In class we regularly go over the eight limbs of yoga according to Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The first two limbs, Yama and Niyama, are 10 guidelines for living that might be looked at as similar to the 10 Commandments of Judaism and Christianity or to the Buddhist precepts. Ahimsa is the first one. It means non-harming. We have discussions over what non-harming means. Generally, it can be taken to mean to live in a way that brings the least amount of harm to other humans, animals, plants and the environment.
In one of our discussions, I had been through the idea of how this applies to diet. The yogic diet is vegetarian with the addition of dairy products. The idea is not to harm animals in order to feed ourselves. We talked about recycling and living with the least amount of harm to our environment.
We also talked about what this means in our interactions with our fellow human beings. In general, the yogic way of life does not prevent us from self-defense or even from serving in the army to protect others. We are asked to minimize harm to others though. We discussed this and I pointed out that Jesus asked us to love even our enemies. One of the guys perked up and asked, “How do you do that?” This is a good question and I feel I owe him a good answer. How many times do people exhort us to be different without giving us a method? We might as well be told to fall upward.
Actually, I have a method to work on this. I got it from the local Tibetan Buddhists when we went through one of the Dalai Lama’s books as a group.
Compassion Exercise (thank you Dalai Lama – “How to Expand Love” ) : Find a quiet place to sit. Get in your chosen meditation posture. Focus on your breath. Count your breath and allow the mind to settle for several minutes. Now work through the following steps:
- Think of a friend, an enemy, and a neutral person. No enemies? Try thinking of someone who can inspire you to generate some significant level of anger.
- Examine your feelings toward your friend. Where do you feel this in your body? Allow these feelings to permeate your mood. Now examine your feelings toward the enemy. Where do you feel this in your body? The physical feelings are much different. Allow these feelings to permeate your mood but don’t stay here too long. Then move on to consider the neutral person. Examine the lack of feelings for this person.
- Are your good feelings for the friend linked to help or loving acts the friend has offered?
- Are your feelings for the enemy linked to harm the enemy has done?
- Is your lack of feeling for the neutral person because there has been no help, loving acts, or harm from this person?
- Consider that each of these people has a mother, seeks happiness, wishes to avoid pain and is equal in this sense. Recognize that had the enemy been born to the family the friend comes from and vice versa, they could very well play the exact opposite roles in your life.
- Stay with this for a while for the feeling of equality between these people to sink in.
I brought this in and we did it as a group together. One of the men said that the only “enemy” he could think of was himself. Wow! Techniques for this one next time.