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Wars Begin In The Minds Of Men

Donald H. Bishop

While there may be many circumstances that lead people to go to war, we should not overlook the well-known statement by U Thant, that wars begin in the minds of men.  The question I shall deal with in this essay is what was or ways of thinking about or viewing reality, both human and non-human, are likely to give rise to conflict and war on the one hand and to peace on the other.

There are three ways of looking at reality which may be called pluralism, dualism, and monism.  For the pluralist, reality consists of innumerable separate, independent, self-contained, unrelated particular entities, units or things.  There is no forest, only thousands of trees. There is no such thing as humanity or human race only millions of isolated, distinct, autonomous, sovereign individuals, each concerned only for his own well being, and viewing the good as whatever is useful in promoting his well being conceived of as a minimum of pain and maximum of pleasure.   

In pursuing his own interests the pluralist hold that freedom and independence are prerequisites.  Democracy is viewed as the best kind of government as it is grounded in the concept of individual liberty and inalienable individuals rights and the major function of the state is to ensure such liberty and rights.  Thus the state exists for the individual, not the individual for the state.   

In regard to economics a pluralist would believe in private property or individual ownership, laissez faire or a minimum number of regulations, competition, a free market economy and the right of the individual to do what he thinks is best or most useful for promoting his economic interests or well being. 

In religion, pluralistic individualism makes for a type religion which upholds the uniqueness and sacredness of each individual, a personal relationship with a God conceived of as personal, one or a single way of salvation and thus the belief that there is only one true religion.  Judaism, Christianity and Islam in many ways fit this model. 

The logical social implication of pluralism is an individualistic view of society.  The individual, not a group such as a family, is the basic social unit.  Society is not a harmony of mutual interests but merely a loose collection of competing self interests.  And what is true of each society is true of world society as a whole. 

A second way of looking at reality is dualism, of which there are two types—dialectical and non-dialectical.  Both see reality as consisting of sets of two’s, the difference being how the two are related.  An example of non-dialectical dualism is the traditional Chinese yang yin view of reality in which the term ‘and’ is the connective, yang and yin, and the two are seen as complementing or supplementing each other. 

In dialectical dualism the connective is not and, but, or. Persons are categorized as good or bad, friend or foe, ignorant or learned, civilized or barbaric, etc.  Nations too are viewed in similar terms.  They are either friends or foes, or us or against us, etc.  in each case the two parts of the set are viewed as separate, opposite, contradictory, mutually exclusive and possibly even antagonistic and in conflict with each other. 

The monist on the other hand emphasizes unity, oneness, harmony, interrelatedness and interdependence of reality. For example, in the natural world soil, sun and rain act together making plant life and thus animal and human life possible. 

The monist and pluralist have two different beginning and end points.  The monist begins with the universal and goes to the particular and sets the particular in the broader context of the whole, while the pluralist begins with and goes no further than the particular.  Thus to the monist, the human race is as much of an entity or reality as is each individual of which it is composed.  The monist accepts that each person is unique or different.  The difference is external or in terms of appearance, while in essence or beyond appearance, all people are alike, having similar needs or aspirations, although they may be met in different ways. 

Regarding religion the monist would hold that there is only one religion or religion is a universal phenomenon but it takes a plurality of forms, expressions or traditions.  There is only one God but that God is manifested in a number of ways.  Each religion is one of the different ways God may be worshipped or experienced just as there is more than one path to the top of a mountain but when the top is reached all see the same moon.  The monist believes that such a view is conducive to religious toleration and ultimately world peace; avoids religious bigotry, intolerance, and thus much more conducive to a peaceful world. 

If we were to characterize Gandhi’s views by one of the three categories which would they fit best into?  The answer is monism, or perhaps even more, a combination of monism and pluralism.  He did not denigrate individualism, but he said, “I value individual freedom but you must not forget that man is essentially a social being….Unrestricted individualism is the law of the beast of the jungle.”  Gandhi recognized that individuals may have rights, but even more, they have duties and “If all simply insist on rights and no duties, there will be utter confusion.  If instead of insisting on rights, everyone dies his duty, there will immediately be the rule of order established among mankind…..What I call the law of Satyagraha is to be deduced from an appreciation of duties and rights following therefrom.”  What we have here is the universal problem of balance between rights and duties.  Western societies, which are individualistically oriented, rights are emphasized more, while in group oriented societies stress is laid on duties. 

Gandhi believed that “All life in its essence is one,” that when “a man accumulates material wealth, he does so only through the help or cooperation of other members of society.”  He rejected the dualistic view of man when he said, “It is a bad habit to say that another man’s thoughts are bad and ours only are good, and that those holding different views from ours are the enemies.”  He cautioned that a satyagrahi “must never forget the distinction between evil and evil doer…..For it is an article of faith with every satyagrahi that there is no one so fallen in this world who cannot be converted by love.” 

Reminiscent of K’ang Yu Wei’s one world philosophy and the need for empathy is Gandhi’s statement, “I do not believe that an individual may gain spiritually while those that surround him suffer.  I believe in advaita.  I believe in the essential unity of man and for that matter all that lives.  I believe that if one man gains spiritually, the whole gains with him and, if one falls, the whole world falls to that extent.” 

In ethics Gandhi associated the good not just with a minority, or even majority, but with the good of all.  This is seen in his view that “A votary of Ahimsa cannot ascribe to the utilitarian formula of the greatest good of the greatest number.  He will strive for the greatest good for all and die in the attempt to realize that ideal.”  Of course the main tenet of Gandhi’s ethics is his insistence on nonviolence.  Over and over again he maintained that “nonviolence is without exception superior to violence,” and “that nothing enduring can be built upon violence,” that “Brute force has been the ruling factor in the world for thousands of years but there is little hope of anything good coming out of it in the future,” that “Nonviolence is a universal principle and its operations are not limited by a hostile environment.”  Moreover, nonviolence should and can be practiced by states as well as by individuals.  Gandhi said that “nonviolence is not merely a personal virtue.  It is also a social virtue to be cultivated like other virtues…..What I ask for is its extension on a larger national and international scale.”  Indians followed Gandhi’s lead on this to become free of England.  His emphasis on nonviolence also reflects his concern that only moral means can be used to achieve good ends.  This is seen in his statement that “progress toward goal will be in exact proportion to the means used.” 

Gandhi’s definition of theft as “my having in my possession something which someone else needs more than me” will seem unusual to most people but if is related to his view of nature, it will not be.  Nature, Gandhi said, “produces enough for our wants from day to day, and if only everybody took enough for himself and nothing more, there would be no pauperism in this world, there would be no man dying of starvation in this world.  But as long as we have this inequality, so long will there be thieving.”  For Gandhi there is enough in nature to meet the needs of all.  The trouble is that most people live in terms of desire or greed rather than need.  They seek to acquire much more than insisting on an equitable sharing of nature’s providence.  Gandhi insisted on equal access to it.  If both were realized in practice, there would be no class societies and no gap between rich and poor and thus less likelihood of jealousy, antagonism and conflict, both within and between societies or nations. 

A combination of monism and pluralism characterizes Gandhi’s religious outlook.  This is most obvious in his statement that “Religions are different roads converging on the same point.  What does it matter that we take different roads, so long as we reach the same goal?”  He did not believe in conversion.  He said, “My veneration for other faiths is the same as that for my own faith.  Therefore no thought of conversion is possible.  The aim of fellowship should be to help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Mussalman to become a better Mussalman, and a Christian to become a better Christian.”  One need not be hesitant over learning about other religions for “the Hindu system of philosophy regards all religions as containing elements of truth in them and enjoins an attitude of respect and reverence towards them all.”  Ahimsa, he said, “teaches us to entertain the same respect for all religious faiths of others as we accord to our own.” 

It is obvious that such an attitude avoids intolerance and dogmatism in religion or the insistence that there is only one true religion.  It promotes religious tolerance or acceptance and enables the followers of different faiths to work in union with rather than in opposition to each other.  Tolerance, Gandhi said does not mean a weakening or “indifference to one’s own faith, but a more intelligent and purer love for it.”  A disavowal of the dualistic view of a religion being either true or false can lead to another way of judging it.  It is not a matter of a particular religion being true or false but whether it does or does not give meaning, significance, purpose and serenity to one’s life.  If it does the latter and no harm to others, then accept it and live up to its essentials as much as is fully possible and allow or help those of other faiths to do the same.  

Satyagraha is one term which incorporates Gandhi’s views discussed above.  Thus a satyagrahi, is a person who seeks to act in terms of it, will believe that love has the power to change people for the better, that love is best expressed through persuasion, nonviolence and the willingness to take suffering on oneself, rather than inflicting it upon others.  To do so requires a great deal of courage, inner strength, discipline, perseverance, and a deep faith in God and in the ultimate triumph of truth and righteousness.  Such love also rests on  a firm belief in human goodness, that like will produce like, the effect is like the cause, that just as hatred gives rise to hatred, so love produces love. 

The satyagrahi will not try to use people for his own ends, nor will he use immoral means to attain good ends.  Using people involves a denial of their inherent of God-given dignity and worth.  He will hold that all are equally children of God and therefore all people are brothers and sisters with common needs, goals and aspirations.  The satyagrahi believes nations, like a person, can act in terms of nonviolence and that it is especially imperative that they do so today.  Being mindful of Gandhi’s declaration that “A man is a product of his thoughts, what he thinks, he becomes,” he will always be aware of the need for self purification, of purging his mind of selfishness, malice, falsehood and temptation.  To reform the world, begin with oneself. 

Finally, the satyagrahi realizes that, like everyone else, he must choose between acting in terms of the real or the ideal.  He will choose to act in terms of the ideal, recognizing that although the ideal my never be fully realized, it should not stop him from ever trying to reach it. 

Source: Anasakti Darshan Vol. 2, No. 2, July-December 2006