Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Nonviolence, Yoga, and a Government that Works (Part 2)

In my last essay, I discussed some of the root causes of violence. This essay discusses ways yoga can alleviate some of these causes. Conflict is fueled by many causes, such as greed, envy, or fear. Conflict is triggered when a fuel is present and there is an expectation that things will be better, or at least no worse, after the conflict is over. Nonviolence can only prevail when the triggers that fuel violence are removed.

In yoga, the term avidya is used to mean ignorance or delusion that clouds our perception of reality. Avidya is often illustrated with a blind man. It causes us to fail to see our true spiritual connection with others. People without any connection to other people do not behave in ways that respect those people.

Yoga promotes the idea of “cultivating the right attitude.” We sometimes feel jealous when we see someone with something we want. It may be material things we are jealous of. It may be because they are joyful and we are not. To become more peaceful, we need to be happy with other’s good fortune and compassionate for those in need. These practices reduce our desire for conflict by reducing our own fuels for violence. Yoga also promotes the idea of “practicing constructive behavior.” To become more satisfied in our own lives and to improve our interactions with others, we should follow the yamas of the Yoga Sutra, starting with nonviolence (ahimsa).

There are many people in the world that believe that violence can get them what they want. Aggression works for them. It gets them power, prestige, and all the other comforts of life that they desire. These people cannot be persuaded by argument or discussion. Buckminster Fuller said, “To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.”

Opposing violence does not mean that we sit in lotus and meditate all day. Yoga helps us transform our own perceptions by teaching us that we are all interconnected and that what hurts others hurts us as well. Our own new model of reality must be pacifist and nonviolent, but it must not be passive. In order to cause someone else to change, we must demonstrate that another way exists and is effective in achieving the same goals that violence tries to achieve.

On a local scale, we can reduce violence by practicing compassion and volunteering to help out where needed. It can mean getting involved in other local causes that promote nonviolence to people, animals, and the environment. Keep in mind that a protest against violence is not very effective without at the same time proposing a new model that makes violence obsolete. Wishing for violence to go away doesn’t make it so.

On a state or national level, we need institutions that can help promote social justice so that people can find hope for the future. People and nations know from experience that violence and aggression work. They need to be shown that peace also works. Most of all, we need a government that works for everyone. Support political institutions and elected officials that work for peace.

Find something you care about. Do something about it. Please post your thoughts here on other ideas on how to reduce violence.

Some of the ideas in this essay are from Yoga Journal article, Transforming Aggression: Yoga and World Peace, by Dennis McGuire 10/28/2005. I have extensively rewritten this article and added much new information.

For more on what yoga says about nonviolence, see my next essay, Nonviolence, Yoga, and a Government that Works (Part 3).

NOTE: Illustration from

© 2010 Eric Borreson

1 comment:

  1. I have a few further thoughts after I wrote this essay.

    For example, most people oppose killing of stray animals in shelters. However, these animals are killed for a reason. There is no one to take care of the animals and no money for the government to do so. People will not stop killing unless that reason is gone. To end this type of violence, we need to promote solutions that works at least as well as the violence, such as better placement of the animals in good homes, better spay and neuter programs, better funding of shelters, and other alternatives that work.

    Healthy people are happier and more peaceful. Providing areas to get away, get some exercise, and relieve some stress improves health. For poor people, the presence of parks, playing fields, and forests significantly closes the health gap between the rich and poor. This is another tool for governments to improve public health. Our elected officials have limits on the money available. A few letters to a politician can completely change spending priorities and help improve our public health.

    You can encourage people to get involved in yoga for the physical benefits. Before they know it, they will start to learn the other lessons of yoga. Stress reduction creates mental space that allows other ideas to enter.