Aug 23, 2011

India’s concept of non-violence

Dr. Ravindra Kumar

India is an ancient civilisation; its harmonious and composite culture is thousands of years old. India has been a leading nation in the fields of spirituality, science and arts for centuries; it has been accepted as a Jnana-Guru of the world. India brought the gift of the greatest, unique and adaptable concept of universal acceptance to the world; it gave the slogan of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. India gave learned men, the Jagatgurus, representing different branches of knowledge. The light of Asia, Gautama Buddha, and the greatest initiator of Ahimsa, Mahavira were born on the Indian soil.

India’s greatness also lies in the fact that its land welcomed and offered refuge to all human beings from different parts of the globe. It did not matter if these people had their own religious community, faith, traditions, or values. After reaching the Indian soil they received a permanent abode without any discrimination. Resultantly, the followers of the world’s six major religious communities dwell in India today as well as people belonging to other religious communities.

Besides national language Hindi, twenty-one regional languages are recognised by the Indian Constitution. However, 1,618 languages are spoken by the people on a local level throughout India. These dialects are the medium of day to day practices of the common man. Furthermore, descendants of six ethnic groups are in India. Indian people celebrate twenty nine major religious festivals. All those who stay on the Indian soil are Indians; they are wayfarers of the Indian Way.

The Indian soil welcomes all. Indians see the image of God in a guest. Providing hospitality is one of the main characteristics of the Indian Way. The one who desired a permanent home on the Indian land not only received permission but received opportunities to march forward on the way to progress as well. Those who assimilated India’s values reached the heights of prosperity and became her own forever. Parsees, the followers of Spitama Zoroaster who reached India from Iran approximately one thousand five hundred years ago, are the living proof of this.
It is Ahimsa that accorded dynamism in the lives of the Indians. It directs their day-to-day behaviour in such a manner that they can ensure their own existence. Furthermore, it has given ever new dimensions to the process of cooperation, the outcomes of which are present in the form of unprecedented and unending development in various walks of life.

Now, prior to discussing India and Ahimsa in depth, it is necessary for us to clarify the meaning of it and the main Indian concepts pertaining to it. In Jainism Ahimsa has been analysed minutely. The twenty-fourth Jain Tirthankara, Mahavira, gave a unique dimension to Ahimsa via his own humanely practices, making it a subject of self-control, pure conduct, and discipline. The essence of Jain Ahimsa lies in the following words, “Complete aloofness from Himsa (violence) is Ahimsa.”

Clearly, Jainism brings Ahimsa within that comprehensive and extensive scope in which the common man’s entry is quite difficult. In it the smallest form of violence is accountable. Therefore, it is not possible for everyone to follow Jainism’s brand of Ahimsa in the practical sense. The Vedic (Hindu) philosophy, which directs day-to-day practices of most Indians on the basis of guidelines decided by the Vedas, especially the Rig-Veda itself, considers Ahimsa to be an evil-free Dharma. Therefore, along with not harming anyone by thought, speech, or deed, and not depriving someone of life, relying for support of violence to maintain order and to accord justice is the basis of Vedic Ahimsa.

Although like Jainism, Buddhism also emphasises upon self-control but generally it is not in favour of any such appeal that becomes impractical for the common man as far as the application of Ahimsa in daily routines by the common man is concerned. Some five hundreds years ago, another religious philosophy, known as the Sikh, arose on the Indian soil. As the Sikh philosophy came into existence in accordance with the Indian traditions and like Gautama Buddha, the outlet of its founders and developers was also from the followers of Vedic religious community. Like Buddhism it accorded its due place to Ahimsa. All Sikh Gurus and Guru Nanak Dev in particular, emphasised on pure and virtuous humanly deeds and self-control. Like Buddha, Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru, made harmony the basis of non-violence during his time and motivated people to regulate their actions according to it.

The four common points that we find in the context of non-violence in the four chief philosophies established and developed in India that played vital roles in making India great by strengthening the Indian Way are as follows:

1. Within the domain of non-violence are all living beings
2. In spite of being eternal, natural and the first human value, it is a subject of practice according to the demands of time and space
3. It is an active value; it has nothing to do with cowardice as it is an ornament of the brave, and
4. It is not a subject to be practised occasionally. In theory and in practice it is all-timely.

All the above four points can easily be found in the Gandhian concept pertaining to non-violence. And I would go to the extent of saying all the above four points are present overall in Gandhi’s ideas and practices — the centre of which is non-violence. Gandhian non-violence is an excellent introduction to the Indian concept of Ahimsa overall. If someone desires to know and understand non-violence in India, he should do so by understanding the Ahimsa of Mahatma Gandhi.

Accepting those Rishis greater geniuses and warriors than Newton and Wellington who discovered the rule of Ahimsa in the primitive age, Gandhi declared non-violence to be an active force. Gandhi proved on several occasions that Ahimsa is not the meek submission before the will of the wrongdoer; rather Ahimsa is a fight using soul — a force against the will of a tyrant that ultimately yields victory.

For centuries it was the opinion of many in the world that Ahimsa was a subject limited to hermits or cave-dwellers. Gandhi, however, shattered this myth. He used Ahimsa in the political sphere and proved that it could be successfully applied in all walks of life and at all levels. Gandhi spoke of achieving victory over the injustices of the world’s mightiest empire through non-violent actions of the individual. And as we know from history, his ambition was achieved. For confirmation, the whole series of events pertaining to India’s freedom struggle under his own leadership is before us.

In fact, for the first time in history, Gandhi added a new dimension to Ahimsa in theory and practice by working to unite the common man. He established non-violence as a means that could be most effective in the political sphere. By doing so, although he accepted not hurting anyone by own thought, utterance and deed, but made the intent behind the act the acid test of it. Hence, he removed the doubt that Ahimsa is a subject beyond the reach of the masses.
Mahatma Gandhi clarified the eternality of non-violence and spoke of its naturalness before the common man. He expected the whole world and Indians in particular to be as warriors and develop non-violence to the maximum possible extent. People should apply Ahimsa in their behaviours, ensuring their own personal freedom while securing freedom for all citizens of the world. During the course of his non-violent actions Mahatma Gandhi too believed this, and on the basis of this he stated, “India attracts me. It has everything that a human being with the highest possible aspirations can want.”

Being an ancient civilisation India has maintained its special place in the world. Today, it has its own identity and the role to play. Without doubt, India must march forward with the eternal and natural value of Ahimsa at its centre. By playing its role in international affairs and on the basis of Mahatma Gandhi’s following message it must transform the slogan of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam into a reality: “I feel that India’s mission is different from that of others…India is less in need of steel weapons, it has fought with divine weapons, it can still do so. Other nations have been votaries of brute force….India can win all by soul force.”

The writer is a universally renowned scholar and is the Former Vice-Chancellor of Meerut University, India
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