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Reflections on the Charleston Shootings: Compassion Through Ahimsa

Ahimsa (Sanskrit: अहिंसा; IAST: ahiṃsā, Pāli: avihiṃsā) is a term meaning ‘not to injure’. The word is derived from the Sanskrit root hiṃs – to strike; hiṃsā is injury or harm, a-hiṃsā is the opposite of this, i.e. cause no injury, do no harm.


It has taken me about three days to process yet another brutal and heinous act, by a tormented soul who cowardly manifested a war that was brewing within himself, by harming nine lives. I can join many in criticizing the ills of the world and the darkness of this soul who took these innocent lives, but I will attempt to hold judgement on the individual best I can. In an article I read by Dorna Djenab on the yogic practice of Ahimsa, it was beautifully stated that, “non-violence is unconditional love, it is true compassion. We achieve that non-violence by learning to love and be loved; but how is it possible to love and be loved if we choose to escape or ignore some aspects of  ourselves?”

When we look at this individual, Dylann Root, we want to seek answers to all the why’s and how’s? We try to pinpoint and find solutions to all of our societal ills, especially those which are caused by racial ideology, historically rooted in this nations and humankind’s past.  Some of us find fault in our pharmaceuticals who over-medicate our youth. Perhaps, we seek blame because of  the lack of moral education within the family and schools. Or simply, we blame the guns.

But let’s get back to compassion or ahimsa, the practice of cultivating said emotion in yogic philosophy. The core of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, a compilation of yogic texts from older traditions,  considers yoga to be an eight-limbed path that forms the core for the practice (on and off the mat). “Upon practicing all eight limbs of the path it becomes self-evident that no one element is elevated over another in a hierarchical order. Each is part of a holistic focus which eventually brings completeness to the individual as they find their connectivity to the divine” according to Expressions of Spirit writer William Doran.  One of the eight limbs that deals with universal morality, which can be practiced through compassion or non-violence, to ourselves and others, is termed ahimsa.


Do we ever consider why education related to compassion and non-violence is is undervalued in comparison to building skills such as logic, mathematics and science, all of which are directly and indirectly used to produce an intelligent machine which opens avenues for violence? What if, as a Western society we were able to take non-violence philosophy from some Eastern traditions who are not threatened by looking deeper within themselves as part of their educational process. It is these small steps of mindfulness, awareness and reflection which has the potential to give blossom to a generation who values compassion, rather than cruelty and competition.

Moreover, through yoga, Djenab writes,  we practice to “meet our inner darkness impartially and compassionately, so that it can be transformed without being acted out in the world. We practice how to meet our inner violence nonviolently and how to express our negativity without hurting anyone, including ourselves. When we learn to discharge our negative energies with the positive intention to transcend these aspects of ourselves, we contribute to spreading peace in the world.”

Thoughts are with Charleston

Sitting with this incident in South Carolina and many which have preceded before this, I ask myself and you the question:

How far can compassion education go?

Is it possible to alleviate our problems by planting the seeds for ahimsa in all? 


3 thoughts on “Reflections on the Charleston Shootings: Compassion Through Ahimsa

  1. Insightful, beautiful, and innovative approach, PackYourMat!!! Compassion education is an integral part of a holistic approach to educating the future generations, and one that is long overdue in Western society!!

    Liked by 1 person

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