In the last essay, I discussed some ways that yoga addresses nonviolence. This essay adds some follow-up thoughts related to that theme. I want to continue discussing ways to apply ahimsa in our everyday lives.
Here are two translations of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, book 2, Sutra 35:
o When one is established in harmlessness (ahimsa), those near are at peace.
o Where non-injury is perfected, all enmity ceases in the presence of him who possesses it.
This says that when someone develops an inner peace, then that peace influences those around him. If I practice ahimsa, it may influence people who are predisposed to agree with me. I certainly try to do this in my everyday life.
I don’t understand how to apply this idea beyond my own scale, though. In my last essay, I discussed some of the root causes of violence. Even if I am a peaceful person, it does not affect people who are benefiting from violence. Any actions to stop widespread violence and oppression must extend beyond one person practicing nonviolence. Violent people must be confronted in order to make change.
A classic example of accepting confrontation while remaining nonviolent is Gandhi. The British occupied and ruled India. Gandhi was one of the leaders of a resistance movement called satyagraha. Gandhi translated satyagraha as the “force (or firmness) that is born of truth and love (nonviolence).” Satyagraha involved much more than practicing nonviolence and hoping that it would influence others. Satyagraha involved constant confrontation without physical violence. He preferred to avoid the use of the English term “passive resistance” because that implied it was a weapon of the weak.
However, nonviolence against a government or government policy only works when the government is at least somewhat accountable to the people. Gandhi was successful because the ruling British empire was influenced by public opinion. How successful would Gandhi have been if he had tried to face down Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany, regimes that were willing to kill millions of their own people? How successful would he have been in facing a government that was willing to use tanks against their own people, as happened in 1989 in China? In spite of this, Gandhi did not accept the idea of “any means necessary” to convert the British to the Indian way of thinking.
Where do we go with this discussion? I am not sure how to reconcile my belief that nonviolence has limits with Gandhi’s belief that the use of force in resisting oppression institutionalized the use of force. I would love to get some comments from anyone who has more knowledge or experience in dealing with issues like these.
© 2010 Eric Borreson