Gandhi’s Philosophy of Ahimsa and its Application to Current International Conflicts
Dr. Ravindra Kumar | 03 Apr 2008

  The best or essential part of Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy can be grasped
from his statement:
"The whole gamut of man's activities…constitutes an indivisible whole. You
cannot divide life, social, economic, political and purely religious, into
watertight compartments…"
This clearly indicates that Mahatma Gandhi influenced by Vedantic doctrine
that 'all life is one', believed in the unity of human life. This unity is a
synthetic whole and can neither be divided into separate social, religious,
political, moral or ethical spheres; nor can it be differentiated by levels
such as individual versus collective. What seem to be separate segments are,
in fact, different facets of human life; they are inter-related, and act and
react upon one another. The division of activities of human life into
different compartments is artificial and is totally far from the reality.
God or the Supreme Being, who is the Creator of all and called by different
names, is the power behind the above unity. For Gandhi, He is also the
'Truth'1 and it is His voice within everyone that serves as inspiration to
follow the vision of Truth, which is possible only by complete realization
of Ahimsa [non-violence].2 Thus, taking God-the Supreme Being as the Creator
of all, Mahatma Gandhi declared Him the Truth and the basis as well as the
symbol of Unity, whereby it is Ahimsa-that can be the only means to reach
Truth or to recognize Him.
As Ahimsa is the only means to reach Truth, Ahimsa being one of two sides of
a coin, of which Truth is the other side, is equal to Truth; therefore, its
role in the practices of all walks of human life becomes most important.
Mahatma Gandhi stated:
"My love for non-violence is superior to that for every other thing-mundane
or supramundane. It is equaled only by love for Truth, which is to me
synonymous with non-violence; through which and which alone I can see and
reach Truth."
And that is why; Gandhian philosophy or Gandhism, which is an amalgam of
Mahatma Gandhi's views and practices, revolves around Ahimsa [non-violence].
Non-Violence [Ahimsa]
Generally, we attribute Ahimsa [non-violence] as a dictum that prescribes
non-snatching of anyone's life. Or in other and simple words, it is said
that to refrain from taking the life of any of the living beings is
non-violence. But, in reality, this is neither a true meaning of Ahimsa
[non-violence], nor it is a complete derivation pertaining to the concept of
it. As Ahimsa [non-violence] is the state opposite to Himsa [violence], we
can say:
"Total non-violence consists in not hurting some other one's intellect,
speech or action by own thought, utterance or deeds and not to deprive some
one of his life."3
Or in fewer words, we can describe Ahimsa as follows:
"Abstinence in toto from violence is non-violence."4
Mahatma Gandhi, agreeing with this definition of non-violence and connecting
it to courage, declared Ahimsa to be a [continuously] active force. 5
Mahatma Gandhi did not believe Ahimsa to be a rough thing, an abstract
thought or inactive value established by man. He was of the firm belief that
Ahimsa is a dynamic and live value and an essential condition for existence,
development and the ultimate goal [even the Unity]. Along with this,
non-violence is the strongest force, one to be used properly and wielded
with high wisdom, and not with equal ease. In Mahatma Gandhi's own words:
"Ahimsa cannot be dismissed as lightly as you think. Ahimsa is the strongest
force known. But if all can use the strongest force with equal ease, it
would lose its importance. We have not been able yet to discover the true
measure of the innumerable properties of an article of our daily use like
water. Some of its properties fill us with wonder. Let us not, therefore,
make light of the strongest force like Ahimsa, and let's try to discover its
hidden power with patience and faith."6
There are some important standards to be noted regarding Gandhian
non-violence, especially while inviting the youth of the day to be familiar
with it; and the first of them is humility. Humility, Vinamrata in Indian
terms, is the quality of a man free from ego and pride. As there is no place
for ego and pride in Ahimsa [non-violence], it is necessary for a person who
claims to be non-violent to practice humility in his daily routines. In this
context Mahatma Gandhi said:
"If one has pride and egoism, he is not non-violent. Non-violence is
impossible without humility."7
Secondly, without self-purification in all segments of life the realization
of Ahimsa as an active force remains a dream only; and in such a situation,
how can there be a guarantee of its success? However, in its active form
Ahimsa travels extraordinarily, and then it becomes a miracle. That is why;
in declaring non-violence to be an active force and a live value, Mahatma
Gandhi called upon self-purification, not just in one or two walks of
individual life, and not on some occasions only, but continuously in all
walks of life so that it could be fully realized. By such a comprehensive,
all-sweeping practice of self-purification and, therefore, of Ahimsa, Satya
[truth] can prevail all-around and the way to unity can be possible. To
quote Mahatma Gandhi:
"Identification with everything that lives is impossible without
self-purification; without self-purification the observance of the law of
Ahimsa must remain an empty dream; God can never be realized by one who is
not pure of heart. Self-purification, therefore, must mean purification in
all walks of life. And purification being highly infectious, purification of
oneself necessarily leads to purification of one's surroundings." 8
Mahatma Gandhi's emphasis on self-purification may seem to people,
especially the young, to be difficult or burdensome. Self-purification may
seem possible only for a few, or it may sometimes seem impractical for one
reason or another.  But for those who are bent upon following the path of
Ahimsa, it is not only important but essential.
For the path of Ahimsa is not an easy one. It is for the brave and not for a
coward; it is for sacrifice and not for empty gains. 9 As Mahatma Gandhi
"The path of self-purification is hard and steep. To attain to perfect
purity one has to become absolutely passion free in thought, speech and
action; to rise above the opposing currents of love and hatred, attachment
and repulsion."10
Having stated that, Gandhi also admitted:
"I know that I have not in me as yet that triple purity, in spite of
constant ceaseless striving for it. That is why; the world's praise fails to
move me; indeed it very often stings me. To conquer the subtle passion seems
to be harder for than the physical conquest to the world by the force of
arms. Ever since my return to India, 11 I have had experiences of the
dormant passions lying hidden within me. The knowledge of them has made me
feel humiliated though not defeated. The experiences and experiments have
sustained me and given me great joy. But I know that I have still before me
a difficult path to traverse. I must reduce myself to zero. So long as a man
does not of his own free will put himself last among his fellow creatures,
there is no salvation for him. Ahimsa is the farthest limit of humility."12

Although Ahimsa occupies its due or supreme place in the ideas and
behaviours of atheists or those who do not believe in the power of God-the
Supreme Being13, for Mahatma Gandhi, the source of Ahimsa is God Himself;
for, "non-violence succeeds only when we have a real living faith in [Him]
God."14  It is necessary because Gandhi's philosophy of 'Unity of Human
Life' is a synthetic whole, by which Ahimsa is the means, and it can only be
significant if it accepts the existence of God and makes Him the basis of
that Unity.
Application to Current Conflicts
Now, after becoming familiar with the blueprint of Mahatma Gandhi's
philosophy, in which Ahimsa is the nucleus, we have to discuss its
application to current conflicts.  Historically, conflicts, though temporary
in nature and subject to transformation by cooperation, are inevitable in
various walks of human life including the international field. Ahimsa
[non-violence], a value permanently present in human nature, in its
different forms and through its many supplementary values, shows the way to
not only overcome conflicts, but transforms conflicts into cooperation.
Everything in the world is subject to constant change, and conflicts are not
exception. The nature of conflict too changes from time-to-time. But no
matter if conflicts are inevitable or if the base or root cause of them
seems to be the same, Gandhian non-violence accords solution to all
problems; it is capable of transforming conflicts into cooperation to make
life peaceful and developing, if it is applied according to the demand of
time and prevailing circumstances in space.
For example, after passing through the process of development for thousands
of years since man's inception 15 on Earth, we are now witnessing the days
of globalization.  Citizens of the world are continuously coming close to
one another in different ways, and in all walks of human life; day-by-day
the tempo of mutual cooperation is increasing.  Even at the international
level, dependence on each other is increasing so much that no nation, no
matter how mighty or resourceful it may be, can dream of its development by
remaining indifferent and isolated. Today, no nation can remain without
being the least affected by any change or series of events occurring at the
global level.
In such an unprecedented situation, and I must admit benevolent too,
problems or conflicts in all walks of life at all levels in general and at
the international level in particular affect and involve more and more
people, and for this reason the solution or transformation of them demands
collective efforts.  In other words, I can say that now we have to march
forward together, especially to resolve international problems or transform
global conflicts.
The days have gone when a particular group of people or inhabitants of a
country indulged in false vanity regarding their historical or geographical
superiority. It is time now to face and remove all complications by
accepting the situation as it warrants. It is necessary to strengthen
globalization alongside the spirit of nationalism. A mature international
understanding is most essential; development in mutual cooperation is the
need of the hour. But how can we succeed in this regard within the scope of
Gandhian philosophy, or in other words, within the domain of Ahimsa
[non-violence]?  It is an important question, especially in a completely
changed global situation
For the development of such a mature understanding or creating an atmosphere
surcharged with cooperation, the only way as per the expectation [of
Gandhian philosophy] is the application of non-violent activities to resolve
dispute and conflicts. But, they too should be adopted by making them
befitting in accordance with the prevailing conditions. Only then concrete
results would be feasible. Furthermore, to make them fully practical in
international sphere, it is absolutely necessary for parties involved in
dispute or a particular conflict that they come forward on the basis of
following three fundamental points:
•     To be serious;
•     To accept reality; and
•     To be ready to make sacrifices
Today, as all of us know, there are a number of problems at the
international level, some of which are of a very serious nature and have
been in existence for decades. I do not want to catalogue them here, but we
are all aware that they, from time-to-time, give birth to conflicts.
Consequently they not only affect the parties directly involved, but they
more or less affect other nations also, making solutions to these conflicts
seemingly very difficult, if not impossible. But if the three
above-mentioned points are honestly kept in mind by the involved parties
during the resolution of a problem and/or transformation of conflict, in my
opinion, there should be no doubt of success. But for success to occur, the
involved parties must possess great courage, high morality and mature
understanding, for which the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi and his Ahimsa
[non-violence] calls upon the whole world.
For years India, the Motherland of Gandhi, had a dispute with her neighbour
Bangladesh regarding the issue of sharing water from the Ganges River. The
Ganges mostly flows through India and finally merges in the Bay of Bengal
[Indian Ocean] via today's Bangladesh, which was previously a part of India
herself.  In the seventies India installed the Farakka Barrage on the
Ganges, a river management project, which became a matter of serious concern
for Bangladesh.16 But it was during the dialogue processes, the centre of
which were the above three points, that these two countries were able to go
to the root of the problem, understood each other's difficulties and
ultimately entered into a compromise. Although India had to sacrifice a bit
more in comparison to Bangladesh, the situation was win-win for both of
them. It was definitely the Gandhian way to settle a dispute, and the same
process could be feasible to resolve other problems also.
Human history is full of instances relating to conflicts or wars between
groups and nations. We have especially before us the example of the two
World Wars fought in the Twentieth Century. The First World War [1914-1918]
claimed the lives of more than ten million people and severely injured
twenty-two and a half million.17 Similarly, in the Second World War
[1939-1945] fifty million people were killed and approximately thirty-five
million people were either badly injured or maimed.18 Most of the countries
involved in the two World Wars took between ten and fifteen years
respectively to pave the way back to their own re-development 19 and stand
again on their own feet.  Furthermore, the warring nations, tired of wars
and the naked dance of violence and death, aspired for peace and pacifistic
measures. For this purpose they formed the League of Nations after the First
World War and the United Nations Organization after the Second World War.
But even after formation of them, as evident from the series of events of
post war period, many times during the course of dialogue, negotiations,
compromises and treaties to transform conflicts or to stop wars, parties
concerned did not come forward seriously. They, knowingly or unknowingly,
had not been ready to accept the realities, and they had also not come
forward to make sacrifices. Instead of honesty and sincerity, diplomacies in
their full swing had been there in dialogues, negotiations, compromises and
treaties.  Resultantly, if they prepared ground for the Second World War in
1918 itself, they also paved the way to a new international situation after
the Second World War in 1945, of which the Cold War and the Balance of Power
were some of the results. Along with this, some other new conflicts emerged,
the transformation of which has not been possible to this day.
The Gandhian way is very simple through sincerity, sacrifice, high morality
and courage-all essential elements of active Ahimsa [non-violence]. But it
is unfortunate that through the ages we have been habitually reluctant in
following a simple pathway such as this.  We have accepted that is
highly-exaggerated. Even today what I am emphasizing here may not be
acceptable to many; it is possible that my views fail to attract the
attention of some of you only because I am expressing them in quite a simple
way. I am a student of political science. I have studied all aspects of
politics, especially relating to international politics including diplomacy.
Therefore, I could express my views even on this subject related to Gandhian
philosophy and its application to current international conflicts in that
manner. But it would not be fair.
The fair thing is that we seriously think over the way shown by Mahatma
Gandhi, whose life is like an open book, whose message is simple and
straightforward; but for this, we need a high degree of courage, morality
and sincerity. And if we could do so, I have no doubt we would overcome all
problems, resolve disputes, transform conflicts and pave the way to unity of
human life, which is the essence of Gandhian philosophy.