Ahimsa and Mahatma Gandhi
By David Frawley (Vamadeva)
Ahimsa in Sanskrit does not mean non-violence but rather non-harming. It is not simply a passive policy of avoiding any type of violence regardless of circumstances, but has a proactive side as working to reduce the amount of harm going on in the world.
Ahimsa is also of several types. The ahimsa of Yoga practice to reject all thoughts of harming others from one's mind and heart. There is however the ahimsa of the Kshatriya or of the social-political realm. This consists of reducing harm by controlling evil propensities and those who promote them. It has an element of self-defense. The Pandavas followed this ahimsa and fought a war according to it.
The Mahabharata says that ahimsa is the highest dharma, but also accepts the Kshatriya form of ahimsa. In fact it says in its Raja Dharma Parva that if a leader does not employ the danda (rod of punishment) then the people will end up eating one another, such are the powers of rajas and tamas in human nature.
Mahatma Gandhi's mistake was to turn ahimsa as non-violence into a kind of dogma to be applied in all circumstances. While it was useful against the British, who had some sensitivities, it could not work against Hitler. Gandhi also claimed his ahimsa would liberate India without any partition. Clearly that did not work either. Aurobindo clearly saw Gandhi's mistake and said it would lead to great problems in India.
Countries do need armies and police. You cannot give away your country to evil and violent people, hoping that your ahimsa will transform them. The violent samskaras of people are not very easy to change. In fact, once violence is set in adults, it may be almost impossible to change, not without a total change of values and life-style of the person.
Islam, at least in its current majority form, is not a religion of ahimsa. Islamic militants see ahimsa, peace prayers etc. as a sign of surrender and capitulation that encourages them to be more aggressive. If you give a bully what he wants, he only asks for more. If every time there is an Islamic terrorist attack people immediately jump up and start praising Islam and calling for peace, what kind of message is it sending?
So while we need not wish harm to anyone, we need to be realistic with the forces of violence in life. A Kshatriya Dharma remains important.