Satya and Ahimsa: Learning Non-violence from the Gita

In Mrinal Miri & Bindu Puri (eds.), Gandhi for the 21st Century: Religion, Morality and Politics. Springer Nature Singapore. pp. 5375-49400 (2023)
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Abstract

This essay will examine Gandhian ahimsa in its inseparability from truth. In this context, it will take issue with those who have argued that Gandhian ahimsa was either (entirely or in part) drawn from Tolstoy or (entirely or in part) from the anekantavada of the Jains; arguing that while Gandhi was influenced by both these sources, his ahimsa was drawn (in his own admission) from an altogether different source, i.e. from the metaphysics and ethics of the Bhagavad Gita. Even if one were to disregard for the moment the differences between Gandhi and the other interpreters of the Gita (specially from those who were his contemporaries), Gandhi’s drawing of ahimsa as non-violence and a non-passionate universal love from the context of the war between cousins in the Gita might seem surprising. Gandhi’s contemporaries like Tilak and Sri Aurobindo (among others) had argued that the Gita had justified the exception to the law of harmlessness for the sake of duty and suggested that the aim of the Gita was to undertake a critique of the ethical and confirm it’s subordination to the political. Gandhi however had argued (to the contrary) that the metaphysics of oneness in the Gita brought out in the vision of Sri Krishna’s divine form recommended both desireless action and absolute ahimsa; given that to harm anyone or anything in the universe was, quite literally, to harm oneself.

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Bindu Puri
Jawaharlal Nehru University

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