Non-violence Relative Economics And A New Social Order ► PART-III Gandhian Nonviolence ► The Concept of Nonviolence in the Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi ► Part.2

Posted: 04.06.2015



A.Nonviolence and Violence

Gandhi's creed of nonviolence is not a fixed formula but a flexible doctrine. It is not only negative and positive but also paradoxical. In fact, it is a puzzle par excellence. Gandhi's ahimsa, which is his own[1] is both non-killing and killing. In an article on 'The Fiery Ordeal he writes- 'When killing may be ahimsa, when killing is himsa.[2] This intricate question of ahimsa and himsa, which is the question of applied ethics (casuistry), places contemporary ethical thinkers on the horns of a moral dilemma. It, therefore, requires an exceptional common sense to solve the tangle of nonviolence. Philosophy is common sense in an uncommon degree. The riddle of killing and non-killing is the riddle of ahimsa. How is killing nonviolence, is a question which even schoolboys ask but Gandhi fails to give a cut and dry answer, a mathematical reply. All the same, I shall try to explain his viewpoint as clearly and briefly as I can.

Moral acts are called duties. Sometimes particular duties, like killing and non-killing, seem to come into conflict with each other. Gandhi has given a few examples of the so-called conflict of duties concerning them. To solve the difficulties in such cases of conflict of duties we are advised by him to take the aid of'casuistry'. It tell us under what particular circumstances we are justified in breaking particular moral rules. Casuistry tries to formulate rules for breaking moral laws under particular circumstances. It is a branch of Ethics which deals with cases of con-science.

1. When Killing may be Ahimsa

Gandhi was too practical a person to dismiss violence altogether from his concept of nonviolence. Since life itself involves some kind of violence, he advises us to choose the path of least violence.[3] We should commit the least possible himsa, only that much violence which is inevitable for our life. And what is inevitable, Gandhi believes, is not regarded as a sin,[4] and therefore is no himsa. In fact, this apparent violence is real nonviolence. Gandhi says: 'In this straight and narrow observance of this religion of ahimsa one has often to know so-called himsa as the truest form of ahimsa.'[5] Surety of thought avoids hesitation in action.

In the opinion of Gandhi, there is no conflict of duties. Under particular circumstances we have one definite duty. It is due to our failure to grasp the real situation that we speak of conflicts of duties. T.H. Green agrees with Gandhi when he says: 'There is no such thing really as a conflict of duties. A man's duty under any particular set of circumstances is always one, though the conditions of the case may be so complicated and obscure as to make it difficult to decide what the duty really is.'[6] There is no conflict of duties, properly so called. In a concrete situation an individual has only one definite duty. He can know it with a clear moral insight, if he does not yield to passions and pre-judices of the moment. The so-called 'conflict of duties' is due to lack of clear moral insight, warping of moral judgment by passions and narrow self-interest, confusion of issues, want of discrimination of the essential from the non-essential factors in the moral situation. Gandhi maintains that we should take the help of the 'casuistry of nonviolence' to solve the puzzle of ahimsa in the case of a conflict of duties between killing and non-killing.

The unavoidable destruction, according to Gandhi, caused for the purpose of protecting one's wards cannot be regarded as himsa.[7] 'My nonviolence does not admit of running away from danger, and leaving dear ones unprotected.'[8] Gandhi gives two examples, one of a surgeon and the other of one who kills a person suffering from an incurable disease. Their acts of violence, in his opinion, should be considered perfect nonviolence. 'lust as a surgeon does not commit himsa but practices the purest ahimsa when he wields his knife on his patient's body for the latter's benefit, similarly one may find it necessary under certain imperative circumstances to go a step further and sever life from the body in the interest of the sufferer.'[9] In the opinion of Gandhi, 'the destruction of bodies of tortured creatures being for their own peace cannot be regarded as himsa.'[10] This is why once he himself got a calf of his ashram poisoned to death and declared it a pure and simple case of ahimsa.[11] Other circumstances can be imagined in which not to kill would spell himsa, while killing would be ahimsa.[12]

After examining a few concrete cases of himsa, we not come to the conclusion that a 'reference to both intent and deed is necessary finally to decide whether a particular act or abstention can be classed as ahimsa. The intent has to be inferred from a bunch of correlated acts.'[13] The true test of nonviolence does not depend upon the physical commission and omission of an act alone but also upon its motive and intention.

Ahimsa is a three-levelled concept - mental, verbal and physical (thought, speech and action). And we have to evolve three distinct, though not separate, criteria to judge it at all. Gandhi lays down such a three-levelled final test: To say or write a distasteful word is surely not violent especially when the speaker or writer believes it to be true.... False notion's of propriety or fear of wounding susceptibilities often deter people from saying what they mean and ultimately land them on the shores of hypocrisy.'[14] But if nonviolence of thought is to be evolved in individuals or societies or nations, truth has to be told however harsh or unpopular it may appear to be for the moment.'[15]'To conclude then, after a calm and clear judgment to kill or cause pain to a living being with a view to its spiritual or physical benefit from a pure, selfless intent may be the purest form of ahimsa. Each such case must be judged individually and on its own merits. The final test as to its nonviolence is after all the intent underlying the act.'[16] The essence of ahimsa is that there must be no violent intention behind a thought, word, or act, i.e. an intention to do harm to the opponent so called.

Gandhi lays down four conditions, the fulfillment of all of which can warrant the taking of life of an ailing individual from the point of view of ahimsa. They are: 1. The disease should be incurable. 2. All concerned should have despaired of the life of the patient. 3. The case should be beyond all help or service. 4. It should be impossible for the patient in question to express his or its wish. So long as one of these conditions remains unfulfilled the taking of life from the point of view of ahimsa cannot be justified.[17]

2. When Killing is Himsa

Gandhi does not believe that all killing is himsa even as all non-killing is not ahimsa. There is no such a thing as absolute ahimsa or perfect himsa. Causing pain or killing may be (i) permissible himsa when it is resorted to for sustaining one's body or protecting one's wards; and (ii) (objectionable) himsa when life is taken out of anger, selfishness or ill-will.[18]

We shall first of all deal with concrete cases of killing as permissible himsa.

(i) Killing as Permissible Himsa

All life in the flesh exists by some himsa.[19] None, while in the flesh, can thus be entirely free from himsa because one never completely renounces the will to live.[20] For example, those who eat fish and those who provide it, both commit violence. So do those who eat vegetables.[21] This kind of violence is inherent in all embodied life, therefore, in man too.[22] It is in this condition and in spite of it, Gandhi believes, that we have to practice nonviolence as a duty.[23] 'Fishermen, fish-vendors and fish-eaters are probably unaware of any violence in their action. Even if they were they might look upon it as unavoidable.'[24] And in so far as violence is unavoidable, it is permissible violence, it is not violence, it is nonviolence. Gandhi says: 'I do not consider it violence to permit the fish-eaters to eat fish. It is my duty to suffer it. Ahimsa is the highest duty. Even if we cannot practice it in full, we must try to understand its spirit and refrain as far as is humanly possible from violence.'[25]

A meat-eater, who has overcome his psychological foes, who has love and charity for all, whose every action is motivated by good intention, is not guilty of violence in the opinion of Gandhi. He goes so far as to say: 'Give me the man who has completely conquered self and is full of goodwill and love towards all and is ruled by the law of love in all his actions, and I for one will offer him my respectful homage even though he be a meat-eater.'[26] Sadan, a butcher and therefore a meat-eater, was such a one.

Gandhi's concept of nonviolence is quite revolutionary in thought and action. Under certain circumstances he even allows the killing of ferocious and harmful animals, and does not consider it violence. 'My ahimsa is my own. I am not able to accept in its entirety the doctrine of non-killing of animals. I have no feeling in me to save the life of these animals who devour or cause hurt to man. I consider it wrong to help in the increase of their progeny. Therefore, I will not feed ants, monkeys or dogs. I will never sacrifice a man's life in order to save theirs. Thinking along these lines I have come to the conclusion that to do away with monkeys where they have become a menace to the well-being of man is paradonable. Such killing becomes a duty.'[27] And a duty is an ahimsa,[28] at least a permissible himsa.[29]

(ii) Killing as Himsa

Now I shall deal with actual cases of hurting or killing as (objectionable) himsa. Gandhi has laid down the following conditions for judging objectionable himsa, which is real himsa:

1. Those who quarrel among themselves.

2. Those who will stoop to anything in order to amass wealth.

3. Those who exploit or indulge in forced human labour.

4. Those who overload or goad or otherwise torture animals. All these four types of people mentioned above knowingly commit such violence as can easily be stopped.[30] Conscious committing of an avoidable violence is an objectionable violence, and therefore a real himsa.

5. The firth criterion of judging an objectionable violence, in the view of Gandhi, is coercion, which is inhuman, He observes: 'the man who uses coercion is guilty of deliberate violence.'[31] For example, a man who coerces another not to eat fish commits more violence than he who eats it.[32] This instance has been given by Gandhi himself. That is why he never compelled anyone to give up fish-eating. Gandhi ever believed in persuasion and never in pressure. Persuasion is ahimsa; coercion is objectionable himsa. Hence coercion is genuine himsa, real violence.

6. The sixth test of an objectionable himsa, according to Gandhi, is refusal of service on karma-theory (law of moral causation). He gives an apt example: 'If a man were to refuse to give medicine to a patient or to nurse him on the ground of karma, we would hold him to be guilty of inhumanity and himsa. Without therefore entering into a discussion about the eternal controversy regarding predestination and free-will I will simply say here that I deem it to be the highest duty of man to render what little service he can.'[33] Service is man's highest duty, which is ahimsa,[34] and refusal thereof is himsa (reverse of ahimsa), a deliberate crime against humanity, an objectionable himsa.

7. The seventh and last condition of an objectionable himsa, in the opinion of Gandhi, is a violent intention behind a thought, speech or action. He says: 'To conclude then, to cause pain or wish ill to or to take the life of any living being out of anger or a selfish intent is himsa.'[35] 'The essence of violence is that there must be a violent intention behind a thought, word, or act, i.e. an intention to do harm to the opponent so-called.'[36] 'The final test as to its violence is after all the intent underlying the act.'[37] Since himsa, like ahimsa, is a tri-levelled concept - mental, verbal and physical - Gandhi has laid down a three-levelled test to judge it as well.

Objectionable killing is, indeed, himsa. But other and more insidious forms of himsa, Gandhi points out, are harsh words [38] and harsh judgments (i.e., those intended to hurt), ill-will, anger, spite, cruelty, the torture of men and animals, the exploitation,[39] starvation, wanton humiliation and oppression of the weak, the killing of their self-respect, etc.[40] The verbal and psychological types of violence are far more crafty and corrupting in their effects than the gross himsa, which is actual killing.

B. Summary

Causing pain or killing may be: 1. Ahimsa when it is the result of calm and clear judgment and the intention is to benefit the victim and relieve his or its agony, rather than to relieve the pain caused to the ahimsaist by this agony. 2. Permissible himsa when it is resorted to for sustaining one's body or protecting one's wards; and 3. Himsa (objectionable himsa) when life is taken out of anger, selfishness or ill-will.



A. Demerits

Gandhi was truly a great soul, a Mahatman. And to be great is not merely to be talked about, it is also to be misunderstood, condemned, contradicted and criticized. Gandhi has not escaped this fate.[41] He and his thoughts have been criticized by all sorts of people, lay as well as learned. Criticisms of Gandhi's views on nonviolence may roughly be divided into three types: 1. Common Criticism, 2. Academic Criticism, and 3. Genuine Criticism.

1. Common Criticism

There is a common criticism that Gandhi's vision out soars his perception, that he proceeds on the comfortable but incorrect assumption that the world consists of saints. This is a misrepresentation of Gandhi's view, especially his view of ahimsa. He says: 'I am not a visionary. I claim to be a practical idealist. The religion of nonviolence is not meant merely for the rishis and saints. It is meant for the common people as well.'[42] Gandhi knows that life at best is a long second best, a perpetual compromise between the ideal and the possible. Though he feels that nonviolence is the ideal of a civilized society, he permits the use of force. 'If one has not the courage, I want him to cultivate the art of killing and being killed, rather than in a cowardly manner flee from danger.'[43] Gandhi is too practical a person to banish violence from the world altogether. 'The world is not entirely governed by logic. Life itself involves some kind of violence and we have to choose the path of least violence.'[44]

2. Academic Criticism

Gandhi's ahimsa is more often than not mistaken for a purely negative doctrine. Such, for example, is the opinion of Benrnard Shaw.[45] But he is not fair to Gandhi, to whom nonviolence, as I have already explained in detail, is essentially a positive creed of love[46] in the most comprehensive sense of the term. Herbert Read thinks that 'Gandhi's nonviolent resistance is a deliberate contradiction in terms, for resistance necessary implies the use of force, of counter-force.'[47] This seeming criticism is simply due to the gross misunderstanding of Gandhi's technique of nonviolent resistance, which is 'never a method of coercion; it is one of conversion.'[48] Coercion is hatred and violence, but conversion is possible through love and non-violence alone. 'My non-cooperation has its roots not in hatred, but in love.'[49] The (non-cooperation) movement', says Sir William, 'is purely destructive and, so far as I have been able to ascertain, contains no element of constructive ability.'[50] And Gandhi gives him a silencing reply: 'It (my non-cooperation movement) is undoubtedly destructive in the sense that a surgeon who applies the knife to a diseased part maybe said to make a destructive movement. This destructive movement bears in it the surest seed of construction as the surgeon's knife contains the seed of health.[51]

3. Genuine Criticism

But all charges leveled against Gandhi's doctrine of nonviolence cannot and must not be defended. There are some genuine defects which have to be pointed out for a better understanding and appreciation of his view of ahimsa. They are as follows:

(i) The first and the foremost demerit of Gandhi's creed of nonviolence is that it is full of exceptions. He makes too much use of cauistry'. For example, when conflict of duties - to kill or not to kill - arises, he formulates rules, one after another, for breaking moral laws under particular circumstances. A law maker should not be a law breaker. Making rules for breaking rules is non-ethical, is highly objectionable. Professor J.S. Mackenzie, a great authority on ethics, observes: 'It is bad enough that we should require particular rules of conduct at all, but rules for the breaking of rules would be quite intolerable.[52] Gandhi cannot be justified in making too many exceptions to his doctrine of nonviolence. There is a danger of their becoming the rules themselves. In that case the creed of ahimsa will become as good as the doctrine of himsa. Excess of everything, however good it might be, is bad. Moreover, too much application of casuistry to doubtful and complicated cases would lead to laxity in morals, to easy virtue. One would justify any action whatsoever, to one's own satisfaction.

Being a votary of truth, Gandhi himself felt the limitation, defect and difficulty of his doctrine of nonviolence to solve the terrible tangle of violence. It is almost impossible to decide when killing is avoidable, and hence himsa; when it is unavoidable, and therefore ahimsa. Gandhi confesses: 'But unavoidable violence cannot be defined. For it changes with time, place and person. What is regarded as excusable at one time may be inexcusable at another.[53] Gandhi's own criterion on 'unavoidable violence' places him on the horns of a moral dilemma.

(ii) The second great shortcoming of Gandhi's principle of nonviolence is with regard to the most puzzling problem of ahimsa which, according to him, is both non-killing and killing. How is killing nonviolence, is a question on which Gandhi seems to be most confused. At one time he says: 'When killing may be ahimsa, when killing is himsa.'[54] At another time he makes just the reverse statement: 'Violence will be violence for all time, and all violence is sinful. But what is inevitable is not regarded as a sin, so much so that the science of daily practice has not only declared the violence inevitable in killing for sacrifice as permissible but even regarded it as meritorious '[55] Thus we find that Gandhi's criterion of killing as nonviolence is beset with contradictions, and therefore defective.

(iii) The third gross and glaring defect of Gandhi's doctrine of ahimsa is, to my mind, his contradictory statements in connection with the unreality of violence and the reality of nonviolence. At one place he states: 'Himsa will go on eternally in this strange world.'[56] At another place he says: 'Violence is unreal, nonviolence is real.'[57] Do these two statements not contradict each other? I am sure they do. A thing cannot be both itself and its opposite simultaneously. Then how can himsa be eternal and unreal at one and the same time? Unreal cannot be eternal nor can eternal be unreal. Eternity and unreality do not go together. In fact, they are contradictory terms Gandhi is very fond of blowing hot and cold in one breath. And this illogical habit of his often lands him, like Samkara and Ramanuja, in great difficulties. Samkara's maya is unreal yet it co-exists eternally with Brahman; Ramanuja's world is eternal yet finite; Gandhi's violence is eternal yet unreal. Samkara's unreal real, Ramanuja's finite eternal and Gandhi's unreal eternal are all of them conscious or unconscious contradictions in terms. Such omissions of clarification and commissions of contradiction should not be allowed to go unresolved. And none is better qualified than the philosopher to guess the riddle, clarify the muddle and cure the contradiction of the unreality of violence and the reality of nonviolence.

Similar contradictory statements can be easily detected from the occasional speeches and writings of Gandhi.

B. Merits

But when all is said and done by way of academic criticism against Gandhi's concept of nonviolence, I genuinely feel like saying with Radhakrishnan[58] that his doctrine of ahimsa is not a mere matter for academic debate in intellectual circles and seminars, conferences and congresses. 'It is the answer to the cry of exasperated mankind which is at the cross-roads - which shall prevail, the law of the jungle or the law of love?' All our world organizations, like the U.N. and UNESCO, will prove ineffective if the truth that love is stronger than hate, nonviolence is superior to violence does not inspire them.

The main merits of Gandhi's nonviolence, in brief, are as follows:

1. Contribution to Contemporary Ethical Thought and Practice

Gandhi's concept of nonviolence is not a mere echo of his master's voices, eastern and western, ancient and modern. His ahimsa is not a carbon copy of anybody else's. Like Gandhi himself, it is of its own type, it is unique indeed. He himself says: 'My ahimsa is my own.'[59] As the man so his doctrine. If he is a quiz, so will be his doctrine. Real religion is creation, not copying. It is vision, not imitation. It is painting, not photography. Gandhi's religion of nonviolence is a creative reconstruction. Rich in form, novel in technique, creative in thought, re-creative in feeling, constructive in action, revolutionary in tone and temper, Gandhi's satyagraha, which is the practical application of ahimsa in life, is 'rebellion through religion', through love and suffering. 'It is no nonviolence if we merely love those that love us. It is nonviolence only when we love those that hate us. I know how difficult it is to follow this grand Law of Love. But'are not all good and great things difficult to do?[60] Einstein writes: 'Gandhi has invented an entirely new and humane technique for the liberation struggle of an oppressed people and carried it out with the greatest energy and devotion.'[61] As a revolutionary method and as a weapon for combat,' says Lanza del Vasto, 'ahimsa is a revolution almost without precedent, the most unique event which our times, troubled and full of unprecedented adventures, have known.'[62] K.J. Mahale observes: 'Ahimsa had been known to Indians for many centuries before Gandhi. Yet it was not practiced in the way Gandhi did. Gandhi has given a new meaning to it by attaching new vigour, a vaster connotation.'[63] Gandhi lifted ahimsa as a leaf from the solitary tree of individual life and has made it a part and parcel of the social, political and economic life of India and through her of the world at large. This is his most original* contribution to contemporary ethical thought and practice.

2. Ability to Solve Practical Problems

In a narrow sense, non-violence is a lonely pilgrimage of a few saintly souls in search of their salvation. In a broader perspective, it is meant for the social regeneration of the masses of mankind and has the ability to solve the practical problem of life, individual and collective, national and international. Gandhi was too practical to waste his precious time in formulating the theory of nonviolence for its own sake. He was a stark realist who even while gazing at the starry heavens above did not neglect the solid earth below, who worshipped God yet served man. His theories and thoughts were essentially meant for practice and action. He says: 'If nonviolence cannot be practiced in all departments, it has no practical value.'[64] Gandhi's ahimsa is ever applicable in all spheres of life, solitary and social, economic and political. A principle which fails to inspire practice is a metaphysical aberration; a theory that cannot impregnate thought with action is philosophical impotence. Gandhi breathed freshness into the dry bones of ahimsa, gave a new lease of life to the fossilized and almost dead doctrine of nonviolence, and has made it a living and practical philosophy of life for the entire world.

In recent times, Gandhi, a rebel among religious men, had the privilege of placing his technique of satyagraha before humanity in connection with his country's struggle for political independence. The world has witnessed it in action and the miracle wrought by it. 'This I do say, fearlessly and firmly', declares Gandhi, 'that every worthy object can be achieved by the use of satyagraha. It is the highest and infallible means, the greatest force. Socialism will not be reached by any other means. Satyagraha can rid society of all evils, political, economic and moral.'[65] But its economic, political and social dynamics and creative activity have not yet found adequate scope, and its infinite potentialities on the international plane have yet to be worked out, exploited and seen. This makes Olivier Lacombe pose a pertinent problem, raise a contextual question: "In the 'Emerging World' ', is the future likely to provide mankind with opportunities for the development of nonviolence in political, social and economic affairs? Such is the challenge we and our sons have to accept from the present-day upheaval of conflicting forces throughout the world. India, of course, is primarily involved in the problem, in so far as Mahatma Gandhi has entrusted to her the precious legacy of satyagraha, but the rest of humanity is also involved, in as much as the peaceful advancement of civilization is a concern common to all[66] Had Gandhi lived for some more years, he would have accepted this challenge himself by extending the scope of his satyagraha still further to the world at large for the solution of its social, political and economic problems, after having made a successful experiment with ahimsa for the political emancipation of his own country. Unfortunately he died in 1948, leaving his experiments with satyagraha incomplete as regards its role on an international scalc.

In the absence of Gandhi, whose spiritual heirs we claim to be we ought to seize the opportunity and accept the above-mentioned challenge for the 'development of nonviolence in political, social, and economic affairs' on an international scale. With this end in view, let us 'act in the living present, heart within and God overhead for the realization of our dream in the future.

3. Only Alternative to Nuclear Threat

Willingly or unwillingly, mankind has entered the nuclear age and we cannot go back to ages gone by how so ever much we may like to do so. Atomic energy has beneficial as well as baneful potentialities. It may open the way to advances in human civilization yet undreamed of or it may take us down to the age of barbarism Nonviolence is the only alternative that can ban its horribly harmfu potentialities and make available to us the blissfully beneficial possibilities thereof. Olivier Lacombe writes with conviction: Only the force of the soul, the force of love, some sort of satyagraha on a world-wide scale can make the beneficial potentialities of the nuclear era overpower its threatening dangers.'[67] Bertrand Russell opines, I do think that the arms race between the great powers teaches us that only nonviolent methods of solving differences will permit the survival of mankind.'[68] The philosophy of nonviolence, according to Arnold Toynbee, 'is going to be mankind's only alternative to self-destruction in the nuclear age.'[69] Gandhi himself feels convinced that there is no hope for the aching world except through the narrow and straight path of nonviolence'[70] and 'there is no escape from the impeding doom save through a bold and unconditional acceptance of the nonviolence method with all its glorious implications.'[71]

Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than peace, more about killing than living Hence the need for nonviolence, which is the science of peace and the art of living without killing, is far greater today than ever before And if any philosophy has a hundred per cent relevance in the present context of the nuclear war which might start any moment, it is Gandhi s philosophy of non-violence, the only antidote to violence It is a panacea for all the evils of the nuclear age.



A. Prologue

The real greatness of Gandhi lies in the fact that, instead of offering a stereotyped view of nonviolence, he has left with his interpreters a sense of the need for a receptive mind and heart, and a readiness to find significance in new experiences from whatever direction they might come 'My faith (in ahimsa) helps me to discover the new truths everyday.'[72] Gandhi is never dogmatic and static but ever progressive and dynamic in his views and ways of thinking like his life itself. A dynamic thought is the result of a dynamic life. Gandhi has expressed his view of ahimsa not so much by offering formal definitions, which might too easily become instances of'misplaced concreteness', but rather by helping his readers to be responsive to the rich variety of the changing pattern of events. It seems fair to say, also that nowhere does Gandhi's appeal for sensitiveness to emergent novelty come into sharper relief than in his concept of nonviolence. For him ahimsa is not a fixed gaze but a flexible look at life. It is sympathy for love of and sensitivity to God's entire creation.

B. Recapitulation

But when so much is said by way of conclusion, I am ultimately compelled to confess that Gandhi's ahimsa is what he himself was interested in, and that the only way to know the nature of nonviolence is to observe his work and notice what he was trying to accomplish: The apostle of nonviolence himself is the best definition, explanation and even clarification of his concept of ahimsa. What Pottle said of Shakespeare's poetry[73] can also be said of Gandhi's nonviolence: 'There is no definition of Gandhi's ahimsa short of the complete works of Gandhi and a variorum commentary.' But no man can write a true commentary on Gandhi's nonviolence unless he is himself as great as Gandhi.'[74] Hence the only real source of Gandhi's ahimsa is Gandhi himself. The proper interpreter of Gandhi's nonviolence is Gandhi himself.

We may now recapitulate Gandhi's nonviolence under the following four heads:

1.Nonviolence as Indefinable as God

After making a through survey of Gandhi's concept of nonviolence, we come to the definite conclusion that his is a wholeness of vision, which refuses to divide ahimsa into water-tight compartments. His nonviolence is an all-embracing and ever-evolving creed which cannot be reduced to any set formula petrified principle and pet prejudice.[75] Gandhi's doctrine of ahimsa is more than men's arithmetic calculations.[76] In fact, it is incapable of being defined, like God. Gandhi says: 'Nonviolence is as indefinable as God.[77] 'The more I work at this law of love (nonviolence), the more I feel the delight in life, the delight in the scheme of this universe. It gives me a peace and meaning of the mysteries of nature that I have no power to describe.'[78] Nonviolence, as conceived by Gandhi, beggars all description. It is indescribable as well as indefinable.

2.Practice of Perfect Nonviolence not Possible

According to Gandhi, ahimsa does not simply mean non-killing.[79] 'Himsa means causing pain to or killing any life out of anger, or from a selfish purpose, or with the intention of injuring it. Refraining from so doing is ahimsa.'[80] This is the negative meaning of nonviolence. The positive meaning of Gandhi's ahimsa is: 'Nonviolence is complete innocence. Complete nonviolence is complete absence of ill-will against all that lives. Nonviolence is innocence in its active form, goodwill towards all life. It is pure love.'[81] Absolute ahimsa means perfect freedom from himsa, i.e., freedom from ill-will, anger and hate rooted in ignorance, and an overflowing, understanding love for all. From the point of view of complete ahimsa all violence in whatever from must be eschewed. But such nonviolence is a perfect state and is reached only when mind, body and speech are in perfect coordination.[82] All ahimsa is a power and such absolute ahimsa is absolute power. But such absolute ahimsa is the attribute of God alone. It is not given to imperfect man to grasp the whole meaning of nonviolence or to practise it in full, even as it is not possible for him to know the Absolute Truth, which is God. But 'even if we cannot practise it in full, we must try to understand its spirit and refrain as far as is humanly possible from violence.'[83] 'Every seeker after truth has to adjust and vary the standard according to his individual need and to make a ceaseless endeavour to reduce the circle of himsa.'[84] Gandhi feels convinced that 'man will ever remain imperfect, and it will always be his part to try to be perfect. So that perfection in love or non-possession will remain an unattainable ideal as long as we are alive, but towards which we must ceaselessly strive.'[85] It may not be given to us to see that the creed of nonviolence prevails perfectly; but it is given to us to try that it should. We must try for the impossible to realize whatever is possible.

3. Nature of Nonviolence Identical with Human Nature

In my opinion, Gandhi's view of the nature of nonviolence is identical with the nature of man. Like man, while ahimsa has all these five levels of human nature in its being, it may stress one or the other, the killing (animal) or the non-killing (under-human), the loving (human) or the suffering (over-human) or the dying (divine). A nonviolence that unifies all these into a coherent, consistent and creative whole is complete ahimsa. For Gandhi, nonviolence is, in a real sense, everything and it deals with all levels of human nature from animal to divine, from killing to dying. A true man of ahimsa would satisfy not only the simple test of non-killing but also pass the fiery ordeal of allowing himself to be killed without killing his killer. Ahimsa, as preached and practiced by Gandhi, is yet incomplete. He says: 'However sincere my strivings after ahimsa may have been, they have still been imperfect and inadequate.[86] 'This does not mean that we practise that doctrine in its entirety far from it. It is an ideal which we have to reach.'[87] Man is still imperfect. 'All men are imperfect.'[88] The completion of nonviolence and perfection of man will arise together.[89] 'A man who believes in the efficacy of this doctrine (nonviolence) finds in the ultimate stage, when he is about to reach the goal, the whole world at his feet. If you express your love, ahimsa, in such a manner that it impresses itself indelibly upon your socalled enemy, he must return that love.'[90] This is the conviction of Gandhi. Ahimsa finds its fulfillment in love and man gets his satisfaction in God. Even as God and love are one, so are the nature of nonviolence and the nature of man one.

4. Nonviolence Still in the Making

After a minute scrutiny of the nature of nonviolence, I cannot but feel that the possibilities of ahimsa, as understood by Gandhi, have not yet been even fully conceived, not to speak of giving it a final touch, a concrete shape; a local name and habitation. He says: 'The twin doctrine of truth and nonviolence has possibilities of which we have but a very inadequate conception.'[91] 'I have not put before India the final form of nonviolence.'[92] 'I am myself daily growing in the knowledge of satyagraha. I have no text book to consult in time of need, not even the Gita which I have called my dictionary. Satyagraha, as conceived by me, is a science in the making. It may be that what I claim to be a science may be no science at all, and may well prove to be the musings and doings of a fool, if not a mad man.'[93] The views of ordinary mortals are so contrary that they call extraordinary men like philosophers fools, geniuses idiots, lovers lunatics, poets sad, and saints mad. All imaginative persons are far above the normal level of human consciousness. During his life time only a little of nonviolence was known to Gandhi, still less was practiced by him. And much more remained unknown to him. But a complete knowledge of ahimsa and perfect practice therefore was the ideal which he had set before himself. One should not lower one's ideal because of one's limitations, weaknesses or imperfections.*

Gandhi was a scientist, a spiritual scientist who makes experiments with things of the spirit (as opposed to a natural scientist who makes experiments with things of matter). Besides truth, he made many experiments with nonviolence. Like a true scientist (who does not claim finality to his findings), Gandhi also came to the conclusion that his experiment with ahimsa |vas not yet complete and final. He writes: This nonviolent experiment is still in the making. We have nothing much yet to show by way of demonstration. It is certain, however, that the method has begun to work though ever so slowly.'[94] But the day this nonviolent experiment is complete, it will work greater wonders than even the greatest wonders of science. Gandhi declares with firm faith: 'Just as a scientist will work wonders out of various applications of the laws of nature, even so a man who applies the law of love with scientific precision can work greater wonders. For, the force of nonviolence is infinitely more wonderful and subtle than the forces of nature, like, for instance, electricity The men who discovered for us the law of love were greater scientists than any of our modern scientists. Only our explorations have not gone far enough, and so it is not possible for everyone to see all its workings. Such, at any rate, is the hallucination, if it is one, under which I am labouring.'[95] All wonders have always appeared as blunders in the beginning. And the wonders of Gandhi's ahimsa are no exceptions to this rule.

It is my growing conviction that Gandhi's concept of nonviolence cannot be completely clarified till the process of the evolution of satyagraha continues. The history of nonviolence has not been finally written because the drama of satyagraha has not been fully enacted so far. Precept precedes concept; practice precedes theory. Nonviolence is yet a process, in which inadequate conceptions are giving way to more adequate ones through their own inner logic, and not a perfection.[96] Satyagraha is still a trial and error method and not a triumph of the spirit. It is yet a brute power of the body and not a finished force of the soul. Gandhi says: 'The fact is that it has always been a matter of strenuous research to know this great force (nonviolence) and its hidden possibilities. My claim is that in the pursuit of that search lies the discovery of satyagraha. It is not, however, claimed that all the laws of satyagraha have been laid down or found.'[97] 'Satyagraha by the vast mass of mankind will be impossible, if they had all to assimilate the doctrine in all its implications. I cannot claim to have assimilated all its implications, nor do I claim even to know them all. A soldier of an army does not know the whole of the military science; so also does a satyagrahi not know the whole science of satyagraha. It is enough if he trusts his commander and honestly follows his instructions, and is ready to suffer unto death without bearing malice against the so-called enemy.'[98] Ahimsa is yet in its infancy; satyagraha is still in the making. Non-violence is yet incomplete; satyagraha is still imperfect. Both of them are even now in their chilhood. The completion of nonviolence will synchronise with the perfection of satyagraha (Truth[99]) alone. Gandhi writes with confidence; 'This much I can say with assurance, as a result of all my experiments, that a perfect vision of Truth can only follow a complete realization of ahimsa.'[100] The conception of nonviolence will ultimately find its clarification and fulfillment in the perception (sakshatkara) of truth.

C.To sum up

This is, in short, my view on the present topic, which is also the burning topic of the day. But an erring mortal, like myself, who has not had even a faint glimpse of God nothing to speak of a perfect vision of truth, dare not clarify Gandhi's concept of nonviolence completely. Mine has been a modest but an earnest attempt at clarification of this complex concept of ahimsa. That alone was my duty and therein lies my real satisfaction. I firmly believe in what Gandhi says: 'Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory.'[101]

Whether we agree with or differ from Gandhi's view of nonviolence, the penetrating light of his mind never leaves us where we were. Even those who do not agree with his concept of ahimsa will not be reluctant to allow him an honoured place among the greatest revolutionary thinkers of human history.


If the world is to be saved from mass violence and scientific destruction, if mankind is to be delivered from the menace of a third world war,[102] if ethics is to flower and religion to flourish, if our civilization is to survive and our culture to endure, we must be guided and governed by Gandhi's great principle of ahimsa. It is the silent star keeping holy vigil above a tired and turbulent world. Like Gandhi, we may be firm in our conviction that the 'end of violence is surest defeat'[103] and the 'ultimate end of nonviolence is surest victory.[104] Men like him are born only once in a thousand years for the emancipation and upliftment of mankind. Gandhi belongs to the type that redeems the human race (Radhakrishnan).[105] He is rare in any age but unique in ours. This lonely symbol of a vanishing past is also the prophet of the new world, the world of tommorow which is struggling to be born.

At a time when the world is passing through one crisis after another, when most of us are 'civilized barbarians', the importance and urgency of nonviolence in individual, social and international life cannot be over-emphasized. Gandhi himself says: 'We can never overdo ahimsa; just at present we are not doing it at all.'[106] 'Whether mankind will consciously follow the law of love, I do not know. But that need not perturb us. The law will work, just as the law of gravitation will work, whether we accept it or not.'[107] Science might make us mighty and philosophy almighty; but it is ahimsa alone that can make us human and humane, gentle and generous, soft and sweet. When nonviolence is neglected, humanity staggers and man tumbles down.

If we are to imitate in some small measure Gandhi's solitary example of ahimsa, we must live the truth, love even our hater,'[108] forgive our killer,[109] bless our ill-wisher, help the weak, nurse the sick, feed the hungry, emancipate the racially discriminated, free the politically subjected, uplift the socially down-trodden, save the economically afflicted, educate the ignorant, soothe the suffering, comfort the unhappy, condemn violence, and praise and practise nonviolence in thought, word and deed.

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