Progress and Destruction

Having acknowledged and confronted the principle of conflict and battle on the plane of material and vital existence, it is also necessary to recognise that it exists at the moral and mental level as well. It is perhaps important for us to also confront these issues directly by recognising that inaction in various circumstances is also a form of action, and mobilising “soul force” against certain forces or movements also entails destruction and violence in the name of progress. One cannot so easily avoid the moral issue of perpetrating or condoning violence by simple abstention from physical intervention!

During the second world war, the whole world faced this issue. Some opted for the principle of non-violence, even in the face of aggressive, violent, overwhelmingly destructive acts with enormous negative consequences. Others felt it their duty to intervene and stand up to the forces of destruction to try to mitigate their impact, shorten their reign and bring the terrible events to an earlier end. We must reflect long and hard to determine that one or the other of these positions represents the “moral high ground” much less the superior end result!

Sri Aurobindo points out: “We will use only soul-force and never destroy by war or any even defensive employment of physical violence? Good, though until soul-force is effective, the Asuric force in men and nations tramples down, breaks, slaughters, burns, pollutes, as we see it doing today, but then at its ease and unhindered, and you have perhaps caused as much destruction of life by your abstinence as others by resort to violence; still you have set up an ideal which may some day and at any rate ought to lead up to better things. But even soul-force, when it is effective, destroys. Only those who have used it with eyes open, know how much more terrible and destructive it is than the sword and the cannon; and only those who do not limit their view to the act and its immediate results, can see how tremendous are its after-effects, how much is eventually destroyed and with that much all the life that depended on it and fed upon it. Evil cannot perish without the destruction of much that lives by the evil, and it is no less destruction even if we personally are saved the pain of a sensational act of violence.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 5, Kurukshetra, pp. 38-40,