Questioner: The Sikh Gurus gave swords to the Khalsa to protect their religion. Gandhi Ji used non-violence to get freedom for the Indians. Jainism, too, gives a lot of emphasis to non-violence. I don’t understand the concept of non-violence in this context. Kindly give me clarity.
Acharya Prashant: Non-violence is not synonymous with non-resistance or cowardice. Violence is fear. Fear is ignorance. It’s obvious. When you do not know yourself, then you somehow want your own limited, physical, personal security at the cost of everybody else, at the cost of the entire universe. This division is fear and violence.
“I take myself as what I am not: I take myself as this little physical unit. I take my personal welfare as separate from that of universal welfare. In fact, I take my personal interests as opposite to the interests of others.” This is fear, and this is violence.
When you are afraid, then you want to increase your welfare by decreasing the welfare of others, what is these days called as a zero-sum game. You say, “I as a unit am different, rather separate from you as a unit, and there is this one piece of bread in between the two of us. If I want to ensure my welfare, then I must deny this piece to you.” This is violence. Do you see how fear and violence go together? “I am afraid for my personal welfare, so I want to have the piece of bread for myself. And because I want to have it for myself, I want to forcibly deny it to you.” This is violence.
Fear towards one’s own security is violence towards the other. Do you see this? And this fear first of all is engendered by ignorance: “I do not know who I am, so I am afraid for myself, and therefore I am violent towards you.”
Now, what is non-violence, then? Non-violence is to not be afraid. Violence comes from fear, fear comes from ignorance. Non-violence is fearlessness, and fearlessness is self-knowledge.
So, non-violence really does not have much to do with the other. Non-violence does not mean that you will not fight the other or not resist the other, or that you will be good to the other or serve the other. Non-violence really is not much about the other. Non-violence is about self-knowledge. If you know yourself, then you are not afraid. If you are not afraid, then you do not treat the other as an enemy; you do not even treat the other as a friend. You do not treat the other as the other.
Non-violence, therefore, does not lie in treating the other as a friend. Non-violence lies in treating the other not as the other. Get the difference please. Non-violence does not mean that the other is not an enemy. Non-violence means that the other is not an other, that's all. With this realization, do what you must.
Don’t you have to fight yourself many a times? Lust is arising, greed is arising, fear is arising—what do you do with it? Empower it, embrace it? What do you do with it? Don’t you fight it? If you can fight yourself, then you can fight the other one as well, because the other is not the other. Non-violence says, the other is what you are. If you can fight yourself, then you can fight the other as well. Just don’t fight the other when you have decided not to fight yourself. Get that difference please.
Fight the other with honesty, which means look at the other just as you would look at yourself. Punish the other using the same yardstick you use to punish yourself. Non-violence does not say do not punish the other. Non-violence says punish the other, but first of all ensure that you punish yourself equally in such cases, because the other is not the other; the other is what you are. You do require to punish yourselves many a times, so you can punish the other as well. That is okay.
So, you are saying the Sikh Gurus gave swords to Khalsa to protect their religion. So, the Khalsa is fighting whom? The enemy of religion. The enemy of religion can be outside you, and the enemy of religion can be inside you. Mahavira is saying, “Fight the enemy of religion within you, conquer yourself.” The Sikh Gurus are saying, “Fight the enemy of religion outside you.” Same thing. Both are non-violent; none of them is patronizing otherness.
I’ll give you an example. The Sikh Gurus were harsh on those who disrespected religion, were they not? And you also know of how the Sikh Gurus would not patronize their own sons and relatives when it would come to the core matters of religion. So, are they treating the other as other, or are they applying the same standards to themselves as well? They would even forsake their sons if they found that the sons were being disloyal to the sacred word. So, just as they are fighting in the battlefield, are they also not fighting their own paternal tendencies? Are they not applying the same benchmark? Please. Or are they just saying, “Oh, the Mughals are the enemies. Let’s fight the Mughals!” Are they fighting only the Mughals, or are they fighting their own sons as well?
“Anybody who is an enemy of religion—the enemy of religion could be in the battlefield, sitting in Delhi; the enemy of religion could be in my own house, sitting as my son; or the enemy of the religion could be sitting in my body as my carnal tendencies. I will fight all of them. I will fight all of them, and I will fight all of them equally.” This is non-violence.
Non-violence, I repeat, does not mean being good to the other. This is a very, very naive and childish interpretation of non-violence. Non-violence, I repeat, is: “The other is not the other. There is only one other: that is me. God is the Truth, I am the other. So, I am false.” So, who is to be fought? The falseness. This is non-violence.
The false is to be fought, which means you are really not fighting anything that is real. So, are you being violent? If you are fighting, what is it that you are fighting? Falseness. So, are you really being violent? The false is to be fought, and the false is to be fought equally wherever it is found—found in your own mind, fight it; found in your own house, fight it; found in the battlefield, fight it.
You talked about the Jains. Mahavira was a great fighter, was he not? Just that he was fighting the evil inside. He said, “This body keeps clamoring for food, I will fight it.” His valor is no less than that of the Sikh Gurus who fought on the battlefield. Both are fighting the false; both are fighting that which seeks to envelop and eclipse Godliness. When hunger arises, you forget God, don’t you? And when the enemy is overpowering you, then again you forget God; you just start seeking your own physical safety.
Do you see what is violence, then? To forget God. To forget the Truth. What is non-violence? To fight that which makes you forget the Truth.
So, non-violence actually means that you have to fight. If you are not a fighter, you cannot be non-violent. Religious terms have to be again and again reinterpreted; they have to be again and again clarified. And no, non-violence does not mean that if you are slapped on one cheek, you will show the other cheek to the same fellow. Not at all. That is not non-violence. That is some kind of comical display of ignorance.
“Evil is despicable, whether it exists in me or you. God is respectable, whether He dwells in me or you.” This is non-violence.
“I will not differentiate between evil and evil. I will not differentiate between God and God. I will not say that my God is better than your God because you are the other. I will not say that my evil is preferable to your evil because you are the other. Evil is evil; it has to be fought. God is God; He has to be loved. My personal self does not matter. The limits of my skin, of my body, do not matter.” This is non-violence.
Only a real fighter can practice non-violence. Don’t turn cowards.