The origins of Nonviolence, Democracy and Peace in India
It was around 600 BC when great Buddha started his biggest monastery (Sangh) in Vaishali, the north-eastern state of Bihar, with a membership of thirteen thousand monks called as ‘Bhikshus’, both male and female. Buddha was the first man in history who proclaimed nonviolence (Ahimsa) as the highest religion and compassion (Karuna) the highest virtue. The small town of Vaishali is the birth place of republican democracy and is the original home for democracy. Buddha spent around three months a year in this monastery, refining and perfecting the art of democratic functioning. The basic principle for problem-solving, reconciliation and decision making was formulated by Buddha in the form of “Meet, Talk and Agree”. In this monastery, a Confederal “Assembly of Elders” was formed with 7707 members meeting periodically and functioned according to the code set by Buddha.
Vaishali, as a large and powerful republic constituted a confederation of eight smaller republics. Lord Mahavira, another apostle of Nonviolence and Peace was born here who founded the Jainism. Both Buddha and Mahavira were contemporaries and had their own version of practicing nonviolence and peace in a democratic manner.
But when the rulers of the Magadh empire with Pataliputra as their capital annexed the territories of Vaishali, Ashoka, the Samrat succeeded his father to the throne during the 3rd century BC. He became the first ruler to introduce in politics, the dharma of the Buddha. Ashoka renounced war and negotiated nonaggression pacts with the neighbouring powers. This was the first occasion when an emperor tried to initiate nonviolence in foreign relations. Though a Buddhist himself, Ashoka followed a policy of perfect religious neutrality. In not one of his 75 rock-edicts does he mention his own religion, Buddhism. Ashoka is the first example for the secular ruler always solicitous about the welfare of his subjects.
For more than 2500 years, it was Buddha and Mahavira who dominated the world of nonviolence and peace in India and their religions were flourishing slowly amid many un-secular, rebellion rulers and Mohammadian dynasties. Later in the 17th century, the Englishmen along with the Portugese displayed their business skills and variety of artifacts, gaining an entry in to the Kings’ courts and administration. The message of Love and Forgiveness as lived by the Jesus in the western world was gaining momentum in other parts of the world but India was too close to look upon those ideals. The western invasion brought the God’s messenger, Jesus and his love to India and was trying to mesmerize the people to adopt it forcibly. The people of India were captivated fully under the aliens’ influence and the religious tolerance was not a keen issue of importance while the people were almost treated as slaves in their own homeland. And, only in the 19th century, the nation witnessed another apostle of peace and nonviolence to exhort itself out from the spiteful powers of the British Empire.
It was Mahatma Gandhi! With his nonviolent approach towards the British, he pulled the entire nation into his umbrella of Truth, Ahimsa, Justice and Satyagraha. He combined the philosophies of Buddha and Jesus together in modern ways through the political doctrines followed by the great rulers and made them available to the simplest man, awakening their soul force to fight for freedom and self-rule. He was the one great man who experimented the dictum of nonviolence in a large scale in the political spheres.
Even today, his methods and principles are highly regarded as a guiding philosophy for nation building and social uplift. In 1917, he carried out his first experiment in Nonviolence in the village of Champaran in Bihar for fighting against the British Indigo farmers and for the first time, the common man started realizing the spiritual touch of nonviolence in his life. The Salt Satyagraha in 1931, the August revolution in 1942 and the Civil Disobedience movements launch Later by the advent of the twentieth century, the virtues of Nonviolence and Peace have become the laws of political governance and values that keeps the human soulful and truthful to his very own existence.
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