The Danish Peace Academy
Indian View of Peace: With Special Reference to Buddha & Gandhi
India, the land of ancient culture and civilization, holds a comprehensive, extraordinary and unique place in context to peace. Thousands of years ago the message of peace conveyed by this country had a deep impact on the entire world. The main reason behind this influence is that approach towards peace that has directly or indirectly been built by contribution of knowledge obtained and deed, and of course real experience. The following Shloka from an old Indian treatise in which Nachiketa1 says may clarify it:
Shanta Samkalpa Sumana Yathasyad Veetmanyugaritmo Madabhimratyon, Twatprasrishtam Madbhivadeta Prateeta Etattrayanam Prathaman Vara Vrane2.
Hey Mratyon! May father Gautama [Vajashravas] of mine be peace tempered gleeful, angerless and have peaceful thoughts towards me as before? May he talk to me, after identifying my deputation by you? This is the first boon that I demand out of three boons accorded by you..
The above-mentioned Shloka relates to a mythological tale. May be this tale does not interest you. I myself don’t deem it necessary to present it here. But the heartfelt feeling, which is at the root of the Shloka, definitely reflects the outlook of India towards peace from times immemorial.
Just as evident in the Shloka, Nachiketa was promised to ask for three boons. In first boon he desired his father to be peace tempered, gleeful, angerless and have peaceful thoughts towards him i.e., he personally expected this. Just as this clarifies the Indian view of peace from ancient times, it also clarifies that the Indian approach towards peace starts at personal level. Therefore, it becomes collective, social and later moves on to national level. An important reason for this is that Indian philosophy depicts that human being is either rewarded or punished according to his own deeds. This is something extraordinary from the peace point of view, and it is so because the efforts made by individuals for establishment of peace are of utmost importance. In other words individual efforts work as foundation stone in constructing a building of peace. We all know that a society or a nation is built when men get together. Thus the rise and fall of a society or a nation depends on them.
The above Shloka from Kathopnishad is just an example. The Vedas were in existence hundreds of years before Kathopnishad was composed. And even in the Vedas we clearly find a view pertaining to peace. Vedic prayer Shanti Prakarana can especially be quoted by us in this regard. Not only this, even prior to Vedas we came across peace related concept in day-to-day behaviour of Indians more or less. And similarly the same can be observed from past to present times. Before and further discussion on the subject, it would be better for us to know about the meaning of peace and its purpose in brief. Generally peace is termed as a condition that is opposite to conflict, struggle; that peace is an atmosphere devoid of conflict, struggle, war or violence as a scholar says, ‘It is symbolic of an atmosphere free from conflict, struggle…’
In the same way another scholar believes, ‘Peace is, generally, negatively conceived as absence of war and struggle. In other words, peace means absence of actual violence.’
All this, even then, does not express the complete meaning of peace. This is true that there is absence of conflict, struggle, war or violence in state of peace but it is not limited by this alone. The scope of peace is vast and in my opinion it only ends when a human being attains the aim of life.
For peace whatever else is required, other than end of conflict, struggle, war or violence, is related to day to day practices of man where co-operation and harmony is essential, that too from inner core of heart, so that even in general state man’s heart is at peace and he may realize peace in thoughts and deeds. And that harmony may be such as has been expressed in form of expectation in this Shloka of Atharvaveda:
‘May we be in harmony with out kinfolk, in harmony with strangers, do ye, O Ashvina! Establish here agreement among us;
May we agree in mind and thought, may we not struggle with one another, in a spirit displeasing to the gods;
May the arrow not fly when the day of Indra has arrived’ 3
I mean to say that meaning of peace in general conditions4 is fulfilled only when it exists in man’s heart, in his daily practices or actions and thoughts. This is what really stands for. In this way peace is neither the subject of any particular time nor is it negative value.5 This is, in itself, a positive and an active value. In the words of Vinoba Bhave: “By peace or Shanti… do not mean something static or the perpetuation of the status quo. Shanti means something dynamic, something that develops the force of the individual, which develops the dynamic strength of the people to a degree that will enable to meet any situation.”6
Mahatma Gandhi, accepting it as positive, connects it with morality and ethics and proclaims that the impulse behind shanti is a desire for spiritual contentment, an impulse free from Kama and Ahamkara [the desire for enjoyment and egoism]. That is why he has laid emphasis on realization of the feeling of brotherhood and has desired that a man should identify himself not only with other men but also with all existing life on earth and this identification is the symbol of harmony.
Just we have discussed that in all branches of Indian philosophy7 it is proclaimed that man is the centre of the deeds and on the basis of the same he gets results whether good or bad. He is superior among all living beings and occupies the most important place. It is expected from man that keeping his existence safe he should proceed towards all round development. It is also expected from him that he should attain the real aim of his life.8 How should he do this? The propounders of Indian philosophy have guided him from time to time in this regard. On the basis of their experiences that they gained through knowledge and deeds, according to the circumstances pertaining to their country and times, they exhorted man to follow those values that can create best, congenial and harmonious atmosphere for him. All these values are supplementary to non-violence.
Whether it is forbearance or tolerance, the principal value of Vedic [Hindu] philosophy, or the Karuna [compassion], a value established by Gautama, the Buddha, all have been supplementary to non-violence and in this way they all proved to be the best, effective and strong bases for harmony. And why would it not be so? After all the aim of all philosophies is peace.
Today when we talk about world peace, we feel that it will not be possible unless each and everyone gets equal opportunity for his/her progress or unless everyone is sure of fulfillment of his/her basic needs. Peace is not possible unless everyone has the liberty of self-expression, or it is just a dream if each and everyone is not accorded freedom, justice and rights. I would like to clarify that all above mentioned values, supplementary to non-violence, were established for the reason that everyone could easily be brought under the domain of equality, freedom, justice and rights, including the right of self expression, i.e. without exercising any force or without using any violence.
Not only this, goodness like equal respect for everyone’s faith, complete absence of fundamentalism, unity of mankind etc. were propounded by the leading figures of the society through above values. From time to time they also shared their experiences with people so that they may be inspired by it. These values are as important today as they were in the past or during the time of their establishment. Even today if we inculcate these values in our lives, according to our circumstances and need, we can create a good atmosphere of harmony and also march forward in the direction of peace.
In fact, thousands of years ago, Indians had firmly experienced that non-violence, as an immortal value-permanently present in human nature, is not only essential condition for existence but also for the development and to reach the real goal-peace. That is why the propounders made relentless efforts to base the day-to-day activities of people upon non-violence and its supplementary values. In this task they not only achieved expected success but they were able to set such examples, knowledge of which surprises us even today. It is because in those days the means of transport and communication very limited and underdeveloped. But they were able to communicate the message of ahimsa in a simple way, along with Indians, to inhabitants of different parts of the world. But, as has been stated, they did so by creating a conducive atmosphere as per the demand of times and country’s circumstances. In this regard we can do so, but then definitely many volumes can be written. That is why here I shall only quote two great men of ages.
In the times of Mahatma Buddha the state of Indian society had seriously and greatly deteriorated. People had started going against the values established for the safety of existence and progress; they were getting avert to non-violence and its activities. Besides inequality there was exploitation, so much so that there was inexpressible extreme of it in human acts. At such a time Gautama Buddha propagated the value of Karuna that is compassion, keeping in view the circumstances and need of the time. He set examples for all people, big and small by his own behavior in life and on the basis of the same, was able to launch an effective and strong movement to reform the society. From the point of view of that time, compassion was the best expression of non-violence, a good means of establishing peace. As a result after individual awakening, people of India could march in the right direction collectively. It was due to above movement that polluted religious, political and economic sphere also advanced towards righteous goal in a proper way. Later, the message of compassion crossed the territorial limits of India and it was able to show the path of peace to other countries of the world.
The other example in the previous century, i.e., 20eth century, is of Mahatma Gandhi. He from his gained knowledge and from the experiences of first half of his life came to the conclusion that Indian people, tolerating the curse of dependence and injustice, can achieve freedom over the mighty imperialism of the world through the means of non-violence, and can perpetuate the path of peace for itself, and also can show a unique and significant way to the whole of the world. He lead the Indians for about 25 years i.e., from 1917 to 1942 through various non-violent Satyagrahas; worked to wake up their slumbering consciousness, infused a new life into them and ultimately in 1947 India became free from British Imperialism. This was not an ordinary event in world history. But all this became possible because he developed the concept of non-violence according to the conditions and needs of his time. 9
He astonished the world by making experiments through non-violence at different occasions, with a firm belief that ahimsa is the oldest, greatest, perpetual and an active value connected integrally with truth. After that people from a number of countries could learn a lesson by his unique non-violent way. His path proved to be a source of liberation for them. In this context we can quote the Afro-American Campaigns for Civil Rights of 1955, 1961, 1963 and 1964. Not only this, we can also mention here about EDSA Revolution in Philippines in the year 1986 in this context.
Some people are of the opinion that the view of non-violence in context to peace is not very effective. In this regard they also quote the examples of Buddha and Gandhi. But such people should remember that neither the concept of non-violence of Buddha nor of Gandhi, or generally of India, is that to surrender before injustice or to become coward. One who is a coward, or one who bows before injustice, can never be a possessor of ahimsa. Along with Buddha and Gandhi, generally Indian view of non-violence is to establish its concordance with prevalent circumstances and needs. Even then it is certain that non-violence is the only pathway to peace. This is the experience of India.
In today’s scenario or series of events at national-international level, sometimes it seems that what non-violence would do? How peace will be restored by non-violent means? In this regard I would again clarify that to bow before injustice of unjust, to tolerate tyranny of tyrannous is not the outlook of Indian non-violence. After all how can be peace established in a state of injustice and tyranny? Of course, Indian view is to fight against injustice and atrocities through non-violent means as far as they are possible because there is no other alternative to them. In the words of Lord Krishna:” Even if any non-violent way is available, we should give up violence and adopt the non-violent way.”10
If this is not possible, if there is no hope, let this be eradicated by least possible violent means and thus peace be established. And even while doing so the inner feeling should be non-violent. We should not have ill feelings towards unjust and tyrannous. Indian non-violence is complete in its meaning and aim when it remains in our heart, words and deeds. This indeed is India’s viewpoint. Also this is its experience of non-violence.
Kumar, Ravindra: Gandhi, Non-violence
and Democracy with Special Reference to India.
1 A character.
3 Atharvaveda, 7:52:1:2.
4 Free from conflict, struggle, war or violence.
5 Manu, the Father of Vedic Laws, and Kautilya, a renowned statesman of ancient India, consider peace to be the subjects of a particular time and declare it to be negative value. About the state of peace it has been mentioned in the Manusmriti that when king knows that at some future time his superiority is certain and that at the time present he will suffer little injury then let him have recourse to peaceful measures i.e. YADAVAGACHCHEDAYATYAMADHIKREYA DHIRUVAMATMANAH, TADATVE CHALPIKAM PIDA YADA SAMDHIM SAMASHREYET. In the Arthashastra [1:263], Kautilya has mentioned: Who ever is inferior to others shall make peace with him, who ever is superior in power shall wage war-VIGRAHA; who ever thinks, “No enemy can hurt me, nor am I strong enough to destroy my enemy,’ shall observe neutrality, whoever is possessed of necessary means shall march against his enemy, who ever is devoid of necessary strength to defend himself shall seek the protection of another, whoever thinks that help is necessary to work out an end shall make peace with one and wage war with another.
6 The voice of Ahimsa, Volume-VI, Number: 8, August 1956, pp. 279-80.
7 Indian philosophy does not refer to only Vedic or Hindu philosophy. It includes Jainism, Buddhism and all those philosophies that developed in India.
8 Moksha, Mukti, Vimukti, Nirvana or Paramashanti.
9 Theory and Practice of Gandhian Non-Violence.
10 Essays on Religion, p. 37.