Thursday, January 10, 2008

Non-Violence (Ahimsa)

Should I write about “ahimsa”, just because somebody heckled me a couple of days ago? Sure, why not.

“Ahimsa” roughly translates as non-violence. If you’re big on “Ahimsa” you probably don’t go around heckling people. Heckling would be “Himsa”. Ahimsa is supposed to apply to thought, word and deed. If I were practicing ahimsa, I wouldn’t argue with people who heckle me. I’d just take it, quietly.

It’s very like the instruction to “turn the other cheek.” The idea being that if you truly recognize that we’re all one, there’s no point in, for example, defending oneself, because there is no oneself to defend. The attacker and the victim are the same cosmic being. That’s one interpretation.

Ahimsa is a sanskrit word. It has been interpreted as a concept many different ways. The Jainists, for example, require vegetarianism of themselves, go so far as to suggest that bugs and worms should not be harmed in the process of farming. Creatures at that level are rated in terms of how many senses they possess, from one to five. If you harm a five sense creature, that’s worse than harming a one sense creature. Also plants shouldn’t be wantonly harmed either.

I don’t know how they know which creatures have what senses. I do agree with the not harming plants: for example I hate to see names carved into trees. I don’t like to see trees cut down and have even written letters to newspapers about it, which is a bit ironic since newspapers are made of trees. Later I worked as journalist and tried to get as many of my photos and stories printed as I possibly could. Julia Butterfly, who sat in a redwood tree for two years in order to protect it, wrote a bestselling book about the experience and it wasn’t printed on recycled paper.

I have nothing against Julia Butterfly, in fact I like her a whole lot. I just found out recently that she didn’t actually write the book, it was ghostwritten. That bothered me much more than the non-recycling part.

If you’re a Jainist, by the way, you can serve in the military as a soldier. You can kill people in that context, it’s okay.

Sheryl and I have spent hours blissfully watching ducks and then gone out to a Thai restaurant and eaten roast duck. We photographed the beautiful red rooster pair at the local wildlife preserve, and took great delight in their continued presence there from day to day and week to week. The coots eventually adopted them as their own and it was really charming.

First one disappeared, then the other, several days later. We don’t know where they went. I can honestly report that I have been sad not to see them there anymore.

I went to the wildlife preserve today. And I had chicken for dinner. It was delicious. Life is full of contradictions, and normally I don’t try to reconcile that. Mostly I’ve seen people who think they know something better than other people--to the point where they feel the need to evangelize about it, just end up doing harm and reconciling nothing.

“Himsa” basically put, is stirring up trouble. “Ahimsa” near as I can tell, is sometimes interpreted as being a doormat to people who stir up trouble, and sometimes it isn’t interpreted that way: like when a Jainist soldier stops short to avoid stepping on a bug, and then raises his rifle to shoot a man who is perhaps invading his country and shooting a lot of other people on the way in.

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