In the Buddhist and other traditions, Ahimsa is inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy. Accordingly, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself.
In a world where material possessions seem to matter, it might be tempting to think that "do no harm" means that you should refrain from physically hurting or damaging people and things, and that that would be virtuous behaviour.
However, Ahimsa invokes followers to do no harm, whether by deeds, words or thoughts. It goes beyond the physical and recognises that by our words we can cause harm. If we verbally abuse staff, or yell at or discourage our children, although the ultimate harm comes about by the way the abusee processes the words spoken, we need to acknowledge the role that we, the abusers, play as catalysts in sparking or bringing about the harm. Words can never be un-said. Once out there, they imprint on the minds of those for whom they were intended, and oftentimes on the minds of those for whom they may not have been intended. Is that truly the way we want to be remembered by our children, staff and others? As abusers at some level or another? And what knock-on effect do our words have? Do we not then teach the abused themselves to become abusers, or do we perhaps teach others to subordinate their creativity and playfulness out of fear of abuse?
Perhaps the toughest part of the invocation is to think no harm or harmful thoughts. The tough part is that thoughts simply arise, whether we want them or not. Often we just can't help ourselves from thinking harmful thoughts. However, even if we think them but don't say them, how can that possibly be a problem, you might be thinking? If I don't say it or do it, how have I harmed anyone? It is so easy for us to heap internal abuse on an errant taxi driver, irritating politician or indeed a significant other. The problem is that any malevolent thought nibbles away our personal integrity. It damages and inhibits our ability to connect with others, with ourselves and with Life itself, disconnecting us spiritually. Each harmful thought sits inside us, festering like an infected sore, waiting to burst. With enough stored harmful thoughts, it becomes an internal septic stew, which will eventually kill the host or leak out onto others.
The invitation therefore is to notice malevolent thoughts as they arise and give them no energy, simply letting them go. Any thought which presents as a judgment of someone being wrong, less than, inferior to and so on, or which wishes someone harm, or a resentment is worth letting go as it arises, no matter how wrong you judge the other to be. It is always possible to deal with an issue without also having to toxify your mind: it is that very toxicity which will inhibit any possible healing.
Oh, and that thing about us not being able to help thinking harmful thoughts? Well, the good news is that we can re-program our thought patterns. The more we practice letting harmful thoughts go, and replace them with thoughts of forgiveness and conciliation, the less the other will appear. Anyway, lest I sound as if I am pontificating on this, the choice is yours. Be toxic or cleanse yourself. You choose, but I know who I would rather be around.