The workout world is full of programs- Cross fit, Starting Strength, 5×5, 5/3/1, Convict Conditioning, Warrior Program to name a few – that promise to make you a beast. They hit you with insane workouts. Just when you think you have become a B.E.A.S.T, they remind you that the only easy day was yesterday and add a new workout or load another plate on the barbell.
With dedication and hardwork, anyone can become a B.E.A.S.T.
However, it is way harder to be a human, evolved to full spiritual potential (H.U.M.A.N.). To be in H.U.M.A.N. mode is not for the faint hearted. Only those with titanium hearts, hearts that are large can attempt this. To paraphrase Whitman, a heart so large that it contains multitudes.
Ahimsa – the Ultimate Workout
The very essence or core of the H.U.M.A.N. mode is Ahimsa. Ahmisa means not causing injury to other beings, in thought and deed.
There is a perception that Ahimsa is a saintly quality, left for the select few who have decided to take on a certain way of life. This is not so. Ahimsa is no more exclusive to saints than deadlift is to professional powerlifters. Anyone can deadlift, except the lazy, convenience addicted souls. And deadlifts make you strong in a useful way.
Mahabharata, the great Indian epic, considers Ahimsa as the foremost tapas. Tapas is roughly translated as discipline or austerity. Tapas is any transformational practice or vow that necessarily brings hardship. Tapas brings inconvenience at best. Practice of Ahimsa is bound to bring some inconveniences and hardship. Mahabharata implies that this is the most worthy kind of tapas.
Hariharananda Aranya goes even further. He says that the Yogi works hard in this life so that he is liberated and not born again in order to not cause injury to other beings in subsequent lives. Ahimsa is the grand goal of the Yogi.
In Yoga philosophy, all other prescribed codes of conduct are such that they promote Ahimsa. Ahimsa is the ultimate tie-breaker to resolve any conflict of interest arising from these codes of conduct.
In other words, Ahmisa is the ultimate workout!
Compared to it, tough mudder is a walk in the park.
Forget about a lofty notion of non-violence. Most cannot survive a week of just eating food free of animal products. The elite special forces of any military in the world will fail in the first week. Most will never make it past the first month. Even some hardcore Ashtanga yoga practitioners cannot get past this hurdle. They would rather torture themselves with advanced level contortions.
Vyasa, in his commentary on Yoga Sutras, points out that the very act of living causes harm to other beings. Some amount of injury is unavoidable. As humans we also have the unique reasoning ability to distinguish between avoidable and unavoidable injury to others. Therefore, it is a question of gradation. Just like there is a gradation of B.E.A.S.T.s!
While not everyone is good enough to pass muster as a Navy SEAL, one can train to become stronger and fitter than the commoner. Similarly one can train to get better at one’s practice of Ahimsa regardless whether one is a monk or a commoner.
Notw that the Yogic definition of injury is wide. One can cause injury directly (e.g. assault a person), can cause injury through others (e.g. buying a ribeye steak from a super market or eat a ham sandwich) or approve someone else’s act of injury (e.g. cheer when one country bombs another).
The key obstacles to Ahimsa practice are: ingrained habits (e.g. eggs and bacon for breakfast; coffee with milk), convenience value of opposite habits (e.g. it is a lot easier to grab a sandwich from a cafe), incorrect knowledge (e.g. the twisted logic that plants have feelings too, therefore we will eat a pig) and a tiny heart (e.g. I love my cat and a slow cooked baby lamb).
Fortunately, we can train to overcome the obstacles.
The great thing about Ahimsa training is that you don’t need a gym membership. You don’t need to buy a non-stick, funky Yoga mat made of some space age material. You don’t need any special equipment. There is no dress code. There are no Ahimsa shoes that you need to buy (although it would be kinda cool if Nike made Ahimsa trainers!).
Every meal you eat is a workout opportunity. You can take the easy way out with a ham sandwich. Or you can train hard and make your heart stronger and bigger.
Every interaction with people is a training opportunity too. You can wimp out and be angry with people who are not as fortunate or talented as you. Or you can become stronger by consciously cultivating an attitude of kindness. You can read more about the transactional framework suggested by Yoga here.
Decades of behaviour patterns do not correct in a single revelation. Just like strength, proficiency in Ahimsa needs to be built by years of conscious and daily training. This is why Ahimsa is part of the “action oriented” practices (Kriya Yoga) described in Yoga Sutras. In fact, Ahimsa is the very first of the popular 8 limbs of practice that Yoga Sūtra talks about.
So do not wait for it to become magically established on its own.
The world is your gym. Put on the H.U.M.A.N. mode and get moving!