original image (background): Wikimedia commons (link). "Ahimsa" added by the author.
We've been exploring the concept of "raising the Djed" as part of daily practice, and have been examining some of the different paths from around the world which appear to be related to that idea.
As the preceding post discussed, the practice of Yoga may qualify as one of the most well-preserved of the great "streams" of ancient knowledge which has survived to the present day. It is a practice which contains in its broad current much more than the asanas or Yoga postures which are most commonly associated with Yoga, and it is a practice which has as part of its explicit aims the ultimate transformation of the consciousness and the elevation of the "divine flame within oneself" which is clearly very closely connected to that idea which appears to be so central to the world's ancient sacred traditions, which the ancient Egyptian symbolism described as the "raising back up" of the Djed of Osiris, and which is present in other forms in other myth-cycles, and in the Great Cross of the Year created by the "horizontal line" between the equinoxes and the "vertical line" between the solstices (see
While much more can be said about the significance of the Yoga asanas, their very ancient origin (some postures, indeed, being depicted on seals and miniature sculptures dating back to Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, circa 2500 BC, as discussed by Victor H. Mair in the important examination of parallels between concepts in the Taoism and Yoga found on page 158 in the appendix of his translation of the Ma-Wang-Tui texts of the Tao Te Ching, 1990, and other Yoga-like postures depicted in certain artistic representations from ancient Egypt, as discussed by John Anthony West in his indispensable 1979 study, Serpent in the Sky, for example on page 93), and while Yoga itself as a comprehensive system encompasses many important disciplines in addition to the asanas which can each be seen as disciplines for "raising the Djed" in daily life and which are also found in other streams of the ancient wisdom of the human race, we will here focus in on one particular facet of Yogic expression which all by itself can be seen as an essential distillation of the concept of elevating the spiritual aspect in this dual material-physical universe: the concept of ahimsa.
Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word which combines the negative prefix "a-" and the word himsa, which means "to do injury" or "to do harm," and which comes from a root word meaning "to strike a blow." Thus, ahimsa is often translated as meaning "non-injury," "non-violence," "non-harm," and by extension "compassion" and "beneficence towards all." It is often understood to go well beyond the idea of not actually doing physical violence to another, and to encompass also the idea of "not even wishing to do violence" or "not even harboring harmful intent at all."
In an essay on the wider concepts of "Yama and Niyama" published in 1903 (beginning on page 637 of this publication), Yogic and Vedic scholar Hirendra Nath Sinha wrote of this wider understanding of ahimsa:
What appears on the physical plane as an injury to another is from the stand point of spirit, really an injury to one's self. Every act and thought of ours recoils on ourself and affects our prospects. Non-injury has therefore been defined as not injuring another by thought, word or deed. [. . .] There should not be even the least shadow of ill-feeling in the one's mind. We may do a good deed or be charitable on the pressure of circumstances; but if the heart does not concur or the mind hesitates even for a moment we are far away from the realisation of Ahimsa. We generally do greater harm mentally than by words or acts, because our thoughts are not so very easily detectable as our words or acts and capable of being restrained. 645-646.
Clearly, such an expression of beneficence and non-harm would be very difficult to achieve even for a fleeting instant, let alone for long stretches of the day, and thus the concept of ahimsa can certainly be seen to be a practice we can try to incorporate into the pattern of our lives, without worrying that we will achieve it very rapidly and have to search around for another goal to accomplish once that one's "out of the way"!
In fact, Mahatma Gandhi put a very high value on the practice of ahimsa, positing a symbiotic relationship between the pursuit of ahimsa and the pursuit of Truth, and he himself wrote about how elusive the pursuit of true ahimsa, even for a fleeting moment, was in his own life. He says in his autobiography, entitled The Story of My Experiments with Truth:
My uniform experience has convinced me that there is no other God than Truth. And if every page of these chapters does not proclaim to the reader that the only means for the realization of Truth is Ahimsa, I shall deem all my labour in writing these chapters to have been in vain. And, even though my efforts in this behalf may prove fruitless, let the readers know that the vehicle, not the great principle, is at fault. After all, however sincere my strivings after Ahimsa may have been, they have still been imperfect and inadequate. The little fleeting glimpses, therefore, that I have been able to have of Truth can hardly convey an idea of the indescribable lustre of Truth, a million times more intense than that of the sun we daily see with our eyes. In fact what I have caught is only the faintest glimmer of that mighty effulgence. But this much I can say with assurance, as a result of all my experiments, that a perfect vision of Truth can only follow a complete realization of Ahimsa. 453-454.
Clearly, this concept of ahimsa is very difficult to achieve in this dual physical-spiritual "vehicle," and yet it can undoubtedly be shown to be closely bound up with the concept of "elevating the spiritual" which is expressed in the symbol of the "vertical Djed column" (as also the vertical portion of the symbol of the cross, in contrast to the horizontal element of the cross), and thus with the concept of evoking or re-connecting with the invisible and divine spark that is present but unseen within us and all around us, and thus with connecting to "the ultimate" or with what Gandhi appears to be pointing towards above when he speaks of "Truth" which is also identified with "God."
(For further elaboration on the symbolism of the "vertical component" and the "horizontal component" as they relate to the concept of spiritual and physical and to the concept of the Djed column and to the symbology of the equinoxes and solstices that can be shown to be present in nearly all the sacred traditions, texts and mythologies of the world, see for example this previous post, as well as this video, among others).
We can draw out the connection between (on the one hand) the concept of "raising the Djed" that we have been exploring in all of the recent posts and (on the other hand) the concept of ahimsa by revisiting some of the previous discussions regarding the idea of violence, and the undeniable tendency of violence (whether physical, verbal, or even mental) to "objectify" the target of the violence, to "degrade," to "debase," and to "brutalize" -- that is, to deny or belittle or even to stamp out the presence of spirit and of the invisible and the divine within the object of violence, to reduce to the level of gross matter or to the level of the animal nature (the "horizontal component"), instead of trying to elevate and call forth the "vertical component," the spiritual component, the divine component, the invisible component (all of which is expressed in the "vertical Djed column" as opposed to the "cast-down Djed column").
Ultimately, of course, violence leads to the actual killing of the object of violence, which can be seen as the ultimate in "casting down" or "denying the vertical component," because it reduces the target of the violence to a corpse, a thing, an inanimate object (it seeks to beat down the "vertical" into the "horizontal," instead of lifting up the horizontal to the vertical again, which is the goal described and depicted in virtually all of the world's sacred traditions).
Previous posts which have dealt with the brutalizing or degrading aspect of violence include:
- "Reflections on Simone Weil's 'The Iliad, or the Poem of Force,' and the Question of Consciousness"
- "Master Po on nonviolence"
- "Why violence is wrong, even in a holographic universe"
- "Thoughts on David Carradine, John Lennon, Bruce Lee, and the concept of enlightenment"
- "Why John Lennon matters in the ongoing war against consciousness"
- and "Wake up, gorillas! Don't perpetrate violence"
(among many others). Thus, the concept of violence which casts down or suppresses or seeks to deny the spiritual and the divine in others and in the universe itself can be seen to be analogous to the concept of cursing, and the concept of non-violence and even further of compassion and beneficence that is contained in the word ahimsa can be seen to have strong resonance with the concept of blessing, discussed in previous posts here and here.
And, while Mahatma Gandhi and others cited above testify to the elusiveness of the possibility of fully incorporating a spirit of true ahimsa into every minute of our waking life, it is certainly a practice which we can at least pursue whenever we can think to do so, and which would seem to have great benefits to ourselves and to others to the degree we do make it a daily practice in our lives.
Indeed, the Sanskrit epic known as the Mahabharata of ancient India (the origins of which probably stretch back at least as far as 900 BC, and possibly earlier) repeatedly enjoins the practice of ahimsa, saying at one point:
अहिंसा परमॊ धर्मस तदाहिंसा परॊ थमः
अहिंसा परमं थानम अहिंसा परमस तपः
अहिंसा परमॊ यज्ञस तदाहिस्मा परं बलम
अहिंसा परमं मित्रम अहिंसा परमं सुखम
अहिंसा परमं सत्यम अहिंसा परमं शरुतम
सर्वयज्ञेषु वा थानं सर्वतीर्देषु चाप्लुतम
सर्वथानफलं वापि नैतत तुल्यम अहिंसया
अहिंस्रस्य तपॊ ऽकषय्यम अहिंस्रॊ यजते सथा
अहिंस्रः सर्वभूतानां यदा माता यदा पिता
एतत फलम अहिंसाया भूयश च कुरुपुंगव
न हि शक्या गुणा वक्तुम इह वर्षशतैर अपि
ahimsā paramo dharmas tathāhimsā paro damah
ahimsā paramam dānam ahimsā paramas tapah
ahimsā paramo yajñas tathāhismā param balam
ahimsā paramam mitram ahimsā paramam sukham
ahimsā paramam satyam ahimsā paramam śrutam
sarvayajñesu vā dānam sarvatīrthesu cāplutam
sarvadānaphalam vāpi naitat tulyam ahimsayā
ahimsrasya tapo 'ksayyam ahimsro yajate sadā
ahimsrah sarvabhūtānām yathā mātā yathā pitā
etat phalam ahimsāyā bhūyaś ca kurupumgava
na hi śakyā gunā vaktum iha varsaśatair api
which translated means in part:
Ahimsa is the highest religion.
Ahimsa is the highest self-control.
Ahimsa is the highest penance.
Ahimsa is the highest sacrifice.
Ahimsa is the highest friend.
Ahimsa is the highest happiness.
Ahimsa is the highest truth . . .
It should be noted that, while the concept of ahimsa has been interpreted in varying ways by various traditions that look to these ancient texts, and to other ancient texts and traditions which similarly enjoin the supreme importance of ahimsa, the understanding of ahimsa does not always entail what we might term "complete pacifism" -- that is to say, many commentaries (including ancient texts, such as parts of the Mahabharata itself) appear to teach that there is a distinction between not harming another, and using force in order to prevent someone else from harming another.
In other words, the concept of ahimsa or "not harming" does not necessarily teach that one may not use force in order to stop someone from being harmed (including one's self). Indeed, it may be seen to be consistent with the concept of ahimsa to use force to stop a violent intruder who has broken into one's household in order to do harm (although, in fairness, it must be noted that some interpretations of ahimsa would disagree).
Nor does it necessarily follow that anyone pursuing the concept of ahimsa must necessarily renounce completely all debates and discussions of what we might call "politics" -- indeed, it seems to follow rather logically that if one perceives that violence, injury, or oppression is being perpetrated against others, the concept of ahimsa would enjoin us to oppose that violence and seek to bring about its cessation.
It should also be said that such a situation -- the stopping of violence -- is the only "excuse" for the use of force, and that no one gets any special "license to kill" simply by virtue of donning a uniform, or quoting a scripture, or through any of the other forms of mind control used to condone violence in violation of ahimsa, which of course cannot be condoned or excused in reality and in the actual karmic laws of the universe.
Much more can of course be explored on this powerful subject. However, in the scope of this particular abbreviated examination of ahimsa, which focuses in particular on the concept ahimsa as it relates to the concept of the "vertical Djed column" and the "raising back-up" of the "cast-down Djed column," it is perhaps enough to simply say that there are many possible "life disciplines" which we can explore as options for connecting with and elevating the spiritual and divine spark that is always present in ourselves and in everyone and everything around us, and which we can choose to make a daily part of our own walk. The conscious cultivation of ahimsa would seem to be one very fundamental and vital "Djed-raising" mindset that we can consider pursuing more consciously and consistently, and one which is perhaps needed today more than ever.
However, in closing this particular discussion of ahimsa as it relates to the contrast between the "vertical component" and the "horizontal component" (both of which are present at all times in us during this incarnation, and both of which are manifest in the dual-natured universe in which we find ourselves), it might not be superfluous to point out that in our daily practice of ahimsa, as we cultivate not just the practice of not harming others but of not even desiring harm or imagining about harm, that we live in a point in time in which visual entertainment is perhaps more violent than at any time in history up until now.
Certainly it could be argued that the epics and sacred scriptures of the world are filled with descriptions of battle, but it can also be countered that describing a battle, even in poetic language, and depicting it along with copious CGI visual effects of gore and ballistic impacts in the visual medium of film are actually quite different in their impact on the brain (it can also be convincingly demonstrated, I believe, that those ancient epics and scriptures are almost entirely allegorical, and describe the "battles" created by the motions of the heavenly bodies and the cycles of the year, and of the sun, moon, stars, and visible planets -- rather than actual literal-historical conflicts in the vast majority of the cases; see examples of my analysis of a few dozen ancient "Star Myths" listed here, and there are many more such analyses which I intend to publish in the future).
But can one really imagine a guru or a serious practitioner of Yoga or of ahimsa actually enjoying the countless execution-style killings depicted in a television series such as the Walking Dead? Or the frenetic blasting apart of swarms of humanoid robots in movies such as the latest Avengers or its previous forerunners?
I mention these particular series, not to pick on them in particular, but to highlight what I believe is an extremely regrettable -- and perhaps an especially insidious -- aspect of these specific orgies of violence, and an aspect which relates directly to the distinction between the "horizontal" and "vertical" components of the Djed column which we are exploring in this discussion of ahimsa (and of the concept more broadly of "raising the Djed" or the spiritual and divine component), and that is that shows which graphically illustrate the repetitive blowing apart of "zombies" or of "robots" seem to be deliberately removing the spiritual or "divine spark" component from the victims of the violence, and thus reducing them to the status of "all horizontal and no vertical" right from the outset.
This "removal of the human spirit" from the victims can perhaps be argued to "make it OK" -- blowing apart robots (or zombies) doesn't really violate ahimsa at all, does it? A robot doesn't have a spirit at all, it's not even alive (neither is an undead creature like a zombie, I guess), and so blowing them apart with large-caliber weapons fired at close range (or other, even more creative ways of physically removing their ability to move around and cause trouble) is just good fun to watch, right?
The problem I see with this particular genre of cinematic mayhem, which is not just popular right now but practically ubiquitous in visual entertainment being offered at every turn, to viewers of all ages, all the time, is that these supposedly "soul-less" robots and zombies actually resemble human beings rather closely (that's part of what makes them so disturbing, after all). Watching the execution-style killing of zombie after zombie may be argued to desensitize the viewer to the fact that in point of fact there is no such thing as a zombie, and anyone being executed in real life is in fact a human being who does indeed have a spiritual component!
Could it not be argued that watching the super-speed blowing apart of what must be tens of thousands of human-shaped robots in movies such as the Avengers, or the agonizingly slow-speed execution-style "killing" of what must also be tens of thousands of "walkers" by now in that popular (and, it must be admitted, well-written -- from the one episode I did actually watch) series actually desensitizes people to the fact that everyone they will ever meet in this world actually does have a human soul (unlike a zombie or a robot), and that the very real and very horrific physical violence being perpetrated on human beings by artillery shells, high-caliber chain guns, depleted-uranium sabot rounds, bombs dropped from jet aircraft, or "hellfire" missiles fired from drone aircraft (to name just a few examples that have taken place in unspeakably large numbers in recent years, and which continue this very minute in various places on our planet) are actually tearing down the spiritual component in real "dual-nature" men and women and children, and reducing them to horizontal bodies?
In short, to what degree do such repeated depictions encourage us to identify with the protagonists, and view people around us as zombies, or soul-less robots? Doing so, of course, is the opposite of blessing and of ahimsa.
It seems that this argument could in fact be made, and that as entertaining as these films and television shows might appear to be, they are in fact very dangerous for our own souls, not to mention inimical to the "cause of ahimsa" in the world at large.