Do not practice harm, this is rule number 1; it is the rule that governs all other rules. No matter which rules we follow we must always ask ourselves, “Will this cause harm,” before we proceed. The ashtanga (the eight limbs of yoga) read like a rule book. These eight limbs lay out a divine path and if followed culminate in the spiritual success of each individual life.
The first limb, the yamas, are a list of 5 straight-forward rules which are intended to govern our behavior. How we treat ourselves and more importantly others. And the first of these yamas? You guessed it, do not practice harm, (ahimsa). Harm rears its ugly head in many forms, it can take shape in thought, word, and action.
The thought of judgements about the way a person looks or dresses, for example, is not worth our time. We are inundated with sensory perception, concepts, and ideas all day, every day. Why do we insist on engaging these negative thoughts about ourselves or others? Especially when we consider the fact that if we wait 5 seconds we will likely be faced with an image or thought that we like and are interested in. Compliment the good and ignore the rest; why, because do not practice harm is rule number 1.
Saying out loud the h-word, h*te, a word that in schools we consciously teach children not to say. There is no reason to hold onto such a distasteful feeling, there are plenty of other ways to describe your dislike of something. But, why do we feel the need to describe those feelings as they pertain to other people, at all? Sure, the second yama is satya (honesty or truthfulness), but if we first ask the question, “Will this cause harm,” we’ll likely find that the answer should stop us from expressing feelings of disgust. Why, because do not practice harm is rule number 1.
Finally, acting on harmful feelings leaves physical and emotional scars on not only the one’s we’ve harmed, but on ourselves as well. Violence in the name of maintaining safety is still harm. That isn’t to say that we should stand by and watch as someone else is harmed, certainly we should thoughtfully find a way to intervene. But, lately there has been a pattern of seemingly unnecessary harming in the name of safety and as a result people are scarred, our community is scarred. And in these instances I have to ask why, especially because do not practice harm is rule number 1.
We have to remember that we are in fact 1, we are connected on every level. What happens to 1, happens to us all and we need to start thinking, speaking, and acting as such. There is a yogic chant which sums it all up: Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu, may all beings everywhere be happy and free and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom.