The word “Ahimsa” translates as “non-violence” and “non-harming”. At the root of this moral code is not simply the absence of these concepts but in the cultivation of kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things. The root of vegetarianism in the yogic culture stems from ahimsa however it does not necessarily imply that we eat no living thing or that we should not defend ourselves: rather it is about exercising judgement and extending kindness toward ourselves in terms of fully taking care of ourselves.
“Should we as vegetarians find ourselves in a situation where there is only meat to eat, is it better to starve to death than to eat what is there? If we still have something to do in this life, such as family responsibilities, then we should avoid doing anything that may cause us harm or prevent us from carrying out our duties. The answer in this situation is clear – it would show a lack of consideration and arrogance to become stuck on our principles. So ahimsa has to do with our duties and responsibilities too. It could even mean that we must fight if our life is in danger.” (1)
Fundamentaly practicing Ahimsa is to adopt a considered attitude and make conscious choices in every situation. The spirit Ahimsa is to combat cruelty, injustice and violence in favor of cultivating kindness toward ourselves, others and the earth at large.
1. passage taken from “The Heart of Yoga” T.K.V. Desikachar