Filtering your Media Consumption to Practice Ahimsa (Non-Violence)

The practice of ahimsa (non-violence) is arguably the most important practice for an aspiring yogi. In “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” by Edwin F. Bryant, the practice of ahimsa is described as not bringing harm to any living thing, under any circumstance (p.243). The book also mentions that even the act of washing the body and thus killing bacteria can be seen as an act of violence on another living thing. So yes, to some extent we find ourselves in a position that makes the practice of non-violence nearly impossible to obtain, however, it does not mean that we should not give it our best effort.

The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary

One major step for many aspiring yogis is to practice ahimsa through diet. We are aware that the consumption of animal flesh to nourish our own bodies is certainly not ahimsa. But what about other things that we consume, for instance, media. At the time that these texts were written there was no television, cable, satellite, or media industry to account for. However, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali did in-fact give us a powerful concept that tells us what exposure to violence in media does to our psyche, and how it affects the practice of ahimsa. To better understand this we will use modern studies that examine the effect of violence in the media on human behavior.

In a study conducted LR. Huesmann titled,  “The Impact of Electronic Media Violence: Scientific Theory and Research.” found in The Journal of adolescent health : official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, data complied suggests that there has been a significant rise in the amount of violence in media. The data used is from 1991, but even twenty years ago it states that 60% of programs contain some form of violence. Violence in video games is 94%. And the amount of time that test subjects were exposed to this stimulus was anywhere from one to three hours per day.

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In the “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” with translation and commentary from Sri Swami Satchidanada, pratipaksha bhavana is introduced as a method for replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts. The translation states, “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.” The following verse gives us deeper insight into this concept and displays the power of the mind and thought. In this verse it is explained that even the thought of violence has just as much force as the act of violence, and so we move on to look at how violence in the media, creates violence in our thoughts, and lives (p. 127-129).

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Commentary on the Raja Yoga Sutras by Sri Swami Satchidananda

As you read Huesmann’s introduction to the study, you may recognize the common thread between this study and pratipaksha bhavana:

“One of the notable changes in our social environment in the 20th and 21st centuries    has been the saturation of our culture and daily lives by the mass media. In this new environment radio, television, movies, videos, video games, cell phones, and computer networks have assumed central roles in our children’s daily lives. For better or worse the mass media are having an enormous impact on our children’s values, beliefs, and behaviors. Unfortunately, the consequences of one particular common element of the electronic mass media has a particularly detrimental effect on children’s well being. Research evidence has accumulated over the past half-century that exposure to violence on television, movies, and most recently in video games increases the risk of violent behavior on the viewer’s part just as growing up in an environment filled with real violence increases the risk of violent behavior. Correspondingly, the recent increase in the use of mobile phones, text messaging, e-mail, and chat rooms by our youth have opened new venues for social interaction in which aggression can occur and youth can be victimized – new venues that break the old boundaries of family, neighborhood, and community that might have protected our youth to some extent in the past.” (Huesmann)

Yoga and this study indicate that the mind is shaped by what it is exposed to. The second yoga sutra tells us that yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. The fluctuations or, vritti as Patanjali calls them, are categorized into five distinctions. Knowledge, False-Knowledge, Imagination, Sleep and Memory. All of these things that we experience leave impressions on the mind, and all with potentially equal power. In the study by Huesmass, we see that four of these vrittis play an important role in the ramifications of violence in the media. We will use this study to examine the practice of pratipaksha bhavana with the help of the vrittis.

The Vrittis:

Pramana, Correct Knowledge In the study Huesmann uses the example of recognizing a gun and associating it with aggressive behavior. We can identify the correct knowledge about the gun being associated with violence as correct knowledge, because we can infer that the only use for a gun is to shoot, to damage.

Viparayaya, Misconception As defined by Sachidananda, this term is when knowledge of something arises because of something that is not based on reality. Huesmann took into consideration video games, television, movies, the internet, and cell-phones. Let’s use video games as one example. In a simulated world, a player is able to kill humans at will, and not suffer any consequences. Although the world is simulated, the taken in the game are still recognized by the brain as violence.

Vikalpa, Imagination Think about how someone can tell you a story and your mind creates the scenery and story only for you to see. In the media, not only is a story created by someone, but then it is brought to expression in life through acting, storytelling, imagery and animation. It is easy to see how close vikalpa is to viparayaya. In fact, it could be said that imagination is an evolute of misconception. However, they both find their root in correct knowledge. Even though we can understand that we are watching a violent movie that is fictional, the cognitive awareness of violence still leaves a very real impression.

Smrtayah, Memory There is a big loop that happens when we get to memory. All of the understandings that we get from correct knowledge (pranama) are stored in our memory banks. Wether the memory is of correct knowledge, misconception, or imagination, they all end up in the memory. In the study, Heusmann looks at the long-term effect of exposure to violence in the media. Findings indicate that observational learning, desensitization, and conditioning occur. So the more we are exposed to violent media, the more we learn from it, and the more likely we are to express it through some form of action.

SIDE NOTE: In regards to the vritti, they are five in number. The one not listed here is nidra, or sleep, because I do not understand how it would pertain to this example. It should be noted that sleep comes before memory (which is last on the list of vritti) because we do remember the act of sleeping.

The Study Concludes…

Unfortunately for the subjects in this study, their pratipaksha bhavana was exposure to violence in the media. In the chart below the findings indicate a 30% correlation between exposure to violence and aggressive behavior. This means that if a person is considered to start off having a 50/50 chance of displaying aggressive behavior, after exposure to violent media, that 30% increase would mean that they are now 65% more likely to display aggressive behavior. When the data is looked at with other public health threats, we see how profound the correlation between media violence and aggression.

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https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2704015/

What to Practice?

So does this really mean to just NOT watch violent programming or play violent video games? Well, yes! It actually makes it quite easy for us. It’s simple to understand that violence in any way shape or form do not help anyone, even if it’s not real. Making a commitment to practice non-violence has to start within our own minds and hearts first. When we find ourselves leaving a situation that is asking us to invest time with violence through the media, use that time to do something uplifting and positive; Meditation, reading, painting, cooking, practicing yoga, the choices are limitless. The yoga sutras tell us that when we become firmly rooted in non-violence, then no harm will come to us, and no living creature will fear us, hopefully this article will help you with your cultivation of ahimsa.

Namaste!

This version of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

is one of the most informative versions I have read:

Also, for a link to the study by Heusmann click here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2704015/

Yoga as a Reductive Process

 

You are not your body, you are not your mind, you are not the thoughts that run through it (the mind), nor are you the emotions that result as a response to those thoughts. Well then… Who or what exactly are we?

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Before we try to understand this un-answerable question, lets first think about this: How much can we see with the naked eye? The human eye can distinguish over 10 million colors. In a recent study at Rockefeller University, scientists were able to prove that the human eye is capable of perceiving a single photon (light particle)–that’s right, just one! On a clear night the furthest object a human can see is the Andromeda galaxy, a staggering 2.6 million light-years away. If the earth was flat (hehe) we would be able to detect a solitary candle light over 30 miles away on a dark night. Even with all of that amazing capability, the human eye is profoundly limited in its ability to perceive all that there is to see. Modern astronomers have instruments that allow us to visualize the full electromagnetic spectrum, revealing to us a picture of space that is beyond our wildest dreams. So through an additive process, science has created instruments that allow us to expand our abilities beyond our human limitations.

Back to the Q; if we are not our minds, bodies, thoughts, or emotions, what exactly are we? And what does all of this have to do with eyeballs and astronomers? In short, we are the observer, that one thing that is always witnessing thoughts, feelings, emotions, dreams, and dreamless sleep. The Mandukya Upanishad tells us that there is a state of awareness that is beyond cognitive awareness, dreaming and deep sleep. This state is called turiya (the fourth state). A state that is beyond time, space and causality, without beginning or end. A state that is unaffected by reality, yet is the foundation of all that we perceive to be real. Turiya is also known as God, Spirit, Creator, consciousness, awareness, ultimate reality, the list goes on. So according to yoga, we are actually the all mighty, omnipotent, omnipresent thing we call–well call it what you want. They are all just names for something that cannot be named or comprehended anyway.

Humans understood some time ago that our eyes were limited in their abilities, so we created instruments designed to compensate for those limitations. In the case of astronomy for example, we add the use of a telescope to see beyond our physical threshold. However, there is no amount of technology that will ever show us who we truly are. In fact, according to Patanjali Yoga, our mind is an instrument that is obstructing our ability to know our true self, and answer the question “who/what are we?” So if the phenomenal world requires and additive process to gain deeper understanding and knowledge, then the aspect of reality that is precedes time, space, and causality can only be understood through a reductive process.

The beautiful thing about the Sanskrit language is that when defining a word, scholars often times not only define what the word is, but also, what it is not. For example the Cambridge dictionary gives us two examples of the definition for the word “daytime.”

First definition: daytimenoun [ U ]

The period of each day when the sun is up and there is light

Second definition:​ daytimenoun [ U ]

The period between the time when the sun rises and the time it goes down, or the part of the day that is neither evening nor night

 

This is a pretty basic example, but you get the idea, and see how the second definition is more concise. In order to define that which cannot be defined, we can only understand everything that it is NOT. Just as everything gets flipped around from additive to reductive, finite to infinite, when examining the world outside versus the world with in, so arrises the answer to the question “who am I?” The answer is: You are not your body, you are not your mind, you are not the thoughts that run through it (the mind), nor are you the emotions that result as a response to those thoughts. After that, the real you is all that is left.

Namaste

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