| The Role of Non-violence in Human Virtues|
| By S.P. Kanal|It was a great insight of Hindu genius to place passion for violence at the centre of human psychology and make non·violence as the radiating search light of human ethics.
Biological life is inseparable from violence, for human life lives and can live by destruction of animal and/or plant life. Darwin's theory of evolution rests on the truth of scarce goods. There are less things available for the satisfaction of the needs of all animals. So there is struggle to get the scarce goods. In this struggle some species die out, some others emerge better able to get the scarce goods. There is ruthless competition for survival and the satisfaction of wants of food, sex, assertion. At human level, there is ruthless economic competition dividing the humanity into 'Haves' and 'Have nots' and at the social level there is ruthless competition for places and positions of power giving rise to hierarchical order.
Following Darwin, Nietzsche, the German philosopher, Says "Life itself is essential assimilation, injury, violation of the foreign and the weaker, suppression, hardness, the forcing of one's own forms upon something else, ingestion and at least in its mildest form exploitation."
To realize its truth one has to vacate one's profession or position in society to see how there are others, no less capable to rush to the vacant place. So to hold to a profession or position involves resistance and repelling others. To exist is to deny biological and social existence to others.
This is the biology and sociology of our life. Now, how are we to deal with it? Should we accept the violence in life as good and build on it? Or should we consider it unfortunate and reduce its influence on our character and conduct of life? Should ethical life be full of domination or imposition on others, both in simple and subtle forms? Or should ethical life reduce violence and develop virtues of sharing, compassion, love and attitudes of equality, fraternity and liberty for all ?
Nietzsche considers violence in the conduct of life to be the truth of existence. He advocates a philosophy of triumphant self-assertion, considering Christian Ethics of compassion, love, meekness, repentance as slave morality.
We know that most of the values glorified in civilized society are virtues in the interest of the weak. Take the concrete case of forming a queue. It is declared just that one who comes first is served first. This conduct serves the interest of the weak. But it is not in the interest of the strong •. He can push people behind in a queue and get into a bus first, We say, he is 'uncivilized brute', for we cannot do what he can do. What is unjust for the weak is justice for the strong. Each defines words in terms of his own interests. Democracy is the government of the average keeping the strong in bondage to it. A weak person cannot hold people together. A strong person can. A dictator can hold a whole nation in bondage, under his thumb. Dictatorship and not democracy is in the interest of the strong. But democracy is in the interest of the average. In whose interest is equality? In the interest of the mediocre. Who needs temperance except the weak in digestion!
According to Nietzsche the true life is life of self-assertion. The virtues of temperance, justice, democracy, asceticism in bodily satisfactions, are denials of life. He calls them the virtues of the slave. A slave is a weak man whereas the master is the strong person who holds down the weak as slave. The virtues of domination, ruthless imposition on others, constitutes Master morality in contrast to slave morality of prudence, moderation, justice, equality, consideration of others.
Hindu Ethics rejects Nietzsche's identification of true life with the life of self-assertion over others. lt holds that ethical life is reduction of the passion for domination and of use of physical force in the satisfaction of desires. It holds that so long self-assertion dominates our psyche, we cannot avoid doing harm to others even for the best of causes. We know how Marx permitted use of violence to get power for labour to make for proletariat government. One has to read Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago to realize how Russia was a place of dark terror or slaughter house for all those who differed or disobeyed Stalin. Troskey, who built the Russian Army during Lenin's time had to flee from Russia after Lenin's death but Stalin saw to his murder.
Hindu genius explicates how passion for violence manifests itself in the form of imperialism, colonization, dictatorship at political level; use of force in the form of punishment at home, school, municipal and civil life at social level; in thinking and doing evil to others at the personal level. It places nonviolence as the apex virtue. 'Ahimsa parmo dharma' is accepted by all schools of ancient Hindu thought. All virtues and civilized institutions are,to be marked by it. It is to be an inseparable dharma of them. It is to constitute their differential truth.
Even truth speaking, which is recognised among the two topmost virtues- the other being nonviolence-by all classical schools of philosophy and religions, is held conditional on having no bad intent to hurt or harm the addressee and it must be presented in unhurtful language. Words can be as violent as bullets. So the language Is to be non- violent. This view is best put in the words of the Irish poet W.Yeats who was won over by Hindu thought:
A truth told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.
Non-violence is not to be a virtue among virtues but the one foundational truths of all virtues.
It is this culture of non-violence that could give rise to the phenomenon of Gandhiji. India's struggle for freedom was as great historical importance as movements for freedom of slaves or labour. During the 1921-22 struggle for freedom some persons inflamed by passion of violence set fire to a police post at Churichore burning some policemen alive. When Gandhiji heard of this violence he stopped his movement for freedom, though it was a political blunder by all political standards. True, it was a political blunder for it postponed the freedom for three decades. But it was the highest wisdom of the ethical spirit of non-violence. Gandhiji stopped the movement for he considered passion for violence as an intrinsic evil and non·violence to be higher value than even freedom of the country. He said, 'if freedom could be obtained by violence, I would rather not have it.'
Hindu Ethics gives the greatest value to non.violence which means non.injury to others, physical and mental.
There are two aspects of good life: (i) to avoid injury, harm, loss to others; (ii) to go out to help others through the feeling of compassion and love.
Hindu Ethics puts all emphasis on the first aspect of good life on moral and metaphysical grounds. It is easier to know what constitutes harm, injury, loss to another than to know what is for the good of others. I know that it is a harm to some one if I beat him, damage any of his organs, or kill him. I know it is a loss to another if I cheat him of his money or other belongings. My dishonesty harms another. My unchastity ruins S0me one's prospects for married life or the stability of some home. My greed for things deprives others of the rightful share of things. So the virtues of respect for the person of others, honesty, chastity, non-possessiveness, make us non.injurious to others, make us nonviolent to them The differential value of honesty, chastity, piety, temperance, non-possessiveness, sweet speech is that they avoid harm or hurt to others. Negatively speaking, I am doing good to others when I respect their life, property and sex for I am not taking anything from them which they value most in themselves. Everyone loves life, his possessions, his sex honour. Here I am on solid ground of what is good for others which I must respect.
Further, Hindu thinkers find that where as development of virtues in oneself depends on one's own will and efforts, the development of virtues in another depends on his willing cooperation. I can develop, e.g. habit of study. It is less difficult than if I try to develop the habit of study in an illiterate adult. It depends on my efforts to grow the virtues of temperance, courage and justice. I need to evoke the efforts of others in my efforts to awaken these virtues in them. This is an uphill task, beyond the capacity of an average person. It is more practical for a man of average moral abilities to develop 'self-regarding virtues' than 'other regarding virtues'. So there is emphasis to develop the self regarding virtues of honesty, chastity, non' possessiveness, and contentment, rather than compassion and love. This is the form of good which is open to the average person. This is practical limit of the good he can do for others. To do good to others, for an average man is not to deprive others of the good they possess. If we could all develop this level of self regarding virtues, we could clear mountains of garbage of misery, and suffering in society.
There is also metaphysical ground for emphasising self-regarding virtues, of chastity, non-possessiveness etc. They help non attachments to persons and things of the world. If I have the virtue of non-possessiveness (aparigraha) I will not be attached to my kothi and car, and other belongings. I will be indifferent to them. If I am chaste, (Brahmaachari) I will be non-attached to things of sex attraction. If I have the virtue of contentment (santosh) I will not be running after acquiring more and more things. If I am ego-free, no position and power will drug me to the social world. Nothing in the world can bold me tight in its grip if I develop self regarding virtues.
Love is a virtue of involvements and attachments. My compassion involves me in the life of the poor, lonely and the lost. My feeling of justice puts me in struggle against those who deny justice. My love for the service of students may wish me to prefer their company to company with my worshipful being or God.
Since non-attachment with the world of persons and things is essential for moksha. self regarding virtues are held by Hindu Ethics as all important.
When it comes to doing good to others, we are unconsciously imposing ourselves on others. We are not sure if we are not destroying the unique pattern of growth of persons and groups through our love for them. Today, sociologists warn us of the harm done by Christian missionaries in distorting the social structure of tribes by imposing on them Western social and moral values under the illusion of civilizing them; They tell all altruists to avoid the besetting sin of imposing their pattern of life on them. They should leave intact the social pattern of the tribes and help them to think for themselves how to adjust to the mainstream of life.
Altruistic love is considered the highest virtue for mankind. And this too must be purged by non-violence to reach its glory and shed blessings for all.
Non-violence avoids interference in the life of others. Altruistic. love runs the risk of imposing or interfering in the life of others. Keeping one's hands off can sometimes do better good to the other than doing good to him. These observations need more explication.
Let us realize how our altruistic virtues of compassion love, and service, run the risk of imposing ourselves on others, dominating them. If I help some one, I wish him to do what I want him to do in his studies, service and cultural development. We know how love of parents, lovers and altruistic persons can be possessive. Possessiveness is the violent element in all loves, parental, romantic or altruistic. Often parents impose and force their children, in open or subtle ways, to take to particular study, profession or religion. They project their frustration on them to be turned into fulfillment. A boy or a girl does not want his or her friend to share his/her love with other boys and girls. We know how adolescent boys and girls are jealous to see their friends sharing their love with others.
Love in its possessiveness is exclusive in its claim.
A mother does not want that her son should share his love for her with his wife Nor does the wife want her husband to share his love with his mother. So the jealousy of the mother-in-law with her daughter-in.law and vice-versa is as old as the institution of family. An altruist who devotes his life to an institution does not want to share Work with others which may reduce his domination, Altruistic love is as dominating and exclusive as sexual love. So just as a lover wants exclusive claim on his beloved, an altruist teacher or preacher wants exclusive claim on his herd of sheep. Love knows no sharing by the subject of it. love. It wants to possess it completely, absolutely and eternally.
We need non-violent love. Once, about twenty years ago, I was invited to speak on the ideal of life. In the course of my talk I said Hindu Ethics emphasizes non-violence and Christian Ethics emphasizes love in their concept of the ideal of life. The two together can make for right conduct. Love is aggressive and this element is evil which can be removed if we develop non-violence. Non·violence constitutes constant check post against every impulse of love to impose or force itself in the service' of others. A non-violent love can alone avoid the besetting sin of love to impose itself on others and make us helpful for all to have free development.
After I had written this article, I came across Buddha's warning to his disciples 'not to have love for others which is imposing or interfering with them.'
| From Science-Grounded Religion of August 1989|