If we can learn to use ahimsa words sincerely in our daily interactions, our lives can become much more meaningful.
We see that a violent way of life has not brought peace or prosperity, to those who perpetuate it or the victims, or the innocent bystanders. The consequence of a violent way of life is death. And nobody wants to die a violent death — whether i t is being blown to pieces, tortured emotionally or cast aside because of discriminations. We want a peaceful way of life so that we can be creative, raise our children well and live meaningfully. Thus we look for creative ways of living without violence.
Friends of mine with small children who have thought about this for a while, put up a red violence box on their dining table. Anyone who expressed violent words, actions or even showed it in their face had to put a five rupee coin into the box. The second time offender put in 10 rupees and thereafter the rates increased. The idea was not just that violence was to be penalised, but that the offender had to find a gentler solution to the violence. At first it was a game to see who put in the most, but as the days went on, and the children grew older, being kind and gentle and fair — all ahimsa qualities — took on their own importance.
Keeping them together
In my own family, soon after my husband died, our family seemed to be splitting apart. Each of us carried a load of grief, anger, anxiety about the future and insecurity within us. Each of us had different ways of expressing these feelings and as we all lived under the same roof, life was either explosive or icy. I discovered that to keep a family together, there were certain words that needed to be put into our daily vocabulary and used as often as possible. As a strong believer in the power of ahimsa, and with deep faith in what I call “ahimsa words,” I began to try them out.
The words were: I’m sorry.
That was great/ wonderful.
Bless you for helping me.
I really appreciate this.
Please can you…
Initially, the words came from our lips. We realised that we cannot say these words only from our lips for long. They started moving down into our hearts slowly and began to take root there. Once they were rooted in our hearts, a smile crept in with the words. Then an action to accompany the words glued us together and brought much joy and warmth into our relationship.
At the workplace too
Just as ahimsa words are important in a family, they are equally important in schools and work communities. Too often, violence in the form of words is practised. Words that are hurtful and cold, or words that demean or threaten or leave others feeling anxious and insecure.
"Can’t you do anything right?"
When we use such mean words, our actions also become hurtful. Just as they can build or destroy a family, they can do the same to a work place. Ahimsa words bring hope, comfort, insight, and offer new perspectives. They heal, unite, calm and strengthen. Particularly with children, ahimsa words bring security, allow them to blossom creatively and grow with both the knowledge and experience of non-violence.
We need to use ahimsa words as often as we can, to as many people as we can. We cannot say, "that’s great," or "thank you" or "bless you" without it affecting both the one who says it, and the one to whom it is said.
Words spoken from the heart create new life and deepen relationships. Sooner or later, such words also translate into actions that build and preserve homes, schools, work places and communities.
In these days of intense competition, living simply also means learning to climb down the ladder of success.
The number of letters I received in response to "Living A Simple Life" made me realise that there are many who follow the rules of simple living, and even more, who desire to do so. For simplicity to work as part of the ahim sa way, many felt that there has to be a spiritual element to it. Mr. Sreedharan pointedly asked, "What merit is there in giving away what I am not intrinsically fond of? One must give away what one loves most."
What does one love the most? It is the self — so getting rid of the harsh parts of the self that one loves and clings to …the anger, bitterness, jealousy, .greed, possessiveness, prepares us inwardly for an outwardly simpler way of life.
In these days, when life is about climbing the ladder, being on top, in control, being the strongest, the best, being “right” and, ultimately, judging and competing with others, this inner preparation is necessary to be able to give up those outward things which seem to hold our hearts.
The way down
When everyone is wanting to climb up the ladder to cling to power, and be in control, living simply, is also “climbing down the ladder”. Mr. Ananthu and his wife relate, “We shifted from our professions — she was a professor, I was in the corporate world as a software engineer — to a simpler life. For 15 years, we were at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi, then we set up ‘Navadarshanam Trust’ and shifted to a village in TN, and have tried experimenting with eco-restoration, simple housing, farming, health and food and energy.” There are many more like them who have willingly given up powerful positions and lifestyles, to “climb down”, to share their knowledge and skills with those who are poor and marginalised. Part of “climbing down” is to recognise that there is a vast section of society that needs us and doing something about it.
Along with simplicity comes freedom. The freedom that enables us to be ourselves without the pretence and support of all the material things that surround us. The freedom to accept ourselves as we are, without wanting to change because of what fashion or adverts suggest. The freedom, too, to relate to each other as human beings, without being self-conscious or wary of the other. At the local corner shop where I buy vegetables, the vendor knows me and asks almost a hundred questions about my family. I in return ask about his. It takes time. Next to me is a lady who is not angry or threatening me because we take so long, but is friendly and curious as she asks me how to cook the gourd I have just bought. I tell her the recipe. The freedom of just being able to talk to each other and treat each other as human is facilitated by the grocer who has made simple living an enviable art. Here, time is to be spent bonding. “You can’t pay today? No problem, pay tomorrow or whenever,” he says. Those who have the freedom that comes from living like this, wear it about them like an attractive shawl. We admire it and want it so much for ourselves, but find that it is not for sale.
Acts of compassion
One of the products of a simple life is tenderness — a word we don’t often use these days. For a simple person, tenderness comes easily. My driver is a man from a small hill-top village near Vellore, where people still matter to each other. One day, during the summer, I stood in a long queue which snaked out into the road. I had a bottle of water tucked into my arm. An old man with dry lips came up and asked me for some water. The well-to-do men and women standing in the queue beside me told me not to give him any. "The minute you give it to one person, another will come up and there will be no end."
Well, I did give the man some water, and within a few minutes, more raggedy, old people circled me. My driver, standing nearby, had seen what happened. He quickly went to the nearest shop and returned with several bottles of ice cold water, which he generously distributed to the old folk. Their faces lit up at this unexpected treat. Each one now had a whole bottle of deliciously cold water. They pressed the bottles to their faces, and revelled at the iciness. Some washed their hands and faces pouring a tiny bit on to their hands and splashing it all over themselves. They even sprayed it on each other, squealing as the chill water hit them. It was wonderful to see.
Later, I asked my driver what had made him do such a thing. "I too have a very old father and mother," he said. "I thought, what if it was them, walking around in the heat." Then he added shyly, "Actually it is my birthday today and my sister gave me some money to buy a shirt. I don’t need another shirt," he said. Tenderness like this towards others comes from having a heart that always beats with compassion, and shows us humanness in all its pain and beauty.
Be what you want to be
The hermit on a mountain lives a simple life, but he doesn’t have to struggle the way we do with busy lives and complicated relationships, so there is little merit or challenge in the kind of life he leads. For us today, the challenge in leading a simple life is to become people who can give away their most precious possessions to those who need it, and still feel content and rich; feel deep compassion for those who need it and still feel the vulnerability of being open and sensitive to others; and to live with the freedom to be what we want to be, rather than be moulded by consumerism and advertisements.
Living a simple life like this is not easy. It will not eliminate the complexity of our modern life to which we are all bound to some extent. But if we try, what it will do, is to allow us to live in harmony with all the complexities around us, so that we do not feel fragmented and soulless.
Ahimsa – Sanskrit word meaning "Do no harm". Non-injury requires a harmless mind, mouth, and hand. The only way to develop universal love is by the practice of Ahimsa (non-injury).