Philosophy behind non-violent life contained 15 precepts
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.