THE CULT OF NON-VIOLENCE
DR. J. N. TANDON
Associate Professor of
Non-violence has been defined as desistance from the “desire to harm, injure or kill.” It was one of the most important ethical teachings of Lord Buddha as well as Lord Mahavira. It was the principal teaching of Mahatma Gandhi. Although not the principal one, it has always been one of the cardinal principles of Hinduism. It is a part of the sermon on the Mount and Mohammed is also said to have taught it to his followers, although in a restricted sense. In short, all great religions and teachers of the world have exhorted man to practise non-violence. It is a different matter how far man has followed it in actual life.
Is Violence a Natural and Useful Instinct?
Some of the modern psychologists hold that violence, pugnacity or urge to destroy and kill is a natural instinct common to both animals and men, and not without some useful purpose to serve, as no other instinct is. Everyone of us has a natural tendency to be an aggressive little tyrant some time or other in our life. Who has not seen mothers, fathers, teachers and even lovers consciously or unconsciously playing the part of a tyrant to their daughters, sons, pupils and the loved ones at times? Even the greatest men well-known for their learning and culture, have sometimes been seen to have become actuated with violence towards those who happened to, or were imagined to stand between them and the object of their strongest desires. Even the Buddha, the Christ and Gandhi have not escaped the wrath of those who became jealous of their greatness.
The impulse of violence, psychologists contend further, is not only natural but also necessary. Most of the animals, birds, insects and primitive races would have been extinct, had they followed the creed of non-violence. Among men it is usually those races and communities who are capable of exercising their instinct of violence and who dominate and rule over others, whereas those who are incapable of doing so for whatever reason–height of civilization or culture, or physical or mental weakness–have lived as subject races or communities.
Human Nature as Distinguished from the Nature of Animals
Now in order to appreciate the creed of non-violence as taught by great saints and sages of the world, it is necessary that we should understand the nature of man rightly, and clearly distinguish it from the nature of animals. In the first place, the life of animals is entirely governed by their instincts, which are not under their control, but under that of Nature directly. But in the case of man it is quite different. Nature has granted control of instincts to man and also, in his case, left them undefined and unlimited with regard to their range and force. Man can modify, correlate and control his instincts. He can inhibit some and reinforce others; he can repress or sublimate them. He can change their objects and modes of gratification. In short, he has a complete potential mastery over them, which is not granted by Nature to animals. May it, therefore, be not desirable to control the tendency of violence and evolve a better and more prosperous humanity? Man has already made many improvements over nature; he can still make many more, for nature has bestowed upon him the great gift of thought and constructive imagination.
There are several grounds on which non-violence can be justified and proved better and more fruitful than violence. First, we take the personal ground or practical consideration. From the point of view of one’s own personal health and happiness, it is not difficult to decide that one should follow the path of love and sympathy rather than that of hatred and violence. For no man, community or race can be sure of being equally strong and powerful for all times to live successfully by violence. It is a truism that he who lives by sword perishes by sword. A cruel man, community or race is bound to be treated cruelly when he or it becomes weak in course of time and others come into power. That is why in ancient Aryan times, certain rules of decent behaviour towards the weaker and the vanquished were prescribed. It is also true that cruel persons live a miserable life and die a miserable death. A tyrant lives a life of perpetual danger. Aggressive individuals and communities live in perpetual fear of other individuals and communities. The gains and victories of violence, although quickly achieved, are short lived and are maintained at heavy cost. From the purely selfish point of view even, therefore, the path of violence is not secure and desirable.
Man is not, however, a purely selfish and lonely creature. He is also a being of society, a citizen of State or community. The ultimate and real society of man is humanity as a whole. The limits of religion, race or colour are artificial limits, which always tend to disappear when man lives a truly human life. All these limits are baneful. Human society flourishes better on love, sympathy and co-operation than on acts of violence which upset its balance. Acts of violence are diseases of humanity. Cruel and selfish individuals or communities who trample over the natural rights of others are like poisonous germs in the body. A happy and healthy social life demands that all its members should live with others amicably, and should help and protect each other. In the interest of law and social order, all those who preach, propagate and organize violence, in thought, word or deed, should be regarded as criminals, irrespective of the position they hold, and be prosecuted and put in jail. In this age, when science has brought humanity in closer contact than ever before, and when scientific discoveries and inventions have greatly increased the powers of man to do both good and evil, there is a great and imperative need to organize humanity on rational, just and equitable principles and to develop a keen social and humanitarian consciousness in every human child, so that the inhuman and grossly violent activities of the stronger and the more equipped communities and races, threatening the very destruction of humanity itself, may not recur again. We must abolish imperialism, racialism, colonialism, in short, all ‘isms’ that are the forms of violence, the desire to exploit the weak races and communities. There will be war in the world as long there is any empire on the earth, as long as any community, race or country exploits the resources of others, as long as every human child is not to think and feel, and act according to the view that all humanity is like a family and human beings are brothers and sisters.
Personal integrity and social solidarity are not the only objects of human life. There is, in each heart, a moral demand, a command of the conscience, an insistent urge to do the without any consideration of the consequences. Bhartrihari, a great Sanskrit poet, has given a beautiful expression to this moral urge. “A brave and religious man,” he says, “will never deviate from the right path, no matter the worldly-wise people praise or deprecate him, no matter whether thereby he loses or gains wealth, no matter whether it involves immediate destruction or a long life.” Now violence is something which can never be a universal moral principle. In a world order and world government based on moral principles of truth, justice, honesty, equality and fellowship, there will be little need of taking recourse to violence. Moral life alone, whether individual or social, is happy. The present miserable state of humanity indicates that it is not living according to moral principles which can be accepted by all human beings. Violence cannot be universalized and universally approved. Hence, it can, never be a moral principle. Even those who believe in violence and act on their belief will not accept it as a right attitude if others stronger and more cruel than themselves were to have it towards them. Non-violence, on the other hand, is morally approved, universally.
There is still a deeper layer of our being than
moral consciousness. And that is the region of faith, of intuition, or of a
sense of something beyond and above our finite existence. Those who are
fortunate to have access to this mysterious innermost chamber of their being,
the cave of their heart, the very centre of their existence, and those who by
their aspiration and effort have been able to extend their normal consciousness
to the level of their being, are religious in the real and true sense of the
term. Once we have a dip into that mysterious
Defence Against Violence
A very vital question, which is in fact the very crux of the problem, arises here. Can non-violence be an effective method of defence against the violent force of an aggressor? How, in other words, a man or a community sworn to non-violence, is to defend himself or itself against a violent aggressor without taking recourse to violence? This question is very difficult to answer and no ethical thinker has answered it more satisfactorily than Mahatma Gandhi. He formulated a technique of non-violent self-defence against a violent aggressor which was not known to earlier thinkers. They either advised the victim to take to violence in self-defence or to invoke the help of God in case the victim was too weak to offer violent defence. Thanks to the practical experiments and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, we now have a very effective method of non-violent defence against violent aggression. It consists in resistance and non-co-operation both of which should be strictly non-violent. Every individual, community or race should try to protect his or its natural and minimum rights and should never surrender them to a violent aggressor. These rights should be defended bravely and at the risk of life. Death should be preferred to yielding, but no recourse should be taken to violence against the aggressor. On the other hand, the victim should give expression to the noblest side of himself in relation to the aggressor, so that the noble but dormant nature of the aggressor may be aroused into action. There is nothing more contagious than nobleness and nothing more effective against an enemy than a sincere love for him. The most ferocious person is likely to become the kindest in case his other side is slightly aroused. The victim of an aggressor should avoid feeding his anger by returning violence with violence. On the other hand, he should try to arouse his finer and nobler instincts, by himself behaving in an extremely noble and rational way. Thus, there are greater chances of the aggressor’s feeling smaller in the presence of the victim than in a violent struggle on both sides.
Non-violent resistance and non-co-operation against and with the violent aggressor are thus the two new weapons which Mahatma Gandhi has invented for the use of those who are, on personal, social, moral or spiritual grounds, sworn to non-violence; and it is expected that in future when man has largely shaken off his present barbarity these weapons will be greatly used. Then the world will become heavenly and humanity divine. It is the duty of all the followers of those teachers who taught the principle of non-violence to hasten that day by actually following it in practical life. The world never needed this lesson as much as it needs today when it regards itself more civilized than ever before,
“To me God is truth and love; God is ethics and morality; God is fearlessness. God is the source of light and life and yet he is above and beyond all these.”