Non-violence Relative Economics And A New Social Order ► PART-III Gandhian Nonviolence ► The Concept of Nonviolence in the Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi ► Part.1

Posted: 03.06.2015

Originally printed in Gandhi Marg, Vol. 13-14, 1969.

Nonviolence is the most significant concept of Gandhi's ethics, even as truth is the most important concept of his metaphysics. An explication and clarification of the concept of nonviolence appears to me more urgent than the discussion of any specific problem of ahimsa, because much misunderstanding has grown by now and still more is gradually growing day by day round the word 'ahimsa' which, being pregnant with perplexing paradoxes, is harder than adamant and softer than a blossom. Radhakrishnan is of the same view when he says: 'There is so much misunderstanding today about Gandhi's views (especially on non-violence) and his ways of thinking.'[1] And the misunderstanding of a doctrine invariably results initially in its misinterpretation and finally misuse and wrong application in day-to-day affairs. Hence our first and foremost duty is to understand, interpret and clarify the concept of non-violence in order to practice it correctly in life, individual and social, national and international. 'First things must come first' (Gandhi).[2] Gandhi himself writes: 'Without true understanding of the ideal, we can never hope to reach it. It is necessary for us, therefore, to apply our reason to understand the power of nonviolence.'[3] The clarification of a concept is a prelude to correctness of conduct, to a moral act, to ethical behaviour. 'Ever since men became capable of free speculation, their actions, in innumerable important respects, have depended upon their theories as to the world and human life, as to what is good and what is evil. This is as true in the present day as at any former time' (Bertrand Russell).[4] I hope my paper, with all its defects and deficiencies, will help in some small measure to make Gandhi's controversial concept of non-violence clearer to us all.

I have strictly confined myself to Gandhi's concept of theoretic nonviolence alone and not at all touched the problems of his practical ahimsa which is satyagraha. For I am a firm believer in Hegel's dictum: 'If a man is to achieve anything, he must set a limit to himself.'[5]



A. Relation of Nonviolence to Human Nature

Gandhi's concept of nonviolence is indissolubly bound up with his view of human nature. In fact, all studies - social as well as humanistic - demand a deep knowledge of human nature. The proper study of any intellectual discipline is also a close study of man, both in appearance and reality. I may, therefore, say, without any hesitation that the study of nonviolence is the study of human nature itself. Even a microscopic miscalculation of human nature on the part of a student engaged in the study of the nature of nonviolence might lead him to draw catastrophic conclusions about it. Luckily, Gandhi was a 'fairly accurate student of human nature', having studied it in all its shades and casts.[6] As a consequence of it, his experiments with nonviolence yielded him fairly accurate results.

B. Man as a Three-Leveled Being

According to Gandhi, man is a trinity of animality, humanity and divinity - body, mind and soul. In the past he was predominantly animal. By evolution and effort he is man, human today. 'We were, perhaps, all originally brutes. I am prepared to believe that we have become men by a slow process of evolution from the brute.'[7] To be human is to be trusting, to be kind, to be compassionate, to be cooperative, to be sympathetic and responsive. Religion of nonviolence is the perfection of the truly human. Tomorrow man will become divine by his sustained endeavours. The ultimate destiny of man is to become what he is. Howsoever hard he may try; he can never become what he is not. Man is essentially spirit, and therefore will in the end become nonviolent. 'Man as animal is violent, but as spirit (he) is nonviolent. The moment he awakens to the spirit within he cannot remain violent.[8] Not to believe in the possibility of permanent nonviolence is to disbelieve in the godliness of human nature.[9] Eternal violence and divinity of man go ill together. Gandhi regards ill-will as beneath the dignity of man.[10] 'I refuse to suspect human nature. It will, is bound to, respond to any noble and friendly action'[11]Such is his firm faith in the innate goodness of human nature. Man's nature is not essentially evil.[12] Brute nature has been known to yield to the influence of love.[13] It has the special quality of attracting abundance of love in return.[14] Love begets love. It is the conviction of Gandhi that the 'hardest heart and the grossest ignorance must disappear before the rising sun of suffering without anger and without malice.' He, therefore, asks us not to be pessimistic about the nature of man: 'You must never despair of human nature.'[15] To give up hope in the innate goodness of man is to accept defeat, to fail in the final examination of the study of human nature.

C. Possibilities of Human Nature

From the emphasis on the immanence of the Divine in man, as laid by Gandhi, it follows that there is not a single individual, however criminal he may be, who is beyond redemption. There is no place at whose gates it is written, 'Abandon all hope, ye who enter here[16].' There are no individuals who are utterly evil, their characters have to be understood from within the context of their lives. Perhaps the criminals are diseased fellows, whose love has lost its proper aim. All men are the children of immortality, amrtasya putrah. The spirit is in everyone, as a part of oneself, a part of the substratum of one's being. It may be buried in some, like a hidden treasure, beneath a barren debris of brutality and violence, but it is there all the same, operative and alive, ready to come to the surface at the first suitable opportunity.

It is the conviction of Gandhi that human nature, with reference to nonviolence, is pregnant with immense possibilities. He says: 'In the application of the method of nonviolence, one must believe in the possibility of every person, however depraved, being reformed under humane and skilled treatment.'[17]Even the most violent and wicked person can become gentle and good. 'No human being is so bad as to be beyond redemption.'[18] There is an unquenched spark of the divine fire in the worst villain. Man is essentially a loving and lovable being. The power of nonviolence is latent in all. It becomes manifest only when we subject ourselves to its prescribed disciplines. It is Gandhi's belief that 'if mankind was not habitually nonviolent, it would have been self-destroyed ages ago. But in the duel between forces of violence and non-violence the latter have always come out victorious in the end.[19] Hence we may be sure that in the long run divinity will transform animality, human nature will reform brute tendency and nonviolence will conquer violence.

In Gandhi's opinion, nonviolence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute.[20] But man is an odd mixture of the human and the animal, 'good and evil [21] at the moment. When man follows the higher law of his nature he shows himself far superior to the brute, but when he follows his baser nature he can show himself even lower than the brute[22] He who can fall very low, can also rise very high. 'The greater the sinner, the greater the saint' (Gandhi)[23] Animals do not fall so low, but neither can they rise so high. It has been aptly remarked that the 'depth of our Hell measures the height of our Heaven.' Even so the depth of our violence measures the height of our nonviolence. The surface of man's himsa ascertains the summit of his ahimsa, the possibilities of his nature[24] as a nonviolent being.



A. Origin of Nonviolence

Gandhi is not the originator of the doctrine of nonviolence. It is as old as the seers of the Vedas and the Upanishads in India, Confucius and Lao Tse in China, Socrates in Greece, and the teachings of Moses and Jesus. Ahimsa is an essential component of the panchashila of the Jains and the Buddhists. Patanjali refers to ahimsa as one of the five constituents of yama, the remaining four being satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigraha (truth, non-stealing, chastity and non-possession). The Mahabharat speaks of ahimsa as the highest religion:'ahimsa paramo dharmaW. All these historical evidences provide us with a solid support that ahimsa is a common code of conduct enjoined by every ethics, religion and idealistic philosophy of the world[25] 'Nonviolence is a universal principle' (Gandhi).[26]

As a spiritual heir, of India in particular and of the world in general, Gandhi inherited the conceptual wealth of nonviolence from its seers and philosophers, and made an enormous ethical capital out of it for the realization of truth, which is God to him.'A worthy heir always adds to the legacy that he receives' (Gandhi).[27]

Thus we see that the concept of ahimsa is not the innovation of Gandhi. A votary of truth, he does not pretend to originality and frankly admits: 'I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills. -All I have done is to try experiments in both on as vast a scale as I could... It was in the course of my pursuit of truth that I discovered nonviolence [28]Nonviolence is not a new ideal. It is the eternal law of life preached in various countries for thousands of years.

B. Originality of Gandhi

The consensus of contemporary opinion has placed Gandhi among the greatest men of all times, not because he was the originator of the principle of nonviolence, but because he demonstrated in practical politics the applicability of this queen among ethical ideals - ahimsa - formulated in the past by the great teachers of the world. His experiments with nonviolence were convincing demonstrations to our skeptical generation that ahimsa could be practiced in all spheres of life, including the usually demoralizing field of politics, which was notorious for being the last resort of scoundrels. Painting politics with truth, introducing the ethics of nonviolence into public life was the motto, mission and ambition of Gandhi's life. For him, politics was neither a science of dishonesty nor diplomacy an art of telling a lie. In his case they were, in fact, theory and practice ot honesty and verity. 'I have no diplomacy,' said Gandhi, 'save that of truth. I have no weapon but nonviolence.'[29] To a truly ethical person, every department of activity is decent, every walk of life is sacred.

Abstract nonviolence, like abstract truth,[30] has no value in itself until it incarnates in men and their affairs. The formulation of an abstract concept is not enough. It must become a concrete reality of life. The real originality of Gandhi does not lie in enunciating the. principle of nonviolence but in applying it on a mass scale to solve the daily problems of man as a multi-levelled being S K Bandopadhyaya observes: 'Verily, Gandhi was a pioneer in the field of applying the talisman of ahimsa or nonviolence, which until then was accepted by saints as a means to attain individual moksha, or salvation from this material world for the solution of day-to-day problems of the common man.'[31] By his life and work, Gandhi demonstrated that his creed of ahimsa is not only meant for solitary saints and rare nshis to achieve individual salvation but also for the common people to bring about social revolution. He revived Buddha's ethics of ahimsa and applied it to social, economic and political problems.[32] Gandhi gave a new orientation to the problems that face humanity today; and offered a new solution in the light of this age-oldI principle of nonviolence. As a consequence of it, the nonviolence of Mahatma Gandhi has become an unprecedented act in the drama of human thought and practice. 'The especial contribution of Gandhi was to make the concept of ahimsa meaningful in the social and political spheres by moulding tools of nonviolent action to use as a positive force in the search for social and political truths. While calling upon illustrations from Indian mythology, Gandhi transformed ahimsa into the active social technique which was to challenge both political authority and religious orthodoxy' (Joan V. Bondurant).[33]



A. Definition

What, according to Gandhi, is nonviolence? He answers- 'Often enough it is difficult to decide what is ahimsa, For instance, the use of disinfectants is himsa, and yet we cannot do without it. We have to live a life of ahimsa in the midst of a world of himsa.'[34] It is no joke, no child's play to comprehend the nature of nonviolence which is full of thorny bushes of contradictions. Gandhi says: 'Nonviolence is not an easy thing to understand, still less to practice.'[35] 'It is not a proposition in geometry; it is not even like solving difficult problems in higher mathematics - it is infinitely more difficult. Many of us have burnt the midnight oil in solving those problems. But if you want to follow out this doctrine you will have to do much more than burn the midnight oil. You will have to pass many a sleepless night, and go through many a mental torture, before you can even be within measurable distance of this goal.[36] In order to have even a faint knowledge of nonviolence, we will have to live like a hermit, contemplate like a mystic, pass through the dark night of the soul.[37] experience anguish of the mind, agony of the spirit, spend questing days, pass sleepless nights, discard the baser passions and scorn the passing pleasures of life. To understand the paradoxical nature of nonviolence is to cross the first hurdle of ahimsa. But to practice it is to clear the last hurdle, to cross the Rubicon.

To define something is to explain its exact meaning, to lay down and fix the limits of its scope, to make its conception clear as crystal. But when we try to define ahimsa, we realize that it is really a very hard thing; an up-hill climb, a Herculean task, almost an impossible feat to pin-point the exact nature of nonviolence. To define any object (thing, place or person) is never an easy job; for definition presupposes an exhaustive knowledge of the connotation of what is to be defined. Here the difficulty of the task, no doubt, is great. The difficulty of the task is greater still in the case of the definition of an intellectual discipline. But the difficulty of definition proves the greatest of all when we try to define a non-intellectual discipline like Gandhi's nonviolence which is the finest quality of the heart.[38]

Gandhi, therefore, honestly feels that it is not at all possible to define nonviolence. In fact, he not only denies negatively the possibility of the definition of ahimsa but also asserts its impossibility positively in these words: 'Ahimsa is an indefinable as God.'[39] Gandhi's God is 'an indefinable mysterious Power'.[40] So also is his nonviolence.

We cannot know nonviolence in theory. The one and the only way to understand ahimsa is to practice it. Only by doing the will does one know the doctrine of nonviolence. Gandhi himself says: 'Ahimsa in theory no one knows... But in its working we get glimpses of the Almighty in His working amongst and through us.'[41] That is why Gandhi did not cut himself off from the daily problems and strugg es of humanity and sit in an ivory-tower, like ourselves, to formulate his philosophy of nonviolence. 'I have been practising with scientific precision nonviolence and its possibilities for an unbroken period of over fifty years. I have applied it in every walk of life -domestic institutional, economic and political. I know of no single case in which it has failed. Where it has seemed sometimes to have failed, I have ascribed it to my imperfections. I claim no perfection for myself.[42] For him ahimsa was not a mere matter of academic thesis and theory but a fact of intimate experience, not a sheer subject of dialectic and discussion but discipline and practice of softer virtues For me nonviolence,' declares Gandhi, 'is not a mere philosophical principle, It is the rule and breath of my life.'[43] Philosophy is essential theoretical; religion is predominantly practical. One is correct belief-the other is righteous living.

A philosopher interprets experience through logic; a religious man aims at experience itself in and through the laboratory of his own life. There can be no philosophy without religion, no interpretation without experience. Vidya ends in anubhava, thought expires in experience, principle perfects itself in practice, philosophy culminates and is consecrated in religion. Hence Gandhi treats nonviolence as religion rather than philosophy. 'Ahimsa is not a policy with me but a creed, a religion.'[44] And what is the difference between a policy and a creed? Gandhi gives a brief but vivid answer: 'A policy may be changed, a creed cannot.'[45] This is why he writes with conviction: 'Nonviolence is the first article of my faith. It is also the last article of my creed.'[46] 'Faith,' in Gandhi's view, 'is nothing but a living, wide-awake consciousness of God within','[47] And a man of faith is a man of God, a religious man. Gandhi participated in the functions of the world and in this process he evolved, like a lotus that blooms petal after petal, his creed of nonviolence. In a very real sense practice precedes theory, doing precedes definition.

Definition of nonviolence presupposes knowledge of ahimsa; and perfect definition of nonviolence presupposes a perfect knowledge of ahimsa which, in its turn, presupposes perfect practice of nonviolence. But, in the opinion of Gandhi, none can practice perfect of nonviolence. In reply to a question, 'Does anyone know true, nonviolence?' he writes: 'Nobody knows it, for nobody can practice perfect nonviolence... Perfect nonviolence is impossible so long as we exist physically, for we would want some space at least to occupy. Perfect nonviolence, whilist you are inhabiting the body, is only a theory like Euclid's point or straight line, but we have to endeavour every moment of our lives.'[48] The practice of perfect nonviolence is Gandhi's ideal and not yet a living reality.'[49] 'One can realize ahimsa only by ceaseless striving,'[50] Gandhi's religion of nonviolence is a summons to adventure and experiment. He makes a persistent attempt to render possible tomorrow what is impossible today/ What seems impossible at the present will certainly become possible in the future.

Thus we find that it is not possible for Gandhi to give us a perfect definition of nonviolence. 'Since the truth itself is beyond any expression that can be found for it, there can be no such thing as the perfect formulation. All are necessarily inadequate and if taken too literally, lead to error' (Radhakrishnan).[51] The interpretation is never adequate to the experience.[52] The definition is always less than the thing or thought defined. But this does not mean that Gandhi has not at all attempted to define ahimsa. In fact, he has given a number of definitions, however imperfect and inadequate they may be. Let us take into account a few of them and examine critically how far he has succeeded in his earnest endeavour to loosen the knotty nature of nonviolence. He defines ahimsa thus:

1. 'The highest religion has been defined by a negative word -ahimsa.'[53]

2. 'Literally speaking, ahimsa means non-killing. But to me it has a world of means, and takes me into realms much higher, infinitely higher. It really means that you may not offend anybody; you may not harbour an uncharitable thought, even in connection with one who may consider himself to be your enemy.'[54]

3. 'Ahimsa is not only non-killing or non-injury but also nonviolence in thought, word and deed.'[55]

4. 'Not to hurt any living thing is no doubt a part of ahimsa. But it is its least expression. The principle of ahimsa is hurt by every evil thought, by undue haste, by lying, by hatred, by wishing ill to anybody.'[56]

5. 'Ahimsa, in not mere non-killing. A person who remains smugly satisfied with the non-killing of noxious life but has no love in his heart for all that lives will be counted as least in the Kingdom of Heaven.[57]

6. 'Ahimsa in its positive form, means the largest love, the greatest charity.'[58]

7. 'Nonviolence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering.'[59]

8. 'Nonviolence is not passivity in any shape or form. It is the most active force in the world.'[60]

9. 'Nonviolence is both an attitude of mind and action consequent upon it.'[61]

10. Nonvilence is a conscious, deliberate restraint put upon one's desire for vengeance.'[62]

11. 'Ahimsa is the farthest limit of humility.'[63]

12. 'Ahimsa is the soul-force or the power of Godhead within us.'[64]

13. Ahimsa is my God.'[65]

14. 'Ahimsa is the soul of truth.'[66]

15. 'Ahimsa is truth.'[67]

If we take into consideration the above-mentioned definitions of nonviolence, we will come to the conclusion that Gandhi has dealt with almost all important constituents of ahimsa. His definition of nonviolence is at once literal, interpretative and creative. He starts with the etymological definition, gathering momentum from psychology, sociology, anthropology etc., and finally ends with the ontological definition of ahimsa. Gandhi's concept of nonviolence is essentially moral, without ceasing to be physical, mental, rational, theological, spiritual and metaphysical. It seeks a totality or harmony of sight, insight, foresight and trans-sight into the nature of ahimsa. Gandhi's definition of nonviolence begins with the appearance of nonkilling but ultimately probes into the reality of love, which is, God, who is, above all, truth.[68]

B. Meaning

The word ahimsa', as used by Gandhi, is of protean significance. It has puzzling, perplexing and even paradoxical meanings, and stands for complex and contrary ideals and realities of life. Gandhi himself says: 'Ahimsa is a comprehensive principle.'[69] The comprehensive principle of nonviolence may conveniently be divided into two sets of meanings. 1. Negative Meanings, 2. Positive Meanings. I shall now explain and examine them one by one separately.

1. Negative Meanings

The word ahimsa, which expresses Gandhi's ethical precept, consists of two syllables, 'a' plus 'himsa' (a+himsa). The negative prefix 'a' mean 'non' and 'himsa' means 'injury'. Hence ahimsa is usually translated as 'nonviolence'. But nonviolence is a vague, foggy word. It is doubtful in appearance, mistful in meaning, mystical in significance and mysterious in reality. Nobody knows nonviolence, what it is in its meaning. We only know a little of what it is not. Gandhi himself, for want of a better term, had to make use of this word. He knew that that word, like life, at best is a long second best, a continuous compromise between the arithmetically exact and the humanly possible.

Etymologically, himsa is the desiderative form of han meaning to kill or to damage, so that himsa means to wish to kill.[70] Ahimsa, then, means renunciation of the will to kill or to damage. Will is act, word is deed and blood is flesh in the making.

The first negative meaning of ahimsa is 'non-killing'. And Gandhi accepts it when he says: 'Literally speaking, ahimsa means "non-killing".[71] 'Kill not' is therefore, a categorical imperative to the literalist. He tries to abide by this commandment under all circumstances, at all times and places, and with all persons, without raising any ifs and buts. For him the negative meaning of the negative word 'ahimsa' is both the Law and the Prophet. But Gandhi is not a literalist in his conception of nonviolence. He himself says: 'I am not a literalist. Therefore I try to understand the spirit of the various scriptures of the world.'[72] 'Let me warn honest friends against running into the trap of literalism. The 'letter' surely 'killeth', it is the 'spirit' that 'giveth life'.[73] The mere literal meaning of ahimsa kills it, and therefore makes it dead to all intents and purposes; whereas the spirit behind nonviolence gives it life, makes it a living ethical principle, and enables it to meet new situations and challenges of practical life.

Gandhi is a revolutionary thinker.[74] He does not and cannot accept the literal meaning of nonviolence. 'Ahimsa does not simply mean non-killing.[75] Non-killing is only the literal, gross and physical meaning of ahimsa. But in the opinion of Gandhi, 'Ahimsa is not the crude thing it has been made to appear.[76] The credit of refining the crudely negative meaning of nonviolence goes to Gandhi. He has succeeded beyond expectation in converting the literal, gross, physical natural meanings of ahimsa into the implied, subtle, metaphysical and supernatural meanings of nonviolence. To Gandhi, ahimsa has many meanings far subtler and superior to non-killing. He says: 'To me ahimsa has a world of meaning, and takes me into realms much higher, infinitely higher.'[77] Gandhi takes ahimsa in a very wide sense. It is not only non-killing or non-injury but also nonviolence in thought, word and deed. He writes: 'Not to hurt any living thing is no doubt a part of ahimsa. But it is the least expression. The principle of ahimsa is hurt by every evil thought, by undue haste, by lying, by hatred, by wishing ill to anybody. It is also violated by our holding on to what the world needs.'[78] Gandhi's ahimsa is not so much physical as psychological. Motive precedes intention, even as intention precedes action. The Biblical commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' is incapable of summing up Gandhi's creed of nonviolence. His ahimsa is abstinence from killing or causing pain, both mentally, verbally and physically. This is the second negative meaning of Gandhi's ahimsa.

Gandhi's nonviolence is Patanjali's renunciation of hatred, ahimsa vaira-tyagah*. He observes: 'Hate is the subtlest form of violence. We cannot be really nonviolent and yet have hate in us.'[79] This is the third negative meaning of Gandhi's ahimsa. It is Gandhi's considered conviction that'ill-will cannot stand in the presence of nonviolence'.[80] As a votary of nonviolence, he promises: 'I shall not bear ill-will towards any one.'[81] This is exactly what the first half of Lincon's famous utterance, 'With malice towards none', stands for Manu's 'akrodha', non-anger, is also included in Gandhi's concept of ahimsa as one of its subtler negative meanings. For he believes that 'anger is the enemy of ahimsa; and pride is a monster that swallows it up.'[82] He who is untruthful, dishonest, ungentle, unmannerly, jealous, malicious, uncharitable, rude, crude, clever, cunning, cruel, wicked, proud, angry, greedy etc. is a wrose victim of subtle violence, and therefore a greater criminal before the ethical code and court of Gandhi's nonviolence.

Essence of Negative Nonviolence

Thus we see that Gandhi's ahimsa is not so gross a thing as it seems to appear. As a matter of fact, his nonviolence is as refined and subtle as the human mind itself.

Broadly speaking, the negative meanings of Gandhi's nonviolence may be divided into two parts: (a) Gross Negative Meaning. Non-killing comes under it. (b) Subtle Negative Meanings. They consist in the abstinence from lust and anger, greed and infatuation, pride and falsehood - the 'six deadly enemies'[83] within us; and are constituted by the negative virtues (restraints or yamas) of non-anger (akrodha), non-stealing (asteya), non-possession (aparigraha), non-attachment (asanga), non-fear (abhaya), non-taste (asvada), non-hurting (apida), and finally non-killing (ahimsa). 'Hence the highest religion has been defined by a negative word ahimsa'(Gandhi).[84]

2. Positive Meanings

The word 'ahimsa' is seemingly negative in form on account of the negative prefix 'a'. But this should not delude us into thinking that ahimsa is negative in content also. All that does not glitter is not dross. Gandhi says: 'Things in this world are not what they seem and do not seem as they really are. Or if they are seen as they are, they so appear only to a few who have perfected themselves after ages of penance.'[85] In reality nonviolence is pregnant with positive meanings though in appearance it has, as explained above, only negative meanings. Professor Olivier Lacombe, a world famous authority on Indian philosophy, strengthens my view when he says: 'The negative form of the word nonviolence should not hide from us the highly positive sense in which he (Gandhi) has taken it.'[86] Nonviolence, in the opinion of Gandhi, is not merely freedom from vices but practice of positive virtues as well. The meaning of ahimsa is not only negative, static and passive but also positive, dynamic and active. And the latter aspect is much more important than the former one. The positive meanings of Gandhi's ahimsa may be divided into three parts (i) Nonviolence as love (ii) nonviolence as suffering, and (iii) nonviolence as an active force. Let us analyse them respectively.

(i) Nonviolence as love

True ahimsa, in the opinion of Gandhi, should mean complete freedom from ill will and anger and hate and an overflowing love or all."[87] '1 accept the interpretation of ahimsa. Namely, that it is not merely a negative state of harmlessness but it is a positive state of love, of doing good even to the evil-doer: But it does not mean helping the evil-doer to continue the wrong or tolerating it by passive acquiescence. On the contrary, love, the active state of ahimsa requires you to resist the wrong-doer by dissociating yourself from him even though it may offend him or injure him physically.[88] This is the first positive meaning of Gandhi's nonviolence.

Nonviolence in its positive aspect, according to Gandhi, means 'love' in the most comprehensive sense of the term. He says: 'Nonviolence is love in the broadest sense.'[89] It means love of God's entire creation, from the meanest flower to man, the finest specimen of His garden. 'In its positive form, ahimsa means the largest love, the greatest charity. If 1 am a follower of ahimsa, 1 must love my enemy or a stranger to me, as I would my wrong-doing father or son.'[90] In fact, ahimsa is identical with love in the positive meaning of Gandhi's nonviolence. It may be safely compared with the Christian charity and the Greek agape.

One tender touch of nonviolence absolutely abolishes-the distinction between friend and foe, neighbour and stranger, and makes the whole world kin. 'Nonviolence is therefore in its active form goodwill towards all life.'[91] Gandhi's goodwill towards all life' is Lincoln's with charity for all; It is Christ's 'Love thy neighbour as thyself.' Self-love is all-love, which is complete nonviolence. It is the conviction of Gandhi that 'we can only win over the opponent by love, never by hate.'[92] Hatred ceases not by hatred but by love.

In the dictionary of Gandhi, ahimsa and love are synonymous." They are interchangeable terms and always go together. True ahimsa is an 'overflowing love for all.'[93] For Gandhi,'ahimsa means universal love.'[94] And 'where love is there God is also.'[95] In fact, 'God is love'[96] itself. Absolute ahimsa is absolute love. And absolute love means love of the 'Absolute' or the 'Reality' itself. 'But none has yet been able to describe the Reality, and no one can.'[97] This is Gandhi's conviction. 'Absolute nonviolence', he writes, 'is a complete absence of wishing evil to any living being. It applies even to beings lower than the human species, without the exception of insects and harmful animals. Nonviolence under its active form consists, consequently, in goodness towards everything that exists. It is pure love.'[98] Hence the positive meaning of Gandhi's nonviolence is love. And perfect nonviolence is pure love. It is perfect love.

(ii) Nonviolence as Suffering

With nonviolence, when it is dynamic, the concept of suffering is invariably associated. Ahimsa means not only love but also suffering for it. Nonviolence, for Gandhi, is suffering, conscious suffering. He says: 'Nonviolence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering. It does not mean meek submission to the will of the evil-doer, but it means the pitting of one's whole soul against the will of the tyrant. Working under this law of our being, it is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire...'[99] Suffering is the condition as well as culmination of love. 'The test of love is tapasya and tapasya is self-suffering.'[100] Love involves suffering, voluntary suffering. In fact, love and suffering go together. In the opinion of Gandhi, no one who really loves can escape suffering. He writes: 'Love never claims, it ever gives. Love ever suffers, never resents, never revenges itself.'[101] The more we love, the more we suffer. The heart that aches is the heart which loves. The more tender it is, the more does it suffer. Gandhi looks at the lovers of humanity wearing through all the ages the supremest crown of suffering and sacrifice. Suffering is the essence of ahimsa, the very flesh of nonviolence, the blood that unites us all. 'Suffering injury', Gandhi says,'in one's own person is... of the essence of nonviolence and is the chosen substitute for violence to others. It is not because 1 value life low that I can countenance with joy thousands voluntarily losing their lives for satyagraha, but because I know that it results in the long run in the least loss of life, and, what is more, it ennables those who lose their lives and morally enriches the world for their sacrifice.'[102] Suffering is the second positive meaning of Gandhi's nonviolence.

The idea of suffering is of fundamental importance in Gandhi's concept of nonviolence. We find it in the Bodhisattva ideal, in Jain Tirthankaras, in the immolation of the early Christians, in the martyrdoms of Islam. In modern times this idea of suffering persists in the works of Tolstoy and Dostoievsky, in the writings of the Catholic existentialists and Stefan Zweig. The originality of Gandhi lies in his effort to extend the scope of suffering to mass political action. His famous doctrine of'revolution through change of heart' is based on this law of suffering.

(iii) Nonviolence as an Active Force

Gandhi's ahimsa should neither be mistaken for passive resistance nor non-resistance. It is an active nonviolent resistance. He says: 'The nonviolence of my conception is a more active and more real fighting against wickedness that retaliation whose very nature is to increase wickedness. I contemplate a mental, and therefore a moral, opposition to immoralities.'[103] Gandhi's nonviolence is an active force of the highest order. It is soul force or the power of Godhead within us... We become Godlike to the extent we realize nonviolence.'[104] He writes: 'In my opinion nonviolence is not passivity in any shape or form. Nonviolence, as I understand it, is the most active force in the world.'[105] In fact, Gandhi's creed of ahimsa is militant in character. 'Yours should not merely be a passive spirituality that spends itself in idle meditation, but it should be an active thing which will carry war into the enemy's camp.'[106] Gandhi's doctrine of nonviolence preaches neither inaction nor non-action but direct action. 'Never has anything been done on this earth without direct action. I reject the word "passive resistance", because of its insufficiency and its being interpreted as a weapon of the weak.'[107] Gandhi stood for direct action also took recourse to it many a time against British imperialism. Active force is the third positive meaning of Gandhi's nonviolence.

Essence of Positive Nonviolence

Gandhi's concept of positive non-violence consists of charity, humanity, humanness, gentleness,[108] innocence,[109] peace/ large-heartedness, mercy, clemency, kindness, compassion,[110] sweet and sunny temper, and love for all men and creatures.[111] Service,[112] sacrifice,[113] self-suffering.[114] courage,[115] conviction, direct action,[116] thought,[117] discrimination,[118] clear vision,[119] purity,[120] humility,[121] forgiveness[122] truthfulness[123] and absolute surrender to God[124] are the essential features of Gandhi's nonviolence. Ahimsa means change of heart, illumination of mind, transformation of will and sanctification of the soul. It implies an overall 'change in human nature.'[125] Nonviolence is the 'finest quality of the heart.'[126] It is the 'soul of truth. Man is mere animal without it.'[127] 'Ahimsa is the attribute of the soul.'[128] It is an 'unseen power of God.'[129] It is the beauty of holiness arid the grace of goodness. 'Courtesy towards opponents and eagerness to understand their view-point is the ABC of nonviolence.[130]'Ahimsa', in Gandhi's view,'means moksha, and moksha is the realization of truth.'[131] It means self-realization, to see God face to face, to attain salvation.[132] Ahimsa is 'the summwn bonum of life.'[133] It is Gandhi's 'God'.[134] It is Christ's 'Kingdom of Heaven'.[135] 'One who believes in nonviolence believes in a living God' (Gandhi).[136]

The ultimate aim of Gandhi's positive ahimsa is to make every sinner a saint, every killer a giver of life. 'Gift of life is the greatest of all gifts.'[137]

C. Quintessence of Conceptual Nonviolence

After attempting to define what is indefinable, after explaining what is inexplicable, after analysing what is unanalysable, we cannot help feeling that Gandhi's ahimsa is a multi-levelled concept, a concentric circle of ideas, a maze of many meanings.

Nonviolence of Gandhi's conception comes in complexes or compounds, not in elements. Every experience - mental, moral or metaphysical, is complex. Every action is complicated. The subtler the experience, the more complex it is. That is why I first of all endeavoured to analyse the complex processes of nonviolence into their negative and positive parts. I shall now try to synthesize them, weld them together into a compound and organized whole. Parts characterize the whole but they do not and cannot make the whole.

Neither of the two above-mentioned negative and positive meanings of nonviolence is complete without the other. Negative and positive, like action and reaction, are not only equal and opposite but also composite and complementary to each other. Like the electron and proton of electricity, the negative and positive charges of nonviolence, when fused together, give light, and therefore life to Gandhi's concept of ahimsa and make it a cognent and consistent, coherent and congruous, complete and harmonious whole. A balanced view of nonviolence always brings the two halves into harmony. The two parts, negative and positive, abstentions and observances, like yama and niyama of the yoga system of Patanjali, lay stress on the ethical preparation necessary for the practice of ahimsa. We need the negative aspect of nonviolence to abstain from vices and its positive facet to observe virtues. The former aims at the conquest of our baser instincts, whereas the latter at the quest for sublime sentiments.

Like perception, Gandhi's nonviolence is an ethical Gestalt, in which non-killing, love, suffering, doing (direct action) and dying (without killing) freeze into one solid mass of moral experience. Of the tree of life, truth is the root, non-killing the germ, and nonviolence the maturest fruit.[138]

Who is Truly Nonviolent?

After explaining the nature of nonviolence, the next important problem is one of distinction between genuine nonviolence and counterfeit nonviolence, between true ahimsa and false ahimsa.[139] In order to sift the grain of reality from the hust of appearance, Gandhi dissects nonviolence into three levels: 1. nonviolence of the coward, 2. nonviolence of the weak, and 3. nonviolence of the brave.

With the help of these degrees of ahimsa, we shall endeavour to find out who is a man of appearent nonviolence and who is truly non-violent.

1. Nonviolence of the Coward

This is the lowest level of ahimsa. A coward's ahimsa is a categorical denial of and a positive disgrace to nonviolence. That is why Gandhi prefers violence to cowardice. 'I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour.'[140] Death is better than dishonour; killing is infinitely superior to cowardice. 'Better far than the cowardice is killing and being killed in battle.[141] The feat of death is the ultimate cowardice (Radhakrishnan).[142] Nonviolence and cowardice go ill together.[143] Hence a coward is a man of pseudo-non-violence, not a person of real ahimsa.

2. Nonviolence of the Weak

This is the lower level of ahimsa. That is why Gandhi calls it the passive nonviolence of the helpless. Weakness is no meekness, helplessness is no nonviolence. We cannot be really non-violent and yet have weakness in us. 'Nonviolence cannot be taught to a person who fears to die and has no power of resistance. A helpless mouse is not nonviolent because he is always eaten by pussy.[144] He would gladly eat the murderess if he could, but he never tries to flee from her."[145] Like a mouse, a weak person harbours hatred and violence in his heart, and would kill his enemy if he could without hurting himself. He is a stranger to nonviolence. Bravery is foreign to his nature He lacks strength, physical as well as moral. But nonviolence presupposes the ability, though not the willingness, to strike.[146] This is why Gandhi lays down, as an axiom of nonviolence, the principle that 'man for man, the strength of nonviolence is in exact proportion to the ability, not the will, of the nonviolent person to inflict violence.'[147] But the real strength behind such ability comes from fearlessness and an indomitable will and not from mere physical capacity.[148] It is dangerous to be nonviolent out of fear of the consequence of violence (Radhakrishnan).[149] The word 'fear' does not and cannot have any place in Gandhi's dictionary of ahimsa, which is the attribute of the strong and the brave, and not the quality of the weak and the coward.[150] Therefore, a weak man cannot be said to be truly nonviolent.

3. Nonviolence of the Brave

This is the highest, and therefore the last level of ahimsa. Gandhi describes it as the 'enlightened nonviolence of resourcefulness.' A really nonviolent person is he whose nonviolence is neither a cloak for cowardice nor a pretext for weakness but a direct consequence of his conscious strength. He does not embrace the creed of nonviolence from any extra-moral considerations, political or otherwise but by inner conviction based on ethical considerations alone. Ahimsa is a categorical imperative, a supreme religion,parama dharama, for him.[151] Gandhi's nonviolence is not of the weak and the coward but of the strong and brave. 'My nonviolence does not admit of people who cannot or will not be nonviolent, holding and making effective use of arms. Let us repeat for the thousandth time that nonviolence is of the strongest, not of the weak.'[152] Ahimsa is the 'supreme virtue of the brave.'[153] It is the 'summit of bravery.'[154]

Gandhi believes that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence,[155] even as vengeance is any day superior to passive, effeminate and helpless submission.[156] Forgiveness is higher than both vengeance and cowardice. In fact, ahimsa is the extreme limit of forgiveness.[157] But forgiveness is the qualit y of the brave.[158] 'Abstinence is forgiveness only when there is the power to punish; it is meaningless when it pretends to proceed from a helpless creature. A mouse hardly forgives a cat when it allows itself to be torn to pieces by her.[159] He who when faced with danger behaves like a mouse, is a coward; he who would like to kill his enemy if he could without hurting himself, is weak; he who can kill his killer but would forgive him, is brave indeed. Such a brave man alone, in the opinion of Gandhi, is truly nonviolent. Gandhi confers upon him the superlative degree of the 'bravest'. He says: 'The bravest man allows himself to be killed without killing. And he desists from killing or injury, because he knows that it is wrong to injure.'[160] This type of the 'bravest man', in the opinion of Gandhi, is truly nonviolent. And such a one was Christ in his estimation: 'He who when being killed bears no anger against his murderer and even asks God to forgive him is truly nonviolent. History relates this of Jesus. With his dying breath on the Cross, he is reported to have said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."[161] To be truly nonviolent, we must love our assassin and pray to God even when he is killing us.[162] To punish is inhuman; to forgive is human. Forgiveness is more manly than punishment.[163] Forgiveness adorns a soldier,[164] becomes a brave man and decorates the truly nonviolent.


In the evolution of nonviolence, three levels are seen. The first is of cowardice, where we flee when it is our duty to face danger, where we have sheer submission and feminine helplessness; the second where we have vengeance and violence, where we kill and get killed out of a false sense of pride and fear; and the third where we have unconditional forgiveness which is the summit of bravery, where violence and nonviolence become one. The last is the level of the truly nonviolent, like Gandhi who 'died with the name of God on his lips and love in his heart. Even as he received the bullet wounds he greeted his murderer and wished him well' (Radhakrishnan).[165]

Nature of Violence

We cannot really understand Gandhi's concept of nonviolence without knowing the nature of violence. For ahimsa, as conceived by him, is the recognition of violence as a necessity of life. 'All life in the flesh exists by some himsa. Hence the highest religion has been defined by a negative word ahimsa. The world is bound in a chain of destruction. In other words, himsa is an inherent necessity for life in the body. That is why a votary of ahimsa always prays for ultimate deliverance from the bondage of flesh.'[166] Gandhi discovered nonviolence out of violence in the world. 'The sage who realized truth found nonviolence out of the violence raging all about him.'[167] To see the cruelty of killing is to be conscious of the duty of non-killing. Violence is an action of which nonviolence is a reaction. Himsa stands for a fact of life; ahimsa negatives this fact. 'And yet nonviolence is the highest religion.[168] Gandhi interprets ahimsa in terms of what Hegel calls the dialectical movement of concepts - thesis (violence), anti-thesis (nonviolence), and synthesis (love). This is his dialectic of nonviolence which starts with violence as its thesis. I shall, therefore, explain in brief the nature of violence.

Violence is a word often on our lips today (Herbert Read),[169] Nay, it is too often on everybody's tongue at present. As a matter of fact, too much presence of Violence' in the world has made us conscious of 'nonviolence'. My interest in it, more than any other aspect of Gandhi's philosophy, is an obvious expression of this 'consciousness.' In these tense and cruel days we cannot but ask-What is violence? How can we control it?

The etymological meaning of violence is the 'use of strength' (Latin, vis) to obtain one's desire, and as such it is coeval with the evolution of our species, man. It is significant that this Latin word vis is also used in the plural for military forces, and in English too we speak of military forces - the forces of the Crown, etc. So violence means physical force employed by men, force that enslaves man, force before which man's flesh shrinks away. Hence it is diametrically opposite to non-violence which stands for soul-force. The word 'violence' is used for civil force as well as military force. It is also employed for individual aggression and multiple aggressions, aggression that takes the form of mass revolt and war, which is legalized man-slaughter.

Force or violence, today as in the past,[170] remains at the very centre of human history, still furthering or deforming our ideals, still modifying our relations with one another and with the external world. In spite of his long education and upbringing, man is still half savage and half civilized, half brute and half babe. He has not yet given up what Russell calls his 'primitive ferocity'.[171] In the words of Radhakrishnan, he is even now a 'civilized barbarian,'[172] Robert Ardrey, an anthropologist of repute, goes so far as to say: 'Man is a wild species and every baby born is a wild young thing. Advancing age, weakening vitality and a long accumulation df fears and experiences may at last work a general inhibition on certain animal sources of human behaviour.'[173]

Gandhi, too, always recognized the violence in human nature. 'But to admit the existence and the inevitability of violence in our destiny is not to condone it. Our whole effort, on the contrary, should be to control this force, to domesticate it and harness it to our needs.'[174] Gandhi preached the doctrine of nonviolence to control violence. Man is born in the world of hatred and violence; as an ethical being, he should be reborn into the world of love and nonviolence.

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