Ahimsā in Practice

The first two decades of the twenty-first century are coming to an end. Amidst the challenges of pollution, poverty, and overpopulation on the one hand and rampant terrorism, intolerance and bigotry around the world, on the other hand, it has become quite difficult for humanity to exist. At such a time, one may question the relevance of practicing non-violence. Mere talking about non-violence is never going to work. It would only work if non-violence is practiced in our day-to-day life, woven into our character, and a culture of non-violence is formed. The world could be a better place, and humanity would have a brighter future. Unfortunately, today the dilemma is not between violence and non-violence, but between violence and annihilation. We need to realize that there are only two options: either the world will become non-violent or destroyed.

Hence, non-violence must be understood. Let’s understand the literal meaning of non-violence. Non-violence means not doing any act of violence – not harming any life with our thoughts, speech or behaviour. Not to think ill of anyone. It is said in Yogasutra that non-violence is ‘sarvadā sarvathā sarvabhutānam anbhidroh,’ i.e., practice non-violence always to everyone in our speech, thought and behaviour. The glory and excellence of truth are eternal. However, the truth acquired by human wisdom seems elusive and far from reality. If the manifestation of the truth is in the interest of an individual, it is also in the interest of all. Therefore, the test of truth is also non-violence.

In Jainism, ‘Ahimsā’ (non-violence) means treating all living beings with self-restraint. At the same time, Jain Āchāryās (sages) have also said that all the vices that distract us from self-realization are forms of violence. The expressions of possessive love and hatred are also manifestations of violence. Both are forms of violence at a deeper level: to refrain from violence forcibly or to turn into violence. Non-violence is the purest state of the soul, but it is covered with affection. The more this cover is removed, the more non-violence can be seen. The more this veil is shattered, the more non-violence develops.

The influence of Buddhist non-violence was widespread. Buddhism was established in about 500 BC.  Many barbaric tribes of Central Asia turned towards the path of love and kindness under the influence of Buddhism. There is a beautiful concept of ​​compassion in Buddhism. In pity, a man looks at other persons from above separate from others. Whereas in compassion, there is empathy that leads to love.

When Gandhiji introduced the concept of non-violence, someone had asked, “Are you saying that non-violence is a practical solution?” Gandhiji had replied “No, I am saying non-violence is the only practical solution.” He also said that truth and non-violence are as old as the earth and the mountains. I would say that non-violence is the most significant, most active, most powerful, and most positive energy. It has more power than any other energy. Non-violence is not a matter of faith. It is the scripture – a science that gives us flashes of wisdom. ‘The violence starts when you consider others separate from you!’

We all are oscillating between fair and unfair! No one can define the absolute fair or unfair in a watertight compartment. One end is fair, and the other end is unfair. Sometimes fair end peeks out, sometimes the unfair. However, it is also inappropriate to say that both are balanced. What is this game? You must play along or play as you like!

We, humans, are borne with the blessing of articulation in this world. It is the language that distinguishes us from other animals. We have got the weapons to express ourselves, that is, the intellect. What can more one ask? So far, we have kept on expressing ourselves quite irresponsibly.

Nevertheless, a sensible way out has been discovered – the way of balancing, the method of moderation. For the smooth functioning of the world, it is desirable to think of others while performing any action. In the spiritual world, two things are essential: first is to have concern for society and others in our dealings. And second is to practice moderation in spending our abundant resources, including speech that is exclusive to us. For me, this practice of restraint is non-violence.

Religion has explained non-violence in the context of violence. It preaches not to harm anyone. Here it is only a matter of taking the oath of causing fear to no living beings. If observed closely, this preaching is only outward bound. It must reach inward by dissolving our behaviour and ‘self’ and immersing others into our core.

The fundamental necessities of our life are food, clothing, and shelter. Most violent acts are committed to attaining these three things – their basic needs. The means that we adopt to fulfill these needs determine our choices between violence and non-violence.

In today’s world of machine development and progress, human life has become one of the least important things, and success and victory have become the most important things. The result of each action is weighted only on two parameters: success and failure. In grand seminars and conferences, the examples of Mahavira and Gandhiji are cited as the icons of non-violence. However, there is very little awareness about our behaviour in our personal lives. We have lost the ability to think about the satisfaction of other human beings at the end of work. Children are put at stake at school to win and secure the first rank. Society considers such people inferior who are engaged in gardening, sewing, or cleaning works. In debates and arguments, the authority gets the upper hand over logic, and wealth is prioritized over knowledge, and commodity is given more importance than human dignity. Every authoritative head has the illusion that he is worthy.

Consequently, their eardrums receive favourable words and shun the words of criticism. In a society where every morning starts with a race to be better than others, the concept of non-violence is one of the essential requirements. Non-violence teaches three fundamental things: first, it teaches to accept the others, second, to dissolve the ‘self’, and third, to an all-inclusive outlook. If these ideas start getting manifested into reality, the purpose of this issue would be served.

As we can see, two things control humanity and the world – one is religion and the power of wealth. Both are also the causes of all the violence in the world. The world has witnessed faith-led and religion-centric radical violent occurrences. The world has also seen instances of emotional violence derived from the desire to dominate and control fellow humans employing power and wealth.

The need to change habits and attitudes has arisen today, and it can start with non-violence. This basic idea needs to be instilled in the child from the first half of life. If every child is taught consciousness along with letters and numbers, at eh end of ten years, we will become a good human being rather than an intelligent machine.

I am reminded of lines of Kalapi:

“Oh, dear birds, eat your crumbs peacefully, sing the songs of joy,
Why do you fly away, leaving your game in fear of me?
I am the same as this cow grazing near you.
No, no, I will do no harm to you.”

Let us all make our personality such that the bird sitting next to us has faith that it will not be harmed. This mightier human will not hurt me for his selfish reasons. The spirit of this realm then extends to human beings as well. No human being will use others for his selfishness and power.

Non-violence controls the instinct of using others. Non-violence is the tendency to do every action for all-inclusiveness rather than self-centeredness. We must stop all the acts that harm others’ lives. All the living beings on this planet, seen and unseen ones alike, deserve to live their lives to at fullest. We are talking about liberation from all forms of violence – physical and metaphysical.

Non-violence is a choice of our behaviour and thinking. It is not an award but a necessity. We need to overcome the distinction between thought and action and refine our humanity.

Our life is dependent on many things: plants, natural resources, flora and fauna, many creatures, among many others. If we are dependent on all these things, what makes us so proud to be at the top of a mountain? We need to be grateful to this universe that gives us this opportunity. We need to simultaneously discuss the violence of materials and the violence of emotions to establish love and compassion in our day-to-day life. Rather than initiating something massive, can we not appreciate little acts of non-violence in our day-to-day life for a humble start?

Dr. Sejal Shah  [Ph.D.]