Long before Ahimsa became a 'weapon' in the hands of Gandhiji with which he 'fought' our freedom struggle, Ahimsa was a part of Indian philosophical thought. Though now, if you think ahimsa, you think of Mahatma Gandhi, it may be appropriate to go back a few centuries to the Yoga Sutras written by Patanjali. He wrote of Ahimsa as a restraint principle to be observed - a Yama, making it a part of the first rung of the ladder called Ashtanga Yoga or the 8 step path to achieve the Ultimate. What is Ahimsa and why is it a restraint? Logically, we should practice ahimsa or non-violence, not be restrained about observing it. However, he does not refer to ahimsa in the logical sense. He has a more indirect way of teaching us about ahimsa. He really means us to restrain ourselves in everyway - be it our actions, speech and even our thoughts. By restraining the himsa (or violence), he wants us to reach a state of ahimsa. He knew that our thoughts are our bigger enemy - not just what we say and do. It is negative thoughts that send us in a spiral of non-restraint. Hence he wanted us to restrain our thoughts first and then everything else will follow. For Patanjali, even an uncharitable or negative thought amounts to violence. For you have violated another person or thing in your mind! And these thoughts are powerful as we all know. They fuel us and push us to do things we did not think us capable of. They make us do positive as well as negative things. So control them, Patanjali says! Be non-violent or restrained in your thoughts, not just your words, deeds and actions. If a man donates money to charity, but in his mind is thinking of embezzling his employer, or his state or his country, he is indulging in himsa. He is a himsak. Only if he truly restrains his every thought - making them pure and positive, he can be said to observe this first part of the first step towards realization of himself.
Try it. Vow to restrain your unconscious negative thoughts and be a true ahimsakari.