Against the background of Hindu-Moslem riots in India
in1947, Ikeda focuses on Mahatma Gandhi as a messenger of peace and a staunch
believer in the potency of non-violence as the only means to bring lasting peace
in the world.
In India, many revered Gandhi but few shared his belief. For
Gandhi nonviolence meant an overflowing of love for all, including the British;
for most of his followers it was only a political strategy, a tactic for winning
India's independence. Thus Gandhi despite his followers in millions was alone.
Dwelling on terrorism, a new form of violence, the author says
that peace based on forceful suppression of people's voice would not be lasting.
Peace results from the willingness to listen. The tragedy of September 11 should
be used as an opportunity to start a dialogue of cultures and peoples. There is no
other way to bring peace on earth.
How the minds of the people could be moulded through education
and dialogue is illustrated by a 1957 exhibition entitled 'King Ashoka - Mahatma
Gandhi and Nehru - Healing touch.
"I don't want toys or chocolates. All I want is peace and
freedom. People of Europe, people of the world, please find the humanity in your
hearts to put an end to this war", said the young girl of the former Yugoslavia.
I was visiting Rajghat, where Mahatma Gandhi, the father of
Indian Independence, has been cremated. Some where a bird sang. A forest was
nearby, and squirrels ran through its lush green thickets. The area was a
spacious, well-tended shrine to non-violence.
As I offered flowers before the black stone platform that
constitutes Gandhi's memorial, I bowed my head. I pondered Gandhi's brilliant
spirit. I thought of his ceaseless struggles to douse the fires of hatred with
water drawn from the pure springs of love for humanity. And I thought of
how alone he was in the quest.
Whose side are you on?
"Gandhi tells us not to retaliate against the Muslims! How can he take their
side? They killed my family, including my five-years old son!," said one among
the angry crowd of Hindus.
"Is he telling us just to endure the attacks of the Hindus? Ridiculous! Does not he
know what we Muslims have been through all these years? After all, Gandhi's a
Hindu himself, isn't he?", said one among the angry crowd of Muslims.
Despite these, the elderly sage went everywhere, wherever Hindus and Muslims
were mired in bloodstained cycles on conflict reprisal. He called for the
killing to end. But people, crazed by hate, did not listen. They told him to
leave, calling his attempts at reconciliation hypocritical or worse. They
demanded to know whose side he was on. But he was not on either side. And
at the same time, he was on both sides. To him, people are brothers and sisters.
How could he stand by, a silent witness to mutual slaughter?
Gandhi declared that he was willing to be cut into two if that was what people
wanted, but not for India to be cut into two. What good, he demanded to know,
could ever come of hatred? If hate were returned with hate, it would only become
more deeply rooted and widespread.
Suppose someone sets fire to your home and you retaliate by setting fire to
theirs, soon the whole town will be in flames! Burning down the attacker's house
would not bring yours back. Violence solves nothing. By engaging in reprisals,
you only hurt yourself. But no matter how urgently Gandhi called on people to
listen to reason, the fires of hatred raged on. Against the lone Gandhi there
were far too many people fanning the flames.
1. Fire Cannot Extinguish Fire
On January 20, 1948 - 10 days, in fact, before he was
assassinated - a handmade bomb was hurled at Gandhi as he attended a meeting.
This act of terrorism was carried out by a Hindu youth. Fortunately, the bomb
missed the mark. The youth was arrested.
The next day several adherents of the Sikh faith called on
Gandhi and assured him that the culprit was not a Sikh, Gandhi rebuked them,
saying that it mattered nothing at all to him whether the assailant was a Sikh,
a Hindu, or a Muslim. Whoever the perpetrator might be, he said, he wished him well.
Gandhi explained that the youth had been taught to think of him
as an enemy of the Hindu cause, that hatred had been implanted in his heart. The
youth believed what he was taught and was so desperate, so devoid of all hope
that violence seemed the only alternative.
Gandhi felt only pity for the young man. He even told the
outraged chief of police not to harass his assailant but make an effort to
convert him to right thoughts and actions.
This was always his approach. No one abhorred violence more than
Gandhi. At the same time no one knew more deeply that violence a could only be
countered by non-violence.
Just as a fire is extinguished by water, love and compassion only
can defeat hatred. Some criticized Gandhi for coddling the terrorist. Others
scorned his conviction, calling it sentimental and unrealistic; an empty vision.
Gandhi was alone . Many revered his name, but few truly shared his beliefs. For
Gandhi, non-violence meant an overflowing love for all humanity, a way of life
that emanated from the very marrow of his being. It made life possible; without
it, he could not have lived even a moment. But for many of his followers,
non-violence was simply a political strategy, a tactic for winning India's
Independence from Britain.
Gandhi was alone.
The more earnestly he pursued his religious beliefs, the deeper
his love for humanity grew. This love made it all the more impossible for him to
ignore the political realities and it strengthened his conviction that nothing is more
essential than the love for humanity that religious faiths inspire.
This placed him, however, in the position of being denounced by
both religious figures, who saw his involvement in the sullied realm of
politics as driven by personal ambition, and political leaders, who called him
ignorant and naive. Because he walked the middle way, the true path of humanity
that seeks to reconcile apparent contradictions,
his beliefs and actions appeared biased to those at the extremes.
2. Putting an End to Terrorism
The September 11 attacks against the United States were savage
beyond words. Our fellow SGI members and friends were among the victims. The
attacks provoked universal revulsion and the heartfelt desire that such
slaughter never be repeated. For what crime were these innocent people killed?
There is no reason, nothing that could possibly justify such an act. Even if, as
has been reported, the perpetrators believed they were acting based on their
religious faith, their act in no way merit the name of martyrdom. Martyrdom
means offering up ones own life, not taking the lives of others. True self-sacrifice
is made to save others from suffering to offer them happiness. Any act that
involves the killing of others is reprehensible and purely destructive.
The time has come for mankind to join together in putting an end
to terrorism. The question is how can this be achieved? Will military
retaliation serve that end? Is not it likely to incite more hatred? Even
if, for arguments' sake, the immediate 'enemy' could be subdued, would that bring
true peace? Long simmering hatreds would only be driven further underground
making it impossible to predict where next in the world they might burst forth.
Our world would be tormented with ever-greater fear and unease. Here I am
reminded of the simple wisdom of the Aesop's Fable "The North Wind and the Sun".
The North Wind tried to make a traveller remove his coat by assailing him with
icy gusts, but the harder the North Wind blew, the tighter the traveller pulled
his coat around him. Peace that is based on the forceful suppression of people's
voices and concerns, whether it be in your or other countries, is a dead peace -
the peace of the grave. Surely that is not the peace for which humanity yearns.
3. Violence vs. Nonviolence: The struggle of the 21st Century
I am also reminded of a moving episode that Leo Tolstoy related in a letter
written two months before his death. The letter dated September 7,
1910, was addressed to Mahatma Gandhi.
The episode went something like this.
There was a test on the subject of religion in a certain girls' school in
Moscow. A Bishop had come to the school and was quizzing the girls one by one
about the Ten Commandments. When he came to the Commandment . "Thou shalt
not kill," the Bishop asked: "Does God forbid us to kill under all
The girls, each answered as they had been taught . "No", they said, "Not under
all circumstances. We may kill in war or as legal punishment?"
"Yes, that's right! You've answered correctly!" said the Bishop.
Then one of the girls, her face flushed with indignation, spoke up:
"Killing is wrong under all circumstances
The Bishop was flustered and marshalled all his rhetorical skills to the girl that there were exceptions to
the Commandment against killing, but to no avail.
"No", she declared ."Killing is a sin under all circumstances. It says so in the Old Testament. Moreover,
Jesus not only forbade killing but taught that we must do no harm to our neighbours."
In the face of the truth in the girl's assertion, the Bishop's
authority and verbal skills were of no use whatsoever. In the end, he could only
fall silent. The young gir,. Tolstoy wrote with evident satisfaction, had proven victorious.
Let us amplify that young girls words "It is wrong to kill, even in
war!" and broadcast them to the world.
The 20th century was a century of war, a century in which hundreds of millions of people died violent deaths. Have
we learned anything from those horrific tragedies? In the new era of the 21st
century, humanity must be guided by the overriding principle that killing is
never acceptable or justified under any circumstances. Unless we realise this,
unless we widely promote and deeply implant the understanding that violence can
never be used to advocate one's beliefs. we will have learned nothing from the
bitter lessons of the 20th century.
The real struggle of the 21st century will not be between civilisations, or between religions. It will be between violence
and non-violence in the truest sense of the word.
4. Extinguish the Flames Of Hatred with a flood of Dialogue
More than half a century ago, Gandhi sought to break cycles of violence and
reprisal. What distinguishes man from beasts, he said, is our continuous
striving for moral self-improvement. Humanity is at a crossroads and must
choose, he asserted, violence (the law of the jungle) or nonviolence (the law of humanity).
The world today, in fact, has an extraordinary and unprecedented opportunity. We
have the chance to open a new page in human history. Now is the time to make the
We regard terrorist attacks to be a challenge to the law of humanity. It is for
this reason that we refuse to follow the law of the jungle upon which the
attacks were based. We declare our determination to find a solution not by
military means but through extensive dialogue. Rather than further fuel the
flames of hatred, we choose to douse with a great "flood of dialogue" that will
enrich and benefit all humanity.
This is the best, the only means to assure that such horrors are
never repeated, and we believe it is the most fitting way to honour the memory
of those who lost their lives in the attacks.
Such a declaration, put into action, would certainly be met with the unstinting
praise of future historians.
Great good can come of great evil. But this will not happen on its own. Courage
is always required to transform evil into good. Now is the time for each of us
to bring forth such courage: the courage of non-violence; the courage of
dialogue; the courage of listening to what we would rather not hear; the courage
to restrain the desire for vengeance and be guided by reason.
5. Peace is Born from Willingness To Listen
In conversation with Mrs. Veena Sikri, Director General of
the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), we discussed Indian philosophy
and the tradition of non-violence and I spoke of my desire to bring the light
of India, with its immense spiritual heritage, to the people of Japan. This wish
was eventually realised in the form of an exhibition entitled "King - Mahatma
Gandhi and Nehru - Healing Touch" that was held in Japan in 1994.
King Ashoka was a wise and virtuous monarch of Ancient India (around the third century B.C.)
After witnessing first hand the cruel realities of war, he converted to
Buddhism, deciding that he would base his rule not on military force, but on
Dharma, the principles of Buddhism. When Gandhi was asked whether a nonviolent
state was possible, he replied that indeed it was. He pointed to Ashoka's reign
as an example and asserted that it must be possible to reproduce the ancient
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of Independent India,
was Gandhi's direct disciple. When he visited Japan in 1957, he voiced his
profound concern over the escalating violence in the world. In one of his
addresses, he stated that the only truly effective response to the hydrogen bomb
was not a bomb of even bigger destructive capacity but a spiritual ' bomb'
of compassion. This was just one month after Josei Toda, the second president of
the Soka Gakkai, made his declaration calling for the abolition for the nuclear weapons.
Some of the Japanese involved in the preparation of the "King Ashoka, Mahatma
Gandhi and Nehru" exhibition at first had difficulty appreciating the
"healing touch" in the broader sense as it was not as familiar a tune in Japan as it
has since become. But no theme goes more to the very heart of non-violence. For
violence is born from a wounded spirit; a spirit burned and blistered by the
fire of arrogance; a spirit splintered and frayed by the frustration of
powerlessness; a spirit parched with an unquenched thirst for meaning in life; a
spirit shriveled and shrunk by a feeling of inferiority. The rage that results
from injured self respect from humiliation erupts as violence. A culture of
violence, which delights in crushing and beating others into submission, spreads
throughout society, often amplified by the media.
The American Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr., was a student of Gandhi's philosophy. He declared that a person whose
spirit is in turmoil can't truly practice nonviolence. It was my hope that the
right of India - a country known in the East since ancient times as "The Land of
Moonlight" - would help spread the spirit of peace, much as the cool beams of the
moon bring soothing relief from the maddening heat of the day. From a healed,
peaceful heart, humility is born; from humility, a willingness to listen to
others, mutual understanding is born; and from mutual understanding a peaceful
society is born.
Nonviolence is the highest from a humility; it is the supreme
courage. Jawaharlal Nehru said that the essence of Gandhi's teachings was
fearlessness The Mahatma taught that "The strong are never vindictive" and the
brave could only engage on that dialogue.
Source: Anasakti, Vol 1, No.1- January 2003
Daisaku Ikeda is popularly known as Sense (the teacher), is the President of Soka Gakkai International, Tokyo.