"Mahatma Gandhi, a strong advocate of non-violence, believed that ahimsa was his only religion. He believed that ahimsa combined with the virtue of truth could be used to solve every problem. He practised what he preached and implemented the tenets of ahimsa in his day-to-day life. His faith in his dharma helped us guide us through our struggle for freedom. He proved to the world that the strength of the concept of ahimsa is relevant at any point in time."
Aviral Raj Jain writes about the Indian philosophy of non-violence through different perspectives.
Born and brought up in a Jain family, the choice of this topic was something that came naturally to me. One of the main tenets of Jainism is "ahimsa parmo dharam", which means that ahimsa (non-violence) is the highest form of religion. Over the years, I have heard a lot of opinions about what ahimsa means from people around me and in my family. At home, as well as in family gatherings, there were various engaging discussions on the topic. However, listening to these various viewpoints had at one point of time left me confused, and I had several questions.
Why is it that in the legendary Kurukshetra battle of Mahabharata, we consider Arjun right and Duryodhan wrong? After all, they both indulged in himsa (violence), didn't they? Why is it that Lord Krishna himself encouraged Arjuna to fight the war? As I grew up, I gradually realised that ahimsa is more than just the physical act of not harming others. It is, in fact, the state of mind of the doer. The intention behind the action plays a vital role in determining the rightness or wrongness of an action. Causing harm to a life form can also be considered as ahimsa if the motivation behind the action is not guided by selfishness or personal gain. The reason that we consider Arjun being on the right side while Duryodhan being on the wrong one is because of the underlying intention of both sides. According to some ancient Hindu texts and their interpretations, self-defence is appropriate. One can consider a person as a follower of ahimsa if the action of violence is done in the form of self-protection.
The Indian Philosophy of Ahimsa in my opinion, is one of the greatest strengths which we have as a nation with a rich cultural heritage which is thousands of years old. It has deep roots in the country, from it being the basic idea of the Hindu religion and its offshoots like Jainism and Buddhism. It was also the mainstay in our freedom struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation.
Mahatma Gandhi, a strong advocate of non-violence, believed that ahimsa was his only religion. He believed that ahimsa combined with the virtue of truth could be used to solve every problem. He practised what he preached and implemented the tenets of ahimsa in his day-to-day life. His faith in his dharma helped us guide us through our struggle for freedom. He proved to the world that the strength of the concept of ahimsa is relevant at any point in time.
Gandhiji's means were physically non-violent. On the other hand, another leader in the freedom struggle who is also revered is Netaji Subash Chandra Bose. Now, should we consider him to be a follower of Ahimsa or Himsa? I sincerely believe that his path was not significantly different from the path of ahimsa. After all, his involvement in violence was not guided by ill-intention, but by the intention to help his fellow countrymen from the clutches of the British.
Moreover, ahimsa is the basis of the stability of any human society. Why is it that humans are considered to be a higher life form compared to other animals? It is because of humans' capability to rationalise, think and create societies, and live in harmony. However, without the practice of ahimsa, clashes between different groups will be an everyday affair, resulting in total chaos and breakdown of the societal structure.
This concept of ahimsa has not been limited to India only. A lot of leaders worldwide have drawn inspiration from this concept of non-violence. For instance, the founder of Aikido – a martial arts form, Morihei Ueshiba, was inspired by ahimsa. He further added that one should not assume that the world is free from violence and aggression. There will always be some people who, due to their own ill-guided intentions, will try to harm others and invade their personal space. In such a scenario, self-defense should be used to neutralise the aggression of the attacker and avoid conflict. Even Nelson Mandela was greatly influenced by the ideals of non-violence, which played a vital role in helping the people overcome the apartheid system.
The Golden Rule of Philosophy says that one should treat others as one expects to be treated by them. This subtle statement has the power to drive one to take ethical courses of action at all times. Once a person realises that all living beings wish to live and want a peaceful society, they realise that it is wrong to harm or kill others. There is a small voice inside a person's head that tells one what they are doing is wrong. When this voice is gone, it will be a relief, and one will realise that they are on the right path.
It is believed that religious differences and beliefs are a permanent feature of society. Ahimsa and political liberalism have different ways of dealing with this feature of society. As Farah Godrej argues in her paper "Gandhi's Civic Ahisma," ahimsa has certain advantages over the Rawlish Theory of liberalism.
Ahimsa teaches one to be tolerant towards other beliefs and engage in peaceful discussions. These discussions give rise to reasoning and justifications and enriching experiences. This is in high contrast to political liberalism, which states that the way to deal with these differences is avoidance. The main idea here is that instead of justifying principles, the society must come together and form an "overlapping consensus". The main concerns here are stability which shows this model given by John Rawls in a political light rather than a philosophical one. Moreover, ahimsa gives a more realistic picture of the nature of society and how it can both be tolerant as well as driven by spirituality.
Often wrongly interpreted as inaction, ahimsa is actually the highest form of action. It is not for the weak and requires the highest amount of bravery. One aspect is seeing non-violence as love for all creations of God which stems from the belief that all living beings are one, and harming someone is the same as harming oneself.
The process of identifying what ahimsa is and understanding it is just the first step towards a long-drawn path. The implementation is based on walking lifelong on it.