Gandhi’s above statement is self-explanatory to clarify his viewpoint pertaining to Ahimsa [non-violence]. Besides, it is sufficient enough to elucidate significance of Gandhian concept of Ahimsa on the one hand and its adaptability on the other. Furthermore, it is fully capable to prove the uniqueness and excellence of Ahimsa in the current perspective. Above all, it may serve as a guide to those who opt for Ahimsa in its refined form under prevailing situations of time in future.
How? In this context, it is feasible to acquire familiarity with the word-meaning of non-violence, and simultaneously, with its foremost concepts prior to attempt any critical analysis.
‘Non-violence’ is constituted by the two words: ‘non’ and ‘violence’. The former 'non’ is a prefix which, after its use with a word, simply explains negative or opposite state of the word concerned. In my opinion nothing more is required to append or explain the role of the concept.
The term ‘violence’ is derived from the Latin word ‘violare’ [present participle ‘violans’ ], and its root may be traced to the Latin words ‘vis’ [force] and ‘fero’ to carry].1 On basis of the generally accepted explanation of above-mentioned terms [vis and fero] violence could be interpreted as ‘to do something by force’.
The currently prevalent English word violence is itself observed in terms of expression of physical or verbal force against self or other. It is synonymous to a compelling action against one’s will. 2
The notion of ‘violence’ has been variously defined and explained by scholars, thinkers and philosophers of repute, from time-to-time. As almost all such explanations are available for analysis, I do not deem it vital to say anything further in this regard except that non-violence is a state just opposed to violence.
The Indian Etymology
According to the Indian etymology Ahimsa [non-violence] comprises of the following three elements:
Like the English word ‘non’, ‘A’ in Indian parlance also conveys the negative state of the concerned word. Plainly speaking, after its (‘A’) placement as prefix to a word the opposite connotation of the word becomes apparent. For example: Asahayog, Asvikar or Amaryaadit.
‘Hims’ as is evident, again with ‘a’ [as a nominal suffix] divulges the state of Himsa [violence], i.e. an act of causing pain to others, and spoiling life in any form.
Since ancient times the Indian scholars have been elaborating upon Himsa [violence] comprehensively. More specifically they have been analyzing it minutely from the word-meaning perspective. Based upon these explanations and analysis of Himsa [violence], they have also been striving to define Ahimsa [non-violence]. All such explanations and analysis are available. Particularly interpretations regarding word meaning of Ahimsa are well before us to urge and encourage reanalyzing and reinterpreting them according to the demand of time and prevailing conditions of space, and preferably on the basis of the fundamental spirit in the root of Ahimsa.
Consequently many excellent, unique and worthy concepts of non-violence have developed from time-to-time, both in the East and the West. Most of the concepts developing in the East relate to India. The importance of Ahimsa as a supreme human value has been explained by Indian scholars and thinkers. Since ancient times they have analyzed it minutely with the sole purpose of inspiring people to make it the basis of their day-to-day practices, because despite existence, prosperity and peace in life are possible only through continuous practices of non-violence.3 Therefore, having the East, and particularly Asia in the centre, discussing the main Indian concepts relating to Ahimsa first, will not be out of context.
Ahimsa occupies its due place in philosophies related to all the four major Indian religious-communities -Hindu [Vedic ], Jain, Buddhist and Sikh. In fact, Ahimsa has been placed there in the highest esteem as the supreme human value. Not only this, since ancient times Ahimsa has been playing a vital role in the lives of followers of religious-communities like Hindu-[Vedic ], Jain and Buddhist. In an all-inclusive manner it can be said that non-violence has been the central point in day-to-day practices of almost all Indians. Hence, emergence of exemplary concepts pertaining to Ahimsa in the basic philosophies of all the four religious-communities [or as generally said religions] in which, as known to all of us, three4 are ancient while one5 was established some five centuries ago. Due to their uniqueness they necessitate a brief analysis.
Vedic [Hindu] Philosophy
The Vedas are the fountain of that philosophy, which is popularly known as Hinduism today. The Vedas6 are the oldest religious treatises of the world. And in my opinion Ahimsa, as a supreme human value, is established in all of them in general and in the Rigveda in particular. Perhaps many of us may not be aware of the fact that Ahimsa along with the principle of Universalism and Human Unity emerges in the first Shloka of first Sukta of the first Mandala of the Rigveda.7 However, it is a different matter if prayers to God [or gods] were the chief basis for desiring Ahimsa at the time of composition of the Vedas and particularly the Rigveda in prevailing situations, and spiritualism was the main source of realizing non-violence.
Besides the Rigveda, in the other three Vedas [the Yajurveda, the Samveda and the Atharvaveda] also Ahimsa appears as a keen desire for affability with fellow beings, fearlessness, and release from grieves and injuries.8
In the treatises of the later period, particularly the Upanishads, the Manusmriti and Srimadbhagvadgita, Ahimsa clearly appears as a Dharma, Jnana [knowledge], Satya [truth], a sense of duty and the supreme human value. The conclusion that we can draw from all mentions in the Vedas and other Vedic literature about the concept of Ahimsa is that it implies ‘not to injure and not to kill an innocent living being is non-violence’ and thus, ‘complete abstinence from violence is non-violence’. Moreover, Ahimsa must be an essential part of human behaviour. A human being should be non-violent in theory and practice, both. And, finally non-violence should be there as the basic spirit in the root of his every act.
The concept of Ahimsa in Jainism is undoubtedly unique and extraordinary. Here it is more dominant in comparison to other Indian concepts relating to it. Moreover, it is completely based upon the negative aspect of violence as is evident from a brief statement, in which it has been said that “na himsa ahimsa.”9
Jainism, as is well known, intrinsically revolves around Ahimsa. Non-violence is accepted as Brahman there. The scope of the concept of Ahimsa under Jainism is so comprehensive that it includes not causing even superfluous diversion of nature besides aversion from the slightest violence towards the tiniest living creature. A human being is expected to strictly follow the principle of Ahimsa realizing the spirit in the root of the following Shloka:
“Ahimsa Savvasattanam Sada Nivvekarika,
Ahimsa Savvasattesu Param Bambhamani Diyam”10
Meaning thereby: “Non-violence, very dear to all living beings, is pacifying; is Brahman.”
Therefore, keeping the perception of “atmavat sarvabhuteshu”11 firmly in mind one must follow the principle of “parasparopgraho jivanam”12, and thus should come forward to cooperate with others.
Along with any kind of violence, a killing by mistake [or knowingly/unknowingly] is equally accountable in Jainism. It is a subject of reckoning. For, a human being is liable to blame. In this regard the following explanation of a verse from one of the Jain Sutras is adequate for corroboration:
"The Arhatas and Bhagvats of the past and present, and future, all say thus, speak thus, declare thus, explain thus: all breathing, existing, living sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with himsa, nor tormented, nor driven away.”13
Just from the short statement, “nor driven away”, it is evident that the concept of Ahimsa in Jainism is really severe. Moreover, Jainism’s laying great stress on self-sacrifice, self-control and discipline makes its concept of non-violence intricate and rather difficult for common people to follow it. That is why; despite its being unique, its having based on negative aspect of violence it is difficult to be accomplished by each and everyone.
Although like Jainism, the concept of Ahimsa in Buddhism is also connected to self-control and discipline, 14 and to a large extent, with the unique principle of “parasparopgraho jivanam”,15 but, neither Buddhism and nor Gautama Buddha himself brings non-violence within the scope of superfluous rigidity. Despite accepting Ahimsa as the supreme human value16 and declaring it to be the most precious jewel of humanity, Buddhism lays great stress on its practical aspects so that it could be feasible to common man. That is why; Buddhism calls for making Ahimsa an indivisible part of day-to-day human practices in its refined form as per the demand of time. During the lifetime of Buddha, Karuna, i.e. compassion [union of pity and friendliness] was the best and practical reflection of non-violence. It was loving kindness towards all beings [Metta]. Moreover, it was itself a dimension of the theory of Ahimsa on the one hand, and recognition to the right to live of each and every living being on the other. Besides being an acid test of humanity, it was also the acceptability of principles of love and protection of life. Moreover, it symbolized the revelation of Buddhist concept of non-violence.
Despite being complementary up to a large extent to the Vedic [Hindu]17philosophy and accepting valour as its principal value, Sikhism18 stresses on harmony among human beings and thus calls for mutual cooperation and approval in their day-to-day dealings or activities. Moreover, Ahimsa of Sikhism can be observed in its stress on human-unity and fraternity on the one hand, and in its commitment for defending the weak, helpless and women on the other. A Sikh is expected to regard it as his foremost duty, and for its accomplishment, be ready to sacrifice his life. Categorically, non-violence of Sikhism can be viewed in its call and teachings for mutual cooperation, approval and harmony in human transactions, and the certainty of defending others.
Other Eastern Concepts
Besides the above-mentioned four Indian concepts, non-violence can also be discerned in the Confucian doctrine of “no return of evil for evil” 19; Taoist’s emphasis on “harmony, humility, yielding to overcome, and seeking to cultivate the feminine side of human nature”20; Christianity’s call for “return of hatred by love”; and Islam’s message of “fraternity for fraternity”. All these concepts are imbued with high morality and ethics and thus deeply embedded in non-violence. All of them, having perceptions of human-unity, mutual cooperation, practices and harmony in the centre, call for carrying out daily human practices. In brief, I venture to repeat, these concepts can be viewed integrally connected with high moral values and ethics.
The Western world, particularly Europe, also is not immune from concepts pertaining to non-violence. Rather, some of the western concepts are quite ancient and like that of the East, they too are well known and commendable. It is beneficial to mention a few of these. One of those concepts relates to the Greek philosopher Aristotle [384-322 B.C]. He, as we know, favoured fostering of attributes. He sought constant development of ethical values of a man so that he could rise to a height.21 As it is possible only through non-violent tendencies, Aristotle by his advocacy of development of attributes or virtues22 and ethical values in one way or the other enriched the concept of non-violence. Moreover, he directly or indirectly followed that Greek tradition, which could be linked to great philosophers like Socrates [470/469-399 B.C] 23 and Plato [428/427-348/347 B. C.].24
For an analysis of the western concept of non-violence, the name of German classical thinker and epistemologist Immanuel Kant [1774-1804] is also worth mentioning. Kant, as known to us, besides being the father of German classical philosophy, was himself a thinker of peace. He stated that it was a practical imperative to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.25
Supporting the three well-known principles promulgated by Gnaeus Domitius Annius Ulpianus [170-223 A. D.], anglicized as Ulpian, a Roman Jurisprudent and statesman, that “live well as per your natural inclination, never transgress the rights of others, and give their due rights to others” 26, Immanuel Kant stated that be not only the means for others but also an end.27 He laid great stress on non-violation of others’ rights on the hand, and for developing relations on the basis of equality on the other; and most particularly on ensuring others’ due share. Thus, speaking about equal treatment and good behavior and especially taking on others’ rights, Kant ensured a base to the concept of non-violence; however, his thoughts were focalized on human beings rather than all living beings.
In this same chain the name of English philosopher and reformer Thomas Hill Green [1836-1882] also emerges foremostly. His concept of non-violence is well evident from his statement, particularly made in context of justice. He said, “Justice is the habit of mind, which leads us to respect those conditions in dealing with others…not to interfere with them so far as they already exist, and to bring them into existence so far as they are not found in existence.”28
Hence, Green presumed non-interference with the existence of living being, and along with this in a positive sense, interference for the promotion of existence and its rise as justice. This justice is undoubtedly complementary to the principle of non-violence, because notions like the existence of living being and the promotion of existence stimulate the spirit of non-violence.
Other significant Western concepts of non-violence can be found in the views of eminent English Utilitarian thinkers like Jeremy Bentham [1748-1832] and John Stuart Mill [1806-1873]. Non-violence of these thinkers may be observed in their laying stress on realizing one’s moral duties towards other human beings on the one hand, and towards animals on the other. They particularly emphasized the moral duty of man towards animals, because they too are sensitive to the feelings of pain and pleasure. Furthermore, an important concept of non-violence prevails in thoughts of the Scottish philosopher Adam Smith [1723-1790], 29 who accepting negative virtue of not hurting one’s neighbour as justice, favoured negation of all kinds of violence. This according to Smith, is justice, and undoubtedly symbolic of non-violence.30
Moreover, in the views of an Alsatian-German-French theologian and one of the thinkers of the modern age like Albert Schweitzer [1875-1965], who recognized “reverence for life as basic principle of ethics”,31 also exists a sound concept of non-violence. Schweitzer recognized the "right to live as the first right”32 and “to honour the life as the first duty, not only one’s own but also of others”,33 as is evident from his own statement in which he said, “Ethics grows out of the same root as world and life affirmation, for ethics, too, is nothing but reverence for life. That is what gives me the fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, promoting and enhancing life, and that destroying, injuring and limiting life are evil.” 34
From the above brief survey and analysis of different concepts pertaining to non-violence in the West and the East, particularly India, we reach at the conclusion that despite its being a subject of constant realization and development, as Mahatma Gandhi also admitted35, Ahimsa has been a prime notion not only in the philosophies of religions, but also in the ideas and practices of
thinkers and philosophers of repute since ancient times. It has been accepted as the supreme human value since primordial age and at the same time has remained as a dynamic force underlying human activities.
Gandhian concept of Ahimsa not only epitomizes a fine coordination among the various concepts of non-violence of India and the rest of Asia, but it also synthesizes different concepts of the East and the West. Furthermore, besides retaining its own exclusive identity, it seems to harmonize among the concepts of non-violence of the ancient, medieval and contemporary periods, and also the modern time. That is why; I have firmly said time and again that Mahatma Gandhi has accorded a wonderful dimension to the theory and practice of Ahimsa. After Gautama
Buddha it is perhaps only Mahatma Gandhi who effectively and successfully adopted Ahimsa according to the demand of time and space in his lifetime. He brought the concept of Ahimsa completely out of the domain of extremism, and extended it to enlarge the basis of practices effectively and uniquely in the political sphere. Moreover, he remains the source of inspiration for so many others around the world even after he passed away, particularly for those who desire success through non-violence in socio-political spheres.
It was the success of Gandhi’s non-violent measures, which astonished the great scientist Albert Einstein [1879-1955] and made him to conclude, “Generations to come, it may be, will scarcely believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”36 Simultaneously, it encouraged the leader of African-American Community of the United States of America Martin Luther King Junior [1929-1968], who had first perceived cowardice in non-violence. But once having examined the Gandhian technique of Ahimsa, he reached at the conclusion, even after a decade of Gandhi’s passing away, that Gandhi’s way was undoubtedly extraordinary, and replete with real potential. He admitted that the Gandhian method of non-violence was one of the sacred and the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their fight for freedom.37
As is evident from Gandhi’s statement quoted in the beginning of this text, he accorded a new dimension to the concept of non-violence. There is inherent dynamism in his concept. It has the practicability in its root. Furthermore, it provides for its refinement as per the requirements of time and space.
Along with the above-mentioned statement of the Mahatma, some of his other known statements and writings on the subject apparently reveal harmony and coordination of his concept of Ahimsa with the other concepts related to it, and it does not matter if they represent India or other nations of Asia, or the rest of the world. Not only this, they clarify the undisputed relevance and adaptability of Gandhian concept of non-violence in the current perspective.
In one of his articles on non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Non-violence is not a rough thing as it has been enunciated. Undoubtedly, it is a part of non-violence to abstain from hurting some living being, but it is only an iota pertaining to its identity. The principle of
non-violence is also shattered by every evil thought, false utterance, hatred or wishing something bad unto someone. It is also shattered per possession of necessary worldly things.”38
Similarly, in another article on this subject he pointed out, “When a person claims to be non-violent, he is expected not be angry with one who has injured him. He will not wish him harm; he will wish him well; he will not swear at him; he will not cause him any physical hurt. He will put up with all the injury to which he is subjected by the wrong-doer. Thus non-violence is complete innocence. Complete non-violence is complete absence of ill-will against all that lives. It therefore embraces sub-human life not excluding noxious insects or beasts…Non-violence is therefore in its active good-will towards all life…”39
After studying and analyzing the above two statements of the Mahatma carefully and minutely, and simultaneously keeping in mind his statement quoted at the outset of this article about non-violence, we arrive at some concrete conclusions. Foremost among them is that the Mahatma undoubtedly represents the general Indian concept of non-violence, which particularly and essentially includes the concepts of Ahimsa of Vedic-Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism
and Sikhism.40 In my view it comprises of the following four points:
*The domain of Ahimsa [non-violence] encompasses not only human-beings but all living beings;
*In spite of being eternal, natural and the primary human value, Ahimsa is a subject of practice as per the demand of time and space;
*Ahimsa is an active value; it has nothing to do with cowardice and it is an ornament of the brave; and
*Ahimsa is not a subject to be practiced occasionally; in theory and in practice it is all timely.
But, when the Mahatma particularly says that “the principle of non-violence is also shattered by every evil thought, false utterance, hate or wishing something bad unto someone” and “it is a part of non-violence to abstain from hurting some living being, but it is only an iota pertaining to its identity”, he clearly arrives near the Vedic concept. At the same time he also appears to relate it to the Jain concept of Ahimsa. This undoubtedly leads to more nearness to Jainism when his views that “complete non-violence is complete absence of ill will against that lives” and “non-violence is therefore …good will towards all life” are examined. But, the Mahatma seems to differ from negative Jain Ahimsa when he makes intent behind the act the acid test of violence and non-violence, or when he lays stress on evaluating non-violence on the basis of tendency and pursuance towards spiritual or physical benefit unto everyone. 41
While writing and speaking about non-violence, the Mahatma has also laid great emphasis on protection, pardon, pity and self-control. In Gandhi’s opinion constant development of these virtues is, in fact, the realization of Ahimsa. This belief of the Mahatma brings him again nearer to Jainism, Buddhism, and the general Indian concept of non-violence. Moreover, when he speaks that, “the principle of non-violence …also shattered per possession of necessary worldly things”, he, along with Indian, arrives near the Asian concepts on the one hand, and to an extent closer to the Western concepts of Ahimsa on the other. Moreover, Mahatma Gandhi by combining love and friendliness with non-violence confirms universalism. He also appears to synthesize between East and the West; and old and new concepts of Ahimsa.
For Gandhi Ahimsa is dynamic. It is an active force. Its scope is comprehensive. In his own words: “Ahimsa is a comprehensive principle. We are helpless mortals caught in the conflagration of himsa. The saying that life lives on life has a deep meaning in it. Man cannot for a moment live without consciously or unconsciously committing outward himsa. The very fact of his living-eating, drinking and moving about-necessarily involves some himsa, destruction of life, be it ever so minute. A votary of Ahimsa therefore remains true to this faith
if the spring of all his actions is compassion, if he shuns to the best of his ability the destruction of the tiniest creature, tries to save it, and thus incessantly strives to be free from the deadly coil of himsa. He will be constantly growing in self-restraint and compassion, but he never becomes entirely free from himsa.” 42
Hence, despite bringing harony among different ideas pertaining to non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi’s own related concept seems to be constructive and worth mentioning. Moreover, Gandhi’s making the intent behind the act the acid test of Himsa or Ahimsa and his laying stress on reviewing each and every case relating to violence or non-violence on its own merits independently makes it all the more commendable.
Significance in Current Perspectives
Change is inevitable. Nothing is beyond the law of change. Every sphere of human life is within its range. We ourselves witness change at local, national and international levels. Today’s world seems quite different from what it was just twenty-five or fifty years ago. Unprecedented development and constantly growing cooperation among people at all levels and in all walks of life is an effect of the process of this inevitable law of change. Simultaneously, rising competition and self-interests, and resultantly men’s indulgence in violent activities is also a consequence of this very process. In fact, it is a natural process. It cannot be denied. Rather, accepting it as a reality, there is the need of making it conducive in larger public interest. In this regard, Gandhian concept pertaining to non-violence can be accepted as an ideal. Particularly in the current perspectives when dangerous clouds loom large around in the sky, and when the whole world seems gripped by many destructive tendencies, Gandhian Ahimsa becomes more relevant than even the times of Gandhi. It calls for its refinement and application as per the needs of time and space.
As we have discussed, Gandhian non-violence brings harmony among various concepts pertaining to it 43 on the one hand, and establishes unity in them on the other. Moreover, as per its position 44 it seems to be emerging as an essential condition of existence and human progress. Even, for those, who in a situation contrary to non-violence, take the course of violence and thus indulging in violent activities, connect their acts in one way or the other with the safety of existence and progress, Gandhian Ahimsa becomes significant, because it brings common men within its fold. Furthermore, it becomes the subject of practice for all. Concomitantly, it calls for general welfare, mutual acceptance and harmony. Therefore, it clearly seems capable, to a large extent, in controlling dangerous violent tendencies, and transforming the hearts of those involved in violence.
Categorically, for Gandhi Ahimsa is dynamic; it is truly an active force of the highest order, and indeed soul force.45 Moreover, it is completely free from any prejudices. Despite its going slow and achieving less than expectations, it has never come in a state of isolation. Rather, its eternal nature is going ahead. Sincerity, acceptance of the situation in current perspective, and readiness to compromise, are among those of its chief features, which are undoubtedly very significant in the global context of the day. And, when these characteristics join the acid test of Gandhian non-violence, its practicability enhances multi-folds. This state of affairs assigns a unique position to Gandhian non-violence and exhorts the people to think over it seriously and adopt it in their day-to-day practices to make human life more prosperous and peaceful.
3. 3. That is why; a person like Mahatma Gandhi went to the extent of saying, “The Rishis, who discovered the law of non-violence in the midst of violence, were greater geniuses than Newton. They were themselves greater warriors than Wellington. Having themselves known the use of arms they realized their uselessness, and taught a weary world that its salvation laid not through violence but through non-violence.” [Young India, August 11, 1920]4. Vedic [Hinduism or the Sanatana], Jainism and Buddhism.
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