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Truth And Non-violence

By Arvind Sharma

TRUTH AND NONVIOLENCE are generally considered to be the two key ingredients of Gandhian thought. It is possible to pursue one without the other. It is thus possible to pursue truth without being nonviolent. Nations go to war believing truth is on their side, or that they are on the side of truth. The more sensitive among those who believe truth is on their side insist not that there should be no war but that it should be a just war. The most sensitive – the pacifists among them-avoid violence altogether but it could be argued that in doing so they have gone too far and abandoned truth, specially when interpreted as justice. Even Mahatma Gandhi argued that although he was opposed to war, the two parties engaging in it may not stand on the same plane: the cause of one side could be more just than the other, so that even a nonviolent person might wish to extend his or her moral support to one side rather than to the other.

Thus just as it is possible to pursue truth without being nonviolent, it is also possible to pursue nonviolence without pursuing truth. In fact, it could be proposed that such a disjunction between the two run the risk of cowardice being mistake for, or masquerading as nonviolence. The point becomes clear if we take the world “truth” to denote the “right” thing to do in a morally charged situation. Mahatma Gandhi was found of quoting the following statement from Confucius: “To know what is right and not to do it is cowardice.”

It is thus possible to pursue both truth without regard to nonviolence, and nonviolence without regard to truth. We have seen, however, that one without the other tends to make the exercise of the pursuit of each on its own potentially reckless. The pursuit of truth on its own makes us self-righteous and even capable of killing in its name. Truth runs the risk of turning into absolutism. Similarly, nonviolence pursued on its own, uncoupled with truth, could simply be used as a cover to countenance passivity, even cowardice, and degenerate into a form of self-indulgence – just as truth on its own could degenerate into a form of self-righteousness.

If the two-truth and ahimsa-are to be pursued simultaneously. Then the question naturally arises- what is the relationship between the two? The following passage from the writings of Mahatma Gandhi seems to offer a clue to his position on the matter:

It is perhaps clear from the foregoing, that without ahimsa it is not possible to seek and find Truth. Ahimsa and Truth are so intertwined that it is practically impossible to disentangle and separate them. They are like the two sides of a coin, or rather of a smooth unstamped metallic are like the two sides of a coin, or rather of a smooth unstamped metallic disc. Who can say, which is the obverse, and which is the reverse? Nevertheless ahimsa is the means; Truth is the end. Means to be means or later. When once we have grasped this point, final victory is beyond question. Whatever difficulties we encounter, whatever apparent reverses we sustain, we may not give up the quest for Truth which alone is, being God Himself (M. K. Gandhi, Hindu Dharma (Ahmedabad : Navijivan Publishing House, 1958, p.224-225)

Thus for Mahatma Gandhi nonviolence is the means, and truth, or God, is the end.

In the rest of this column I would like to propose that this relationship of the two is also capable of being looked at in new light from within an essentially Gandhian framework.

To generate this possibility I would like to ask the following question: Suppose that, as a result of the nonviolent search for God (as truth) one has found God. So far nonviolent was the means and truth as God the end. But what now? What happens to their relationship once this end has been achieved.

I think it is possible to purpose that relationship between the two continues to hold, although its implication is now altered. In other words, now that God has been found, the question will arise: How do I proclaim the truth about God to the world?-violently or nonviolently. It is worth nothing that not all those who claim to have realised God have necessarily chosen the nonviolent path. It seems, however, that there are good reasons for arguing, from a Gandhian perspective, that such a proclamation should be nonviolent. Mahatma Gandhi insisted that human beings are necessarily an imperfect channel for the respective of God’s revelation. This fact means that they could go wrong in some way in speaking for God. So if in disseminating God’s message they turned out to be wrong but proclaimed it in a nonviolent way, then they would have caused minimum harm. And if they turn out to be right – then all power to them.

Is this the reason why crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in Christianity are companion events?

Source : Gandhi Marg