Part of the living principles of Yoga are the Yamas and Niyamas; Codes of Conduct. The Yamas are characterized as "wise characteristics", and the first Yama, Ahimsa is the foundation of all the other Yamas. Ahimsa is commonly referred to as non-violence, but in a broader sense it is the foundation which fuels your Yogic soul. It is the idea that all living beings are deserving of love and compassion. One of the primary questions to ask yourself regarding Ahimsa is: Are my thoughts, actions and deeds fostering the growth and well being of all beings? If you practice this Yama, all the others will follow. This question reflects the purest form of selfless service: a harmless mind, mouth and hand to navigate your everyday interactions.
A good place to start is by reflecting on your thoughts about yourself. Are these thoughts that we would confidently speak out loud? Practicing compassion even with how you view yourself, how you manage your movement, and even how you breathe, allows one to strengthen their non-violent practice towards others.
When practicing love and compassion with ourself, and allowing that practice to influence how we engage with others enlivens the unity of all sentient beings. Feelings of anger, rage or jealousy are important to recognize not as spiritual failure, but as a calling back to yourself, a deep need for quiet introspection while containing these energies for our own well being and protection of others. The vow of Ahimsa is broken even by showing contempt towards another man, by entertaining unreasonable dislike for or predjudice towards anyone, by frowning at another man, by hating another man, by speaking ill of others, by vilifying others, by harboring thoughts of hatred, by uttering lies, or by ruining another man in anyway whatsoever. To approve of another's harsh actions or even to fail to relieve another's pain is a form of indirect violence.
When thoughts of hatred or revenge arise in the mind they will try to control speech and body. Instead of acting on this hate in thought, speech or action, replace that thought immediately with an opposite thought of love or gratitude for this teaching. Practicing this for months and the negative thoughts, having no scope for manifesting outside will die by themselves.
Ahimsa is the weapon of the strong and the perfection of forgiveness. It is soul-force: hate melts in the presence of love.
Here is another article from mindbodygreen about the consciousness of all sentient beings to promote Ahimsa:
It is time for us to understand that animals, even the very small ones, are conscious. They have feelings, they show empathy, and they display intelligence in ways that humans cannot. Even lobsters and crabs feel pain. Birds mourn when someone in their community passes. Bees apply geometry to build beehives.
Currently, neuroscience has not found any region in the human brain that is specific as a center for consciousness or subjective experience. Yet sciencehas already shown that intelligence exists everywhere in animals with completely different brains (and even no brains as I'll explain soon).
Understanding that animals have significant inner lives might make us treat them with less cruelty. Perhaps we’d think twice before forcing them into captivity, competitions, or onto our dinner plate.
Most people know about the intelligent behavior of dolphins, primates, and therapy dogs. But, if we look at animals with much smaller brains, we find amazing capacities. By appreciating the intelligence of these creatures, perhaps we could all become a little more compassionate.
Here are some things you probably didn’t know about animals:
With very small brains, birds are sometimes called “feathered apes” because of their many remarkable abilities. A cockatoo, for example, can use multi-step techniques to unlock a very complex puzzle. To retrieve a nut in a cage, the bird removed a pin, then a screw, then a bolt, then turned a wheel 90 degrees, and then shifted a latch sideways.
The birds in this study were untrained and able to figure it out in less than two hours. Others learned by watching. Also, once they were able to open it, they never forgot how and could do it immediately.
Birds aren’t just clever; they’re compassionate. Recently, an entire flock of jayswere observed sitting in trees mourning a fallen comrade for 48 hours without any foraging. Songbirds name their offspring and are known by that sound for their entire life. Finches learn grammar by listening to mentors and use strict syntax rules.
Birds can also recognize their reflection in a mirror, construct tools, and learn skills from their elders. They can count, categorize objects by color and shape, and learn to understand human words.
Consider the gray parrot, Alex, famous for studies done by Dr. Irene Pepperberg, a leader in the field of animal cognition. He understood zero, could add and count up to eight, and invented words such as “banerry” for apple—a combination of banana and cherry. Just before Alex died he told Dr. Pepperberg, “I love you. See you tomorrow.”
The “reptilian brain” used to be synonymous with “stupid” because we assumed that reptiles used a less-developed part of the human brain. Turns out they have completely different brains than humans, with advanced capacities.
Reptiles recognize family and care for their children. They exhibit social learning, play behavior and cooperation. They build complex burrows that they use repeatedly and improve upon. Babies are very affectionate to each other, even choosing a leader and walking behind in a line. They protect each other from predators.
Anoles (in the lizard family) demonstrate advanced learning, counting, and problem solving rapidly. One study on anoles involved a wooden block with two wells, one empty and one with a worm. Each was covered by a cap in a different color. Anoles were able to identify the correct well and use an invented technique to open the cap. When they were wrong, they immediately reversed course and remembered it the next day.
Individual bees show extraordinary intelligence and abilities with a very small, unique, brain. Bees use a complex symbolic language to share locations, including angles related to the sun, travelling routes, and qualities of locations and individual flowers.
Bees find and bring back information using kaleidoscopic memory for five miles of scenes. They can find their way out of mazes and use abstract concepts, sequences, combinations, and each day solve advanced mathematical problems—finding efficient routes between many different quality stops. If a bee makes a bad choice, others don’t copy it. Bees also understand future rewards.
They can detect and distinguish different flowers by their electrical signals. (Yes, flowers and bees emit electrical charge: when bees land on a flower, it changes potential. Flowers combine the electrical information with bright colors, patterns and fragrance to attract bees.)
Bees can distinguish a dangerous fungus from a harmless one and expend tremendous effort to bring an antibiotic mixture when needed. When harmless fungus spores were placed in the hive, they physically removed them without using the antibiotic.
Bees are even able to build a honeycomb, which is a remarkable feat of engineering. It’s the most efficient and strongest way to store honey that has been conceived by human engineers. To make the honeycomb, special bees circle providing heat to melt semi molten wax. Each bee works in a tiny compartment next to each other, kneading and tamping the wax into place. The wax flows at a specific temperature with surface tension stretching the wax. The wax then pops up forming a point that becomes the angle of the hexagon. These fuse with other walls forming a perfect hexagon.
The smallest animal is the one-celled amoeba. Even without a brain, it has some remarkable capacities. When food is scarce, individual cells join together to form what looks like a multicellular animal. This slug, made of individual cells working together as one, crawls to a place with more food. There, the slug cells break apart into individual cells and the colony forms a new structure, looking like a plant with a stalk and a fruiting body.
The fruiting body separates from the stalk and either flies away or is carried by an animal’s foot to a new place. What’s incredible is that the individual cells that form the stalk sacrifice themselves for the community. Those in the fruiting body escape and start a new life somewhere else as individual cells.
It’s been shown that cells are more likely to join the stalk if they are members of the same family of cells going into the fruiting body. In other words: they are more altruistic in order to save their own family. The communication necessary for such actions is extraordinary. How can they do this? We don’t know. But it makes you wonder where empathy comes from.
So what do we know? Big brains are not necessarily better.
Even the smaller brained (and no-brained) animals demonstrate great intelligence and consciousness. Hopefully, humans will realize the tremendous value of unique animal brains with unique talents before they are all destroyed by human behavior.