AHIMSA -ITS POLITICAL GRAMMAR*
Ahimsa is originally a term of Yoga, where it is stipulated as one of the necessary mental disciplines for achieving the yogic goal, which is to step up gradually and step by step, beyond all the behaviour and values peculiar to the human condition. The Yoga aims at elimination of all dispersions and automatisms of the secular mind and thus “to die to this life” so as to take a new and qualitatively different rebirth into another way of being. Ahimsa is an integral part of the initiatory structure of Yoga and ex-hypothesi, it is alien to normal social or political behaviour of man, and from the true and original content of ahimsa therefore, a grammar of social or political technology cannot be, theoretically, extracted.
But ahimsa has also been declared as the essence of Buddhist technique for achieving the gnosis : Jivahimsa parmodharma, that is, an a value-measure of human conduct on the secular plane. The non-monastic Jaina community also regards “ahimsa” as the quintessence of social behaviour of man thus recognising it a normative rule of Ethics. Without digressing into the practical manifestations and consequences of regulating secular human behaviour, strictly based on ahimsa, it is legitimate to affirm that the Buddhist and the Jaina ahimsa is something different and something less than the original and true ahimsa of the Yoga to which plane it truly belongs. As an ethical norm of social secular behavior ahimsa is for all practical purposes, avoidance of injury to “living form of life”, as the Buddhist dictum, jivohimsa parmodharma, lays down, Jivohimsa, “non-injury to living life, and it constitutes an end in itself instead of a mere technique as originally conceived by Yoga. This ahimsa, on the plane of the secular social behaviour, is not a tool for the basic restructuring of human mind but is a functional norm and measure, valid as an end and not merely legitimate and imperative as a means. The original yogic “ahimsa” has its focus exclusively on the re-structuration of the human mind itself, while the Buddhist and Jaina ahimsa, as a regulatory norm of social behaviour, primarily focuses an avoidance of injury to other forms of life.
It is necessary to appreciate this distinction between the yogic ahimsa and the socio-political ahimsa before we may properly consider the merits or otherwise of the grammar of ahimsa, as a tool of social persuasion or political confrontation.
Mahatma Gandhi, who extracted the doctrine of satyagraha, literally, “holding fast to truth”, out of the concept of ahimsa, was a Jaina by birth and his main vocation in life was political activity. The technique of satyagraha that he evolved and tried to practice during the British Colonial rule in
was, in fact, a confection of many ingredients. Its base was undoubtedly the
social ahimsa of the Jaina variety, but it was mixed up with the
Christian “Sermon on the Mount” that holds forth the good news that “the weak
shall inherit the earth”, and the amorphous notions of Tolstoy whose basic
concern was a search for individual happiness and who came to the conclusion
that the truth that brings happiness cannot be preached and can only be
achieved by individuals who honestly look within themselves. Tolstoy tried to
bring his daily existence into conformity with his views by living an ascetic
life of self-denial and as much self-sufficiency as possible, which resulted in
complete and somewhat hostile estrangement between himself and his wife and
elder sons. He modified the Ten Commandments of Christianity, in accordance
with what he believed to be Christ’s real utterances, by formulating five
Commandments to guide him: do not be angry; do not lust : do not bind yourself
by oaths; resist not him that is evil; be good to the just and the unjust.
Instead of these insights providing Tolstoy with an efficient technique and a
successful weapon for political confrontation, his worsening domestic
situation forced him to leave home stealthily one night in search of a refuge
and a few days later, in 1910, he died of pneumonia, exposed to merciless
winter, at a remote Russian railway station. India
Whether a tree is to be known by its roots or by its fruits, the ingredients out of which Mahatma Gandhi confectioned his satyagraha, also interchangeably called, ahimsa, apparently hold out little promise of being a viable tool of politics. But although, whether Mahatma Gandhi was capable of such keen logical clarity of mind to have seen this point, his pragmatic subtlety cannot be doubted. Lord Wavell, the last British Viceroy of India, in his private diary, now published as The Viceroy’s Journal, a few years ago, pays the Mahatma, a left-handed compliment by saying that, “Gandhi is a very tough politician and not a saint.” Mahatma Gandhi showed much perceptiveness in judging the true character of his adversary, namely, the Oxbridgian British rulers of
He perfectly understood their notions of what constituted “civilised” behaviour
and “gentlemanly” conduct, and through his applied satyagraha Mahatma Gandhi
succeeded thoroughly in exasperating and weakening the Will to rule of these
foreigners. This purely extraneous element in the situation invested Mahatma
Gandhi’s satyagraha-cum-ahimsa technology with a semblance of
plausibility and viability. There is intrinsically, or demonstrably, no potency in ahimsa
or satyagraha itself to recommend it as a suitable weapon of war or peace. India
Non-violent satyagraha is, at its roots, coercive and not persuasive, capable of conquest or designed to conquer through love or sweet reason. When its roots are bared and exposed, it is seen not as an act of spiritual transformation or genuine reformation, but a judo-technique of hitting below the belt and a skill of moral blackmail. Satyagraha, “holding fast to truth”, is a gloved first, a loaded weapon, for the question which Pontius Pilate posed to Jesus Christ, two thousand years ago, still remains unanswered, “What is truth?” In place of plain and frank jingoism: “My country, right or wrong,” in satyagraha, you assert : “I am in possession of the exclusive truth.”
Besides, non violence is not germane to the basic structure of human psyche, such as would ensure a natural catalytic process leading to voluntary redressal of injustice or atonement of wrongs. As Plato has stated in his, Proof of Immortality, wickedness often pays and an average man has no compulsive reason to give it up, ahinsa and satyagraha, notwithstanding:
“Far from being deadly to the wicked man himself, wickedness makes him very much alive and fills him with an unsleeping energy.”
It is no wise arguable or demonstrable that injustice can be righted and a right can be won by employing non-violent satyagraha. The latest scientific discipline, Ethnology, has established aggressiveness as the natural quality of human psyche, and non-violence as simply “rubbish”. Freud, the father of Psycho-analysis, in his Civilisation and its Discontents, observes that:
“The truth is that men are not friendly, gentle creatures, wishing for love .... but that a powerful measure for aggression has to be reckoned with as their instinctual endowment.”
Logically considered, non-violence must postulate there being a basic identity of interests between the protesting party and the party protested to. This is, by no means, always the case and, in fact, is contrary to common sense as well as historical experience of mankind. There are, literally, innumerable cases, recorded and authenticated, where Jews men and women, in Hitler’s concentration camps came forth voluntarily to hang themselves, in some dim hope of melting the hearts of their Nazi persecutors, but in each case, invariably, the offer of suicide was promptly and approvingly accepted. Rudyard Kipling has rightly observed that a sparrow clutched in the predatory talons of a hawk gets no relief by pitiable agonized cries but merely invites further punishment by annoying its captor.
Non-violence has been upheld as a superior way of life on account of its survival-bestowing value. This argument is derived from the affirmation in the “Sermon on the Mount” and the allied Christian temper that speaks of “the meek inheriting the earth”, in the long run, and those who employ the sword, doomed to perish by the sword. This argument is, by no means conclusive and besides, is highly specious. Firstly, it is, by no means; certain that the meek and the non-violent always, or even mostly survive. Dodo was, by all accounts, as non-violent and saintly as a crooning pigeon, and on account of its flightless bulk and blunt broad beak was a natural model of nonviolence, but it has become extinct and has not survived. Nature respects capacity for self-defence in the relentless struggle for existence, survival, and seems to regard non-violent satyagraha as an irrelevant and spurious quality for this purpose. A reference here also might be permissible to the six million, non-violent, non-resisting Jews who perished recently in the death-dealing concentration camps of Hitler. Secondly, this, “the meek inheriting the earth”, argument altogether bypasses the question of human dignity and the qualitative aspect of sheer survival. The Sikh scripture, Guru Granth Sahib, a weighty and modern source-book on questions of spiritual quality and moral status of human existence, refers to “the stone” and “the reptilian crawling life” as the lowest levels on the vertical ladder of ethical and spiritual value-systems. It refers to men, wholly engrossed in secular existence, alienated from the life of the spirit, as “a meaningless rock”, 1 “a long-lived .creeping reptile.” 2 Is physical survival always preferable to the certain death resulting from a heroic violent confrontation with evil things? Best moral judgements and most praiseworthy conduct of individuals in history and the noblest feelings of man in certain critical situations, certainly do not endorse ignoble survival and flight from choice of a noble death. The great Sanskrit epic, Mahabharat, an authority on the Hindu value-system, declares that :
“Non-violence3 is the basic truth of religion but proper violence is also equally true. I tell you solemnly that this is the true Principle that Wardens of Justice follow.” 4
The Sikh Prophet Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1707), the Law-giver of the Modern Age, lays down that:
“When all peaceful means fail, to take up the sword in hand, is a lawful imperative.”·
And about seeking survival through submission and anyhow, he says :
“I would confront and oppose that what is evil, to destroy it or to subdue it, or die fighting against it, with dignity.” 5
To sum up : (1) the original yogic concept of “ahimsa” is not the same as the Christian doctrine of non-confrontative submission through love, (2) the non-violence of Tolstoy is not the same as the satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi, (3) As a norm of social behavior “non-violence” is not viable or productive under all circumstances, and (4) as a grammar of survival-value, non-violent satyagraha is neither practicable in ultimate terms, nor is it in conformity with human dignity and manly honour, always.
* Being the text of an address delivered to the students of Santa Clara University (U.S.A.) on the 18th of May 1979 by the author. Professor Dr. Sweetezer was in the Chair.
1. Patthtar sail
2. sarap jon arjari
3. ahimsa saklo dharmah hinsah dharmas tatha hitalch, satyamteaham
paravakyamiyo dharma satyavadinan santikarvam, Santiparvam.
4. chun dast az hameh hilte dargusast, halal ast burdan b-shamshir dast.5. jab avi ki avadhi nidan banai ran main ati hi tab jujh maron.