August 26, 2013

Cockroach Casualties & Lessons in Ahimsa.

A couple of months ago, I found myself in a pretty awkward situation.

A cockroach scurried across the floor of the studio before class; I was horrified as my students watched and waited for my reaction.

If I were home, I probably would have told my husband to take care of it and not asked any questions. But at the studio, I knew I had to catch him and set him free. After all, we are teaching nonviolence around these parts, we better practice it. The whole ordeal really gave me the creeps and in my nervousness I crushed the little guy (or girl?). I started class without telling anyone that I had accidentally murdered him.

I’ve been thinking a lot about ahimsa lately. I just moved into a new home and we’ve got a fruit fly situation that won’t subside no matter how much I clean. We live in a modern society where it’s just not sanitary to live among the wildlife and you don’t always have the option to release them lovingly back to their natural habitat. (As it turns out, cockroaches prefer warm conditions found within buildings and that’s not really going to work for me.) So what do yoga and the philosophy of ahimsa have to say about fly swatting and cockroach casualties? To find out, I read the entire Wikipedia page on ahimsa, a Huffington Post article by a Jain college student and the handful of youtube videos that come up when you search YouTube for ahimsa, including “Vegan Kills a Cockroach…and cries.”

Ahimsa is the belief that all living things have divine spiritual energy. The general consensus across the many Vedas is that you shouldn’t harm any living thing. However, the writers of these ancient texts have given us just enough information for you to make your own decision. Here’s the abridged version:

1. No Unanimity: The most ancient texts refer entirely to nonviolence as it applied to the human race. However, they do state something along the lines of “don’t harm anything,” so it non-human life could be implied. Gandhi’s beliefs were rooted in Jainism (and Buddhism). Jain monks don’t even walk on grass to avoid harming the turf and the bugs in it. Sri Aurobindo criticized Gandhi, because he believed that ahimsa was not about pacifism and that we ought to use our judgment to determine what is appropriate, keeping nonviolence in mind.

2. Exceptions to the rule: War, it’s our duty to avoid war by using our words. I would say that this is excellent advice to live by! When will modern society adopt this ancient philosophy? We can only wonder. The gurus were not naïve and they left us some advice on what to do when faced with war. They said, use weapons that put you on a level playing field with your opponent (no bug bombs, people!), go for quick and painless and don’t attack the wounded. In fact, take the wounded back to your camp and give them the medical attention they need.

Self Defense. It looks like criminals are not protected by ahimsa, but the rules of war still apply and you should make a fair attempt to spare their lives.

Criminal Law. Those who deserve to die, should die. No clear process is given on how we make the final call on this.

3. Eating Animals: The protection of non-human life under ahimsa wasn’t really discussed until about 500BC when eating animals was approved, but only after ritual sacrifice. It’s my humble opinion that this is not really applicable in today’s society, nor is it applicable to exterminating bugs, so we’ll leave this discussion for a different column all together.

My express-study of ahimsa was inconclusive. There are many interpretations and we are all empowered to make our own decisions.

I haven’t decided whether I should treat the crawly invaders as criminals, killing them only out of necessity and releasing them when I can or if I should accept the karmic fate of bug bombing my new home.

My sources: Wikipedia, Huffington Post and YouTube.

Like I’m not “Spiritual.” I just practice being a good person on Facebook.

Assist Ed: Judith Anderssson/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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