Ahimsa and Satya, the first two yamas outlined in Patanjali’s yoga sutras, highlight the yogi’s need to cultivate the qualities of non-harming and truthfulness if one wants to truly master union and connection with our highest Self. The yogic sages documented vast amounts of information in the form of lists. They put the most important topics at the top of the list.
There is a reason why non-harming comes before truthfulness in this powerful spiritual text. This conversation has been discussed for hundreds of years and it unfolds new wisdom for me every time I encounter it. And it always reminds me that the krama, or divine order, is not arbitrary, but rather profound and packed with meanings and responsibility.
We don’t need to choose one or the other. But rather, a masterful being melds these two moral standards together gracefully. The process of melding is called sammelana. My teacher Douglas Brooks describes this as doing 100% of both at the same time. And yet it is clear that non-harming is to be considered first. Hurting others cannot always be avoided. Sometimes choices we need to make for our personal growth have implications that will be painful for others. However, our job as conscious beings on a path of healing is to do absolutely everything we can to do the least amount of damage to ourselves and others while honoring our personal truth.
All too often I see this concept bypassed completely and justified under the guise of following one’s own truth. (I’ve done it myself. And I’m happy to say I learned my damn lesson.) This is the danger of engaging satya before fully considering ahimsa. When we get so focused on personal truth that the need to express it overshadows the consideration of the harm it may cause to others, the ego has surreptitiously roadblocked the true Self. The yogic sages were very clear that we must be truthful. None of this is meant to block the awakening of our highest self and the affirmation of personal growth. Every transition is an opportunity for us to be graceful. Every “ah ha moment” is a gift from the universe inviting us to wake up and engage in the world and with other beings with consideration and lovingkindness. But are we actually getting more skillful and creating more connection when we honor our truth? Or are we using this concept to make us feel better about something we know is true for ourselves but will truly hurt another?
The order of these listed concepts holds such a powerful teaching and yoga gives us incredible tools to navigate these changes with integrity and grace. We can’t help how we feel, and sometimes things change and we must adjust our trajectory. Often times this will hurt others near us and while there’s nothing we can do to stop that harm completely, there are many ways to communicate our truth that is less harmful than others. With this particular concept I find that timing is everything.
When is the best time to speak my truth? The word karuna means compassion. My teacher describes this as doing whatever you can in any situation to create a feeling of connection for both (or all) parties involved. Sometimes we feel so compelled to share something that we are just bursting. But what if the person we need to tell is going through a crisis, in a challenging situation, or unable to be contacted in a way that is considering their feelings? Do we just say it right away anyway? Because doing so implies that we are satisfying our own egoic need to share this information on our own terms. I am an Aries, I am all too familiar with speaking before thinking and leaping before I look. It has taken me nearly 30 years to even start to understand this concept and truly consider others before myself. My selfish tendencies die hard.
The first step to changing a pattern is realizing the pattern. I’m so grateful for the great wisdom held in the yogic texts because they truly offer a map of how to deal with life’s most difficult situations and our ugliest patterns. My hope is that with all of the new modalities, brands and fusions of yoga being created that yoga’s true teachings of morality and lovingkindess don’t get lost. Because if they do, we’ll be just as lost and self-serving as the rest of the world. It is our job as the leaders of the yogic evolution to forge new pathways while honoring the ancient roots that are the very fabric of our desire for connection and freedom.