NON-VIOLENCE IS THE GREATEST FORCE AT THE DISPOSAL OF MANKIND
The subject of non- violence has almost always been rather touchy. This is mainly since one first has to define it, and understand that it refers to something completely different from peace. It also does not refer merely to world wars, but also to acts of destruction on the smallest scale, even on the domestic level.
Every day, despite attempts by politicians and global superpowers, people kill one another, and hurt one another in various ways. The normal, unharmed, ‘lucky’ people can get something to read about, especially on the life and death of the next ‘unlucky’ victim. So, there does not seem to be much work – perhaps even too much work – done by whoever is in charge of the multitude of organizations and charities to solve the problems. It is always last warning after last warning after last warning. Out of a population of seven billion, only a few can run around behind criminals, terrorists, abusive people and the like, to solve the problems their victims have to face.
Thus, it might be almost impossible to completely stamp out violence.
No matter how much you prayed for it.
Every religion known to man preaches just a few brief-albeit further elaborated by numerous examples-concepts that apply to humanity and the rest of the world as a whole. These are, being at peace and always tolerating as many people as possible. In fact, peace and non-violence cannot always be achieved in the same way, and they arenot the same thing either. Peace is something that people would say, is achieved after years of misfortune and war, which isnot so far away from the truth. Indeed, peace itself is just an illusion, in that it is never permanent. There’s always someone to ignite something at the end of the day, even if the war which spawned it, was the most wasteful in human history. War is not easy to diffuse entirely.
The media is especially capable of this, given how all the gossip about just about everything gets around at a million miles an hour.
In fact, non-violence itself is refraining from fighting in the first place and just tolerating everyone anyhow, anyway. It is about keeping your hands and guns to yourself. So, the most obvious and pressing question is, “Can the whole population be non-violent all at once?” or is the whole planet just going to be boring without any new murders to catch up on?
First of all, we must understand that this strange urge to fight, has been in our genes for perhaps over six million years. Primates all around the world, especially chimpanzees, practise behavior that any human might be familiar with, and readily familiar with. These close cousins of ours, with over ninety per cent shared DNA, are not peaceful vegetarians living in absolute harmony in their troops. The newest findings have revealed startling information, especially about their savage and unpredictable personalities. Troops will wage war readily against other troops in their area. As Jane Goodall writes of the chimps of Gombe Stream, the subject of her most famous research projects, that :
“During the first ten years of the study I had believed that the Gombe chimpanzees were, for the most part, rather nicer than humans…Then suddenly we found that chimpanzees could be brutal…”
This was noticed, especially in an alpha male whom she named Frodo. He had been aggressive and fierce towards her, even if the rest had gotten used to her presence. Yet, this was not just one chimp’s behavior, but an almost universal behavioral pattern. Infanticide, genocide, hunting for pleasure, and mass murder, are all part of their behavior. This is what defines the essential primate, in fact. If a chimpanzee is aggravated, it will bite, scratch, and attempt to murder in the worst possible way, thus leaving the poor victims bruised and bloody. So, we must understand that our early ancestors climbed through the bush – not tree: most of our ancestors gave birth to evolutionary dead ends too – and fought tooth and nail to gain supremacy over every other beast they shared their world with.
Even mastery over themselves.
That was how we did it.
Bloodshed, bloodshed, bloodshed all the way.
However, one major turning point was the coming over the world, particularly in the Near East. It was religion. First practiced as the worship of a mother goddess in CatalHuyuk, in Turkey and other 8,500-year-old cities everywhere, it later evolved into polytheistic paganism, which demanded blood. These gods-sometimes said by science fiction aficionados to be alien visitors-were good enough for the people of the world at the time, since they explained what happened in the world to humanity. Yet, some deviated from these cults, did some real thinking and finally various sages, philosophers and thinkers grew up to challenge these old ideals.
Especially in India, in fact.
This was where the first teachers of actual non-violent faiths arose, and aroused the nation with their philosophies, which truly overturned the way that people thought. Yet, before this phase of wandering ascetics, there was a society which practically put itself down into the dumps due to the debilitating effects of Brahmanistic ideologies. The ascetics, therefore, opposed these power-hungry monsters strongly. In fact, Brahman mythology teaches the tale of the sacrifice of the Cosmic Man at the beginning of time, and how the unfortunate outcastes were born from this deity’s feet.
These, and the untouchables formed a class of slaves and scavengers-and a Shudra was still higher up than a Chandala according to this hierarchy. Left in the drains and the dusty roads they were literally downtrodden. At least some worked in the cemeteries and even slept alongside corpses in graves. Or else, they just died of malnutrition at a very young age. Not that the high Brahmans cared about these poor souls, for they were just busy making mass slaughters of animals for their fire deities. Yet, the champions of both nonviolence and the downtrodden started to appear and gain real momentum in the 6th Century B.C.
This was a troubled time, in fact, with sixteen kingdoms in India, four of them with the makings of empires, and a number of little vassal states on their borders, struggling to keep themselves from being swallowed up by the giants. In fact, it was a sort of “fish theory”, with the strongest, biggest kingdoms swallowing up their tiny neighbors. The Brahman religion and its teachers did well in this fragmented world. They could easily aid one leader, then another, at the drop of a hat, actually. Both warfare and trade occurred between the Indian city-states. Even family feuds could become open bloodshed as kings and princes attempted to outdo each other at whatever cost. However, those opponents of the Brahmans were unstoppable as well.
These were the samanas, and were gaining following practically everywhere. The key difference between the two groups of philosophers was that the Brahmans expected to be paid for their services. The samanas did not accept any sort of money at all. They were all nomadic ascetics who had renounced their worldly lives to live a life of meditation. Sixty-four samana philosophers existed contemporaneously at one point, and even they couldn’t coexist with each other.
Yet, only one of the sixty-four was highly regarded, and still is.
Mahavira was the founder of Jainism, and Jainism is still followed today by thousands in India. This faith is exceptionally nonviolent. In fact, this ascetic had performed some really heroic acts in his youth, and the religion itself is atheistic. That doesn’t mean, however, that its founder lacked any scruples. In fact, he considered another, much younger yet much more popular and compassionate preacher as his archenemy. This rival would always smile kindly at his enemies, even during the most heated religious debates of the time. He is the Buddha.
Mahavira had reason to be eternally jealous.
Lord Buddha was born in a tiny vassal republic state but for forty-five years of his adult life, wandered actively throughout northern India, preaching his philosophy to everyone, everywhere, irrespective of caste or their native beliefs. He was not just a man, but an Enlightened human being. In fact, he was born into the warrior caste and was a prince. He had riches; a wife, a child; a kingdom to rule. However, he constantly pondered over worldly sorrow and thus decided to lead the austere life of a samana.
His attitude towards nonviolence was essentially the same as that of everyone else, but it was not just inter-city wars that he’d wished to prevent. In fact, violence can exist even on the smallest scale imaginable. Even animal sacrifices, which the Brahmans encouraged, were looked down upon by all of the Buddha’s disciples and the Buddhist clergy. In fact, the Buddha’s goal was not personal gain, but to do well genuinely, and help people to remove their suffering forever.
Perhaps the biggest cause for any strife in Indian society was the caste system. Even if a master beat his slaves, if a Brahman enforced his power upon a poor beggar, it was violence on some scale. Slaves and untouchables lived, practically, in a living hell. Brahman oppression and the inability of these downtrodden castes to rebel against people who could easily kill them, was the only thing that kept the higher and lower classes apart. A story tells of how a poor farmer’s cows were stolen by an arrogant and wealthy Brahman. The latter wished to perform a sacrifice, and to the dairy-loving Indian population, cattle were a very huge deal. Wishing to help the farmer, the Buddha visited the Brahman, who insulted him on first sight. In fact, the Buddha had a very simple response to the Brahman’s insult, one that could be used even today:
“Na JaccaVasaloHothi-Na JaccaHothiBrahmano”
“By birth is one not an outcaste; by birth is one not a Brahman. By deeds is one an outcaste; by deeds is one a Brahman”
The ‘Vasala Sutra’, or, ‘Sermon on behalf of the Downtrodden’, describes that you are what you do, in a way. Being a high-class person is no excuse to look down on others; this isn’t something that people, especially very well-to-do people would understand so well. In fact, where wealth is power in the 21stCentury, anyone can rise to a position of eminence very quickly-even through the worst possible way. In fact, there are so many such people around, that once an initially poor person gets into a position of power; they just act just like the others of their status do. They never remember their poverty and the struggles that they had to go through just to survive every day.
Of course, while Buddhism never used a very rigid set of rules to spread through almost a whole continent, there are some who have most shamelessly used it as a weapon, as an excuse to make war, or else to commit other cruelties and crimes. This is what the modern man especially makes of religion. Nowadays, there is no true Buddhist on the whole face of the Earth. Yet, there are plenty who are Buddhists by birth, not by deed. These truly fit into the ‘Vasala’ category that Lord Buddha named in his sutra, obviously along with those supposedly high-class people who commit wrongs of this sort.
Buddhism did not, in fact, survive for a very long time in India itself, instead fading away as time went by. The caste system persisted, and life went on for the untouchables. Asoka’s time saw a new beginning for this religion, but right afterwards, older traditions persisted. So true to its teachings about ahimsa has Buddhism been, that even this great ruler never tried to use it as a weapon. Buddhism never did have any strict rules anyway. One could follow it if he wished, and many interpreted it in different ways.
This interpretation and reinterpretation of the philosophy led to the birth of various cults and sects.
However, elsewhere, away from the Indian Subcontinent, there were others who were trying desperately to cause a break in their former lifestyle. The Mediterranean region has for millennia, been full of tough, intellectual, enterprising people who were at times morally pure, and sometimes all too human.
Thus in the west, and in Western Asia in general, there were kingdoms, conquerors and emperors who cared nothing more than about making themselves richer and making their own lives full of pleasure as far as possible. The Mediterranean world has been as such for millennia. Now, of course, besides a few Greek philosophers who were using science to criticize their pantheons of gods, there weren’t really that many thinkers around.
Paganism was the main faith that persisted in this area. There was more to gain from reading the entrails of animals than from preaching a proper faith-one that didn’t get you murdered for going against the gods. Most thinkers learned the hard way. These gods dealt with evil people, who didnot honour them with sacrifices, by punishing them in the afterlife, or by making their current life miserable.
However, further away, in the Near Eastern region, during the first part of the Roman Empire, there was much more going on. Another preacher was born, and this one was one who would change not only the Empire, but also the world, little though this miracle-worker could’ve known it. This descendent of the much older Judaism, which had accumulated a variety of other stories into itself and evolved over the centuries, managed to become the religion of practically millions, including giving people someone on whose name to swear by. The Bible wasn’t written yet, but at least the old Christian scholars did give us all a form of nonviolence which depended mostly, or at least most primarily, on justice. Indeed, Christianity believes in an omniscient, all-powerful God, as we all know. This God punishes wrongdoers and rewards the good. This is the basis of all of our thoughts about that ‘ancient struggle between good and evil’. We managed to paint our world in black and white, and so this new religion began to rule us all.
Christian pacifism itself does exist, and whatever God says, goes, even if it applies to very prominent men:
“But this word of the Lord came to me:you have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight”
And this is implied to David, from Chronicles 22:8. Thus a warrior who was a hero to his people, was unworthy to build a house in His honor. Perhaps it is a punishment for the man’s actions, or maybe that He dislikes the violent. Or else, this is just an example of Him being a hypocrite, and a serious one at that. In fact, that does not mean that He isn’t violent himself, with examples, again, from the Old Testament. In fact, some theologians argue that the Old Testament is filled with violence committed by this creator. As scholar John Hemerexplains,
“Violence is not peripheral to the Bible it is central, in many ways it is the issue, because of course it is the human problem.”
Thus, the Bible, being the story of the Near East and its relationships with the rest of the world, seems to quite accurately showcase to us that violence is part of human nature by making humanity’s Creator, all too human at times.
Judaism itself talks of doing good to repay good and evil to repay evil. This seems fair to everyone who talks about it, making about as much sense. Hit the person that hit you, since it is only right, and very soon, after a very long fist fight which involves practically all and sundry, only the right person will persist. The Old Testament is a reflection back to those ancient Hebrew beginnings, when the idea of monotheism had begun in this region, so maybe this version of God reflects the turbulence of the times its people lived in. The ancestral Hebrews were wanderers, with no place to call home, stubbornly resisting anyone who tried to hold them back. They finally managed to settle down, though, and the New Testament, which is about the story of Jesus Christ, features a God who can bring peace to yet another troubled time, the time of Roman governance.
The area of Palestinewas just a tiny backwater province in a vast dominion, a melting pot in which a tiny people were trying to make their mark. The minds of the people needed something that lifted them, so Jesus preached about a loving, caring God, not the violent, despotic, jealous God of earlier thought. God thus represents the spirit and mentality of the human, and it is through a great thinker can this God’s message come out properly. Obviously, Jesus, born a poor man, was the perfect person to do it. He forgave his enemies; he restrained from doing any wrong himself, and thus could work with his idea of a kind God. This version was beneficial if he was to spread his faith during a time of severe unrest, and the people accepted him as their ruler instead of the Romans.
It made sense to them.
Why follow a violent Creator anyway?
For some reason though, it seems as if the old version of God persisted through the years, as well as Jesus Christ’s teachings. All around the world, men mete out justice through punishment, which might even be, in the worst case scenario, death. God once punished all mankind by using a flood. That’s just an example of genocide (drafted from an old Babylonian story) in the Bible.
Thus, the teachings of many religious leaders have influenced how we think of peace in the present day.