You are here:
52. Is Non-violence impossible ?
"One may admit that in theory non-violence is an infallible weapon, and that no power on earth can be a match for the man who has achieved non-violence to the fullest extent. But is this possible? There may be a rare yogi who can tame wild beasts like lions and tigers and render them meek as lambs, but the average man must resort to a rifle or similar weapon to protect himself against such beasts. You with your wonderful power may convert others by the sheer force of your thought, but the average man has to have recourse to worldly remedies like a law court, pleaders and so on. Even in the dim and distant past we rarely hear of men who practised Ahimsa in daily affairs. Lord Buddha tried for a time to lead people along the path of Ahimsa, but what happened after him? Society went back to its old ways, forgetting Buddha's teaching. The past, therefore, offers little promise, for the future, of society going along the lines of Ahimsa any more than it has done before, and our sages, therefore, must have wisely left the world and resorted to the forest for practising truth and non-violence. You may inspire a few persons to study Ahimsa but society as a whole is not likely to take to it. The same argument applies to India as a nation. She must needs seek means other than those of Ahimsa in order to win her liberty. It is idle to expect an infant learning his primer to understand a book like Tilak's Gita. Even so is it idle to expect people steeped in worldly pleasures to understand the infallibility of Ahimsa. Besides Ahimsa is the final goal, attainment of which requires much greater pre-paration than is required in order to obtain a degree in medicine or engineering. We shall have to have numerous colleges and universities for the teaching of the science and art of truth and non-violence. Today society directs its energies to creating new wants and satisfying them. How do you expect it to turn those energies in the direction of researches in Ahimsa?" The doubt and difficulties raised by this correspondent occur to others also, and I have on various occasions tried to solve them too. But when the Working Committee of the Congress has been instrumental in making of Ahimsa a live issue, it seems necessary to deal with these doubts and difficulties at some length.
The correspondent doubts in substance the universal application of Ahimsa, and asserts that society has made little progress towards it. Teachers like Buddha arose and made some effort with some little success perhaps in their lifetime, but society is just where it was in spite of them.
The last statement is incorrect inasmuch as the Con-gress has adhered to non-violence as the means for the attainment of Swaraj. It has indeed gone a step further. The question having been raised as to whether non-violence continues to be the weapon against all internal disturbances, the A. I. C. C. clearly gave the answer in the affirmative. And then even on this matter there was a considerable body of the members of the A. I. C. C. who voted against the resolution. This dissent has got to be reckoned with when the question voted upon is one of principle. The Congress policy must always be decided by a majority vote, but it does not cancel the minority vote. It stands. When there is no principle involved and there is a programme to be carried out, the minority has got to follow the majority. But where there is a principle involved, the dissent stands, and it is bound to express itself in practice when the occa-sion arises.
Now for the argument that I am but a rare individual, and that what little society has done in the matter of Ahimsa is due to my influence, and that it is sure to dis-appear with me. This is not right. The Congress has a num-ber of leaders who can think for themselves. The Maulana is a great thinker of keen intellect and vast reading. Few can equal him in his Arabic and Persian scholarship. Ex-perience has taught him that Ahimsa alone can make India free. It was he who insisted on the resolution accept-ing Ahimsa as a weapon against internal disturbances. Pandit Jawaharlal is not a man to stand in awe of anyone. His study of history and contemporary events is second to none. It is after mature thought that he has accepted Ahimsa as a means for the attainment of Swaraj. It is true that he has said that he would not hesitate to accept Swaraj if non-violence failed and it could be won by means of violence. But that is not relevant to the present issue. There are not a few other big names in the Congress who believe in Ahimsa as the only weapon at least for the attainment of Swaraj. To think that all of them will give up the way of Ahimsa as soon as I am gone, is to insult them and to insult human nature. We must be-lieve that everyone can think for himself. Mutual respect to that extent is essential for progress. By crediting our companions with independent judgment we strengthen them and make it easy for them to be independent-minded even if they are proved to be weak.
If we turn our eyes to the time of which history has any record down to our own time, we shall find that man has been steadily progressing towards Ahimsa. Our remote ancestors were cannibals. Then came a time when they were fed up with cannibalism and they began to live on chase. Next came a stage when man was ashamed of leading the life of a wandering hunter. He therefore took to agriculture and depended principally on mother earth for his food. Thus from being a nomad he settled down to civilized stable life, founded villages and towns, and from member of a family he became member of a community and a nation. All these are signs of progressive Ahimsa and diminishing Himsa. Had it been otherwise, the human species should have been extinct by now, even as many of the lower species have disappeared.
Prophets and avatars have also taught the lesson of Ahimsa more or less. Not one of them has professed to teach Himsa. And how should it be otherwise? Himsa does not need to be taught. Man as animal is violent, but as Spirit is non-violent. The moment he awakes to the Spirit within he cannot remain violent. Either he progre-sses towards Ahimsa or rushes to his doom. That is why the prophets and avatars have taught the lessons of truth, harmony, brotherhood, justice, etc. all attributes of Ahimsa.
And yet violence seems to persist, even to the extent of thinking people like the correspondent regarding it as the final weapon. But, as I have shown, history and experience are against him. If we believe that mankind has steadily progressed towards Ahimsa, it follows that it has to progress towards it still further. Nothing in this world is static, everything is kinetic. If there is no progression, then there is inevitable retrogression. No one can remain without the eternal cycle, unless it be God Himself.
The present war is the saturation point in violence. It spells to my mind also its doom. Daily I have testimony of the fact that Ahimsa was never before appreciated by mankind as it is today. All the testimony from the West that I continue to receive points in the same direction. The Congress has pledged itself to Ahimsa however limited. I invite the correspondent and doubters like him to shed their doubts and plunge confidently into the sacred sacrificial fire of Ahimsa. Then I have little doubt that the Congress will retrace its step. "It is always willing Well has Pritam, our poet, sung:
Happiest are those that plunge in the fire, the lookers-on are all but scorched by flames.
Sevagram, 5-8-'40
Harijan, 11-0-1940