Thursday, January 29, 2015

Basis of Himsa and Ahimsa (Violence and Non-violence)

[Following is an English rendering of the ideas expressed, through day-to-day examples,by Sri Ranga Mahaguru during a conversation with his disciples in August 1961]
It is often said “None should hurt any being; ahimsa is the greatest Dharma”.  And this is quite appropriate. But how would you decide, which is an act of violence and which one an act of non-violence? If one were to understand correctly and discriminate between the two, then the vow of non-violence practiced would be the most commendable. But one may parrot such rhetoric about non-violence mechanically without an adequate understanding of the matter. Then it amounts to mere preaching, without any practice.
How would anyone ever determine what is himsa and what is not? For example, if we were to cast a cursory glance at the workings of ‘Nature’, one observes that the lizard subsists on insects like mosquitoes. There it is true that the insect is subject to outrage. If we were to prevent the lizard from gobbling up the insects the lizards would die of starvation; would it not be a torture inflicted on the lizard? It doesn’t stop at that. If the insects were not eaten up, their numbers would multiply drastically. Wouldn’t the other living beings (including humans) have to undergo the profuse pain of being bitten by mosquitoes?!
Hence it would be appropriate to say that Nature itself has designed a scheme for this world to function in a balanced manner. Therefore it would be in the fitness of things if himsa and ahimsa were to be differentiated in consonance with the laws of Nature.
Look at this example too. At night, to dispel the darkness we light lamps. But this attracts thousands of flies and other insects and they fall in the flames and die. Don’t they? Shall we then stop lighting the lamps, driven by the notion that the lamps cause harm to the insects? Some sects who believe in the doctrine of non-violence, do not light lamps at dusk, as insects would die as a result. They finish their supper in the twilight before darkness sets in. If one were to stop lighting lamps, under the influence of their arguments, many ill-effects might follow; thieves generally eagerly await twilight. If it is not even visible as to who trespasses, thugs can rule the roost. Nocturnal creatures like cats and rats would wait expectantly for the nightfall. How would we escape the misery that these creatures inflict on us (if the lights are not on)?
Mammals are born from the womb of their mother. Does not the mother experience labour pain during child birth? Isn’t this violence in a sense? Can a mother be subjected to such an agony?!
And see again! Is it not common to be afflicted by diseases? And to mitigate their effects, is it not necessary to take medicines?  But if you do that, the germs causing the disease would die. Is this ‘assassination’ not a violent act?! But if you do not indulge in this ‘cruelty’, the Atman within the body would experience discomfiture (on account of the disease to the body), finally leading to death. Is it not suicide then? Is that not (an act of) himsa?
When there is an outburst of plague, the doctor gives the patient an injection. During administration of the injection, is he not inflicting pain? The initial pain later leads to good health. Similarly if a child, suffering from a bout of fever, craves for curds, should the mother yield or not?  If she gives in, the fever turns into pneumonia. And if she doesn’t, you know how much mental agony the child has to endure.
To escape the scourge of plague, the pain of inoculation must be inflicted by the doctor. To avoid the suffering of pneumonia, the mother must refuse curds to the child even though it causes agony to the child. Hence whatever is perceived from a superficial glance should not always be accepted. Meaningless non-violence often leads to another cruelty. Zero ahimsa is obviously impossible in our life and therefore one should stick to the principle of minimum himsa. Hence only when the wise interpret violence and non-violence in a meaningful manner, with a full understanding of the plan of Nature, the country will be in comfort and the world will be safe and secure.

In the Mahabharata we find a clarification for ‘himsa’:  The universe has a natural order. The self-preserving order is harmonious with the laws of creation. Those who disturb this order are called ‘Dasyus’ (tormentors). Such dasyus, who spoil the natural functioning of the ‘world-order’, are indeed to be termed ‘brutal’. Tampering with the systematic evolution in Nature and its associated self-preserving order is indeed ‘violence’. Those who indulge in such violent acts are the dasyus. Rectifying the process of natural evolution and preservation, by subduing the dasyus is in fact an act of non-violence and does not amount to violence. (Without this guiding principle) the discrimination between himsa and ahimsa would perhaps be impossible.
            When robbers loot the house, the owner is distressed. If punished, the robber is pained. Between the two, whose agony is to be tolerated? How would this be decided? There will always be lawyers on both sides to put forth their side of arguments. Whose grief should be endured? Whose should be eradicated? Decision is based on the preference to sincerity and honesty and wisdom to be used in dealing with such matters.
Another verse throws light on the subject of the pyramid of primacy to be accorded for sustenance of natural order: animals à beings endowed with intelligence à among them the humans à the learned ones à among the learned, the ones who resolve to perform à those who actually perform à finally the accomplished namely the Brahma-jnaanis.
Thus ultimately, the primacy of the one who has experienced the ‘Brahman’ (Supreme Being) is stressed here. For the knowledge and experience of the Brahman to spread throughout the country, preference should be given to the survival and sustenance of (such Brahma-jnaanis and then on in the order specified above) all sentient beings. Thus by ensuring preferential survival of the more discerning and responsible, nature of himsa and ahimsa should be determined. Only then will the universe survive.
If a child or for that matter, an elder has a liver malfunction, the surgeon performs an operation. Seeing this if we were to say “What a hard-hearted fellow is he! He is tearing open the stomach”. Then we have to say that it’s only because he is compassionate (to the health of the patient) that he prepares to perform the operation. Can those who mouth mere sympathies saying ‘Oh! Poor child’, rectify the liver? Will those benevolent beings be able to cure the agony of the child? Such people who indulge in meaningless sympathies are beyond doubt ‘tormentors’ themselves. If one were to observe dispassionately the facts from this point of view, the surgeon who ‘wields’ the knife,, is in fact wedded to the vow of non-violence.
Similarly in a country when, the wicked have grown in strength, the law of the jungle becomes the (ugly) order of the day, the meek but truthful and honest subjects and jnanis are trampled upon, the king of the kingdom wages a war and destroys the wicked. Now to term (this act of the king) as brutal and inhuman, is perversion and by no means prudence or pragmatism. There is no meaning to such doctrines of non-violence. If lofty thoughts and ideals are to survive, farsightedness (dooraalocana) is essential and not farcical thinking (duraalocana). Not seeing the facts in the light of the principles of Nature or any analysis devoid of a sense of perspective clearly amounts to perverted thinking.
English rendering by Dr. CR Ramaswamy