Back | Next



All Life Is One

Kinship With All
MY ETHICS not only permit me to claim but require me to own kinship with not merely the ape but the horse and the sheep, the lion and the leopard, the snake and the scorpion. Not so need these kinsfolk regard themselves.

The hard ethics which rule my life, and I hold ought to rule that of every man and woman, imposes this unilateral obligation upon us. And it is so imposed because man alone is made in the image of God. That some of us do not recognize that status of ours makes no difference, except that then we do not get the benefit of the status, even as a lion brought up in the company of sheep may not know his own status and, therefore, does not receive its benefits; but it belongs to him nevertheless, and, the moment he realizes it, he begins to exercise his dominion over the sheep. But no sheep masquerading as a lion can ever attain the leonine status.

And, to prove the proposition that man is made in the image of God, it is surely unnecessary to show that all men admittedly exhibit that image in their own persons. It is enough to show that one man at least has done so. And, will it be denied that the great religious teachers of mankind have exhibited the image of God in their own persons? (YI, 8-7-1926, p. 244)

I believe myself to be saturated with AHIMSA-nonviolence. AHIMSA and Truth are as my two lungs. I cannot live without them. But I see every moment, with more and more clearness, the immense power of AHIMSA and the littleness of man.

Imperfect Nonviolence
Even the forest-dweller cannot be entirely free from violence, in spite of his limitless compassion. With every breath he commits a certain amount of violence. The body itself is a house of slaughter, and, therefore, Moksha and Eternal Bliss consist in perfect deliverance from the body, and, therefore, all pleasure, save the joy of Moksha, is evanescent, imperfect. That being the case, we have to drink, in daily life, many a bitter draught of violence. (YI, 21-10-1926)

All life in the flesh exists by some HIMSA. Hence, the highest religion has been defined by a negative word; AHIMSA. The world is bound in a chain of destruction. In other words, HIMSA is an inherent necessity for life in the body. That is why a votary of AHIMSA always prays for ultimate deliverance from the bondage of flesh. (YI, 4-10-1928, p. 364)

I am painfully aware of the fact that my desire to continue life in the body involves me in constant HIMSA. That is why I am becoming growingly indifferent to this physical body of mine. For instance, I know that, in the act of respiration, I destroy innumerable invisible germs floating in the air. But I do not stop breathing. The consumption of vegetables involves HIMSA, but I find that I cannot give them up.

Again, there is HIMSA in the use of antiseptics, yet if cannot bring myself to discard the use of disinfectants like kerosene, etc., to rid myself of the mosquito pest and the like. I suffer snakes to be killed in the Ashram when it is impossible to catch them and put them out of harm's way. I even tolerate the use of the stick to drive the bullocks in the ASHRAM.
Thus, there is no end to HIMSA which I directly commit… If, as a result of this humble confession of mine, friends choose to give me up as lost, I would be sorry, but nothing will induce me to try to conceal my imperfections in the practice of AHIMSA. All I claim for myself is that I am ceaselessly trying to understand the implications of great ideals like AHIMSA and to practice them in thought, word and deed, and that not without a certain measure of success as I think. But I know that I have a long distance yet to cover in this direction. (YI, 1-11-1928, p.361)

I am not opposed to the progress of science as such. On the contrary, the scientific spirit of the West commands my admiration and, if that admiration is qualified, it is because the scientist of the West takes no note of God's lower creation. I abhor vivisection with my whole soul. I detest the unpardonable slaughter of innocent life in the name of science and humanity so-called, and all the scientific discoveries stained with innocent blood I count as of no consequence.

If the circulation of blood theory could not have been discovered without vivisection, the human kind could well have done without it. And I see the day clearly dawning when the honest scientist of the West will put limitations upon the present methods of pursuing knowledge.

Lower Order
Future measurements will take note not merely of the human family but of all that lives, and even as we are slowly but surely discovering that it is an error to suppose that Hindus can thrive upon the degradation of a fifth of themselves of that peoples of the West can rise or live upon the exploitation and degradation of the Eastern and African nations, so shall we realize in the fullness of time that our dominion over the low order of creation is not for their slaughter, but for their benefit with ours. For I am as certain that they are endowed with a soul as that I am. (YI, 17-12-1925, p. 440)

Further march of civilization seems to employ increasing domination of man over beast, together with a growingly humane method of using them. There are three schools of humanitarians. One believes in replacing animal power by the use of any other. Another believes in treating animals as fellow-beings and making such use of these as a brotherly spirit will permit. The third will not make use of lower animals for man's selfish purpose, but will employ instead one's own power and that of fellow-beings to the extent that the latter give intelligent and willing use. I belong to the third school. (H, 5-5-1946, p.121)

Mercy Killing
I cannot for a moment bear to see a dog, or for that matter any other living being, helplessly suffering the torture of a slow death. I do not kill a human being thus circumstanced because I have more hopeful remedies. I should kill a dog similarly situated, because in its case I am without a remedy. Should my child be attacked by rabies and there was no hopeful remedy to relieve his agony, I should consider it my duty to take his life.

Fatalism has its limits. We leave things to fate after exhausting all the remedies. One of the remedies and the final one to relieve the agony of a tortured child is to take his life. (YI, 18-11-1926, p. 396)

I would not kill a human being for protecting a cow, as I will not kill a cow for saving a human life, be it ever so precious. (YI, 18-5-1921, p. 156)

To my mind the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the human body. I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man. (A, p. 172)

Problem Of Venomous Beasts
I do not want to live at the cost of the life even of a snake. I should let him bite me to death rather than kill him, but it is likely that, if God puts me to that cruel test and permits a snake to assault me, I may not have the courage to die, but that the beast in me may assert itself and I may seek to kill the snake in defending this perishable body.
I admit that my belief has not become so incarnate in me as to warrant my stating emphatically that I have shed all fear of snakes so as to befriend them as I would like to be able to. It is my implicit belief that snakes, tigers, etc., are God's answer to the poisonous, wicked, evil thoughts we harbour….

I believe that all life is one. Thoughts take definite forms. Tigers and snakes have kinship with us. They are a warning to us to avoid harbouring evil, wicked, lustful thoughts. If I want to rid the earth of venomous beasts and reptiles, I must rid myself of all venomous thoughts. I shall not do so if, in my impatient ignorance and in my desire to prolong the existence of the body, I seek to kill the so-called venomous beasts and reptiles. If in not seeking to defend myself against such noxious animals I die, I should rise again a better and fuller man. With that faith in me, how should I seek to kill a fellow-being in a snake? (YI, 14-4-1927, p. 121)

…We are living in the midst of death, tying to grape our way to Truth. Perhaps it is as well that we are beset with danger at every point in our life, for, in spite of our knowledge of the danger and of our precarious existence, our indifference to the Source of all life is excelled only by our amazing arrogance.

….My intellect rebels against the destruction of any life n any shape whatsoever. But my heart is not strong enough to befriend these creatures which, experience has shown, are destructive. The language of convincing confidence, which comes from actual experience, fails me, and it will continue to do so, so long as I am cowardly enough to fear snakes, tigers and the like. (YI, 17-7-1927, p. 222)

I verily believe that man's habit of killing man on the slightest pretext has darkened his reason and he gives himself liberties with other life which he would shudder to take if he really believed that God was a God of Love and Mercy. Anyway, though for fear of death I may kill tigers, snakes, fleas, mosquitoes and the like, I ever pray for illumination that will shed all fear of death and thus refusing to take life, know the better way, for:
Taught by the power that pities me, I learn to pity them. (H, 9-1-1937, p. 382)

Highest Ideal
My non-violence is not merely kindness to all living creatures. The emphasis laid on the sacredness of sub-human life in Jainism if understandable. But that can never mean that one is to be kind to this life in preference to human life. While writing about the sacredness of such life, I take it that the sacredness of human life has been taken for granted. The former has been over-emphasized. And while putting it into practice, the idea has undergone distortion. For instance, there are many who derive complete satisfaction in feeding ants. It would appear that the theory has become a wooden, lifeless dogma. Hypocrisy and distortion are passing current under the name of religion.

AHIMSA is t he highest ideal. It is meant for the brave, never the cowardly. To benefit by others' killing and delude oneself into the belief that one is being very religious and non-violent is sheer self-deception. (H, 9-6-1946, p. 172)

Doctrine Of Non-Killing
My AHIMSA is my own. I am not able to accept in its entirely the doctrine of non-killing of animals. I have no feeling in me to save the life of these animals who devour or cause hurt to man. I consider it wrong to help in the increase of their progeny. Therefore, I will not feed ants, monkeys or dogs. I will never sacrifice a man's life in order to save theirs.
Thinking along these lines, I have come to the conclusion that to do away with monkeys where they have become a menace to the well-being of man is pardonable. Such killing becomes a duty. The question may arise as to why this rule should not also apply to human beings. It cannot because however bad, they are as we are. Unlike the animal, God has given man the faculty of reason. (H, 5-5-1946, p. 123)

True AHIMSA demands that, if we must save the society as well as ourselves from the mischief of monkeys and the like, we have to kill them. The general rule is that we must avoid violence to the utmost extent possible. Non-violence for the society is necessarily different from that for the individual. One living apart from society may defy all precaution, not so society as such. (H, 7-7-1946, p. 213)