By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
We are in the 21st century and it has been claimed by all that man has progressed a lot. Due to the development of science and technology, it seems that there is nothing impossible for man. This is the age of science and technology and our country too has been progressing by leaps and bounds, so much so that it is almost at par with the developed countries of the world. Today man can go to the space and discover and unfold the mysteries of creation. Scientists have claimed that they can increase longevity and have almost usurped the power of God.
But man’s claims to progress become open to question with increasing violence and killings. Indeed the destructive power of violence has reached shocking levels. Every day the news papers report about abductions, extortion, bomb blasts, shootings, stabbings and all sorts of heinous crimes.
Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the tion, preached Ahimsa and his message of non-violence still brings a ray of hope to us, because of the sincerity and genuineness of the message. Mahatma Gandhi envisaged an India, where unity, love, friendship and peace would prevail, which would be a kind of Ramrajya, where everyone will enjoy equal opportunity and would remain happy. There will not be any caste- conflicts or poverty in such a state.
But it is obvious that Gandhi’s dream of Ramrajya is in shambles. According to the World Health Organization’s reports on violence and health, the conflict-related deaths are increasing alarmingly. Rivalries, greed and hatred have brought intense miseries and sufferings to the entire world, including our own country. The non-violent India has turned into a storehouse of unbelievable violence. We see that the whole world is in turmoil.
Once, philosopher Leibnitz had commented that ‘God created this world because it is the best of all the possible worlds’. Yet this statement now appears to be totally irrelevant, since man has disposed what God proposed. To get rid of this overwhelming tragedy many peace talks have been held and initiatives have been taken to make the world a harmonious one. But they appear to be increasingly hollow, because they lack sincerity. All the countries around the globe are concentrating in the acquisition of highly destructive weapons and there is disturbing increase in rivalries and tensions. We have to find out the cause of violence. If the cause can be rooted out, the effect automatically will disappear.
Mahatma Gandhi preached non-violence. His message of non-violence is firmly rooted in his attempt to remove the fundamental causes of violence, which according to him are inequality and greed. He said, It is the fundamental law of ture without exception, that ture produces enough for our wants from day to day, and if everybody took enough for himself and nothing more, there would be no man dying from starvation. Gandhi also remarked that the rich people have a superfluous store of things which they do not need or want. Hence they are neglected and wasted, while millions starve and get frozen to death for want of them. Gandhi thought that if each person retained the possession of only what he needed, then no one would be in need and all would live in contentment.
In his ‘India of my Dreams’, Gandhi wrote, Civilization in the real sense of the term consists not in the multiplication, but in deliberate and voluntary reduction of wants, which promotes real happiness and contentment and increases the capacity for service. One can reduce one’s wants by perseverance and the reduction of wants makes for happiness, a healthy body and peaceful mind. The most important aspect of Gandhi’s message of non-violence is that it is deeply attached to justice and equality. A peaceful world can only be built on the foundation of justice and equality. But if injustice prevails, then the means to remove it should be non-violent according to Gandhi. Regarding the power and spirit of non-violent struggle, Gandhi wrote, “I seek entirely to blunt the edge of the tyrant’s sword, not by putting up against it a sharper edged weapon, but by disappointing his expectation that I would be offering physical resistance. The resistance of the soul that I should offer instead would elude him. It would at first dazzle him and at last compel recognition from him, which recognition would not humiliate him, but would uplift him.’
Gandhi was optimistic regarding his vision of a future world. He wrote that the world of tomorrow will be and must be a society based on non-violence. He believed that from non-violence all other blessings would follow. Any individual can adopt the non-violent way of life without waiting for others to do so. And if an individual can do it, surely others can also do so; the entire tion can do so. Human beings are often apprehensive that they would not be able to achieve their objective in its entirety. This attitude of the mind is the greatest obstacle in the path of progress. But with determition each man can remove this obstacle from his journey towards progress.
The second great law of an ideal state, according to Gandhi, is equal distribution. The law emerges out of nonviolence. Equal distribution in Gandhi’s view does not mean arbitrary division, but that each man shall have the enough for his tural needs, and no more. He wrote, “I believe in the fundamental truth of all great religions of the world. I believe that they are Golden, and I believe that they were necessary for the people to whom these religions were revealed. And I believe that, if only we could all of us read the scriptures of different faiths from the stand point of the followers of these faiths we should find that they were all one and were all helpful to another.”(Harijan)
Gandhi’s process of thinking was to link wider issues with our everyday lives. In the Harijan he wrote, “If one does not practise non-violence in one’s persol relations with others and hopes to use it in bigger affairs, one is vastly mistaken. Non-violence, like charity, must begin at home.” It is a fact that children mostly learn at home by seeing what their parents do. Example is better than precept, as they say. It is no use asking the children to be good and honest, if parents act otherwise. Hence non-violence too begins at home and children learn about that from the activities of their parents. Therefore according to Gandhi initially the concept of ahimsa is best learnt at home. If we can achieve success there, we can surely do that everywhere else.
Every event has a cause and logic asserts that out of nothing, nothing can arise. So violence must have a cause and that is the reason of all these sufferings. According to some globalization has accelerated this crisis. Neil Postman, an American thinker, in his keynote address at the Triennial World Museum Congress in 1999 said, “We have already organized our society to accommodate every possible technological innovation. We have willingly, deliriously, mindlessly ignored all consequences of our action. And because technology demands it, we have turned our backs on religion, family, children, history and education. As a result of what we have done, American civilization is collapsing. Everyone knows this to be true, but seems powerless in the face of it.”
If one considers the environmental situation, it is again a losing battle. All five parameters of ture on which life depends- forest, land, water, biodiversity and air- are crumbling. Forest areas are vanishing from earth, a huge percentage of which is tropical forest.
All these factors are due to man’s lust for money. Consumerism has caused enormous damage to ture, which might ultimately lead to the extinction of humanity and the earth itself. Hence man’s greed and thoughtless selfish activities are in actual fact self-defeating process. Violence is a self-defeating process. Gandhi’s theory of non-violence is essentially connected with his views on truth. He himself said “I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and Non-violence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both on as vast a scale as I could and in doing so I have sometimes erred and learnt from my errors. Life and its problems have thus become to me many experiments in the practice of truth and non-violence. In fact in the course of my pursuit of truth, I discovered non-violence. In explaining the intimate relation between Truth and Non-violence, he said that they are so intertwined that it is practically impossible to disentangle and separate them. For him Ahimsa is the means and Truth is the end. Before him also some saints like Buddha, Mahavira and others spoke of Ahimsa. But Gandhi emphasized some aspects of Ahimsa which had not been given that importance by the other believers of Ahimsa. On account of such emphasis there has emerged a Gandhian sense of the word which, although similar to its usual sense, has some distinctive features of its own.
Ahimsa for Gandhi is the opposite of himsa. He also says that himsa means causing pain or killing any life out of anger, or from a selfish purpose, or with the intention of injuring it. Refraining from doing all this is Ahimsa. In conceiving Ahimsa thus Gandhi seems to be influenced by Jainism which recommends the practice of Ahimsa in thought, speech and action. According to it even thinking ill of others is himsa. In his conception of Ahimsa he seems to be under the influence of Jainism, but in its observance, he is not as rigid and strict as the adherents of Jainism. He is aware that in certain cases himsa is uvoidable, as for example in the processes of eating, drinking, walking, breathing etc. He also recommends killing under certain circumstances. He says taking life may be a duty. We do destroy as much life as we need for sustaining our body. Thus for food we take life, vegetables and others, and for health we destroy mosquitoes and the like by the use of disinfectants etc... And we do not think that we are guilty of irreligion, in doing so for the benefit of the species we kill carnivorous beasts; even man-slaughter may be necessary in certain cases. Suppose a man runs amok and goes furiously about with a sword in hand and killing anyone that comes in his way, and no one dares to capture him alive. Anyone who despatches this lutic will earn the gratitude of the community and be regarded as a benevolent man.”
Thus non-injury has been conceived in a slightly different manner by Gandhi. He is of the opinion that killing or injury to life can be an act of violence only under certain conditions. These conditions are anger, pride, hatred, selfish consideration, bad intentions and similar other considerations. Any injury to life done under these motives is himsa.
In working out the positive principles of Ahimsa, Gandhi proceeds under a basic convention, mely that Ahimsa represents one of the basic and essential qualities of mankind. That does not mean that violence has no place in life. Even in preserving one’s existence, one has to commit himsa of one kind or another. Yet Ahimsa is considered to be the law of our species. This is apparent from the fact that even when violence appears to do some good, the good that results is very temporary. Nothing permanent can come from violence.
Gandhi believed that Ahimsa is tural to man. Man is both body and spirit. Body can represent physical power and on occasions can do himsa; but man’s true ture consists of his spiritual aspects. Man as a spirit is essentially nonviolent. A simple evidence of this is the fact that while the body can be injured, the soul can never be injured. Himsa, therefore, is alien to man’s ture. The moment the spiritual side of man is awakened, his non-violent ture becomes apparent.
Ahimsa demands a sincere effort to free minds from feelings like anger, malice, and hatred, revenge, jealousy etc., because these create obstacles in the way of love. According to Gandhi, love is the energy that cleanses one’s inner life and uplifts him. Love comprehends such noble feelings like benevolence, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, generosity, kindness, sympathy etc. To love is a difficult discipline. It is easy to hate, but it requires supreme energy and strength to love. It becomes still more difficult to love a person, who is ordirily to be regarded as an opponent. Therefore, Gandhi says that nonviolence is meant for the strong and not for the weak. For Gandhi violence is essentially an expression of weakness. Only he can be non-violent who has conquered fear. Gandhi says, “Non-violence pre-supposes the ability to strike.”
Non-violence is conceived as a gospel of action. It is not an attitude of indifference or passivity. Non-violence involves sacrifice and suffering. According to Gandhi, sacrifice is an indispensable companion of love. Love demands going beyond and it can be practiced by only that person, who is selfless, who only believes in giving and not in taking. Gandhi says, “Love never claims, it ever gives. Love ever suffers, never resents and never revenges itself.” This is self-sacrifice and this involves suffering,”
Obviously if Ahimsa can be established there would be peace in the world. Gandhi’s conception of Ramrajya has remained a utopian dream, because man is guided by materialism and not by spiritualism. Gandhi’s experiments in non-violence were cut short by an individual’s bullet. But these experiments should continue.
Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence is the way to attain happiness. As he said non-violence is based on love and if love prevails, his vision of Ramrajya would become a reality. For that, materialistic attitude must be abandoned, since materialism is the root of all evil. It is necessary to awaken the spiritualistic aspect of human life that is lying dormant in every human mind. Only spiritualism can rescue us from despair and all these sufferings.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)