Teaching People Kindness and Compassion to Animals, Each Other and our Planet.
Teaching People Kindness and Compassion to Animals, Each Other and our Planet.

Ahimsa

I learned a new word this weekend – Ahimsa. It is Sanskrit for “not to injure.” Ahimsa is also referred to as nonviolence, and it applies to all living beings—including all animals. Mohandas Gandhi, considered a founder of the nonviolence movement, spread the concept of Ahimsa through his movements and writings which then inspired other nonviolent activists. I am so excited to learn this word, as it is something I have practiced my whole life. Realizing that others practice this too makes me so happy!

People have many names that they call themselves: vegetarians, pesketarians, vegans, animal rights advocates, carnivores, lobbyists for humans, or activists for animals. I have seen dog rescue organizations serve meat at their functions. There are organizations trying to cure cancer or heart disease, researching on animals. There are animal activists who hate people and who often seem militant and hateful. And, we have experienced sanctuaries that are run by people who are completely unethical. While they are doing good in the areas they believe in, they are harming others while they do it.

Dr. Martin Luther King said it best, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” What if we all just practiced Ahimsa and harmed no one?! What if we focused not just on our causes, but on everyone’s? What if everyone’s pain was our own? What if instead of defining ourselves in small categories, we practiced Ahimsa/non violence towards everyone?! What if we treated all living things, human or otherwise, as equally valuable?

Instead of loving dogs but eating other animals, or curing diseases for humans while torturing animals, or loving some but not others, I would like to propose that we all live in accordance with Ahimsa. We can set our intentions to harm no one. When there is an insect in our house, we can gently take them outside. When there is trash on the ground that is not ours, we can pick it up anyway. When there is a person who looks sad, we can look them in the eyes and give them a smile. When there is someone who is hungry, we can feed them. When there is a wilted flower or tree, we can give them water. We can thank bees for their service instead of being afraid of them. When there is an animal in the road or the rain, we can help them. When there is someone new in our school or work, we can be his or her first friend. When there is someone different than us, we can search for the similarities and love them anyway. When we purchase things for our households or our kitchens, we can buy things that promote gentleness, sustainability, and health.

Real kindness, however, must start with us. We cannot truly love someone else until we fully accept ourselves. When we criticize ourselves in the mirror, when we judge ourselves, when we focus on our faults, we will most likely treat others that same way. When we practice Ahimsa towards ourselves, when we embrace our bodies, our quirks, our personalities, and our differences, when we see our gifts and talents instead of our faults, we will most likely be able to see the good in everyone else. When we are kind and gentle to ourselves, we can be kind and gentle towards other people, and when we are kind and gentle to other people, being kind to animals and all creatures is sure to follow.

We have ideals in America that don’t work: the fittest survive, it’s a dog eat dog world, the early bird gets the worm. The idea that life is a competition and there is only one winner has created a society of isolated individuals working against each other. It has created a civilization in which there are very few wealthy and so much poverty. Because of that consciousness, the rain forests are being destroyed, our oceans are being polluted, animals are suffering, children are being bullied, people are sick with disease, and in the end no one wins. When we practice Ahimsa and love everyone and harm no one, we can lift each other up. We can spread love and kindness to everyone. We can repair our bodies, our oceans, our forests, the animals, and our earth. We can think gentle thoughts, speak gentle words, practice gentle actions, eat gentle foods, buy gentle products, and be a gentle people. We can teach our children to smell the flowers with us instead of pick them. Watch the birds with us instead of chase them. Save insects with us instead of squish them. Hug cows, cuddle turkeys, hold chickens, give pigs tummy rubs, and feed the fish, instead of eating or wearing them.

When I became vegetarian at age eleven, it was because I truly didn’t want to harm anyone. It was hard back then to pursue a plant-based diet. I ate mainly lettuce and pasta and ended up getting anemic. Now there are vegan restaurants and vegan and cruelty free products in every market. It is so easy to eat delicious things, buy effective products, and have no one suffer or die for us to get it. Practicing Ahimsa keeps getting easier and easier. Just look at what Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. accomplished by practicing Ahimsa: they changed the world forever! If they could do it, don’t you think we can too in our daily lives? Will you join me?

Ellie Laks
Founder, The Gentle Barn

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