“To never harm anybody through mind, speech or action is ahimsa.
Be it enemy, friend, stranger or relative, to behave towards all with the same good intentions without differentiation is daya.
When such attitudes (anger, hatred and aversion) disappear from society, we will develop purity both internally and in our environments which leads to reforms without any obstacles and to the growth of the highest constant state of peace and tranquility.”
Sri T. Krishnamacharya
In Yoga Sutra Chapter 2, v.33 and v.34 Patanjali explains why we would be motivated to act in harmful ways that are contrary to yama and niyama. The consequences of these tendencies is said to be infinite misery and unending ignorance. Some people see the yamas and niyamas as a kind of unwelcome moralising; in verse 34 Patanjali points straight at the mental states that give rise to any action that would be contrary to the Yogi’s ethical principles and peaceful mental disposition; greed, hatred and delusion. Lord Buddha called these mental states “Three Poisons”. Even if we emotionally or intellectually wish to comply with yama and niyama it will not be possible while these three mental states arise in us.
We cause harm through greed when we try to achieve or obtain something we desire at the expense of another; through anger if harming someone who has upset or harmed us; and through delusion when we harm by a misguided view. Patanjali says that the mind can be said to be pure when we are not motivated to act in ways that harm, to support harmful actions of others or to approve of such actions.
In our society many of us are conditioned to a kind of confusion by the use of retributive justice. In short we are punished or rewarded for our actions. In my school days, fighting boys were punished by caning. We were taught that violence was wrong by having violence inflicted upon us by authorities. Students treated like this in the school system can grow up and be violent in action, view or thought to others. Some get to run countries and then bomb people who do not behave how they want them too.
The peaceful principles are not just for the other-worldly ascetic but have a direct effect on the world.
“If there is an opposition between the spiritual life and that of the world, it is that very gulf which he is here to bridge, that opposition which he is here to change into a harmony.” Sri Aurobindo – The Synthesis of Yoga p.238
The Buddha told this story of Prince Dighavu of Kosala which I have condensed here:
A powerful King named Brahmadatta invaded the small kingdom of Kosala and King Dighiti and his Queen fled from the powerful host. They lived in disguise for may years working as potters and had a son, Dighavu. It happened that King Dighiti’s former barber recognised him and betrayed him to Brahmadatta for a reward.
The King and Queen were captured and executed. Before he was executed the King saw his son in the crowd and cried out, “O Dighavu, my son. Be not far-sighted, be not near-sighted, for not by hatred is hatred appeased, hatred is appeased by non-hatred only.”
Dighavu managed to steal the bodies of his parents by getting the guards drunk and carried out the cremation with all correct honours and rites.
When King Brahmadatta heard of this incident he became filled with fear as he felt that Dighavu would seek to assassinate him for the theft of his kingdom and the murder of his parents.
Dighavu grieved and then took a job in the Royal elephant stables. Being competent in his duties and well-liked he rose to a position of trust and often accompanied King Brahmadatta on hunting trips. On one such excursion Dighavu and the King became separated from the entourage and were alone in the forest. Tired, Brahmadatta rested his head in Dighavu’s lap and slept. With the King in his power Dighavu unsheathed his sword; then remembering his father’s last words he replaced it. The King awoke from a nightmare, confessing that he never slept well as he dreamed that Dighavu was about to slay him. Dighavu revealed his identity and the King begged for his life. Dighavu granted the King his life and asked for his own life.
They saw that hatred and fear arise due to the acts that we have committed and the acts that others commit. Acting from these motivations leads to an endless cycle of suffering. They were both grateful for Dighiti’s wise teachings given before his execution. Brahmadatta and Dighavu vowed never to harm each other and King Brahmadatta restored Kosala to Prince Dighavu and gave him his daughter in marriage.
Prince Dighavu and his Queen had a long and peaceful reign, the King was remembered as Dighavu, the long-lived.
“Whether mankind will consciously follow the law of love, I do not know. But that need not perturb us. The law will work, just as the law of gravitation will work whether we accept it or not.” Gandhi -Young India Magazine, October 1,1931
Recommended reading: Non-violence – the history of a dangerous idea by Mark Kurlansky