As one walks over a snowy terrain one finds white snow everywhere. Snow, snow, and more snow everywhere! Suddenly a sudden splash of red colour over the white snow and one begins to notice the contrast. Violence and bloodshed on the living beings give the picture of this abhorrent contrast. For violence is a disastrous disruption of the major project of LIFE. Building up tissues upon tissues is the project of life. Violence and bloodshed are a major disruption which dishonours the Creator whose gift is life.
A major contribution of India to the common heritage of humanity is ahimsa. Highlighting ahimsa’s nature and role these days when violence has become once again a global phenomenon can be compared with red splash on snow-white terrain being deleted.
Ahimsa humanises whereas himsa debases humanity. Violence that leads to shedding of blood and untimely death of those born to live their life to its full round, creates revulsion in us. Bitter still remains the memory of India’s partition that was accompanied by fratricidal blood shedding and loss of homes and belongings. The sudden appearance of a line of demarcation in the life of villagers that for millennia lived as one village community was a sort of mutilation of centuries-long fraternity and sisterhood. On one side became another country, Pakistan, and this side India. It was another form violence that was inflicted on community’s warm sentiments. The sudden appearance of two ‘distant’ countries that were once one well-knit village communities was shocking to everyone.
Blooding bodies burning houses are unsightly. The blood, sanctuary of life, should remain in the body and preserve the life within it, as is enjoined by the Creator of all. It is destined not to be forced out. To all who came to reflect on ‘Ahimsa’ (non-violence) the theme of the seminar, himsa (violence) appeared indeed an abominable phenomenon.
It is for deep and serious reflection on such precious theme as ahimsa that the participants to the convention in such large number have assembled. We should take special note of the fact that it is a value most befitting to every form of life. We should be proud of the fact that already from ancient times, through the contribution of Jain- Buddhist traditions, profound respect for life was insisted upon as a most grave responsibility. The theme is set in the context of the search for peace in the mind/heart, at home, in the village, in our country, in the world, in brief, at the global level.
The theme ahimsa both challenges and disturbs. It disturbs hard-hearted tyrants, disarms violent aggressors, all authoritarian regimes prone to aggression and violence. It disturbs aggressors who trifle with LIFE. It encourages those who struggle for a peaceful life. The combined moral force involved in renouncing and abjuring violence can enforce law even in a disorderly crowd. It has high ethical-moral value potential for civilising present-day culture beset with frequent violence and blood-shed. I thank especially Dr. D. C. Jain, General Secretary of this National Seminar for this great venture. I am much beholden to the organizations that have taken the laudable initiative.
Callousness in Inflicting Pain on Living Beings
The flowing picture is for the rulers of nations that engage in war. Promoters of violence and blood normally escape the direct consequences of the violence of the disastrous step of war. A boy took a kerosene bottle and poured quite a bit of kerosene into the small container in which a crab was kept. Then he took the kerosene-smeared crab out, lit the match box and set fire to the crab. One could see a ball of fire moving fast, then slowing down, and then stopping. It was pain that gave momentum to the rush for
escape by the crab. The boy did not know. When the flames were over only smoke and finally only a small heap of ashes were left! The burning crab was in agony but the two boys are seen clapping and jumping up and down and enjoying the scene! The experiment was successful!! An experiment in callousness!
The irony is the pain of a living being and the thrill of the hilarious boys in contrast. It is virtually the theme of the seminar, so to speak. Because reality of violence and pain everywhere is undeniable. But it needs universal recognition.
The Vital Question: Can we minimise the existing scheme of things that leads to frequent irruption of violence?
The human person, endowed with freedom, rights and dignity can be compared to a well-developed and protected walled city. The constituents of the citizen are enshrined in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution: justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity. A person therefore is a full identity, almost like a walled city enjoying its unique security protection and autonomy. None is expected encroach into its autonomous existence. For, according to the Biblical tradition, a human person is created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27). Sacredness is writ into the very make up of created realities primarily because the Creator is holy.
Any encroachment on the sanctity of the human person will be tantamount to aggression on a sovereign country. It is violence. It is himsa on a free citizen. It is unjust and unmerited. Our millennium, unfortunately, will be known in history as the most stained because the earth globally is smeared with blood. Lamentations rise up in the sky like fumes rise up from the furnace of a factory. Mass killing to avenge a defeat or gain victory for the land is the reality of the times. Adolph Hitler was a corporal in the imperial German army in the First World War. Germany lost. Hitler wanted to avenge the defeat. History knows the result. It almost destroyed Europe.
The Mother Earth is unique among the planetary systems because it alone is endowed with the rare treasure: Life. No other planet is, as far as we know, credited with life. The French philosopher Henry Bergson has dealt with elan vital extensively.
Himsa (violence) is counter to ahimsa, like night and day. It is opposed to the phenomenon of life. It is another major force almost co-existing with vigour. Himsa is ever ready to strike at life. Violence in any form degrades the perpetrator. It is irrational and in need of control and disciplining. This beautiful message we have to deal with today and disseminate far and wide. Vociferously and hilariously, we have to share the message with other nations. This, 1 understand, is the message to humanity the convention sends. The beautiful theme is an honour to the human species, and can become the distinguishing mark of an advanced phase of civilization
The core principle behind is: a human being is a member, a most significant constituent, of the living beings. We should honour every living being, especially the humans. Common to all living beings is the unique and precious gift of God to this planet: LIFE. Every living being should accept, respect and promote the other living beings, from the tiniest to the most developed.
Jesus Christ and Ahimsa
The most precious stone on the planet earth is known as KOHINOOR, It adorns now the crown of a monarch. More precious than Kohinoor is another treasure, the treasure possessed only by planet earth, that is LIFE. To treasure that treasure befitting its unique value in promoting peace, is the concern of this gathering. Jesus emphatically proclaimed: “I came that they may have life and have and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10).
The Context of our Times
Auschwitz-Birkenau is one of the Concentration Camps in Poland where 6 million European Jews were killed by Nazi Germany. The very sight of the dark campus with smoke-smeared high walls with barbed-wires atop creates tremor in the body. It benumbs the senses and frightens you. Remember Adolph Hitler was a human being! He contrived to have it done!
We know that 20 million army personnel and 40 million civilians were killed at the World War II. Nazi Germany killed 6 million Jews in the notorious extermination chambers. These recent examples could help us to imagine what could
be the aggregate of every form of violence and cruelty inflicted on living beings, especially on the human persons. Therefore, the question should be put to ourselves: how does mankind treasure life! That means lined up against life is violence that destroys life.
Proneness to Violence in the Humans
We take note of the almost innate nature of the conflict in human nature that imperils life. It implies the human person seems to contain seeds of conflict and violence. To gain insight into this mystery was the desire of that physically blind but mentally alert elderly statesman Dhritarashtra as we have in Bhagavad Gita’ (Gita 1:1). Kurukshetra was the scene of the battle between two forces, of Pandava and of Kaurava. Himsa the opposite of ahimsa, was at work in that epic battle.
The theme points to the dual-forces within every human being that seems engaged in perpetual conflict. This conflict unfolds itself in various forms. Apparently negative in form is the term ahimsa. The term ahimsa connotes abstaining from himsa (violence, injury). Positive and forward-looking is the content: pricing it, treasuring it and promoting it are the privilege and responsibilities of our generation. For that task we have to go to the roots of the problem of himsa (violence) to tame it and to promote ahimsa. Proneness to violence seems endemic to our species right from its origin. At the dawn of humankind Cain lays hands on his own brother Abel and smashes him. The first blood-shed reported in salvation history! The evil continues to co-exist with our history.
The anthropologist Charles Darwin touched upon survival of the fittest as central to the dynamics of the theory of evolution. Survival implies that there is a struggle going on. An inherent struggle to preserve life is going on. Lion feeds on small animals which have to struggle to survive. Big fish live on small fishes. This irony is part of the life system. It is a form of violence in nature. Although nature in itself is promoter of life, there are species like carnivorous plants! Its leaf slowly envelopes any small fly or worm or butterfly by emitting some kind of vapour that is benumbing, encircles and smothers it gradually in order to feed upon it!
Human beings can kill and destroy other human beings and achieve what they want to gain. Similarly, the humans can cause damage to other living beings. From tiny creatures like ants and to the biggest like elephants, every living being is subject to the onslaught of human beings. That is why the ancient adage ‘homo homini lupus’ (refers to the ‘wolfish’ tendency) in man. Humans can exploit other humans. Humans can commit violence upon another human being for its ends.
The psychologist Sigmund Freud had advanced the sexist origin of violence (cfr). (Civilization and its Discontent): all human conflicts originate from unfulfilled sexual needs. It is an alternate category to explain violence.
Kinds of Violence
Varied forms of violence had been operative from ancient times.
I. Racial Violence
Race is one of the subdivisions of the human species each having specific physical features. The distinct features give certain identity to each race. The effort to preserve each race’s identity can lead to tensions and conflicts other units. Racial violence had been regular from early times as a global phenomenon. Native-Aryan- Dravidian conflicts often led to armed encounters. In India there live at least six or more anthropological races from early times. Of course, one race, to preserve its identity, colliding with other races, had been quite a normal phenomenon everywhere in the world, even so in India. Here we have the source of racial violence. The ‘foreign-culture’ ‘native-culture’ tag is still operative in India once a colonial sub-continent.
II. Caste violence
India’s majority population belongs to Hinduism. Hindu society is hierarchically structured. This hierarchical structure and culture had been influencing other societies too. The tribal societies or more community oriented. The hierarchical structure was subject to cast violence from quite early times in India. Such structures generate in members of the society various forms submissive-dominant cultural values, leading to subtle forms of structural violence. The main architect of India’s Constitution, B. R. Ambedkar, has in his autobiography, described the appalling practice of caste violence. It is reported periodically of bridegrooms of Dalit stock riding on horse-back
after the wedding being attacked by the upper
caste people! The so- called Dalits may not ride
on horses, which is the privilege of the upper
caste! Although ‘untouchability’ has been
legally abolished the practice still prevails in
III. Cultural Violence
Cultural violence is almost a universal
phenomenon. There had been cultural violence
when native and foreign cultures or dominant
and dominated cultures got embattled for
supremacy. Every culture deems it superior to
other cultures. Apartheid in South Africa, blackwhite conflict in the United States etc. is well
known. Gandhi reports how he with a first-class
ticket was thrown out of the first-class
compartment by a so-called white passenger at
Maritzburg railway station in South Africa!
Cultural violence irrupts whenever conflicts
between the dominant and dominated cultures
experience tension leading to violence. Native
cultures were held in disdain in India when the
British ruled the country. The white-the dark.the brown-yellow complexions very often provided basis for these superficial
categorizations. But these had their way.
IV. Gender Violence
It is ironical that the male, born of the female
womb, considers itself superior to the female!
This almost universal and perennial gender
violence is another bane of human society. The
male domination over female section of the
society often led to tensions and conflicts.
Gender violence disturbed social equality in
many ways. Volumes have been written about
this issue. The current feminist movement in
response to this social phenomenon is gaining in
V. Religious Violence
One God every religion believes in but religion
born of this belief has been a source of endless
violence. Unfortunately, religious violence had
always been there. History can give us horrific
accounts of violence among religions in the
world. Catholic-Protestant conflicts during the
reign of the Tudors, Catholic-Huguenots and
Catholic-Calvinists struggle in Geneva region
are recorded in European history.
Communal violence, quite a regular
phenomenon, is a form of religious violence.
For supreme example we have the series ofrusades in early Middle Ages. The superiorityclaim of each belief system negates and vitiates,
and dishonours the same God. Newton’s third
law of dynamics may be recalled in conclusion:
‘for every action there is an equal and opposite
reaction’. Violence begets more violence, and
communal violence is the worst form of
Ahimsa is Love
The positive content of ahimsa means love.
Gandhi has stated that in its positive form
ahimsa means the largest love, the greatest
charity. ‘If I am a follower of ahimsa I must
Contradictions inbuilt into Life and Organi-sation of Governance!
A. Some countries have compulsory military
training for every citizen. But there seems to
be no compulsory training on ahimsa! The
implication is that already seeds of violence
are sown in the minds of the child by
compulsory military training. One can say it
is for defence of the country. That is the
ground reality today. We have to create an
B. Every country has a defence budget that is to
sustain the three ARMED /orces: the army,
the navy and the air force. These forces need
deadliest weapons, good training, and skilful
strategy, for the defence of the country. That
means these forces are there not to play
games with marbles but fight with weapons
meant to kill the enemy and win the war. But
the so-called ‘enemy’ is another human
C. The word ‘enemy’ has to be probed. When in
military uniform a soldier is ‘enemy’ to the
opposing forces, but in reality, he is ‘dear
father, dear brother, dear friend, benign
neighbour, nurse/doctor and struggling to
maintain his family by the salary he gets
from the State’s exchequer. It is important we
stress and highlight the contradiction in the
organisation of human society.
D. Next, we take note of the items in the
armouries of the world. We make a list of the
arms, personal and State-owned. We assess
the varieties of the arms: nuclear, thermo-nuclear, rocket-mounted bombs, fighter
planes, bombers, tanks, armoured vehicles,
etc. We should know their target: the
‘enemies’. We look at their hands that will
detonate them. We consider the target of
each weapon: men/women that constitute the
armed forces, military installations, selected
industrial complexes that support the army,
bridges, rail tracks and such that maintain the
E. Next, we must be aware of the list of soldiers
killed in the Second World War alone. We
visit the families from which these men and
women came from. We survey the homes
damaged, bridges, schools and hospitals
F. We contemplate the total quantity of blood
that fell on the earth, bodies burned, homes
made desolate, money spent. We listen to the
unceasing wail of the bereaved homes, the
wounded in the hospitals, and the buried in
the cemeteries. We visit a cemetery and read
the names on the sepulchre. We try to
imagine the total number of men, women and
children that died in wars from the earliest
G. Having done a cursory survey of the armed
men/women and the war machine we recall
the definition of man/woman: rational
animal, jivatma created by paramatma. Next,
we ask ourselves: do the actions of
killing/destroying other living beings,
especially humans, befit the rationality that
we the humans are endowed with? Any
religion will say NO. My religion will say
NO. All religions will declare: violence on
life is illegal, irrational and immoral. In the
language of Mark Antony in Julius Caesar it
is the unkindest cut of all (Shakespeare,
Julius Caesar, III, ii).
H. Further questions are appropriate. If we
humans are learners, we ask ourselves: Do
we sufficiently learn from the past? What has
humans gained from the enterprise of WAR?
Has anyone gained anything worth gaining
from the use of weapons? Is oppression,
torture, deception, betrayal, violence worthy
of humans? Has retaliation or revenge
brought any benefit to the avenger? It is
worth listening to the doleful reflections of
Bhishma after the disastrous fratricidal war at
Kurukshetra. Some of these epistemological
exercises can bring us benefit when we deal
with a theme like Ahimsa.
Instinct prevails over reason in most disputes
that precede wars. Consequently, unchecked
ambition aggression and violence disturb
individual and social amity, necessary for
development of the society. The questions need
to be raised: Is not war an anachronistic
The task requires a correct scientific knowledge
of the human person and of the society
constituted of such humans: its origin, structures
and the meaning system that helped it sustain in
the midst of changes. There are different models
of society like tribal, agricultural, feudal and
capitalist societies. Society has its economic,
social and political dimensions.
Depending upon the economic and political
processes the dynamics also will be active.
These two vital processes do constantly impact
upon the society, and even relationship with the
wider world. And consequently, society is
always in change. Conflicts and tensions in the
society are caused primarily by the economic
forces which affect in their turn neighbouring
The social system and economic activities are
all maintained by human freedom based on the
ethical-moral principles and values emanating
from the human nature enjoined upon it by the
We notice the face of the earth. It is bloodstained, forced out of the body by violence. So
are the hands of the humans. Disarming the
human family of all life-destroying weapons is
needed for that. That force has to come from the
human spirit. The soul-force or moral force
proper of the human spirit needs to be
detonated, to borrow a military jargon, and its
civilizing power released, in order to counter
brute force, we humans are capable of. Arms
will drop from the hands when the mind of
man/woman is emptied of violence and re-filled
with humanising values, especially fraternal
love for the humankind. These values are
generated by the most precious treasure humans
can generate: love. Love for everyone and love
for every living being. All the religions of the
world have to come together for that task of
restoration. And a global ethics has to emerge tojoin forces with the religions. Alignment of the
best in religions and sound ethics has to take
place, could take place. Reasonableness of
Ahimsa does not rely on arguments but is
Such a task has to be guided and propelled by a
new vision for rejuvenating the deeply disturbed
and confused and confusing world order. Just as
the stars from the east attracted the Magi to set
on an adventurous undertaking of pursuing it
(Mt 2:1-2), so restoration of the world order
needs to be motivated and propelled by a new
vision, of a new guiding star.
Role of a proper Vision for the Society
There has been many a vision at work. Of
course, Marx had the vision of a classless
society. In Christian literature there has been the
vision of the Kingdom of God. There is much in
common to all these perspectives. These have
sprung up in three distinct world views: Indie,
Semitic and Hellenist. Before all these there was
the tribal world view as well which is
communitarian in general. Though distinct are
these visions or dreams one can detect a
convergence and that needs to be sustained and
developed further. There is also the tribal worldview. The tribes have a system of selfpreservation by strong community
The Utopia of St Thomas More and the order
and character of the Just City by Plato in his The
Republic are further dreams. There was the Ram
Raj of Ramayana.
It is to be hoped that keeping this exigency in
view contributing to the convention on ahimsa
can enhance the quality of human endeavours
for universal peace and harmony. Genuine
appreciation and integration of these visions can
be beneficial to a war-ravaged human
civilization. And observance of ahimsa can
facilitate the realization of the above vision.
Many a national leader led by men and women
like Jothirao and Savitri Phule have in our times
revived this vision and solicited collaboration
from every citizen of the world. It has shed light
on the way towards realization of the vision of a
better concrete human historical situation.
The times and reign of Maveli (Kerala tradition)
or Bali Raja of Jothirao Phule are described as
the golden age when ideal rulers reigned over
the people. It is envisaged as a time of all-round
welfare and an era of peace. Weapons were not
in need, conflict did not arise and peace reigned
The first line of a childhood rhyme ran like this:
‘If all the trees of the world were one tree what
a great tree that would be’!! This image could
be taken further for applying to the human
society from the first man/woman in history
‘If all the human blood shed from Abel – Cane
onwards to this day were put together what a
huge red horrific river that would d be’!
‘If all the killed bodies from Abel onwards to
that last lynched in India were put together what
a horrible sight that would be!
Again, ‘If the total cost of making the weapons
of destruction, including nuclear bombs, were
added together what a colossal sum that would
Again, ‘If all the hatred generated and
entertained in the human hearts were put
together what a colossal dark gas/cloud that
Yet again, ‘If all the enslaved and abused
humans as beasts of burden were brought
together in one large field what an unsightly
scene that would be’!
And if all the roars (akrosh) shrieks and laments
of the oppressed, the tortured in torture
chambers were bought together what an
eruption of the roars and yelling of the
oppressed that would be!
And, finally, if all the Nazi gas chambers,
torture chambers in police stations, with torture
tools used were put together what a horrific
ghastly sight that would be!
We do not see the other side of the moon on full
moon nights. Similarly, we do not deeply
perceive the other side of human actions:
cruelties, exploitation, enslavements, acts of
injustice being recalled make us tremble and
humble. Questions like these are due when
themes like ahimsa, karuna (kindness) are
Some Contrasting and Comforting Insights
imparted by Jesus Christ
In contrast, we focus now on the words of the
prophet Isaiah Jesus referred to. A time when
neither violence nor blood-shed will stain the
soil, nor injustice disfigure the society and
disrupt the plans of the State. It is a depiction of
a nation or situation of peace in the land. People
then will live in peace. Harmony will prevail all
over. It is from prophet Isaiah the ascetic and
prophetic sage in Israel:
Wolves and sheep will live together in peace,
Calves and leopards will lie down with young
Calves and lion cubs will feed together,
And little children will take care of them
Cows and bears will eat together
And their calves and cubs will lie down
together in peace
Lions will eat straw as cattle do” (Isaiah
Beautiful soothing and enlivening contrast!
Jesus Christ claimed that he came to cast fire on
earth. That fire was the fire of love (ahimsa). It
was destined to burn away every form of hatred,
injustice, violence, deprivation in the world. I
have placed some aspects of the new situation.
Let me point out the vision of Jesus, prefigured
by his predecessors and his interpreters and
disciples after him.
The Mind and the Heart of Jesus Christ
We recall a local call: ‘Swaraj is my birth right’
roared the fearless Bal Gangadhar Tilak. That
was the categorical declaration of non-violent
war on the British administration and demand of
freedom for the country. Justice, equality,
liberty, fraternity, guaranteed in the Preamble of
Indian Constitution, are non-negotiable. These
are further dimensions of that freedom. Any
incursion into or suppression or deprivation or
subordination of these golden values is assault
on the citizen of the country. It is violence
(himsa) inflicted on the citizen. It is against
ahimsa, love for others.
Declaration of Freedom in Christ
Two millennia ago, there echoed on earth the
joyful declaration of freedom in Christ. It was
made by a disciple of Christ who had deep
knowledge and close experience of Jesus Christ.
It resounded universally and continues to echo
“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm,
therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of
slavery.” (Gal 5:1).
That is the assertion of Paul, the great
interpreter of Christ his person and his mission.
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and
sisters only do not use your freedom as an
opportunity for self-indulgence, but through
love become slaves to one another. For the
whole law is summed up in a single
“You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.
If this injunction is followed, there will be no
violence (himsa) on others in the society.
The great interpreter of Jesus Christ St Paul has
sublime views on love (ahimsa). For St Paul:
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not
envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does
not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or
resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but
rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, endures
all things. Love never ends…And now faith,
hope and love abide, these three; and the
greatest of all is love.” (1 Cor. 13:4-13).
The teaching of the great Teacher of teachers
has reached far and wide. The western world
had been largely shaped by it. The humanising
potential of this ethical formula continues to
inspire generations of adherents.
Why Himsa in Human Society?
Then why Himsa (violence) is rampant and
universal in the Society? It is almost a case of
globalization of violence. There is violence in
the individual, in the family, in the
neighbourhood. There is violence and conflict
between members of the society: inter-racial,
inter-religious, inter-caste, inter gender.
To deal with that question one has to take
oneself to the origin of humanity to trace the
origin of evil.
The human family was ‘created in the image
and likeness of God’. That means the human
person was perfect in structure and function.
But the great fall (Gen 3:1-19) and consequent
loss of Grace were responsible for the negative
in the humankind, according to the Semitic
version of evils.
Besides, ‘rational animal’ is man/woman
according to the philosopher, Aristotle. The
rational in woman/man is the key factor
responsible for the birth of cultures and
civilizations, philosophies, sciences, religions.
The rational in her/him produced art,
architecture, music, painting, sculpture – all of
which are the product of the creative human
mind. No wonder, the Kashmiri literary critic,
Mammata in his Kavyaprakash, attempts to rate
kavisristi (literary creation) almost equal to
Brahma sristi (God’s creative power).
According to Bible, the man/woman was
created in the image and likeness of God. And,
God is absolute spirit. Further, according to St
John, God is love. It is to the spiritual and the
rational in the human person that all creative
thinking and articulation are traced. It is to it are
traced the demands that the dignity, the nature,
the rights and the freedoms are honoured.
But the ‘rational’ human person is also ‘animal’
in structure and constitution. It is agreed that
this other dimension of the human, namely
animality, has ambiguity as well as potentiality,
to be worthy of the human or to descend to the
oddities of the animal: wolf, lion, jackal, and
serpent. Rapaciousness and cruelty are part of
the world of animals. In short, the beastly in the
human comes from the animal instinct in the
human. Just think of the killers of history: Cain,
Attila, Chenghis Khan, Timur, Hitler, and
Stalin. Putin seems a stronger contender! Just
think of the system of human slavery when the
humans were seized, sold, bought and used as
animals! Just recall to mind the horrors of
Hitler’s concentration camps, gas chambers, and
the World War II.
The evolutionists’ view of life proposes the
hypothesis that survival of the fittest is
contributing to the dynamics of change in the
living species. The strong will try to dominate
the weak. The big fish lives on the small fish.
Accordingly, a sort of violence is inherent to the
evolutionary process of life system. In the hands
of Nazis and Marxists the theory will create
havoc and disturbances continually. Social
turbulence will continue along with the urge to
But there had been the great teachers of history.
The Teacher of teachers, Jesus Christ, dealing
with a most civilising and peace- generating
theme, ahimsa, is my humble privilege to deal
with. Ahimsa should be the hallmark of a
culture to merit the title ‘human’. For this my
task I draw insights from both the Semitic and
Nature of Ahimsa: Respect, Protection and
Promotion of Life
The following considerations are due here:
1) There is consensus among scientists,
philosophers, social activists, administrators,
doctors and nurses, founders of religions,
peasants and traders that the most esteemed
treasure on earth is LIFE. The value of life
cannot in any way be compared with gold or
even with precious pearls like Kohinoor. The
French philosopher Henri Bergson called it elan
vital -vital impulse. This precious treasure on
earth, Life, should be protected, preserved and
promoted by everyone, everywhere at any cost.
That is the existing and operative demand of
LIFE. It is an exigency all should accept.
2) It is significant to note that the major
economic security organisation, the Life
Insurance Corporation of India, has the emblem
of two palms protecting Life!
3) Life has alert bodyguards that always stand
on vigil. To protect this precious pearl the
Creator of life has placed an ever-accompanying
angel. It is called INSTINCT. This bodyguard
always acts promptly, infallibly when any threat
to life is sensed. Take for instance the example
how the finger reacts when boiling water is to
be handled. Also recall the reaction of the hand
when burning candle is being handled and when
one drop of warm wax falls on the hand that
holds the candle!
4) Life is a most precious treasure. The entire
world of medicines along with millions of
doctors and nurses and the auxiliary staff is
testifying day and night to the truth that life is
precious. Life has to be preserved, protected and
promoted as a treasure of inestimable value.
5) God, the Creator and Father of the world,
has blessed nature with an endless variety of
food items: rice, wheat, pulses, several kinds of fruits and roots. These life promoting items can
be completed by the list of life healing and
restoring herbs endowed with medicinal
It is taking into account such rating and esteem
for life that strict injunctions are instilled into
the mind of the people. Yahweh instructed the
people with strict orders, like:
“Do not kill” (Ex 20: 13).
To enforce this law Jesus demanded withdrawal
of life-destroying weapons from the armoury of
humanity and make it rich with ‘the milk of
human kindness” (Macbeth):
“Put your sword back into its place; for all who
take the sword will perish by the sword” (Mt
Jesus placed before the world the foundation for
the supreme care he enjoins upon his disciples:
to practice love for everyone, including those
who are opposed to you:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate
you, bless those who curse you” (Mt 5: 44).
Of course, the Sermon on the Mount stands out
even today as a major contribution to the ethics
of humanity. Its humanising and civilising
potential is beyond estimation. It is as part of the
Sermon that we have the above pearls of
redeeming wisdom. Violence inflicted on you
should on no count be repaid with counterviolence. Overcome evil by good, not evil by
evil. The Christian community has to honour the
great heritage Jesus has bequeathed to it. So, the
‘heritage contains, among other treasures,
teaching like: You have heard that it was said,
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But
I say to you “Do not resist an evil doer. But if
anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the
other also” (Mt 5: 38).
Ahimsa, apparently a negative concept,
positively connotes love, as has been stated
above. Still to emphasise the truth, Jesus
placed before the crowd a most difficult part
of his teaching:
“You have heard that it was said, you shall
love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But
I say to you, love your enemies and pray for
those who persecute you…” (Mt 5:43- 44).
The comforting blessing Jesus Christ
bestowed on his disciples after his
resurrection from the dead was: “Peace be
with you” (Lk 24:36). The best testimony of
ahimsa is a community that lives in peace, has
created an atmosphere favourable for enduring
peace. And peace will inhere if every
grievance is attended to.
The person, way of life, especially teaching of
Jesus Christ had terrific impact on the people
who flocked to wherever he came.
Sometimes the crowd that hanged on to his
lips swelled and followed him irrespective of
the needs of the stomach.
On one such day Jesus Christ noticed this and
proposed to the disciples to serve them some
food because they may collapse on their way
back. They were with Jesus for hours. And
such a large crowd! And the place was far
removed from a street where some vendors
might be engaged in sale of food on a small
scale. Jesus’ goodwill negotiation with the
helpless disciples did not work. So, he himself
took the initiative. That is what we have in
Chapter 14 (13-21) of Mathew: multiplication
of the few loaves to feed a crowd of over five
Ahimsa and Non-aligned Movement
During the Second World War what was then
known as ‘British India’, decided to join the
Allied forces and fight against Japan. Freedom
struggle was going on. The British India
declared war against Japan. Japanese forces,
having taken over countries like ‘Burma’, were
on the border of India in Nagaland. When
questioned by some journalists about
collaborating with the British to fight against
Japan, Gandhi stood his ground. To those who
questioned Gandhi about the relevance of non-violence when the marching enemy had reached
the border, Gandhi said that if the Japanese
forces actually entered and established their
regime in India, Gandhi said that by our non-co-operation with them we will show them that
they are not wanted in India. How will a
conqueror rule if the conquered showed
In and through these and other texts we have the
fundamentals of the biblical approach to the
right of every nation to one’s life as sovereign
and non- negotiable. One may be born handicapped physically or mentally (blind, deaf,
deformed, penniless, landless…) but one’s right
to life is a God-given natural endowment. It is
non-negotiable. No power on earth can deprive
one of her/his life. Closely linked with the right
to life are one’s natural right to the freedom,
dignity and rights which are equally non-negotiable.
Forces and Ideologies opposed to ahimsa
The German philosopher Hegel introduced the
thesis-antithesis-synthesis category to explain
his philosophy of being. The dynamics
operative here also can help us grasp the
significance of ahimsa. One could understand
the strange phenomenon of himsa militating
against ahimsa in action. Howsoever much
ahimsa is priced there happens to be forces
opposed to ahimsa. This counter trend has been
running even through nature from the very
beginning of creation. Himsa is operating as
counter force to ahimsa.
The anthropologist Charles Darwin has been
studying the phenomenon of life at various
levels and has formulated a law governing the
species: survival of the fittest. The big fish lives
at the expense of the small fish. Lion lives on
This trait can be verified even in the world of
plants! We recall the behaviour of certain plants
like carnivorous plants, a species of plants that
consumes other plants or even small living
This and other historical data might have
prompted the French sociologist Hobbes to
make his pinching observation on humans
where one exploits the other, one lives on
another: homo homini lupus: ‘Just as wolves’
prey upon animals so do humans use other
humans as prey’.
Karl Marx drew his own conclusion and
evolved his interpretation of human history. He
noticed the plight of the workers being
exploited by the factory owners and the
landlords. Hours of hard labour in the factory or
land and wages that are minimum, because the
owner is supposed to have invested his money
and so the profit goes to the owner.
Callous and cruel appear often human
behaviour. 75 million was the total men and
women that were killed during World War II.
Of this total 20 million were army personnel
and 40 million civil populations. Six million Jews were killed by Nazi forces. Nanking
massacre had 300 thousand civilian population
perished. Nazi German concentration camps and
the slow death through starvation had been well
documented. Bhishma was a part of the
Mahabharata war. His laments and reflections
after the war are full of pathos.
Law of the Forest, the anti-dote?
On the contrary there is the law of the forest as
alternative: allow everyone to grow but each
according to its inherent biological traits. Both
the huge trees and the smallest trees do have
their inherent potentials. Eucalyptus tree grows
tall almost sky-high, as do coconut and areca
nut trees. But bushes do not grow tall. But every
tree has its right to life. And they maintain their
How to Promote Ahimsa?
Aerial spray of water to control flaming forest
fire is quite an exciting and effective sight!
When global peace is the desirable objective,
global dissemination of the role and value of
peace as befitting a civilisation could be
considered. Ahimsa could be that value for
global dissemination and practice.
Nuclear warheads, missiles with
transcontinental range, ultramodern battle tanks,
millions of citizens in the army, inter-state
belligerency, army hospitals for the wounded
soldiers, war cemetery for those who laid down
their lives for the cause, widows with their
small children, pension for the retired and the
deceased and the retired – is a world that calls
for serious reflection. Can it be changed? If all
that is good and ethical in all the religions in
India are brought together, can it become a force
capable of bringing about a change in the scene
Yes, it can. Light overcomes darkness, none
needs to be pessimistic. Goodness can and does
overcome evil. “If winter comes can spring be
far behind” (P. B. Shelley).
In a social situation where aggression, violence,
injustice and exploitation of the weak keep
disturbing life and pursuit of the necessities of
life, restoring peace and maintaining a healthy
living situation is the responsibility of all.
Mosaic Re-ordering of Life
That was one of the mandatory codes of conduct
Moses the prophet had enjoined upon the Jewish community. The community of Israel is
just out of the royal claws of the monarchy in
Egypt and is on its way to settle down in a free
land. The Commandment is one among the
many concrete steps taken for organising the
disgruntled group just free from slavery. Since
the gulf between theory and practice, as well as
law and compliance, is always part of the
human struggle, here too fighting and killing of
the people of the neighbouring countries,
regarded as threat to their existence, had been
part of Israel’s history’. It is in this context that
the Ten Commandments, directive principles of
organising the lives of individuals and
community, were given to the Jewish
The Indian scientist J. C. Bose won laurels for
his research on life system. He disclosed the
findings of his research that plants have not only
life but also sensation like pain and joy. This
discovery is of supreme significance since
violence on nature is rampant. If so, how much
more for the world of animals and especially
Kiths and Kins, Pandavas and Kauravas, were
engaged in the bitterly fought Mahabharata
wars. Destruction and bloodshed were
Most advocates of a share in the wealth of the
family lay dead in Kurukshetra. Some were left,
Bhishma was one among them. He sank into a
mood of doleful introspection. The war was
fought vigorously for days but none gained
anything; the great grandsire had one lesson
drawn out of it for the posterity, at last: ahimsa
paramo dharma (non-violence is the highest
dharma (duty, ethics, and religiosity).
The precept had been inspiring teachers and
instructors, as well as heads of families with a
new generation at their hands through the
centuries. It was revived in our times by the
great grandsire of our times, Gandhiji. The
phrase began to gain currency. He led the
enslaved Indian nation to freedom from the
hands of the colonisers by hoisting the flag of
non-violent campaign known as satyagraha.
Both ahimsa and satyagraha remained as the
flagship for the march of the freedom
movement. These twin forces of a new irruption
of ethical-moral synergising campaign in our
times, produced a new culture. It was known as
the non-violent freedom non-alignment
India from say, from 1920 to 1947, can be
considered as a land where ahimsa was
experimented on a colossal level. Hence India
can even be regarded rightly and proudly as an
ahimsa- workshop- in- action, or just a
laboratory where most of the resources for the
origin, development or experiment with ahimsa
are found in some of the ancient as well a
medieval Indian tradition.
What ahimsa safeguards and honours is the
reality of Life.
Life seems to have appeared over the surface of
the earth at least 3.5 billion years ago according
to scientists. Only earth as far as we have
knowledge of it, is crowned with life.
But A Contradiction! Ahimsa is appreciated
as Value and Proneness to Himsa Prevails!
One of the yet unsolved puzzles in human
history is that along with life came forces
antagonistic to the vital force. Along with the
origin of Life came forces antagonistic and
destructive of Life. Yet Life has mostly
prevailed over forces inimical to life. Even
when a tree is cut new shots in large numbers
sprout. That phenomenon continues even now.
History of humanity is almost a history of this
warfare. Deva-asura conflict, Rome-Carthage
conflict, the Trojan wars, Athens-Sparta
conflict, Jews-Philistines conflicts – are at the
historical level. In India we have the Pandava –
Kaurava conflict and war at Kurukshetra.
Increase and growth are indicators of the
phenomenon of life. These are the natural traits
of living beings. Affirmation and collaboration
facilitate growth and development. These are
elicited by hearts and minds that are benign and
well-disposed to those wishing the maximum
good or wellness of all. These are expressed by
gestures of collaboration, service and such lifepromoting schemes.
Mother earth is blood-soaked. Bloodshed of
World Wars I and II, the bone melting Atom
Bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
continuation of the wild flame through the
Korean War, Vietnam War and communal
irruptions in our own country, the record is
quite puzzling. When exhausted let us invoke
the agonising request of the Queen in Hamlet:
“…upon the heat and flame of thy distemper
sprinkle cool patience” (Hamlet the Prince of
Denmark by William Shakespeare, Act III Sc.4).
Similarly, to our bruised wounded and lacerated
society in which we live and struggle let us
disseminate the spirit of healing, elevating,
soothing message through values contained in
How to go about
If I am an admirer of ahimsa I must accept and
love my enemy and deal with him/her as a
citizen. This love does not restrict itself to the
love of humans only, but includes the whole of
creation. Bhutadaya is a reflection of this allcomprehensive understanding of the depth and
dimensions of love. It implies feelings of
affinity with everyone and everything, not
antagonism and alienation but alliance with all,
the feeling of oneness and solidarity with all.
These sentiments will diminish feelings of
suspicion and hostility to others; especially
towards those who oppose you, fight against
you, ignore you threaten your very existence.
‘Love never claims, but it ever gives. Love
suffers, never resents, and never avenges itself’.
Hence Gandhiji would not hesitate to call
ahimsa as ‘the law of love’ or ‘the supreme law’
of being, and the highest dharma. Love, the
very essence of ahimsa in Gandhian ethics, is an
Recommended: Clinical Approach
A clinical approach can be the most appropriate
method to be adhered to in order to derive
practical benefit for oneself, especially for
social peace and harmony. We cannot treat a
disease without the clinical approach.
Accordingly, getting the details of the ailment
through analysis, searching for the cause,
finding proper remedy, application of the
remedy, and walking with the affected etc. are
the desired steps in dealing with the theme of
ahimsa-love in action.
Ahimsa (non-violence) can be promoted by
First is grasping the range of violence.
We should be familiar with areas affected by
violence. Himsa (violence) is the opposite: there
is economic violence, genetic violence,
sociological violence, religious or communal
violence, cultural violence, racial violence,
psychological violence, sexual violence.
Secondly the causes of violence must be
studied. A doctor first applies the method of
diagnosing the nature and spread of the disease.
Then he finds out the causes of the disease
before proceeding to prescription. Similarly,
one has to search for the causes of violence in
Thirdly, one has to apply appropriate remedial
steps for preventing violence, and close
observation of the entire process.
One of the disciples of Jesus Christ, who
observed him closely, listened to his words
attentively and remained as a witness to the life
and teaching of Jesus Christ till the very end,
has concluded at the end as follows:
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love
is from God; everyone who loves is born of God
and knows God. Whoever does not love does
not know God, FOR GOD IS LOVE” (1 John
There had been heated arguments sometimes
among disciples about some of the radical
assertions of Jesus like forgiving the enemies
etc. On one occasion Jesus carefully observed
one such scene. One of the listeners, a scribe,
came near and put the following question to
Jesus”. ‘Which commandment is the first of all?
And Jesus appreciating this quite relevant
question gave the following answer:
“The first is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God,
the Lord is one: you shall love the Lord your
God with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind, and with all your
strength. The second is this: You shall love you;
neighbour as yourself. There is no other
commandment greater than these’ (Mk 12:30).
All regulatory laws, customs, injunctions,
safeguards art contained in this supreme value:
love for others, love for oneself.
The foundation for this supreme treasure is God.
All religions do affirm this basic principle.
God is our Father and we all are brothers and
sisters, children of the one Father. All creation
has been sharing in that gift of love. We recall
here that St Francis of Assisi could address the
birds and animals, sun and moon and stars, trees
plants, as ‘brothers and sisters’. If so then none
should inflict upon ‘the other’ any kind of injury.
St Francis was only re-echoing what Jesus
Christ was found doing. For Jesus said that His
Father, God, cares for the ravens, and the
sparrows of the sky. He spoke appreciatively of
the delicate lilies of the field; He brings down
rains on the just as well as on the unjust alike,
without any discrimination. He makes the sun
rise over the just and the unjust, equally,
without caring for differences. He cared
diligently, truthfully for the infant and the weak,
the abandoned and the rejected.
Jesus Christ healed and restored to health those
afflicted with leprosy. He gave sight to the blind
and health to the lame, the deaf and the dumb.
He restored to life by raising up the dead and
restoring them to the mother because she was a
widow and in need of daily support. He could
benignly accept and deal with women who were
in disgrace in society, and forgave them. All
these are acts of love, expressions of ahimsa in
He told them:
“Treat others as you would like them to treat
you” (Mt 7: 12). He said, “Happy the merciful
for they shall have mercy shown to them” (Mt
5:7). Jesus admonished His disciples who tried
to react violently when the foes tried to arrest
him; “put your sword back, for all who draw the
sword will die by the sword” (Mt. 26:52). That
is the law of violence.
He exhorted them: “I say this to you; Love your
enemies and pray for those who persecute you;
in this way you will be sons of the father in
heaven” (Mt 5:54).
His disciple Paul suggested that the genuine
fruits of the Spirit of God are: “love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness,
gentleness, self- control” (Gal. 5:22).
Social relationship should actually be operating
on the valuable principle of ahimsa, as far as we
can. Communities of humans should be
organised and structured befitting humans.
Equality of all is recognised as a consequence.
However, we should remember hierarchically
organising a society is structural violence; it is a
kind of himsa (violence); but Indian society is
based on the same.
Why? Because Life is precious
Our task is promotion of Life. For that
elimination of life-destroying forces, practices,
projects, thinking, and mind-sets need to be
removed. For a moment we turn to Japan; Let us
for a moment turn our attention eastwards,
Moved by the bluish-yellow flash followed by
the thunder of the explosion caused by the
detonation of the Atom Bomb the late Fr. Pedro
Arrupe, former Superior General of the Society
of Jesus looked out of his clinic in Hiroshima on
August 6, 1944. What he saw to the bodies of
the living and the dead was horrendous. A
living and vibrant city was devastated. Children,
young boys and girls, workers, doctors,
teachers, peasants, were busy as usual when the
fire from the blast roasted and even melted them
alive! Do we want it happen anywhere in the
world again in more cruel ways?
In this situation how do we understand atom
bombs, missiles of the most destructive kind,
factories that manufacture them, the State and
society that are committed and sold to weaponculture, brains that are committed to research in
these mortal devices? Are all these worthy of
the name perspired and civilization?
Arjuna at Kurukshetra became speechless when
he reflected upon the contradiction of a human
person having to kill another human person who
is a blood relation. What gain in such folly, he
asked. The question should haunt every defence
ministry in every nation.
“I do not want to kill them…” (Gita 1:35).
We need a spiritual vision of the human person
prevailing over weapon-force and belligerency.
Asiatic vision of Ahimsa was able to raise
question before a world engaged in armed
confrontation. Armed confrontation is,
according to Arnold Joseph Toynbee, historian
and philosopher of history, a sign of a
disintegrating or moribund culture. “Skill,
capital and labour which should have been
devoted to extending control over the physical
environment in the interests of the whole
society were misdirected into this idolatrous
channel” (P 322, A Study of History, Ed D. C.
Jesus said if one strikes you on your cheek,
don’t strike back but show the other cheek too. It
is disarming the assailant In a world that is becoming increasingly prone
to violence and destruction the role of ahimsa is
supremely important and highly relevant. Our
honoured Father of the Nation showed to the
world that it is possible to solve even the most
contentious issue by applying the power of
“Generations to come, it may well be, will
scarce believe, that such a man as this ever in
flesh and blood walked upon this Earth”,
lamented Albert Einstein at Gandhi’s forced
demise by an Indian assailant!
The above statement by the scientist Einstein
about Gandhi on the occasion of his martyrdom
was based primarily on his unique contribution
to humanisation through ethical moral force of a
culture that had got deviated and
wounded from what is authentic human living.
World peace became an achievable goal
because of the reviving and animating force in
ahimsa. Gandhi reintroduced ahimsa on the
world scene as a new teaching and a pedagogy
that announces that our actions have to be
always human and humane. He also
demonstrated to the world the mode of
practicing ahimsa (non-violence). It is love for
the other that compels us to deal with
man/woman in spite estranged relationship.
Look at the history of human species: from the
murder of Abel by Cain till the shooting down
of pro-democracy crowd in Myanmar recently,
no one has any record of the total number of
humans killed by other humans! This certainly
is the dark side of human history.
Another scholar, Karl Marx, economist and
sociologist, has introduced his interpretation. He
has put all humans in two blocks: the working
class and capitalists. He has proposed that that
class struggle is the key to an understanding of
the human social processes. Economic activity
of the society is marked by exploitation of the
working class by the capitalist farmers and
Both the survival of the fittest by Charles
Darwin and the Marxian category of class
struggle contain subtle forms of violence. The
seminar theme is: ahimsa.
The whole of the human family collectively has
to turn its attention to this unacceptable
situation and endeavour to diminish and
eliminate violence from the human from the face of the earth. It is a collective responsibility and a noble and worthwhile service.