Nonviolence According to Dharma
By Stephen Knapp
When understanding Vedic Dharma and the need for us to raise our consciousness, which includes perceiving the Divine in all beings, it should also be clear that we need to observe respect, kindness, non-injury, and nonviolence toward all. Nonviolence and the path to Truth and God are inseparable. Nonviolence means non-hate. We must never hate anyone. Hatred itself is a great enemy or deterrent on the path of Dharma and spiritual progress in general.
In our personal dealings with others, there should be no violence whatsoever that would cause physical or mental pain. This means that even our talk should be pleasing, respectful, and never insulting or belittling toward others. Nonviolence means that one should not do anything that will put others into misery, confusion, or distress. Nor should we leave someone in such conditions when something can be done to alleviate oneís suffering. If we can provide assistance but do not, then that is also a form of violence. Without having compassion for others and without having an understanding of their feelings, you retard your own development and stifle your own journey to heaven or beyond.
That which furthers the future happiness of people is nonviolence, which also means that which jeopardizes the well-being of people now and into the future is violence. Violence also means to stop or interrupt a personís progress in spiritual life.
In our respect toward other people and other cultures and forms of worshiping the one Supreme Being, violence should never be used in the attempt to establish the superiority of one religion or culture over another, or to forcibly make converts. We must be aware of the value of each spiritual path and what they have to offer before dismissing them. Each genuine spiritual process has the potential to raise the consciousness of its participants to various levels, if they use it properly. A dislike of other spiritual traditions often comes from a mere lack of understanding. Good religions strengthen the positive human qualities and minimize the less desirable ones. They must focus on the good qualities while helping to overcome the bad. If it cannot at least do that, then it is hardly to be regarded as a beneficial religion.
If a religion cannot show its attractiveness by the force of its spiritual purity, but must resort to trickery, bribery, torture, terrorism, or violence and war to make converts or conquer over other religions, then it is not a true representative of God. Nor will it spread the genuine love that God has toward all of us. The participants of such a process never really know God through such methods. If they cannot recognize the Lord in all beings and work cooperatively in such a way, then they certainly will not know the many aspects of God, nor will they be allowed into heaven after death. Death alone does not change a violent and divisive person or enlighten their consciousness to the degree in which they can be qualified to enter heaven or the spiritual realm. Death alone is not enough atonement. They will still be forced to adjust their consciousness by some other means before they will be allowed entrance into heaven or the higher realms, not to mention attaining the perception of the spiritual domain, which is still farther beyond the realm of the heavenly world. Thus, a violent religion, or a path in which its participants are cruel or hateful toward others, is not a representative of Godís hope for humanity. It is not a means to perceive the spiritual similarities between us all that exist deep within whatever bodily differences we may have.
Religion can never be used as the basis or justification for violence against others. Otherwise, it makes that religion an abomination before the eyes of an ever-loving God. How can it be otherwise? To spend our time criticizing or demeaning other religions is to criticize another way of worshiping and petitioning the same God, though the Lord may be called by a different name. Do you think you can enter heaven by showing hatred toward those who love God but show it in a different way, or through a different process? To base oneís opinion of another because of a difference in culture or religion is an indication of possessing a lower consciousness. Generally, you cannot rise to heaven while holding the boulders of a low consciousness. However, if a religion spreads fear because of advocating disdain or hatred toward those on other spiritual paths, then itís less than beneficial affects on humanity should be acknowledged.
Saintly people will see the divinity in a person and their desire to reach God as best as they know how. If they are sincere, they are worth holding dear as God also holds them dear. God will hear the prayers of all who offer them to Him with love. You must make sure that same love is also in your heart, otherwise how can God hear you if you hold hatred or contempt toward others? Such feelings will misdirect the prayers you submit to God. How can you see God in others if your vision is clouded by differences, criticism, or hatred? No true religion will ever propagate such an attitude or vision. If it does, then how can it benefit its followers or the world? It will only be a cause of quarrel and disunity. This creates a separation from God, not a unity or link with God. So how would God appreciate such a thing? One should run away from such a philosophy and find one that honors the Divinity within everyone, as God is to be recognized within all.
However, in order to maintain a nonviolent and peaceful society, there may be times when violence is justified and necessary. The Vedic Dharma does not permit murder, slaughter, or war for mundane purposes. However, at the same time, justified violence and war are inevitable factors in society for keeping law and order. So to maintain a nonviolent society, violence may be necessary in the protection of oneself and for the good of the general mass of people who wish to live in peace. There may also be a need for warranted violence to maintain moral standards, and to defend such principles, including the Dharma itself, against those who wish to bring them down or establish their own violent agenda for power and control at the expense of peace in the world.
To use violence or a weapon in defending ourselves from a criminal who means to do us grave bodily harm is justified. A criminal or terrorist who has no respect for the life of others will continue to be a disturbance to society. He will go on harming people to gain his own selfish goals. Therefore, he must be apprehended to confine him from acting out his criminal tendencies and violence on others. If he is in the process of torturing or killing someone, or if that is his intent, then there may be the need to exhibit lethal force toward such a person to prevent him from committing further harm. If you allow harm to happen to others by not acting to prevent it, then that is also a form of violence which accrues karma or obstacles to oneís growth.
No matter how much we can recognize the soul within every living being, there will be some who are evil. This is not in regard to those who are merely mislead or mistaken and who can be rehabilitated, but those who have every intent to harm others in society and who are beyond correcting. These include rapists, murderers, child molesters, kidnappers, terrorists, etc. Their consciousness can be as low as animals in not being able to control themselves or discriminate between right and wrong. These people must be dealt with in an immediate manner and with severity for the protection of the rest of society. The appropriate punishment must be given to curb evil-minded people. How can you expect society to peacefully progress otherwise?
Similarly, there may be nations whose rulers are focused on the design to press forward with their non-spiritual agenda to dominate others, or suppress particular religions or cultures, regardless of how people are harmed. Those who are unable to follow the spiritual truths to benefit all, or allow others to follow them, must be restrained by force if necessary. At that time justified violence and authority may have to be used to overcome political and heartless cruelty, especially that which is done due to the wicked desires for worldly gain or power for the few at the expense of the many.
This sort of violent but defensive action should be done sparingly, but with the intention that it will correct the situation and help establish an era of true peace and respect for all. It should not be exhibited merely for economic or political gain, or for conquering others. But on the other hand, we must know when to take a strong stand to defend what is morally and spiritually correct, and to preserve those standards. This need of defense against those who are wicked and immoral, as well as impious principles, has gone on in the world for thousands of years and will continue for many more. However, other than in such extreme situations, which seem to be on the rise in this world today, nonviolence should be our normal temperament toward other peaceful people, both socially and individually. But we must act like a lion with swift justice against those who are a legitimate threat to morality, peace, and spiritual growth. We must be prepared to act with Dharma to defend Dharma. If we protect Dharma, Dharma will protect us. Otherwise, if we remain silent, dogmatically pacifistic, it will be nothing more than a prescription for the slow extinction of the Dharma and those who follow it. If such an attitude was meant to be the standard amongst us, then the Bhagavad-gita never would have been spoken.