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Non-violence Relative Economics And A New Social Order: Ahimsa Culture for Human Survival

Published: 11.06.2015
Updated: 02.07.2015

Originally printed in Gandhi Marg, Vol. XXII, 1981.

Ishavasyam Idam Sarvam - Isha Upanishad.
In spite of death life persists, in spite of hatred love
Persists, and in spite of darkness light persists - Anon.

The expression 'Ahimsa Culture', though not new, is not a very familiar one. The two words, Ahimsa and Culture, occur so very often that we know their meanings very well. But when used in combination and as one qualifying the other, a world of new meanings flashes across our minds. Some questions also arise as to whether our present Culture is a 'Himsa Culture,' akin to what existentialists call a 'death wish.' One does not wish for death, but one does everything which brings death nearer. Something along that line is happening to us today, and we are in the mortal fear of a nuclear holocaust, and even the projects for peaceful use of nuclear energy are being massively opposed at times in the United States under the name of 'Nuke.'

Let me in the very beginning explain the connotation and full significance of the words I have used in the title.

Ahimsa is an ancient Sanskrit word which originally meant only 'non-killing.' It must have come into existence as a reaction to 'killing' human beings, and as a response to a feeling of aversion, distaste, and repugnance to the act of'killing' fellow human beings. Perhaps this was a first step in 'Ahimsa Culture.' As in the case of many other Sanskrit words, such as 'Yajna' 'Yoga', in course of time, Ahimsa gathered a lot of connotation and came to mean 'non-injury' to others by thought, word or deed. In Jainism, it means 'non-injury' not only to human beings but to all living creatures, and Ahimsa is the highest and primal duty for a Jain. Apart from the connotations, the word gathered in the course of its use through about twenty-five centuries or more, when Gandhi began to use it as the twin of Satya or Truth, and as the best means of knowing, realizing and establishing Truth in life and daily human living, the word gathered still more deeper connotations. It is usually translated in English by the word 'nonviolence'. Both these two words, though negative in form, have developed positive meanings and are identified with empathy, love, identification with the 'other', service, suffering, sacrifice for the 'other' or for the Truth, for the object and/or cause towards which one adopts an attitude of Ahimsa. Once when I proposed to Gandhi to adopt the word 'love' for Ahimsa, he said that though Ahimsa is the purest kind of love, the word 'love' has other meanings. So, he said, he was satisfied with the word 'Ahimsa', since he had grown with it. But he had no objection if others preferred the word 'love' in the Christian sense. Thus in the present context Ahimsa means an attitude of constructive or even aggressive love towards all, with a view to the good and all-sided progress and development, Sarvodaya, of the whole of humanity.

I am using the word 'culture' here in its widest possible and comprehensive sense to include spirituality, religion, philosophy, socio-economic and political systems, literature and arts, customs and manners, and, in fact, every activity of human beings in which they have exceeded and added, and/or improved upon mere animal existence. Ahimsa Culture would therefore mean an orientation to human activity and human affairs which is dominantly charged with love and altruistic attitude towards all.

By 'human survival' I do not mean mere survival for the sake of survival, mere survival is not of much value if it does not lend itself to the progressive expansion and elevation of the human consciousness, culminating in blissful illumination of the highest order. I have used the words 'human survival', since the background today is one of a universal apprehension of 'human extinction' in the wake of nuclear Armageddon which is the logical result of the present suicidal policies man is following.

I have tried to approach the subject from two different but non-contradictory and complementary angles, namely intuitionistic and rational or logical and pragmatic angle. Ishavasyam Idam Sarvam, 'all this existence that is, that moves, that lives and has its being in the vastness of infinity is the inseparable abode of the one supreme power, self-existent, self-luminous. Infinite Energy with Protean Potentialities.' This quotation from the lsha Upanishad, in fact, this first Mantra-potent word of the Upanishad - stands for the intutionistic approach. It leads to what is commonly expressed as 'the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man,' in which love is the dominant bond for all. Gandhi said,'all life is one' and therefore love is the one binding and integrating force. The second quotation beginning with'Inspite of death...' represents the rational approach. Death, hatred and darkness have been very much there. They are still there to eradicate life, love, and light. And yet life, love, and light continue to live and prosper. That is a positive proof that they have an edge over their negative opposites. Negatives have no positive existence. Human survival and along with it, survival of life, love, and light is a step in human evolution for further progress and greater enlightenment.

I would also like to explain here what I mean by the term 'evolution.' It is a biological term and has to be explained in terms of life and all that it means. Life started as a unicellular being; but life went on developing into multicellular organisms and today man is the apex. The characteristic of this development, which is called 'evolution' is that, while different types of energies and functions have gone on increasing, bringing in their wake more complexity and greater organization, there is no entropy - no loss of energy for efficient orderliness. The organism as a whole, say, that of man, is one single integrated entity, howsoever complex and multicellular it might be, whatever the number and variety going of cells and however complicated the interaction and interpenetration on among the cells. There is a marvelous integrality and orderliness in the functioning of the human organism.

This evolution is even now on, we may or may not be conscious of it, and it can never stop; since man has developed not only a higher type of consciousness but also self-consciousness, and what we call conscience as well, we are in a position to study the elementary urges behind the phenomenon of this evolution. It may not be possible for man to arise at total knowledge and full understanding of the urges of evolution. But even a partial understanding and right perception of the urges gives man a chance to participate in his own evolution which has been hitherto going on, on its own, driven by natural cosmic forces. If the evolution of the Homo Sapiens from his predecessors has been by a kind of mutation, it is on the cards that a superior human being may also come into existence by another mutation. The endeavour of man at the present stage of his evolution is, however, to explore if he can consciously participate, even in a very small degree, in his evolution to a higher level of conscious orderly existence.

In addition to the biological urges of survival and security, man hankers after peace as an opportunity and precondition for his normal, proper development of body, vital energies and mental as well as moral faculties. Here peace does not mean the tamasic lethargy, nor does it mean the peace of sleep or the grave; it does not mean the peace which is vainly sought after through transquilisers and drugs and drinks. It is creative peace which stimulates man to higher effort and which makes it possible to develop culture of every type. In fact, all culture is the development and expression of the multifaceted potentialities in human beings. Next to peace of the above type, man hungers after love, harmony, and friendliness in society as the gateway to joy and happiness.

If we cast even a casual and cursory glance and survey the prehistory, proto-history, and history of mankind for the past several millennia, we shall find that it is through long periods of peace and through loving friendliness and cooperation that man has been able to build the present great civilization, attain the high levels of culture in various parts of the world, and develop extraordinary technical and artistic skills in works and in highly efficient organisation. This achievement is observable both in individual advance and development as well as corporate existence and civic living. A few thousand years ago, might be ten or fifteen or fifty thousand according to different speculative historians, we were mere cave dwellers, cannibals, head-hunters, petty tribals, scattered over in various localities on the globe and always in desperate search of food and shelter. And today we are billions settled in huts and hamlets and a few in heavenly mansions all over the many continents, a few of us flying like birds with supersonic speeds, communicating with each other as if we were next door neighbours even though we are speaking a thousand different languages not known to each other. We are sharing, however inequitably, our goods and commodities, skills and crafts, our sciences and technologies. But an achievement higher than all these is the serious attempt to forge links and build bridges among peoples of different religions and races in order to integrate the whole of humanity into a single Family of Man - Vishwa a Kutumba, the dream and insight of the ancient Vedic Rishis of India. At the top of all these achievements is the sincere and heart-felt attempt to share the cares and anxieties, the fears and hopes, the apprehensions and optimisms of peoples across oceans and continents through global organizations like the UNO, the UNESCO, the WHO, the FAO, and the ILO in which people deliberate collectively and try to find out common remedies for ills common to humanity as a whole.

This does not mean that as against peace there have been no wars, as against attempts to build there have been no disastrous destructions, as against love and friendliness there has been no hatred and utter enmity, as against cooperation there has been no obstructive activity, and as against attempt to establish harmony and happiness there have been no jealous and murderous conspiracies to spread poison and misery. But the point is, in spite of the negative and anti-forces, the positive forces of evolution have been able to make headway and kindle in the doubting mind of man a flame of hope for the future.

Having noted the edge that life has against death, love has against hate, and light has against darkness, one would ask relevantly a question at to why one should now be anxious and diffident about the ultimate triumph of life, love and light over death, hatred, and darkness. The answer is that it is neither a question of diffidence nor despair. It is rather a question of the responsibility every human being has to bear, bearing in mind the present precarious human condition which is, on all counts, and in the estimation of the most intelligent objective observers, on the brink of the greatest disaster that can befall man, his civilization and culture, as well as all life on this small planet. The responsibility to avoid, avert and once for all annihilate the possibility of any such suicidal disaster rests squarely on the shoulders of man, the citizen of the world as it is he who has allowed things to drift to the extent that he is now facing extinction. He is now self-aware. He has come of age. He knows that man is born for joy and happiness, and sees, may, experiences that he is everywhere in misery, misery of his own making. He must now consciously, deliberately, and with an adamantine will summon the total forces of love and cooperation, of knowledge and understanding to defeat all anti-life and anti-love forces. It is no longer enough to allow the forces of love and life and light to operate by themselves, as dumb and silent natural forces. The urges of evolution are already there but not it is time that man participates in the evolution towards higher and nobler levels of conscious existence, of creative peace, ascending symphonic harmony and universal joy and happiness of all which was the dream as well as the ideal of Gandhi. Ahimsa Culture in this context would mean not the passive, dormant, and occasional expression of the great and noble and self-denying emotion of love, but that cultivated and well-nourished culture in which every activity of the physical, vital, intellectual, aesthetic, moral and spiritual energy of a human being is informed and instinct with love overflows to reach through identification with every being on earth to fulfill high human destiny.

I know that 'Ahimsa Culture' is a rare expression, if not a new one. But in view of the critical and dangerous phase of evolution through which man is passing, it needs to be made not only current but also popular. Today violence, overt or covert, open or secret, on all levels - individual, social, group, national, and international – is obviously playing havoc and embittering all human relations. Self in a narrow and parochial sense, self-interest in terms of possessions and/or power individually and/or collectively, is dominant as against all other interests. Exploitative injustice and constructive violence as that of the haves and have-nots is the rule rather than an exception. Hegemonial ambitions, arms race, piling up of atomic weaponry, notwithstanding the awareness that atomic weapons are not defensive and atomic wars are 'unwinnable.' The total annual military budgets bulging to $ 500 billions, twenty million youths, the every flower of humanity, being taught and trained for the dehumanizing skill of killing without being killed, are all portents of a global magnitude. If man at this critical juncture fails to mobilize his spiritual resources, his commitment to truth and love for all, and neglects to utilize his rational faculties, there would not be any other opportunity, since humanity itself would have disappeared. Gandhi, with his unerring instinct and intuition in this matter, pledged himself to Truth and Nonviolence alone, Satya and Ahimsa, or rather, to Truth through nonviolence alone, Satya through Ahimsa alone. His appearance on the human stage at the time when the most suicidal and devastating atomic bomb was in the making is historically also very significant. Gandhi might well be considered as the high priest of Ahimsa Culture and all that it connotes.

Man today is in transition. He is at the crossroads. He has traveled far enough from the beast that he was and has been, towards manhood on his way to godhood, if that word can signify a very high level of superior and dignified truth-conscious existence. His has not been an easy career. He has tried hard to probe into the mysterious powers of matter and harnessed atomic energy. Can he not also explore and succeed in controlling his aggressive and lustful tendencies and cultivate Ahimsa? Gandhi himself has asked this question. The tragedy is that today he is a slave of his ambitions for dominance and power, and is utilizing science and technology, in addition to their other uses for human comfort and convenience, for the purpose of exploiting and ruling over his brethren. It is this aspect of his activities which is jeopardizing human survival. No amount of sophistication, talk of self-defence, balance of power and terror, treaties like Salt I and II can hide or camouflage the naked face of the danger in which humanity finds itself today. Gandhi is not alone in calling'halt' to this madness and advising human beings to take to the path of love and friendliness. It was not he who wrote the Constitution of the United Nations Organization. 'World without war' was a call given by the warlords and the significant sculpture in front of the building of the United Nations of the sword to be beaten into a ploughshare, is a representation of the great saying to that effect in the Bible of the Christians.

It is true that Gandhi gave Ahimsa culture its shape and form by not merely preaching but by scrupulously practicing it throughout his eventful life and finally sealing its authenticity by his own martyrdom. But he often said that the principles he stood for and the culture he embodied were both as old as the hills. Even so, he added something to the principles and that was the method. The manner, and the detailed technique of making the principles operative. That something was Satyagraha, a way of life, adherence of truth at the cost of ones life but with love in ones heart for even the wrong-doer and the aggressor.

Even if one is convinced that Ahimsa Culture is the most desirable, may advisable, or compulsively necessary in view of the universal calamity man is facing today, the problems demanding our immediate attention are how to overcome the forces of violence hatred, destruction, fear, disruption, and such other disintegrating forces, what should be the world structure for operation, and who should bear the brunt of the struggle. Though the name of Ahimsa Culture seems new, several are the different forms in which the same idea has been engaging the attention of mankind for ages. World without war, lasting peace, Family of Man, conflict resolution without bloodshed and destruction of person, property, or prestige are ideas which have been advocated by many in the past and are being canvassed vigorously even now. Similarly ideas of One World, World Union, Federal World, regarding the structure of the world community have been current. Even those governments that use violence against other governments to solve conflicts do it as a last resort and in the name of bringing about peace. This proves that the hunger for peace is basic and humanity is struggling hard to ban war and violence altogether. But today, there is intense urgency, and delay is bringing the doom nearer. We are caught in a vicious circle from which only adamantine will and herculean efforts of the people of the world can deliver us. If use of violence has been abjured by citizens of a single political entity within the borders of a nation for solution of conflicts, be it even on account of the superior violent power of the government of the nation, there is no reason why the same should not happen between nations, provided a supranational authority is set up by universal consent. Sensing the doomsday danger of stockpiling of nuclear weapons by nations, Einstein said in 1953 that "in the present stage of technical development, only a supranational organization, equipped with a sufficiently strong executive power, can protect us." In an interview broadcast from the United Nations Radio in 1950, Einstein in reply to questions about peace said, "among other things, the will to peace and the readiness to accept every step needed for this goal are most important." At the end of the interview, he remarked: "Taking on the whole, I would believe that Gandhi's views were the most enlightened of all political men in our time. We should try to do things in his spirit... not to use violence infighting for our cause, but by non-participation in what we believe is evil."

The question remains however as to who is to take the initiative in action. To wait for governments to act is futile, so long as we allow them to wage war or peace in our name and that too as our representatives. It is the people who suffer in wars, before as well as after, whether victors or vanquished. It is the people who ought to organize world opinion against all war and also all violence, both within the nation and between nations and groups of nations. Education, on all levels, constant and effective for Ahimsa Culture, culture based on love, on non-violence, on equality, human dignity, human duties as well as rights is the main and royal road to achievement in this sphere.

Now let us see what are the sources and origin of this culture of almost 'aggressive love,' if such an expression can be appropriate, its strength and sanction, its rationale, and finally its roots in the science of today.

To the Vedic Rishis the sun was the symbol of all power and the source of not only all life but also of all consciousness and intelligence. They invoked in their congregational prayer the Gayatri Mantra the sun-god, Savitra, to inspire and guide them. They declared that there is only one Truth, on Being, one God, Ekam Sat, and that people call it by different names. To them the whole universe was one family, Vasudhavia Kutumbakam. They therefore sang, Sangachhadwam, let us march together, let our minds work together, let our aspirations be the same. These are all expressions of the feeling of oneness and love, the binding force of all life and the source of all light and wisdom. Long before Jainism, which holds 'Ahimsa' as the highest religion and duty - Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah - there was what was called the Shramana culture which gave high value to 'non-killing'. The Buddha through the army of missionaries, the Bhikkhus, whom he created, preached not merely negative 'non-killing' but the positive aspects -karuna (compassion) and maitri (friendshipness). He taught the conquest of anger by non-anger, hatred by love and his teaching spread over a great part of the world beyond the borders of the then great India. Jesus the Christ was the Prince of Peace, Love, faith and charity are the fundamentals of Christianity. Islam means peace and the very common greetings of Mussalmans mean peace - Sallam. To go back to the Vedas and Upanishads, Ishavasyam Idam Sarvamby one supreme spiritual insight declares the omnipresence of one pervading Consciousness and through it harkens to all to live a life of unitive communion in which the endeavour to achieve the good of all includes the good of the individuals of the living fraternity.

Faith, however, would be blind faith if it is not tested by reason and experience. Man finds himself in the midst of constructive and destructive energies-cum-forces, nature or the cosmos. Life and death, health and disease, love and hatred, peace and war, calmness and anger face us every moment in life. The question before a rational human being is, with which force should he ally himself. The plain, simple, direct reply to this question is that man ought to strengthen the forces of construction as he wants and wills to live a healthy, harmonious, integrated, happy life, both as an individual and as a community. The destructive forces are anti-life and to help them is obviously suicidal and against the interest of man. The evolutionary urge in man too dictates to him to strive to live and promote the potentialities inherent in man, for himself and for his race. This is the raison d'etre of Ahimsa Culture.

No other name is greater than that Einstein in the modern world of science. He was a man of peace and he admired Gandhi to the extent of saying that, scarcely would people believe that a man called Gandhi in flesh and blood, walked on this earth. He regretted that his own discoveries in science were utilized for forging atomic weapons of mass destruction. It is said that he wept when he learnt that such weapons were being manufactured. But he is gone, leaving his message of peace and goodwill to the distracted world. Robert Oppenheimer who was responsible for making the first fissionable atomic bomb in the United States wrote relentingly in his diary about the bomb, that it was 'born' for the annihilation of the world. Being an admirer of the Gita he quoted it in his diary saying, Kalosmi Lokakshayakrit Pravraddhah. He tried to delay, out of remorse, the coming of the Hydrogen Bomb by two years, after the explosion of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. And he suffered for it. He too (s gone along with the qualms of conscience which ought to move tht hearts of scientists and technologists to desist from participating in the murderous game which politicians play with impunity and that too in the name of the people and their nations. Let us now listen to a living top physicist Fritjof Capra the author of The Tao of Physics. The most tragic thing that has happened to modern science and technology as well as to political science is that they are innocent of all moral considerations, which really are the very bedrock of human society and individual behavioural and mutually beneficial relationship. Quantum physics and the quest of the last particle has led scientists to the conclusion that the world of matter as well as of life and consciousness is one integral organic whole. He calls for a radically different social and economic order which will actively reflect the dynamic interrelation and interaction of the seemingly separate constituents of the universe, so that real harmony and happiness can result for humanity as a whole. Capra avers that the survival of the whole of human civilization may depend on whether we can bring about such a change.

One question however may arise as to what can we do about the aggressive tendencies in man? If suppressed by law or by pubic opinion or social restraint, will they not result in some kind of ugly distortions and deviations of habit and/or some kind of psychic damage and permanent harm to persons who have such tendencies? Such undesirable consequences will follow only if such tendencies are blocked completely without being converted into creative tendencies. What other magic spell but love, and Ahimsa Culture founded on it, can help curb these tendencies and who can be our surer guide but Gandhi?


Title: Non-violence Relative Economics And A New Social Order
Publisher: Jain Vishwa Bharati University, Ladnun, India
Editors: Prof. B.R. Dugar, Dr. Samani Satya Prajna, Dr. Samani Ritu Prajna
Edition: First Edition, 2008

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