1000+ Words Essay on Ghandhi’s Philosophy of Nonviolence (Ahimsa )

Mahatma Gandhi lived his life by two main principles or ideals: truth and nonviolence. For him, truth was God, and realising this truth as God was the goal of his life. He said, “Truth is the end and nonviolence the means.” Gandhi came up with his own definition and explanation of nonviolence that was different from the way most people thought about it. Gandhi did not think nonviolence was a bad thing, like not hurting or killing people, but a good thing, like selfless service to others and the whole world. People should try to be nonviolent in thought, word, and deed. They should also try to organise all of their lives around this idea. That would make a lot of changes in people’s lives. The paper tries to put Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas about nonviolence into words and put them into perspective.

The correlation between nonviolence and truth is the first distinguishing aspect of Gandhi’s nonviolence. According to Gandhi, the diamond of ahimsa was discovered in the pursuit and study of truth. He compared truth and nonviolence to two sides of an unstamped copper disc to emphasise their complementarity. Gandhi’s rationale is straightforward but powerful in this case. Truth, according to Gandhi, was both absolute and relative. Absolute truth, by definition, was beyond human comprehension, despite the fact that humans were endowed with the potential to seek and find truth. Gandhi defined relative realities as truth as perceived by humans from moment to time. Given that each person has his or her own (relative) truth, what was the best technique to prove one’s truth? It was evident to Gandhi that imposing one’s reality on others (as the legendary Hiranyakashipu strove to do) was wrong and unjustifiable because what appeared to be true now could be proved to be false later on. As a result, forcing or compelling one’s truth on others was both epistemologically and ethically unacceptable. So, Gandhi reasoned, one must be willing to endure all of the consequences of bearing witness to one’s truth. That is the nonviolent path. Thus, nonviolence was the only justified path to truth for Gandhi; not only to progress toward truth, but also to vindicate truth. That is why he said, “Truth is the end and ahimsa the means thereto.” (Yeravda Mandir, page 7)

The second distinguishing aspect of Gandhi’s nonviolence is related to the basic definition of the term “nonviolence.” Being a word with a negative prefix, nonviolence immediately conjures up negative connotations. Nonviolence is commonly considered to imply not hurting, injuring, or murdering others. However, this was not what Gandhi meant by nonviolence. He elaborated:

Ahimsa is not the unsophisticated concept that it has been made out to be. To not harm any living thing is, without a doubt, an element of ahimsa. However, it is the simplest form of expression. Every wicked thought, excessive haste, deceit, hostility, and wishing ill on anyone harms the idea of ahimsa. It is also violated by our attachment to what the world requires. (Yeravda Mandir, page 7)

It is clear that nonviolence was not a bad notion for Gandhi; rather, it was rife with very good meanings. “Ahimsa is not only a negative state of harmlessness,” he said, “but it is a positive state of love, of doing good even to the evil-doer.” (Young India, 25 August 1920, p.2)

It is clear that nonviolence was not a bad notion for Gandhi; rather, it was rife with very good meanings. “Ahimsa is not only a negative state of harmlessness,” he said, “but it is a positive state of love, of doing good even to the evil-doer.” (Young India, 25 August 1920, p.2)

Emphasising the aspect of love in ahimsa Gandhi wrote:

Ahimsa means “love” in the Pauline sense, and yet something  more than the “love” defined by Paul…Ahimsa includes  the whole creation, and not only human. Besides, “Love” in the English language has other connotations too, and so I was com- pelled to use the negative word. But it does not, as I told  you, express a negative force, but a force superior to all the forces put together. (Harijan, March 14, 1936, p. 39)

Expatiating further on what ahimsa as love meant, Gandhi wrote:

In its positive form, ahimsa means the largest love, the greatest charity. If I am a follower of ahimsa I must love my enemy…It is no nonviolence if we merely love those who love  us. It is nonviolence only when we love those that hate us. I know how difficult it is to follow this grand Law of Love. But are not all great and good things difficult to do? Love of the hater is the most difficult of all. But by the grace of God, even this most difficult thing becomes easy to accomplish”. (Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, p. 346)

The third point is that Gandhi characterised ahimsa as “soul force”. He wrote: “Nonviolence is soul force or the power of the Godhead within us. We become Godlike to the extent we realise nonviolence.” (Harijan, March 14, 1936, p. 39). Because it is soul force it is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind, argued Gandhi and added that “it is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man”, and thus, working under the law of nonviolence it was possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire.

It is fascinating to learn how Gandhi built a well-formed doctrine of nonviolence. Gandhi’s perceptive mind discovered the subtle layers and mechanisms by which violence functioned and mastered the human psyche. As a result, he attempted to tackle violence on both theoretical and practical levels. He contended that, while there is good and evil in human nature (notice that ‘the good’ is described as the ability for nonviolence and ‘the evil’ as the inclination and willingness to engage in violence), human nature is fundamentally and fundamentally good. The carnage and destruction seen all around may easily take one’s breath away. However, Gandhi contended that he could see life continuing in the middle of all of these devastations. Life, as a force, as a power, continued to flow, evolve, develop, and progress toward its destined objective of divine perfection. Gandhi stated:

In our daily lives, we act nonviolently toward one another, whether consciously or unintentionally. All well-constructed communities are founded on the law of nonviolence. I discovered that life continues in the midst of destruction, implying that there must be a greater law than that of destruction. Only under that law would a well-ordered society be understandable and life worth living. And if that is the Law of Life, we must apply it in our daily lives.(Young India., Oct. 10, 1931)

Thus Gandhi comes to the conclusion that “nonviolence or love is the law of our being” and this is the first major postulate of his theory of nonviolence.

Subsequent to this Gandhi argued that nonviolence is “the law of our species” as well. The bond that unites human beings is the bond of love and nonviolence, and certainly not that of hate or violence. He wrote:

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I claim that even now, though the social structure is not based on a conscious acceptance of nonviolence, the entire world over mankind lives and men retain their possessions on the  sufferance of one another. If they had not done so, only  the fewest and the most ferocious would have survived. But such is not the case. Families are bound by ties of love and so are groups. (Harijan, Feb.22, 1942)

As a result, the second postulate is that nonviolence is the law of humanity.
Gandhi went on to argue that nonviolence was the law that had prevailed throughout history. It made a significant contribution to the dynamics of history. He saw human history as a progressive unfolding of ahimsa, or nonviolence. For Gandhi, history was an intentional endeavour to govern and regulate the operation of violence in order to minimise it.

Therefore, he viewed human history as an expression of growing nonviolence. Gandhi did not believe in a continuous progression of nonviolence throughout history. It is true that there are periods of regression, such as the present. However, when considered in the long term, it is clear that humanity is making considerable efforts to control and minimise the use of violence in human affairs. He wrote:
The world is held together by the bonds of love. History does not record the day-to-day incidents of love and service. It only records incidents of conflicts and wars. Actually, however, acts of love and service are much more common in this world than conflicts and quarrels….If the world were full of quarrel and discord, (villages and towns) could not flourish. (Bapu’s Letters to the Ashram Sisters, 1961, p. 113)

To conclude his explanation of nonviolence’s important place and significance in human life, he made a connection between the physical force of gravitation and the moral force of nonviolence. As gravity keeps everything in the physical universe together in its proper position, regulates its speed, and maintains its kinetic nature, the power of love or nonviolence acts as the cohesive force in human life, structuring and leading human relations with the least amount of friction. As a result, it takes on the form of a law, which is the moral counterpart of the law of gravitation in physical nature. Gandhi stated:

Scientists tell us that without the presence of the cohesive force amongst the atoms that comprise this globe of ours, it would crumble to pieces and would cease to exist. And even as there is cohesive force in blind matter so must there be in all things animate; and the name of that cohesive force among animate beings is love…Where there is Love there is Life; hatred leads to destruction. (Young India, May 5, 1920).

In a nutshell, Gandhi saw nonviolence as the rule of our being, the cohesive law of love that links humanity together and makes communal existence possible and meaningful. It is also the power that functions throughout history, enabling human growth toward its destiny. So he desired that humanity accept nonviolence as an article of faith–that is, in mind, word, and deed–and that existence be organised around the idea of nonviolence. Gandhi was not satisfied with establishing strong arguments in support of nonviolence as the basic organising principle of human life and existence. He demonstrated the effectiveness of nonviolence to the world by making it the foundation of his personal life as well as all of his public endeavours, including the battle for rights and freedom.

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Gandhian nonviolence is based on a set of fundamental assumptions and principles. The most fundamental of these is realisation of life’s oneness. All life is interconnected. Everything that exists is intimately and inextricably linked. It is, in reality, a living consciousness of this oneness of existence that provides the metaphysical and spiritual framework for positive and active nonviolence to be accepted as an article of religion. Gandhi defined nonviolence as a “soul force,” a component of the human spirit. Once this is embraced, not only intellectually but deeply in one’s psyche and spirit, the lines that separate persons and things, you and I, will vanish. So one realises that one cannot harm or injure someone without also harming oneself; hurting others means hurting oneself. To achieve this consciousness, one must go through a process of self-purification that includes defeating one’s ego and reducing oneself to a cypher. Gandhi and several members of his ashram accomplished this by taking ethical vows known as ekadasavrta–eleven vows (see M. K. Gandhi, From Yeravda- Mandir and Ashram Observances in Action). When nonviolence is practised with as much “scientific precision” as possible, it has the potential to become an objective force. Such nonviolence transcends time and geography, serving as a constant source of inspiration and reference for ahimsa devotees. It also becomes a force/power capable of moving mountains, including the most intractable mountains of human minds. Gandhi proved the promise of nonviolence when he calmed the rage of the violent crowds in Bengal and Delhi who were on a killing spree in the communal riots that followed India’s partition in 1947.

Gandhi’s influence went beyond transforming nonviolence into a tremendous spiritual and moral force via thought, word, and deed. Nonviolence was not a cloistered virtue for him. He made nonviolence the core organising principle of all his social, economic, and political efforts. His singular contribution, it is widely acknowledged, was in refining nonviolence into a magnificent way of combating injustice and exploitation, thereby architecting the weapon of Satyagraha – nonviolent direct action.

Gandhi thought that nonviolence, as a soul energy or love force, is universally applicable. It might be used to resolve any type of dispute or conflict, even the removal of a despotic ruler. He utilised it to solve the problem of racial and political discrimination in South Africa, as well as to eliminate other social problems that had infiltrated Indian social life, including as untouchability, discrimination against women and girls, alcoholism, and so on. Gandhi stated that because nonviolence is a soul power and everyone is born with one, everyone is capable of using nonviolence. Through his nonviolent movement, he demonstrated that regular people, the illiterate, the destitute, and the so-called weaker sex–women–could wield the sword of nonviolence as effectively as any other accomplished person. As a result, the Gandhian nonviolent movement demolished the illusion that nonviolence was only for the morally or spiritually evolved few. Ordinary people–even the “lowliest, lowest, and least”–could be enabled to become bold nonviolent resisters or satyagrahies through effective mobilisation and training. This reality has instilled immense optimism and confidence in nonviolent movements all throughout the world.

Gandhian nonviolence has been studied from diverse perspectives by scholars and activists from various socio-political contexts. We must also consider the efforts of action groups to apply Gandhian nonviolence in cultural contexts very different from those in which Gandhi used it. As a result, we come across some astute commentary on Gandhi’s nonviolent practise. The contrast drawn between principled and strategic nonviolence is one of the most fundamental criticisms. For example, Gene Sharp examines nonviolence purely as a strategy in his widely read works The Politics of Nonviolent Action (1973) and Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential (2005). He did not place much emphasis on the acceptance of nonviolence as a principle, nor did he place much emphasis on its effective application. He is confident that nonviolent struggle may be made very effective for use in conflicts to lift injustice and as a substitute for violence through pragmatic, strategically planned nonviolent struggle. It is vital to remember that Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence is comprehensive in this context. Gandhian nonviolence had a solid theoretical foundation, and his praxis was theoretically grounded. For Gandhi, there was no distinction between theory and practise, and hence any approach that was not founded on sound principles was doomed to fail. When we examine the history of the use of nonviolence as a strategy in various regions of the world, we see that many notable leaders are becoming more aware of the inherent limitations and weaknesses of employing nonviolence as a strategy. Nelson Mandela is, without a doubt, the most prominent example. While Albert Luthuli (1899-1967) was adamant about nonviolence as a concept, Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress used it exclusively as a method. However, following the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, there was clearly a reconsideration influenced by Albert Luthuli’s statements that “nonviolence has not failed us, we have failed nonviolence.” Mandela, once in power, refused to condone any recriminations and began a healing process in the true spirit of nonviolence (see Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, pp. 119, 261). Mandela’s is not an isolated case. Accepting nonviolence as an article of religion and attempting to practise it in mind, word, and deed is becoming increasingly important to ahimsa devotees around the world.

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It should also be noted at this point that, despite his vehement insistence on it, Gandhi did not make a fetish of his ahimsa. He agreed that “perfect nonviolence is impossible so long as we exist physically, for we want at least some space to occupy. Perfect nonviolence, while you inhabit this body, is only a theory like the Euclid’s point or straight line, but we have to endeavour every moment of our lives.” (cited on page 53 of K. P. Mishra’s Gandhi and the Contemporary World). However, Gandhi cautioned that such unpreventable violence (which he referred to as “existential violence”) should not be used to justify the use of violence. It is also worth noting that Gandhi distinguished between nonviolence of the weak and nonviolence of the brave. Nonviolence, he believed, could only be practised by the brave, not the weak or the fearful.

Humanity is facing a “now or never” decision. It is true that organised violence has constructed its own cathedrals, armament industry, and stockpile facilities of weapons of infinite destructive potential, and has almost confused the rest of the world. But we must be aware that if we do not act now, it may be too late. And we must start with ourselves and strive to extend out. A systematic transformation of the human self via the conscious and diligent cultivation of the latent nonviolence in each of us is the first step toward a nonviolent future. Personal transformation, however, was not an objective in itself for Gandhi. It was a means to an end to the wider goal of social revolution. Only transformed individuals will be able to effect social change. It would be futile unless and until personal development led to a concerted effort to reform and improve society. As a result, Gandhi emphasised the collective use of nonviolence in the building of a nonviolent culture.

Gandhi emphasised the importance of making nonviolence the basic organising principle of all human transactions and activities since it was the law of our being and the cohesive force that held human life together. The law of nonviolence should be used to form social, political, and economic institutions. He said that if life were to be ordered consciously on the premise of nonviolence, the results would be unimaginable, perhaps well beyond anything humans can imagine. To emphasise this argument, he drew a parallel between the profound changes brought about by the application of gravitational force by physical sciences. Following Newton’s discovery and systematisation of the force of gravitation, physical sciences advanced dramatically, resulting in profound transformations in many aspects of human life. A purposeful and systematic application of the principle of nonviolence would cause more profound changes in human life than Newtonian formulations did. One who has explored the function of the power of nonviolence at both the individual and collective levels of existence would undoubtedly agree with Gandhi and share his conviction about the immense transforming power of nonviolence.

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