II.35 अहिंसाप्रतिष्ठायां तत्सन्निधौ वैरत्यागः

ahiṁsā-pratiṣṭhāyāṁ tat-sannidhau vaira-tyāgaḥ
ahiṁsā-pratiṣṭhāyāṁ tad-sannidhau vaira-tyāgaḥ

“Upon the establishment of non-harming–in the presence of that–relinquishment of hostilities.”

Ahiṁsā, non-harming, is the first of the yamas and is the foremost moral injunction. A- is a prefix of negation; hiṁsa means “harming” (from han, “to hurt”). Patañjali begins each of the yama sūtras (II.35-39) with the construction “upon the establishment.” Here: ahiṁsā-pratiṣṭhāyāṁ, “upon the establishment of non-harming.”

Pratiṣṭhā derives from prati-, “down upon,” plus sthā, “to stand,” and means standing still or the place that one stands still, the ground, the resting place. Our English word “establishment” is a nice translation because it contains a cognate of the same important root, sthā, “to stand.” (The base can be seen in the word sthiti, “standing,” a term Geeta Iyengar often uses for the yoga postures.) Pratiṣṭhā has a seventh-case ending in this phrase, which suggests location: it connects back to the image of citta, consciousness, as a field (see II.4). It is as though Patañjali says, “in that place where ahiṁsā is established,” or “in that resting place of ahiṁsā.” The next phrase, tad-sannidhau, “in the presence of that,” is also in the seventh case. There, Patañjali says, where ahiṁsā is established, in the presence of that, hostilities are relinquished.

It is a beautiful, fantastical promise. It suggests a powerful, transformative–perhaps a priori–force. Thus B.K.S. Iyengar insists ahiṁsā has the positive meaning of love and claims it as the principle of connection of all living things (Light on Yoga, p. 31). He writes feelingly of love in Light on Life, describing friendliness, compassion, gladness, presence (see sutra I.33) as essential to Patañjali’s yoga (p. 59).

If the yamas are not rules per se, not a list of specific dos and don’ts, but (to use Jaganath Carrera’s word) friends that assist and guide us (see II.30), then what does this friend say? What does this friend invite us to do? Perhaps it is indeed to consider connection, to check our empathy, our curiosity, our care–of others, of ourselves.

Matthew Remski, whose Threads of Yoga is a personal contemplation of the Yoga Sūtras, emphasizes the positive power of ahiṁsā when he translates it as “protection.” This accords with the sense of ahiṁsā as being parama dharma (the foremost of the dharmas, a term used in the Mahabhārata). Dharma refers to those actions that support life and the balance of creation–one might say, the common good. Remski considers crucial to the idea of ahiṁsā, and our human need for connection, to be politically aware and active.

In an essay on ahiṁsā in his book The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, writer and Sanskrit scholar Georg Feuerstein explores the implications of ahiṁsā for himself. He questions his livelihood, his family and social relationships, his responsibilities on a global level. He describes ahiṁsā as a manifestation of love, a presence–sannidhi. As yoga practitioners, he says, we must come to understand that “our field is interconnected with the fields of everyone and everything else.” He reflects too on the subtleties of how our inner attitudes and thoughts–the conditions of our field, as it were–affects others. “Even if we do not mean to harm another person, our coldness or indifference is a form of harming.”

The more I ask this friend, ahiṁsā, to teach me what it is (or what she is–ahiṁsā is a feminine noun), the more I am struck by this quality of positive power. Ahiṁsā, though expressed as a negative, shows up as is-ness. Non-harming does not come from the withdrawal of participation; it is not expressed by the mere absence of ill intent. For example, if I am responsible for a child, I must do more than suffer the child, withholding criticism or harshness. It is not at all enough for me to not be mean or bad. A child needs active care, involved interest. A child needs to feel that someone delights in her. The care of a child must come from the heart.

This friend ahiṁsā tells me to look at the condition of my field, to the state of my heart. I consider these lines from e.e. cummings:

you shall above all things be glad and young.
For if you’re young, whatever life you wear
it will become you;and if you are glad
whatever’s living will yourself become.

I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance

Am I moving forward in my life with gladness and with the joy, the nimbleness, the curiosity of the young? Am I ready to learn from the birds?  Or do I–perhaps from fear or hurt–seek control, monotony, limitation? If I am engaged in “teaching the stars not to dance,” I am creating harm. Life calls for expansion. It calls for the dance. It calls for love.


“You have to create love and affection for your body, for what it can do for you. Love must be incarnated in the smallest cell of the body, to make them intelligent so that they can collaborate with all the other ones, in the big republic of the body.” —B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 59

“If by behavior, by glances, by words you attack, invade the psyches of other people, you are not a nonviolent person. You may not kill physically, but you are killing psychologically, you are hurting by eyes, you are hurting by words.” –Vimala Thakar, Glimpses of Raja Yoga, p. 19

“Whenever we are not present as love, we inevitably reduce our own life and life in others. Hence we are responsible for how we are present in the world, even when we are on our own, because our field is interconnected with the fields of everyone and everything else.” –Georg Feuerstein, The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, p. 203

• What does ahiṁsā say to you? Has ahiṁsā affected any decision you have made? Has it affected the quality of how you engage?
• What does it mean to you to be glad and young?
• What are the subtle forms that harm can take?
• Have you discovered more love and affection for your body through the practice of yoga? Has the opposite sometimes happened? What do you do then?


feminine noun in compound

non-harming, non-violence (from a-, prefix that negates, + han, “to hurt”)


feminine noun, 7th case singular, “in”

establishment, resting place, ground  (from prati-, “down upon,” + sthā, “to stand”)


pronoun in compound



masculine noun, 7th case singular, “in”

presence (from sam-, “with,” + ni-, “down,” + dhā, “to place”)


masculine noun in compound

hostility (from vī, “to approach, attack”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

giving up, laying down, relinquishing (from tyaj, “to abandon”)

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