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Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)

Sri Aurobindo on Gandhian Ahimsa

One big news coming from the Indian sub-continent these days is the ongoing tension between India and Pakistan. India since her independence from the British has faced many decades of aggression and war from neighbouring Pakistan — a nation-state born as a result of the falsehood of partition in 1947, based on the falsehood that people of different religions can not live together as one nation. In addition to the four ‘official’ wars of 1947-48, 1965, 1971 and 1999, India has also bled by a thousand cuts in countless aggressive attacks led by terrorists, backed by the enemy state military and government machinery.

Having suffered terrible and horrific losses of life and property due to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, India now finally wakes up to her long-lost Kshatriya power to defend herself.

But sadly this is also the time when a group of self-serving folks in India — from mediocre film actors to out-of-work politicians, from out-of-fashion journalists to ordinary wannabes whose hearts only bleed selectively — start speaking of threat of ‘war’ or ‘escalating tensions’ or such things. One wonders whether these peaceniks were sleeping till now, because obviously they couldn’t see the ‘war’ until now. O wait, maybe because they didn’t think the other side has in fact been waging war on us all these years!

patachitra-painting-black-and-white-ma-durga

This post is directed to such sleeping ignoramuses. It is time they wake up from their tamasic, dark slumber and instead of merely mouthing soul-less slogans of non-violence and peace learn a bit of the history, particularly about the history of wars between India and Pakistan. It is time they start learning about India and what she stands for. And it is time they also start learning about some deeper truths about Ahimsa, non-violence as well as the necessity of war, the morality of peace as well as the morality of war.

 

Yesterday was the birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, whom the world knows as Mahatma Gandhi, the great soul, the champion of non-violence, Ahimsa. Generations of Indians have been systematically brainwashed through a carefully crafted narrative of India’s freedom movement, taught in our schools and colleges, into believing that it was Gandhian Ahimsa that led India to her freedom. But is that really the truth? Does history support this claim? It would be educational to closely examine the history of Indian freedom movement.

Thankfully, many Indians are now slowly throwing off the various masks of falsehood and fraud propagated by some self-centered political powers and a well-nurtured lobby of some so-called intellectual elite who took it upon themselves to peddle a certain distorted, partial and a particular ideological view of history. Thanks to a much wider exposure and an easier availability of resources many young Indians today are questioning much of what has been so far served to them as their history. They are searching for answers and re-discovering chapters of their collective history, chapters that were excluded, distorted, shunned because they didn’t fit in with the ideologically chosen narrative of the political-intellectual elite who came to power soon after Independence.

This quest to know our collective history as a people, as a nation, as a civilization is a much-needed, positive and welcome direction. This new, confident, questioning India gives us the hope for an intellectual renaissance of the nation.

 

One line of questioning that has to do with the efficacy of Gandhian Ahimsa is being addressed here. It is done with the help of some excerpts selected from the writings and talks of the great revolutionary leader of India’s freedom movement in its early years, Sri Aurobindo, the proponent of Purna Swaraj, for whom the British Viceroy Lord Minto once said – “he is the most dangerous man we have to reckon with.”

A striking feature of the Gandhian politics was the adoption of non-violence as a creed. In the early 1900’s, during the early days of Passive Resistance movement in Bengal non-violence was adopted by leaders as a tactic in the then prevailing conditions. It was never meant to be accepted as a creed and dogma to be followed in all circumstances. For Gandhi however, non-violence was nothing short of an absolute dogma, to be practiced in an absolute manner without any regard for the specifics of a given circumstance or situation. It was this approach of Gandhi that led to the calling off of the Non-Cooperation Movement after Chauri-Chaura incident in 1922. This decision was even resented and opposed by Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders of the Congress party. Yet most unfortunately, the Congress accepted Gandhi’s decision. Unfortunately, this trend of disagreeing and yet following such decisions of Gandhi was to continue right through the Freedom Movement.

But what is more relevant here is to note some remarks made by Sri Aurobindo on July 23, 1923 regarding the method of Satyagraha applied by Gandhi:

“I believe Gandhi does not know what actually happens to the man’s nature when he takes to Satyagraha or non-violence. He thinks that men get purified by it. But when men suffer, or subject themselves to voluntary suffering, what happens is that their vital being gets strengthened. These movements affect the vital being only and not any other part. Now, when you cannot oppose the force that oppresses, you say that you will suffer. That suffering is vital and it gives strength. When the man who has thus suffered gets power he becomes a worse oppressor…

What one can do is to transform the spirit of violence. But in this practice of Satyagraha it is not transformed. When you insist on such a one-sided principle, what happens is that cant, hypocrisy and dishonesty get in and there is no purification at all. Purification can come by the transformation of the impulse of violence, as I said. In that respect the old system in India was much better: the man who had the fighting spirit became the Kshatriya and then the fighting spirit was raised above the ordinary vital influence. The attempt was to spiritualise it. It succeeded in doing what passive resistance cannot and will not achieve. The Kshatriya was the man who would not allow any oppression, who would fight it out and he was the man who would not oppress anybody. That was the ideal.” (Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, recorded by A. B. Purani, third series, p. 290) 

Sri Aurobindo, with his deep wisdom and penetrating yogic insight, clearly saw that the moral-ethical ideal of non-violence can never be effectively implemented in any mass movement such as the Independence movement. On this important matter he said:

“Politics is concerned with masses of mankind and not with individuals. To ask masses of mankind to act as saints, to rise to the height of divine love and practise it in relation to their adversaries or oppressors is to ignore human nature. It is to set a premium on injustice and violence by paralysing the hand of the deliverer when raised to strike. The Gita is the best answer to those who shrink from battle as a sin, and aggression as a lowering of morality.” (Bande Mataram, CWSA, Volume 6-7, p. 1117) 

In the following passage we hear him speaking of a deeper truth regarding the type of soul-personality necessary for a leader of the people, a leader who must protect his people against aggression and war from the enemy, who must protect the weak from oppression by the unjust. He writes:

“Hinduism recognises human nature and makes no such impossible demand. It sets one ideal for the saint, another for the man of action, a third for the trader, a fourth for the serf. To prescribe the same ideal for all is to bring about varnasankara, the confusion of duties and destroy society and race.… Politics is the ideal of the Kshatriya, and the morality of the Kshatriya ought to govern our political actions. To impose in politics the Brahmanical duty of saintly sufferance is to preach varnasankara.”(ibid, p. 1118)

[…]

“The sword of the warrior is as necessary to the fulfillment of justice and righteousness as the holiness of the saint. Ramdas is not complete without Shivaji. To maintain justice and prevent the strong from despoiling, and the weak from being oppressed, is the function for which the Kshatriya was created. “Therefore”, says Sri Krishna in the Mahabharata, “God created battle and armour, the sword, the bow and the dagger.” (p. 1121)

durga

And finally, here is a long but highly relevant extract from Sri Aurobindo’s Essays on the Gita in which he describes the deep psychological roots of why war is almost a necessity in the present state of human consciousness, both on the individual and collective plane of worldly existence and life as it is at the present. In the passage below we also find him speaking of the limitations of using ‘soul-force’ alone when faced with an enemy.

“This is certain that there is not only no construction here without destruction, no harmony except by a poise of contending forces won out of many actual and potential discords, but also no continued existence of life except by a constant self-feeding and devouring of other life. Our very bodily life is a constant dying and being reborn, the body itself a beleaguered city attacked by assailing, protected by defending forces whose business is to devour each other…

“It is good that we should be reminded of [this truth]; first, because to see it has for every strong soul a tonic effect which saves us from the flabbiness and relaxation encouraged by a too mellifluous philosophic, religious or ethical sentimentalism, that which loves to look upon Nature as love and life and beauty and good, but turns away from her grim mask of death, adoring God as Shiva but refusing to adore him as Rudra; secondly, because unless we have the honesty and courage to look existence straight in the face, we shall never arrive at any effective solution of its discords and oppositions. We must see first what life and the world are; afterwards, we can all the better set about finding the right way to transform them into what they should be. If this repellent aspect of existence holds in itself some secret of the final harmony, we shall by ignoring or belittling it miss that secret and all our efforts at a solution will fail by fault of our self-indulgent ignoring of the true elements of the problem…

“War and destruction are not only a universal principle of our life here in its purely material aspects, but also of our mental and moral existence. It is self-evident that in the actual life of man intellectual, social, political, moral we can make no real step forward without a struggle, a battle between what exists and lives and what seeks to exist and live and between all that stands behind either. It is impossible, at least as men and things are, to advance, to grow, to fulfil and still to observe really and utterly that principle of harmlessness which is yet placed before us as the highest and best law of conduct. We will use only soul-force and never destroy by war or any even defensive employment of physical violence? Good, though until soul-force is effective, the Asuric force in men and nations tramples down, breaks, slaughters, burns, pollutes, as we see it doing today, but then at its ease and unhindered, and you have perhaps caused as much destruction of life by your abstinence as others by resort to violence….Evil cannot perish without the destruction of much that lives by the evil, and it is no less destruction even if we personally are saved the pain of a sensational act of violence. 

“It is not enough that our own hands should remain clean and our souls unstained for the law of strife and destruction to die out of the world; that which is its root must first disappear out of humanity. Much less will mere immobility and inertia unwilling to use or incapable of using any kind of resistance to evil, abrogate the law; inertia, Tamas, indeed, injures much more than can the rajasic principle of strife which at least creates more than it destroys. Therefore, so far as the problem of the individual’s action goes, his abstention from strife and its inevitable concomitant destruction in their more gross and physical form may help his own moral being, but it leaves the Slayer of creatures unabolished.

“It is only a few religions which have had the courage to say without any reserve, like the Indian, that this enigmatic World-Power is one Deity, one Trinity, to lift up the image of the Force that acts in the world in the figure not only of the beneficent Durga, but of the terrible Kali in her blood-stained dance of destruction and to say, “This too is the Mother; this also know to be God; this too, if thou hast the strength, adore.” And it is significant that the religion which has had this unflinching honesty and tremendous courage, has succeeded in creating a profound and widespread spirituality such as no other can parallel. For truth is the foundation of real spirituality and courage is its soul…

“All this is not to say that strife and destruction are the alpha and omega of existence, that harmony is not greater than war, love more the manifest divine than death or that we must not move towards the replacement of physical force by soul-force, of war by peace, of strife by union, of devouring by love, of egoism by universality, of death by immortal life. God is not only the Destroyer, but the Friend of creatures; not only the cosmic Trinity, but the Transcendent; the terrible Kali is also the loving and beneficent Mother; the lord of Kurukshetra is the divine comrade and charioteer, the attracter of beings, incarnate Krishna. And whithersoever he is driving through all the strife and clash and confusion, to whatever goal or godhead he may be attracting us, it is—no doubt of that—to some transcendence of all these aspects upon which we have been so firmly insisting. But where, how, with what kind of transcendence, under what conditions, this we have to discover; and to discover it, the first necessity is to see the world as it is, to observe and value rightly his action as it reveals itself at the start and now; afterwards the way and the goal will better reveal themselves. We must acknowledge Kurukshetra; we must submit to the law of Life by Death before we can find our way to the life immortal; we must open our eyes, with a less appalled gaze than Arjuna’s, to the vision of our Lord of Time and Death and cease to deny, hate or recoil from the universal Destroyer. (Essays on the Gita, CWSA, Vol. 19, pp. 40-46)

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About Beloo Mehra

Beloo is the author of two books, one on Indian Education, titled "ABC’s of Indian National Education" and an ebook featuring a selection of her essays, titled "The Thinking Indian." She holds several degrees in Education and Economics, has extensive teaching experience at school and university level in India and the US, and has a keen interest in the educational, social and cultural thought of Sri Aurobindo. She currently lives in Pondicherry, spends her time doing some reading, some writing, some teaching, some gardening and a whole lot of reflecting on life, living, society, politics, religion, art, literature, India, the World, and everything else under the Sun and the Moon.

7 comments on “Sri Aurobindo on Gandhian Ahimsa

  1. adsunsri
    October 3, 2016

    A standing ovation to bring out the legitmacy of the greatness of the Mahatma’s sathyagraha and the greatest revolutionary Sri Aurobindo which gave the shivers to the colonial raj. It is sad that we are still facing the colonial hangover of the divide of nations, however, glad that the Government has woken up to give a befitting reply to the perpetuators of terror! We need to keep up the tempo and destroy the cells atleast in our neighbourhood which must have a cascading effect on the so called power nations to emulate and not promote this degeneration!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beloo Mehra
      October 8, 2016

      Sri Aurobindo didn’t have as kind a view of Gandhian methods of Satyagraha as many other thinkers/leaders have 🙂 But then he was seeing things from a very high and deep yogic stance, not all of which can be easily discernible by rational/logical mind.

      His view on partition and Pakistan are also quite strong, and not many people would accept it that easily. But in any case that is beyond the scope of this post 🙂 Here I merely wanted to show that Ahimsa when understood very simplistically and applied stubbornly to a mass movement doesn’t always work. And that we need to have a much broader and deeper vision to understand when kshatriya dharma is needed to protect and defend a nation. I am with you on destroying the terror factories. May Ma Durga destroy those who are hell bent on destroying humanity and peace.

      Thanks for reading and for sharing your perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jyotirmoy Sarkar
    October 5, 2016

    Bold writing specially the introduction.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jmathur
    October 7, 2016

    Invaluable post it is for sure contrasting the thoughts of the Mahatma and the Maharshi. I feel, both these greats were right in their respective lines of thinking.

    Jitendra Mathur

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beloo Mehra
      October 8, 2016

      Thanks Mathur ji for reading and for sharing your point of view. Appreciate the time you have taken to go through this post and for appreciating it.

      Personally I think one’s perspective and way of looking at things helps one see whether one is right or more right than the other, or whether both are right in their own way.

      Like

  4. Zephyr
    April 30, 2017

    What a beautiful analysis of the nonviolence movement of Mahatma Gandhi! Only Sri Aurobindo could have done justice to it, looking at the phenomenon from outside, dispassionately and objectively. You are right, it was not just the nonviolence movement that gave us our Independence. Lord Minto’s statement says it all. It is sometimes the intellectual, the yogi, the maharishi that needs to be feared more than anyone else. Lovely post, Beloo. Wonder how I missed it!

    Like

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