. They are jealous, angry, fearful. Many take sport in killing for the sake of killing, thieving for the sake of theft, even if they do not need or use the spoils. This is the lower nature, and it is equally distributed among the peoples of the world, in every nation, society and neighborhood. Those of the higher nature -- ten, fifteen or twenty percent of the population -- live in protective environments. Their occupation is research, memory, education, which is reason; moving the world's goods here and there, which is will. Those of yet an even higher nature delve into the mysteries of the universe, and others work for universal peace and love on Earth, as groups and individuals. The Hindu knows that those of the lower nature will slowly, eventually, over an experiential period of time, come into the higher nature, and that those of the higher nature, who have worked so hard to get there, will avoid the lower nature and not allow themselves to be caught up in it again. Hindus believe in the progress of humanity, from an old age into a new age, from darkness into a consciousness of divine light.
Humans are essentially instinctive, intellectual and superconscious, or soul, persons. The instinctive nature is based on good and bad, mine and yours, up and down, pairs of opposites. The soul nature is based on oneness, humility, peace, compassion, love, helpfulness. The intellectual nature is based on trying to figure out both of these two. It juggles knowledge from the lower nature to the higher nature and from the higher nature to the lower nature. It works out formulas, finds solutions and processes knowledge. The key is yoga, yoking the energies of the soul with the energies of the physical body (the instinctive nature) and yoking the energies of the soul with the energies of the mind (the intellectual nature). Then, simply, one becomes consciously conscious in the soul. This is an experience to be experienced, and for the Hindu it is personal experience of God, which is essential for liberation. The Hindu strives to be consciously conscious of his soul. When those soulful qualities are unfolded, he is filled with a divine love and would not hurt a flea if he could help it. The Yajur Veda exclaims, "May all beings regard me with friendly eyes! May I look upon all creatures with friendly eyes! With a friend's eye may we regard each other!" (36.18. VE, P. 342)
Peace Begins In the Home
What's the best way to teach peace to the world? The best way is to first teach families to be peaceful within their own home, to settle all arguments and contention before they sleep at night, even if they stay up for three days, so the children can see that peace can be attained and then maintained through the use of intelligence. Humans do not have horns or claws; nor do they have sharp teeth. Their weapon is their intelligence. Children must be taught through the example of parents and by learning the undeniable facts of life, the basic tenets -- that an all-pervasive force holds this universe together, that we create with this force every minute, every hour, every day, and because time is a cycle, what we create comes back to us. Therefore, because we create in a physical universe while in a physical body, we must return to a physical body, in a new life after death, to face up to our creations, good, bad or mixed. Once they learn this, they are winners. It is up to the parents to create the peacemakers of the future. It is always up to the parents. And remember, we teach children in only one way -- by our own example.
Parents must teach children to appreciate those who are different, those who believe differently; teach them the openness that they need to live in a pluralistic world where others have their unique ways, their life and culture; teach them the value of human diversity and the narrow-mindedness of a provincial outlook; give them the tools to live in a world of differences without feeling threatened, without forcing their ways or their will on others; teach them that it never helps to hurt another of our brothers or sisters. The Atharva Veda intones: "Peace be to the Earth and to airy spaces! Peace be to heaven, peace to the waters, peace to the plants and peace to the trees! May all Gods grant to me peace! By this invocation of peace may peace be diffused" (19.9.14. VE, P. 306)!
When the injustice of killing happens no more, then and only then will the next yuga or human epoch commence in its fullness. The far-seeing rishis of our religion have predicted what we see today, so today is no worry to us. But the Hindu is bound by his intelligence to pass along to the next generation methods of improvement, pointing out the errors made in the past and outlining better directions for the future. A Hindu's method of saving the world is lifting up each individual within it and putting an end to the war in the home between parent and parent on the one hand, and parents and their offspring on the other. Ending the war in the home is the solution to ending the conflict in surrounding communities and, finally, wars between nations. A home where ahimsa abides is truly a home.
Finding Personal Peace
An individual can find total peace within himself, not through meditation alone -- though peaceful actions must follow introspection -- not through drugs, not through psychology or psychiatry, but through control. Peace is the natural state of the mind. It is there, inside, to be discovered in meditation and then radiated out to others. How do we bring individuals to this point? Let them go for one year without experiencing confusion in their thinking, covetousness of another's goods, even the urge to be hurtful to solve a problem, and not experiencing fear, anger or jealousy. After that year, they will be very peaceful persons. This is because of the soul knowledge they will have gained in overcoming these base instinctive forces, which will release their consciousness to the natural peace of the higher mind.
If the educational system promotes it in every community, the greatest potential for peace will be achieved. The educational system is controlled by the adults, so they have to come to terms with the fact that they must not be hurtful, physically, mentally or emotionally, and they must accept the basic principles of the Sanatana Dharma: all-pervasive energy, cause and effect, and coming back in a physical birth until all scores are settled. Once the adults accomplish this, these basic principles of life will naturally be passed on to the next generation.
But the fact is that even though mature souls may have achieved peace, others are coming up through the instinctive nature. In a complete humanity, there are always those of higher consciousness and those of lower consciousness. At this time on the planet it is the intrinsic duty of higher-consciousness people to be more self-assertive, let their voices be heard and take up the banner in a heroic way, join committees, enter government, while at the same time maintaining the peace within their own home and holding a benign reverence for all living beings. As the vibration of planet Earth changes, the mood of the people will change.
Ahimsa begins in the home, in the bedroom, in the kitchen, in the garden, in the living room. When himsa, harmfulness, arises in the home, it must be settled before sleep, or else those vrittis, those waves of the mind, which were disturbed by the creation of the situation will go to seed, to erupt at a later time in life. We cannot expect the children to control themselves if the parents do not control themselves. Those who attain a personal peace by controlling their instinctive nature become the spiritual leaders of human society. People who do become these leaders retroactively control the masses because of their spirit, their soul force -- not because of their mind force, their cleverness, their deceptions, their political power, their money or contacts. They are the people in the higher consciousness who control lower consciousness by lifting up the masses, as parents are supposed to uplift their children.
Achieving a nonviolent world would simply mean that all individuals have to somehow or other reconcile their differences enough that the stress those differences produce can no longer take over their mind, body and emotions, causing them to perform injurious acts. Again, this would begin in the home. Peaceful homes breed gentle people. Gentle people follow ahimsa. Furthermore, the belief structure of each individual must allow for the acceptance of the eternal truths -- returning to flesh to reabsorb back the karmic energies released in a previous life, and of course, the belief in the existence of an all-pervading power. As long as our beliefs are dualistic, we will continue to generate antagonism, and that will erupt here and there in violence.
At an international and national level, we must become more tolerant. Religious leaders and their congregations need to learn and teach tolerance for everyone and everything, and for other faiths. First this must be taught to the religious leaders themselves, the ministers, rabbis, imams, rishis, swamis, acharyas, bhikkus, sants and priests. Tolerance and intolerance are basic attitudes found in our belief systems. These are things that one can learn. In our various nations, in the United Nations and other world organizations we can promote laws which recognize and take action against crimes of violence. The world must as a body come to the conclusion that such crimes are totally unacceptable. To abhor violence is a state of higher consciousness.
Avenues of Transformation
What is it that causes someone who was previously violent to become nonviolent? It is a matter of realizing what life is really all about and how harming others violates our own inner being. When an injurious act is committed, it makes a mark deep within the mind of the violator. Those individuals who become penitent bring higher energies into themselves, and these energies slowly heal this mark. But there is more to it than this. Certain kinds of spiritual therapy must go along with the penitent mood for a total healing to occur, which would be absolution. This therapy is finding a way to pay back society for the harm caused in that act of violence. It may be working as a nurse's aid or as a volunteer to help in the healing of people who have been victimized by the violent acts of others. The modern laws of community service are good, but for a total healing and change of heart, the service to the community should be directly related to the actual crime the person committed. Finally, over a long period of time, if the matter is totally resolved in the mind of the person and those who know him, then he would be as much a nonviolent person as he was previously a violent person.
Personal revelations or realizations can also bring about a transformation. One example that people are familiar with is the experience of astronauts who have orbited Earth. From their cosmic perspective they saw no borders, no divisions, only a one small planet, and this has tended to make them peacemakers. Their journey in space has been called "the overview effect" and would indeed be a revelation of higher consciousness. In deep states of consciousness such visions also happen and do change peoples' lives. But contemplative experiences come, for the most part, to contemplative people. And if we are referring to meditation and yogic practices here, they should not be performed by angry people, jealous people, confused people, lest the uplifted energies plummet and intensify the anger and other aspects of the lower nature. The better way would be for the angry, violent person to become religious and consistently do small religious acts, for these despicables will get their solace through remorse, repentance, reconciliation and finally absolution. Even the Gods will not, unless invoked, interfere and penetrate the sunken depths in which they live, in the chakras below the muladhara, in the lower part of the body, down to the feet, chakras which spin counterclockwise.
Many people do have life-transforming mystical experiences, such as a soldier on a battlefield or someone who nearly dies. These experiences can also change our view of the universe. But transforming experiences generally come to really nice people, people endowed with love and trust. Maybe they are not too intelligent and get drawn into situations where they are overtaken by a fit of temper. But their remorse is immediate. A contrite or penitent reaction to hurting others is the sign of a higher-consciousness person. Maybe the karma the person caused is heavy, but his soul goes to work on the situation, and the healing process starts within his mind. Possibly the intensity of the violent mishap, which we might say is an uncontrolled mishap, itself creates a deep remorse which catalyzes the big awakening into higher consciousness.
We Hindus would look at that as a grace from the guru or a boon from the Gods, coming unbidden in the form of an inner revelation, bringing with it more permanent contact with inner-plane beings. This inner contact with greater beings, and the revelation they bestow, shortens the time sequence of the act and the absolution, which in some cases might take years, if someone was penitent, seeking atonement and absolution.
The Evolution Of Humanness
Ahimsa, nonhurtfulness, is the essence of dharma, and the muladhara chakra sets the pattern of dharma. The muladhara chakra is a very interesting chakra, because it is the base center of energy and consciousness, and consciousness is energy, ever creating, preserving and absorbing. Karma is the self-perpetuating principle of cause and effect, shaping our experiences as a result of how we use our energies, mentally, verbally or physically. So, once we narrow down the individual awareness from freedom without responsibility, which is the lower nature, into the consciousness of freedom with responsibility, which is the higher nature, the individual awareness, or consciousness, must pass through the portals of the muladhara chakra and rest comfortably within the energies of its four petals. Four petals, of course, form a square. Three dimensionally, two squares put together with a space between can well be defined as a box. This box is defined as dharma.
Briefly, at this point on the path to enlightenment we put our cumulative karmas into a box called dharma. Once encased within dharma, the various karmas may fight each other. As the individual progresses on the path, the box lightens and rises. The box of dharma is the base from which the aspirant must live at this point. Strictly contained, he may rise through the hole in the top of the box in consciousness, or open a hole in the bottom of the box and seek freedom without responsibility in the world of darkness. To seek freedom in the chakras above is the San Marga. To seal off the hole at the bottom of the box is his sadhana, penitent tapas, japa, bhakti and Sivathondu, all of which is eloquently explained in Merging with Siva.
Who holds the lid on the box? Community, community pressures, both religious and secular. There are certain things you can do and certain things you can't do. The stronger ahimsa becomes at the family level, the more subtle it gets, and the violence gets more subtle, too. A careless word can cut the heart of someone you love, but someone not loved may not be wounded by anything less sharp than a knife.
Someone asks, "I am trying to seal off the chakras below the muladhara, but whenever a trying situation comes up, the feelings of resentment and retaliation are paramount. What can I do?" When the feelings that come up amplify resentment, squelch reason and paralyze memory, we must assume that the box of dharma is empty and does not contain the cumulative sukarmas and kukarmas of this and past lives (the kriyamana and prarabdha karmas), and that he is not bound by dharma at all, or that it has no influence in guiding his future karmas. There are no excuses on this path. This means that the person has really not yet come to Lord Ganesha's feet. Therefore, vrata -- he must take a vow and live up to it.
Ahimsa is a vrata. Rishi Patanjali called it the mahavrata, or great oath. When it is not lived up to, there are consequences. Remorse must be felt, apologies made, penance endured and reconciliation accomplished. The ego experiences embarrassment. All this and more occurs, depending on the individual's sincerity, steadfastness and resolve never to reenter the lower nature of himsa, hurtfulness, again.
Those who have found it necessary to take the mahavrata of ahimsa and are prepared to make amends if they do not live up to it are well on their way to entering the muladhara and svadhishthana consciousness. Being penitent is rising to reason and remembering the dharma. Being belligerent is lowering to selfishness and, through confusion and anger, attaining his wants. To proceed further, he has to listen to the wise, listen to the swamis, read scripture, perform bhakti and do Sivathondu, selfless service. Those who remain prone to anger should not do raja yoga or any form of intensive mantra, japa, or pranayama amplification of the energies into higher chakras -- lest that collective energy plummet into the corresponding lower chakras and be vented through fear, anger and jealousy.
The fourteen chakras have been described as a pole one must climb. The pole is heavily greased with ghee. It's a slippery pole. Therefore, the helping hand of our loving Ganesha, who reaches down from the muladhara, is needed to lift up the aspirant. It's the helping hand of Lord Murugan that reaches down from the anahata chakra, grabbing and lifting the devotee up. It is the helping hand of Siva that reaches down from the ajna chakra and lifts one up. One cannot do it alone. Total surrender to the Gods is the only way. Karma yoga, bhakti yoga, japa yoga is the way to attract their attention. The guru keeps the path in view, but he does not walk it for you.
The Urgency of Vegetarianism
Nonviolence should be clearly defined to include not only killing, but also causing injury physically, mentally or emotionally -- even in the most subtle ways. We can injure ourselves, we can injure our environment, we can injure nature's other creatures and thus be a source of pain and sorrow. Or we can live a harmless life and be a source of healing and joy. My satguru instructed, "Do good to all. God is there within you. Don't kill. Don't harbor anger."
Vegetarianism is a natural and obvious way to live with a minimum of hurt to other beings. Hindu scripture speaks clearly and forcefully on vegetarianism. The Yajur Veda (36.18. VE, P. 342) calls for kindliness toward all creatures living on the Earth, in the air and in the water. The beautiful Tirukural, a widely-read 2,200-year-old masterpiece of ethics, speaks of conscience: "When a man realizes that meat is the butchered flesh of another creature, he will abstain from eating it" (257). The Manu Samhita advises: "Having well considered the origin of flesh and the cruelty of fettering and slaying corporeal beings, let one entirely abstain from eating flesh," and "When the diet is pure, the mind and heart are pure." In the yoga-infused verses of the Tirumantiram warning is given of how meat-eating holds the mind in gross, adharmic states: "The ignoble ones who eat flesh, death's agents bind them fast and push them quick into the fiery jaws of the lower worlds" (199).
Vegetarianism is very important. In my fifty years of ministry, it has become quite evident that vegetarian families have far fewer problems than those who are not vegetarian. The abhorrence of killing of any kind leads quite naturally to a vegetarian diet. If you think about it, the meat-eater is participating indirectly in a violent act against the animal kingdom. His desire for meat drives another man to kill and provide that meat. The act of the butcher begins with the desire of the consumer. When his consciousness lifts and expands, he will abhor violence and not be able to even digest the meat, fish and eggs he was formerly consuming. India's greatest saints have confirmed that one cannot eat meat and live a peaceful, harmonious life. Man's appetite for meat inflicts devastating harm on the Earth itself, stripping its precious forests to make way for pastures. The opposite of causing injury to others is compassion and love for all beings. The Tirukural (251) puts it nicely: "How can he practice true compassion who eats the flesh of an animal to fatten his own flesh?"
If children are raised as vegetarians, every day they are exposed to noninjury as a principle of peace and compassion. Every day they are growing up, they are remembering and being reminded to not kill. They won't even kill another creature to feed themselves. And if you won't kill another creature to feed yourself, then when you grow up you will be much less likely to injure people.
There are other ways that we as individuals or institutions can responsibly promote nonviolence. Make a list of all the things you have purchased in the last six months that bring harm to humans, animals, fish, fowl and other sentient beings. Read the labels on simple things like glue or soap and scratch off the list all the things that contribute to violent acts or aid in the destruction of the planet. Then find the willpower to not, for convenience sake, fall back into purchasing these things again. This is something you can do in the next twenty-four hours.