Ahimsa or Nonviolence (HH 240)

A Talk by Alok Pandey from the “Tuesday Talks” series (AUDIO)

The 2nd October is celebrated as the International day of Nonviolence since it is Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. But the principle of Nonviolence is not new to Indian ethos. It is there even in Christian mysticism. But perhaps its use as a political weapon was something new. How does it work if it works at all? Is it good to adopt this as a national policy? What is the true way to transform the impulse to violence? These are some of the issues we reflect today in the Light of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

Words of Sri Aurobindo

All that I remember (of his meeting with Gandhi’s son Devdas)  is that he asked my views about non-violence. I told him : Suppose there is an invasion of India by the Afghans, how are you going to meet it with non-violence ?

[A.B. Purani, Evening Talks: 17-08-1924]


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; still you have set up an ideal which may some day and at any rate ought to lead up to better things. But even soulforce, when it is effective, destroys. Only those who have used it with eyes open, know how much more terrible and destructive it is than the sword and the cannon; and only those who do not limit their view to the act and its immediate results, can see how tremendous are its after-effects, how much is eventually destroyed and with that much all the life that depended on it and fed upon it. 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. Moreover, every time we use soul-force we raise a great force of Karma against our adversary, the after-movements of which we have no power to control. Vasishtha uses soul-force against the military violence of Vishwamitra and armies of Huns and Shakas and Pallavas hurl themselves on the aggressor. The very quiescence and passivity of the spiritual man under violence and aggression awakens the tremendous forces of the world to a retributive action; and it may even be more merciful to stay in their path, though by force, those who represent evil than to allow them to trample on until they call down on themselves a worse destruction than we would ever think of inflicting. 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.


We must look existence in the face if our aim is to arrive at a right solution, whatever that solution may be. And to look existence in the face is to look God in the face; for the two cannot be separated, nor the responsibility for the laws of world-existence be shifted away from Him who created them or from That which constituted it. Yet here too we love to palliate and equivocate. We erect a God of Love and Mercy, a God of good, a God just, righteous and virtuous according to our own moral conceptions of justice, virtue and righteousness, and all the rest, we say, is not He or is not His, but was made by some diabolical Power which He suffered for some reason to work out its wicked will or by some dark Ahriman counterbalancing our gracious Ormuzd, or was even the fault of selfish and sinful man who has spoiled what was made originally perfect by God. As if man had created the law of death and devouring in the animal world or that tremendous process by which Nature creates indeed and preserves but in the same step and by the same inextricable action slays and destroys. 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 wide-spread spirituality such as no other can parallel. For truth is the foundation of real spirituality and courage is its soul. Tasyai satyam ¯ayatanam.

 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 19:42-44]


Sri Aurobindo : …The Mahatma’s son – Devadas – who came here sent it to the Mahatma who said he was unable to reply to it intellectually. Perhaps he could not make up his mind to accept the principle that an evil cannot be destroyed unless much that lives by the evil is destroyed.  They could not grasp the argument that the spiritual power of Vashishta was responsible for the destruction. The original story is that the Cow, – Kamdhenu, – did not want to go to Vishwamitra. Vishwamitra wanted to take it by force. But Vashishta refused to resist. So the Cow asked him to allow her to resist Vishwamitra. Vashishta said : “You can do whatever you like.” She called upon the psychical powers to resist and the Asuras came on account of the spiritual power of Vashishta. Because one saves himself from the act of killing, his responsibility is not less on that account. The question is whether one resists or not. If one resists it may be by physical force or soul force – that is quite another matter.

[Evening Talks: 18-4-1923]


Sri Aurobindo: 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 voluntarily 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. That is what I have written in the Essays on the Gita that when a nation gets freedom by the suffering of its leaders and other men, it oppresses other nations in its turn. It is almost always the case with those who suppress their vital being. It allows the pressure on itself, gets strong and then finds vent in some other direction. The same thing happened to the Puritans in England. Cromwell and his men came to power and became the worst oppressors. In Christianity the principle of non violence is there but it is meant to be practised for religious and spiritual development. It may be partial but it can certainly develop certain types of spiritual temperaments. 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 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: 23-7-1923]


Words of the Mother

February 18, 1973

(Extracts from a meeting with the schoolteachers. One of them complains that the first signs of violence are showing up in the children.)

Violence is necessary as long as men are ruled by their ego and its desires. But violence must be used only as a means of defense when you are attacked. The ideal towards which humanity is moving and which we want to realize is a state of luminous understanding in which each person’s needs as well as the harmony of the whole are taken into account.

The future will have no need of violence because it will be governed by the Divine Consciousness, in which all things are harmonized and complement each other.

For the moment, we are still in a stage where weapons are necessary. But it should be understood that this is a transitory stage, not a permanent one, and we must strive for the other one.

Peace … peace and harmony will be a natural outcome of the change of consciousness.

You see, in India there reigns the Gandhian concept of nonviolence which has replaced physical violence with moral violence, but it’s far worse!

But if you dare speak against Gandhi, everyone will immediately … oh!

You don’t need to mention his name, you can explain to the children that replacing physical violence with moral violence is no better. Lying down in front of a train to stop it running is a moral violence that can ultimately cause more disorder than physical violence.

There would be a lot to say…. It depends on each case. I myself very much encouraged the practice of fencing because it gives you skill, control over your movements and discipline in violence – I very much encouraged fencing at one time. I learned how to shoot; I used to shoot with a rifle, because it gives you steadiness and skill and a very good eye; and it forces you to remain calm in the midst of danger. All these things are…. I don’t see why one should be hopelessly nonviolent, it only makes a spineless character.

Turn it into an art! An art for cultivating calm, skill and self control. There’s no need to cry out indignantly as Gandhi would. It’s useless, useless, absolutely useless – I am not at all in favor of it! One should master the means of self-defense, and one should cultivate them in order to do so.

Above all, make them understand that moral violence is just as bad as physical violence. It can even be worse, that is, at least physical violence forces you to become strong and control yourself, whereas moral violence is…. You may be like this [apparently quiet] and harbor the worst moral violence in yourself….

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