There are eight limbs of the Yoga path. The first two are a set of universal ethical guidelines that we have for dealing with others and with ourselves. In Sanskrit, the guidelines for dealing with others are known as Yamas. The first of the five yamas is called Ahimsa. This word is normally translated as non-violence.
But this concept is far more than simply saying you must not act in a physically violent way towards others. It means that we must do all things with kindness and consideration for others and remove cruelty from our lives. We must watch our thoughts and our words, as well. To walk around all day thinking cruel or unkind thoughts about ourselves or others, whether we ever act in a physically violent way or not, is not ahimsa. Every situation and every action must be considered.
There is great violence in this world and there has been throughout the history of humanity – because there is violence within us and our thoughts. It seems silly to suggest that by removing the violence in our individual selves we could reduce violence in the world – or does it? If someone is kind to you, how do you respond? Do you treat the next person you see with more warmth? Do you have more patience for your child after a long day? It starts with the only thing that we can change – ourselves. To put this into modern and concise language, let me quote Kurt Vonnegut, “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies – God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”