Violence and Non-Violence — in Life and in Yoga

‘The law of the jungle.’ ‘Dog eat dog’. ‘Survival of the fittest.’ ‘Darwinian evolution.’ These ideas illustrate the way we understand life on earth, and its requirements for survival and success in worldly life. When Jesus proclaimed ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’, he expressed an idea that until now has shown no signs of coming to pass. He asked people to ‘beat your swords into plowshares’, but we have more ‘swords’ today than ever. Conflict, violence, competition for resources, aggressive ‘alpha male’ behavior and a pecking order built on wealth and power makes it seem like there is no escape from the law of violence as the predominant term of life on earth. Power struggles between those that are in control of the resources and those seeking to gain access to resources are ongoing, and even if they take place through passive resistance, violence is part of the equation and occurs either overtly or through subtle vital interactions. We and all other animal species survive by consuming other living beings. The physical powers of earth wreak vast destruction without seemingly caring about the harm done to the lives affected. When we speak of ahimsa, or non-violence, people challenge the notion as impractical, unreal and impossible to bring into effect. Clearly the concept of non-violence is not yet operative at the level of life on earth in general, and we see no clear or easy path to its accomplishment.

This does not, however, mean that individuals, particularly those seeking spiritual growth, cannot implement and develop ahimsa as a principle, understand the deeper and subtler implications of this principle, and bring it about in their own lives, and provide thereby a potential path forward for humanity as a whole in its evolutionary development. Sri Aurobindo speaks to those spiritual pioneers when he discusses the need for, and implementation of, non-violence. He at the same time recognises that while these individuals also live and relate within society, they must needs, from time to time, respond effectively under the general principles operative in the world at large, without at the same time, giving in, in their inner life, to the passions and vital forces that support the way of violence as a principle of survival and success in the world.

Eventually the entire basis of human life on earth would need to change in order to accomplish non-violence on any widespread or general level, and it is just these spiritual pioneers and evolutionary leaders who are working towards finding solutions that resolve the basis of violence in our human interactions.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The Essays on the Gita explain the ordinary Karmayoga as developed in the Gita, in which the work done is the ordinary work of human life with only an inward change. There too the violence to be used is not a personal violence done from egoistic motives, but part of the ordered system of social life. Nothing can spiritually justify individual violence done in anger or passion or from any vital motive. In our yoga our object is to rise higher than the ordinary life of men and in it violence has to be left aside altogether.”

“There is a truth in Ahimsa, there is a truth in destruction also. I do not teach that you should go on killing everybody every day as a spiritual dharma. I say that destruction can be done when it is part of the divine work commanded by the Divine. Non-violence is better than violence as a rule, and still sometimes violence may be the right thing. I consider dharma as relative; unity with the Divine and action from the Divine Will, the highest way.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Anger and Violence, pp 296-299

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