Phi­los­o­phy be­hind non-vi­o­lent life con­tained 15 pre­cepts

Sunday Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - ELA GANDHI

WHEN we see the spate of vi­o­lence that is grip­ping our coun­try, one be­gins to un­der­stand the enor­mity of the task ahead of us.

Imag­ine the ex­pe­ri­ence of the child killed in a hi­jack­ing in­ci­dent; imag­ine the ex­pe­ri­ence of the man with a bro­ken leg when the tear-gas can­is­ter hit his leg; imag­ine the ex­pe­ri­ence of the pa­tients at the hospi­tal when the work­ers went on a ram­page, deny­ing pa­tients and doc­tors ac­cess to the the­atres and med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties? None of these vic­tims harmed any­one else and none are peo­ple who could have ex­ploited any­one, so why un­leash anger against them?

The pat­tern we see emerg­ing is of an un­car­ing com­mu­nity, in­tent on self-preser­va­tion with no thought about the da­m­age and pain they cause to oth­ers.

Vi­o­lence does this to peo­ple. It makes them un­car­ing, un­con­cerned about con­se­quences of their ac­tions. Their in­tent is to achieve a spe­cific goal and noth­ing else mat­ters.

Gand­hiji’s non-vi­o­lence is based on his spir­i­tual con­scious­ness. It is based on the scrip­tural un­der­stand­ing which clearly in­di­cates that you do not do to oth­ers what you would not want them to do to you. This is the golden rule which ex­ists in all our scrip­tures and which is the ba­sis of Gand­hian non-vi­o­lence.

Learn­ing and ap­ply­ing non-vi­o­lence in ev­ery­day life makes one a bet­ter per­son. It makes one com­pas­sion­ate and teaches one em­pa­thy. You be­gin to feel the pain of oth­ers and there­fore you do not in­flict pain on them. The world to­day needs a so­ci­ety that is able to de­velop these ba­sic val­ues of em­pa­thy, com­pas­sion, hu­man dig­nity and jus­tice.

Gand­hiji’s phi­los­o­phy evolved around four im­por­tant con­cepts. The first was Sar­vo­daya, which means the good of all. In terms of this idea Gand­hiji en­cour­aged the for­ma­tion of the Sar­vo­daya move­ment in In­dia. Through this move­ment he en­cour­aged peo­ple to come to­gether and to work to­gether, to share skills and de­velop the po­ten­tial of the neigh­bour­hood.

His idea was to de­velop each neigh­bour­hood un­til all re­gions are cov­ered and ev­ery­body ben­e­fits and is a par­tic­i­pant in the pro­gramme. It is about a united move­ment work­ing for their own up­lift­ment. It is about re­ly­ing on your­self and mo­bil­is­ing your own skills for the good of all.

His sec­ond con­cept was Swadeshi. Ac­cord­ing to this phi­los­o­phy, what­ever the com­mu­nity pro­duces through its own labour should be con­sumed by the com­mu­nity it­self.

So in­stead of buy­ing prod­ucts from out­side, one should sup­port lo­cal in­dus­try by buy­ing lo­cal prod­ucts. This would then give the lo­cal in­dus­try a boost and pros­per­ity which will help them in­crease their skills and their crafts­man­ship.

There should be pride in the prod­uct pro­duced so that there is al­ways room for im­prove­ment and mas­tery of the art. It be­comes a labour of love and not drudgery.

His third was Swaraj, which means lib­er­a­tion. But he un­der­stood lib­er­a­tion as be­ing restraint over one’s self to the ex­tent that such restraint en­ables the other to en­joy lib­er­a­tion as well. This is sim­i­lar to ubuntu in that the em­pha­sis is not on the self but on the other.

If ev­ery­one thinks in these terms then ev­ery­one will re­main vig­i­lant about not jeop­ar­dis­ing free­dom of the other and be care­ful them­selves.

When we talk about con­ser­va­tion, when we talk of lim­it­ing our con­sump­tion so the re­sources of the world are not de­pleted, when we talk about the ob­scen­ity of ex­treme op­u­lence, we are talk­ing about restraint on our­selves away from ex­trav­a­gance.

Gand­hiji gave new mean­ing to the no­tion of lib­er­a­tion or Swaraj. Lib­er­a­tion is free from be­ing com­pelled by oth­ers to do things but re­strain­ing your­self to cre­ate a bet­ter so­ci­ety.

His fourth con­cept was Satya­graha or non-vi­o­lent ac­tion. He recog­nised that Sar­vo­daya, Swadeshi and Swaraj will re­main the­o­retic con­cepts un­less pres­sure is ap­plied on those in power, be it big busi­ness, in­dus­tri­al­ists, gov­ern­ment or land­lords, all who wield power can ham­per or help the process of at­tain­ing these goals.

The beauty of Satya­graha lies in the fact that it is about win­ning over oth­ers with love. His 15 pre­cepts of non-vi­o­lence are:

Abide by truth un­der all cir­cum­stances.

Never ut­ter a harsh word. Per­fect cour­tesy must be shown at all times to all peo­ple, even those who may be con­sid­ered as en­e­mies.

This is a holy war and so all the rules es­sen­tial for lead­ing a re­li­gious life must be ob­served.

We are op­pos­ing un­har­nessed power and not reg­u­la­tions which help to or­gan­ise our lives, there­fore we should help to up­hold good reg­u­la­tions while op­pos­ing the op­pres­sive ones.

Act against the gov­ern­ment as we would do to take cor­rec­tive ac­tion within the fam­ily.

Win over peo­ple op­pos­ing views rather fight with them.

We must al­ways be frank and truth­ful.

Be sen­si­tive to the feel­ings and needs of the vil­lagers. Do not de­mand ser­vices from them; choose to walk rather than use other means of trans­porta­tion where pos­si­ble; eat the sim­plest food avail­able.

Ob­serve the eco­nomic and ed­u­ca­tional con­di­tions of the peo­ple and, where pos­si­ble, help to raise their eco­nomic po­si­tion through ed­u­ca­tion and skills train­ing.

Try to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for the train­ing of vil­lage chil­dren.

Pro­vide health ed­u­ca­tion and im­prove san­i­tary con­di­tions in the vil­lages

Help to re­solve with than dis­putes in the com­mu­nity.

Pub­lic read­ing of lit­er­a­ture of im­por­tance to the cause of Satya­graha should be en­cour­aged.

Satya­graha means fight­ing op­pres­sion through vol­un­tary suf­fer­ing, there­fore the use of arms is for­bid­den. Ev­ery vol­un­teer must un­der­stand and com­mit them­selves to the prin­ci­ples and then trans­mit this learn­ing to oth­ers.

These were prin­ci­ples he de­vel­oped in the course of train­ing Satya­grahis in his ashram, the first one be­ing the Phoenix Set­tle­ment in South Africa where he be­gan to de­velop these ideas.

The fi­nal re­sult of non-vi­o­lent ac­tion when well un­der­stood and with proper train­ing is a much more pos­i­tive out­come than one that we see from vi­o­lent ac­tion.

Non-vi­o­lence train­ing can re­move the pos­si­bil­ity of such sit­u­a­tions oc­cur­ring as it spreads com­pas­sion, em­pa­thy, dis­ci­pline, love and re­spon­si­bil­ity. This is ex­actly what we need to­day and it is clearly out­lined in Gand­hian phi­los­o­phy.

This phi­los­o­phy will re­main rel­e­vant for cen­turies to come as it is about cre­at­ing a new way of life, a new think­ing about is­sues and about val­ues, all of which to­gether can only lead us to a bet­ter life for all.


Sushma Swaraj, In­dia’s Min­is­ter of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs, at the statue of Ma­hatma Gandhi in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg.

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