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The Courage of Nonviolence
By Daisaku Ikeda
Against the background of Hindu-Moslem riots in India in1947, Ikeda focuses on Mahatma Gandhi as a messenger of peace and a staunch believer in the potency of non-violence as the only means to bring lasting peace in the world.
In India, many revered Gandhi but few shared his belief. For Gandhi nonviolence meant on overflowing of love for all, including the British; for most of his followers it was only a political strategy, a tactic for winning India's independence. Thus Gandhi despite his followers in millions was alone.
Dwelling on terrorism, a new form of violence, the author says that peace based on forceful suppression of people's voice would not be lasting. Peace results from the willingness to listen. The tragedy of September 11 should used as an opportunity to start a dialogue of cultures and peoples. There is no other way to bring peace on the earth.
How the minds of the people could be moulded through education and dialogue is illustrated by a 1957 exhibition entitled' King Ashoka-Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru-Healing touch.
"I don't want toys or chocolates. All I want is peace and freedom. People of Europe, people of the world, please find the humanity in your hearts to put an end to this war", said the young girl of the former Yugoslavia.
I was visiting Rajghat, where Mahatma Gandhi, the father of Indian Independence, had been cremated . Some where a bird sang. A forest was nearby, and squirrels ran through its lush green thickets. The area was a spacious, well-tended shrine to non-violence.
As I offered flowers before the black stone platform that constitutes Gandhi's memorial, I bowed my head. I pondered Gandhi's brilliant spirit. I thought of his ceaseless struggles to douse the fires of hatred with water drawn from the pure springs of love for humanity. And I thought of how alone he was in the quest.
Whose side are you on?
"Gandhi tells us not to retaliate against the Muslims! How can he take their side? They killed my family, including my five-years old son!," said one among the angry crowd of Hindus.
"Is he telling us just to endure the attacks of the Hindus? Ridiculous! Does not he know what we Muslims have been through all these years? After all, Gandhi's a Hindu himself, isn't he?", said one among the angry crowd of Muslims.
Despite these, the elderly sage went everywhere, wherever Hindus and Muslims were mired in bloodstained cycles on conflict reprisal. He called for the killing to end. But people, crazed by hate, did not listen. They told him to leave, calling his attempts at reconciliation hypocritical or worse. They demanded to know whose side he was on. But he was not on either side. And at the same time, he was on both sides. To him, people are brothers and sisters. How could he stand by, silent witness to mutual slaughter?
Gandhi declared that he was willing to be cut in two if that was what people wanted, but not for India to be cut in two. What good, he demanded to know, could ever come of hatred? If hate were returned with hate, it would only become more deeply rooted and widespread.
Suppose someone sets fire to your home and you retaliate by setting fire to theirs, soon the whole town will be flames! Burning down the attacker's house would not bring yours back. Violence solves nothing . By engaging in reprisals, you only hurt yourself. But no matter how urgently Gandhi called on people to listen to reason, the fires of hatred raged on. Against the lone Gandhi there were far too many people fanning the flames.
1. Fire Cannot Extinguish Fire
On January 20, 1948-10 days, in fact, before he was assassinated- a handmade bomb was hurled at Gandhi as he attended a meeting. This act of terrorism was carried out by a Hindu youth. Fortunately, the bomb missed the mark. The youth was arrested.
The next day several adherents of the Sikh faith called on Gandhi and assured him that the culprit was not a Sikh, Gandhi rebuked them, saying that it mattered nothing at all to him whether the assailant was a Sikh, a Hindu, or a Muslim. Whoever the perpetrator might be, he said, he wished him well.
Gandhi explained that the youth had been taught to think of him as an enemy of the Hindu cause, that hatred had been implanted in his heart. The youth believed what he was taught and was so desperate, so devoid of all hope that violence seemed the only alternative.
Gandhi felt only pity for the young man. He even told the outraged chief of practice not to harass his assailant but make an effort to convert him to right thoughts and actions.
This was always his approach. No one abhorred violence more than Gandhi. At the same time no one knew more deeply that violence a could only be countered by non-violence.
Just as a fire is extinguished by water, love and compassion can only defeat hatred. Some criticized Gandhi for coddling the terrorist. Others scorned his conviction, calling it sentimental and unrealistic; an empty vision. Gandhi was alone . Many revered his name, but few truly shared his beliefs. For Gandhi, non-violence meant an overflowing love for all humanity, a way of life that emanated from the very narrow of his being, It made life possible; without it, he could not have lived even a moment. But for many of his followers, non-violence was simply a political strategy, a tactic for winning India's Independence from Britain.
Gandhi was alone.
The more earnestly he pursued his religious beliefs, the deeper his love for humanity grew. This love made it all the more impossible for him to ignore the political realities strengthened his conviction that nothing is more essential than the love for humanity that the religious faith inspire.
This placed him, however, in the position of being denounced by both religious figures, who saw his involvement in the sullied realm of politics as driven by personal ambition, and political leaders, who called him ignorant and native. Because he walked the middle way, the true path of humanity that seeks to reconcile apparent contradictions, his beliefs and actions and appeared biased to those at the extremes.
2. Putting an End to Terrorism
The September 11 attacks against the United States were savage beyond words. Our fellow SGI members and friends were among the victims. The attacks provoked universal revulsion and the heartfelt desire that such slaughter never be repeated. For what crime were these innocent people killed? There is no reason, nothing that could possibly justify such an act. Even if, as has been reported, the perpetrators believed they were acting based on their religious faith, their acts in no way merit the name of martyrdom. Martyrdom means offering up ones own life, not taking the lives of others. True self-sacrifice is made to save others from suffering to offer them happiness. Any act that involves killing others is reprehensible and purely destructive.
The time has come for mankind to join together in putting an end to terrorism. The question is how can this be achieved? Will military retaliation serve that end? Is not it likely only to incite more hatred? Even if, for argument sake, the immediate 'enemy' could be subdued, would that bring true peace? Long simmering hatreds would only be driven further underground making it impossible to predict where next in the world they might burst forth. Our world would be tormented with ever-greater fear and unease. Here I am reminded of the simple wisdom of the Aesop's Fable "The North Wind and the Sun". The North Wind tried to make a traveller remove his coat by assailing him with icy gusts, but the harder the North Wind blew, the tighter the traveller pulled his coat around him. Peace that is based on the forceful suppression of people's voices and concerns, whether it be in your or other countries, is a dead peace- the peace of the grave. Surely that is not the peace for which humanity years.
3. Violence vs. Nonviolence: The struggle of the 21st Century
I am also reminded of a moving episode that Leo Tolstoy related in a letter written two months before his death. The letter dated September 7, 1910, was addressed to Mahatma Gandhi.
The episode went something like this. There was a test on the subject of religion in a certain girls' school in Moscow. A Bishop had come to the school and was quizzing the girls one by one about the Ten Commandments. When he came to the Commandment . "Thou shalt not kill," the Bishop asked: " Does God forbid us to kill under all circumstances?"
The girls, each answered as they had been taught . "No", they said, " Not under all circumstances. We may kill in war or as legal punishment?
"Yes, that's right! You've answered correctly! " said the Bishop.
Then one of the girls, her face flushed with indignation, spoke up: "Killing is wrong under all circumstances!"
The Bishop was flustered and marshalled all his rhetorical skills to the girl that there were exceptions to the Commandment against killing, but to no avail.
"No", she declared ."Killing is a sin under all circumstances. It says so in the Old Testament. Moreover, Jesus not only forbade killing but taught that we must do no harm to our neighbours."
In the face of truth in the girl's assertion, the Bishop's authority and verbal skills were of no use whatsoever. In the end, he could only fall silent. The young girl. Tolstoy wrote with evident satisfaction, had proven victorious.
Let us amplify to that young girls "It is wrong to kill , even in war!" And let us broad cast them to the world!
The 20th century was a century of war, a century in which hundreds of millions of people died violent deaths. Have we learned anything from those horrific tragedies? In the new era of the 21st century, humanity must be guided by the overriding principle that killing is never acceptable or justified-under any circumstances. Unless we realise this, unless we widely promote and deeply implant the understanding that violence can never be used to advocate one's beliefs. we will have learned nothing from the bitter lessons of the 20th century.
The real struggle of the 21st century will not be between civilisations, or between religions. It will be between violence and non-violence in the truest sense of the word.
4.Extinguish the Flames Of Hatred with a flood of Dialogue
A more than half a century ago, Gandhi sought to break cycles of violence and reprisal. What distinguishes from brute beasts, he said, is our continuous striving for moral self-improvement. Humanity is at a crossroads and must choose, he asserted, violence (the law of the jungle) or nonviolence (the law of humanity).
The world today, in fact, has an extraordinary and unprecedented opportunity. We have the chance to open a new page in human history. Now is the time to make the following declaration:
We regard terrorist attacks to be a challenge to the law of humanity. It is for just this reason that we refuse to follow the law of the jungle upon which he attacks were based. We declare our determination to find a solution not by military means but through extensive dialogue. Rather than further fuel the flames of hatred, we choose to douse with a great " flood of dialogue" that will enrich and benefit all humanity.
This is the best, the only means to assure that such horrors are never repeated, and we believe it is the most fitting way to honour the memory of those who lost their lives in the attacks.
Such a declaration, put into action, would certainly be met with the unstinting praise of future historians.
Great good can come of great evil. But this will not happen on its own. Courage is always required to transform evil into good. Now is the time for each of us to bring forth such courage: the courage of non-violence; the courage of dialogue; the courage of listening to what we would rather not hear; the courage to restrain the desire for vengeance and be guides by reason.
5. Peace is Born from Willingness To Listen
In conversation with Mrs. Veena Sikri, Director General of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), we discussed Indian philosophy and the tradition of non-violence. And I spoke of my desire to bring the light of India, with its immense spiritual heritage, to the people of Japan. This wish was eventually realised in the form of an exhibition entitled "King Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru-Healing Touch" that was held in Japan in 1994.
King Ashoka was a wise and virtuous monarch of Ancient India (around the third century B.C.) After witnessing first hand the cruel realities of war, he converted to Buddhism, deciding that he would base his rule not on military force, but on the Dharma, the principles of Buddhism. When Gandhi was asked whether a nonviolent state was possible, he replied that indeed it was. He pointed to Ashoka's reign as an example and asserted that it must be possible to reproduce the ancient king's achievement.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of Independent India, was Gandhi's direct disciple. When he visited Japan in 1957, he voiced his profound concern over the escalating violence in the world. In one of his addresses, he stated that he only truly effective response to the hydrogen bomb was not a bomb of even bigger destructive capacity but a spiritual ' bomb' of compassion. This was just one month after Josei Toda, the second president of the Soka Gakkai, made his declaration calling for the abolition for the nuclear weapons.
Some of the Japanese involved in prepared for the "King Ashoka, Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru" exhibition at first had difficulty appreciating the "healing touch" in the broader sense was not as familiar a tune in Japan as it has since become. But no theme goes more to the very heart of non-violence. For violence is born from a wounded spirit: a spirit burned and blistered by the fire of arrogance: a spirit splintered and frayed by the frustration of powerlessness: a spirit parched with an unquenched thirst for meaning in life; a spirit shriveled and shrunk by feeling of inferiority. The rage that results from injured self respect from humiliation erupts as violence. A culture of violence, which delights in crushing and beating others into submission, spreads throughout society, often amplified by the media.
The American Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a student of Gandhi's philosophy. He declared that a person whose spirit is in turmoil can't truly practice nonviolence. It was my hope that the right of India- a country known in the East since ancient times as "The Land of Moonlight"- would help spread the spirit of peace, much as the cool beams of the moon bring soothing relief from the maddening heat of the day. From a healed, peaceful heart, humility is born; from humility, a willingness to listen to others, mutual understanding is born; and from mutual understanding a peaceful society will be born.
Nonviolence is the highest from a humility; it is the supreme courage. Jawaharlal Nehru said that the essence of Gandhi's teachings was fearlessness The Mahatma taught that" The strong are never vindictive" and the brave could only engage on that dialogue.
Daisaku Ikeda is popularly known as Sense (the teacher), is the President of Soka Gakkai International, Tokyo
Source: Anasakti, Vol 1, No.1- January 2003
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