The collapse of civilization has come about because of the neglect of Ahimsa. A renewal of it is possible only if ethics becomes once more the concern of thinking human being and , if individuals seek to assert themselves in society as ethical personalities. That Ahimsa is the foremost moral virtue. Mahabharat makes it clear in this saying, “Just as the foot marks of all other animals disappear in that of the elephant, so all other virtues merge in Ahimsa.” The objective of Ahimsa is to cherish reverence for life, not only human but also for animal life, not only human but also for animal life. When this reverence for life shall be scouted and belittled consistently, then civilization will go down into the trench of time.
In his History of Civilization Buckle devotes a chapter which suggests that the main factor in progress is intellectual rather than moral. He minimizes the part played by moral motives, on the ground that the great truths of morality have been clearly discerned and have remained unchanged for long enough. On page 137 he observes thus: “There is unquestionably nothing to be found in the world which has undergone so little change as those great dogmas of which moral systems are composed. To do good to others; to sacrifice for their benefit your own wishes; to forgive your enemies; to restrain your passions; to honour parents; to respect those who are set over you; these and a few others are the sole essentials of morals, but they have been known for thousands of years, and not one jot has been added to them by all the sermons, homilies and text books which moralists and theologians have been able to produce”. The inadequacy of this observation for Buckle�s own purpose is obvious enough. The moral truths may have been known for thousands of years, but have they always been practices with equal zeal? If the general principles have for centuries been accepted, has there been no growth of understanding as to the particular applications? As an account of the morals Buckle�s paragraph is singularly incomplete.
The change in moral outlook is largely due to the doctrine of evolution. Darwinism has reacted upon ethics mainly in two ways, and though the two tendencies of thought seem inconsistent with one another, the same writer will often exhibit and appeal to both to enforce a moral skepticism. The first is the familiar contrast between altruistic ethics and the principles embodies in the struggle for existence. Nature according to Tennyson, shrieks against the moral code which Buckle assumed to be not only stable but stationary. Huxley regarded our Social ideals and organizations as a kind of defiance of cosmic process. Man pursues ethical aims which nature does not endorse. The moral is therefore unnatural, a little human side-show in a universe that cares for none of these things. The second line of thought finds a place for altruistic morals within the cosmic struggle. Henry Drummond asserts the values of mother-love as a factor in the struggle for existence. Kropotkin emphasizes the part played by the virtues of co-operation in the same conflict. So it appears that evolution finds a place for the other regarding virtues. But the recognition thus given to mother-love and neighbourliness is after all a Pyrrhic victory, for these are not absolute virtues. They are still subordinate to the instinct of self-preservation. They are good not in themselves, but just in so far as they help the individual or the community to survive, from this point of vies, all moral laws and judgment become relative. Evolution is to prove firstly that our ethical judgments and ideals are unnatural and so merely subjective or merely our own; and secondly that they are entirely natural, the outcome of the struggle for existence, and so purely relative. On either case, we are landed in moral skepticism.
Bertrand Russell begins apparently with a vivid apprehension of the indifference or antagonism of nature to our human ideas of good. In the preface to Mysticism and Logic, he tells us that he feels less convinced than he does of the objectivity of good and evil. In this volume he endorses the view that such notions arise out of the struggle of human communities for existence and power. They are part of purely human history and throw no light on the nature of outside reality. They are the outcome of deep seated instincts and fluctuating temporary desires. To Russell ethical notions are formulated and enforced by society for biological ends. They are temporary and therefore liable to revision. He informs us that the gregarious animal identifies the interests of its own herd with the general principles of justice. That is to say the general principles exist independently of this morality of herd instinct and consequently cannot be traced to it or explained by it. The gulf between the promptings of gregarious instinct and true ethical notions is manifest and unbridged. If ethics were simply the outcome of our present desires and emotions, how is it that we are able to distinguish between the good and the desirable? Unless ethics is distinct in nature and origin from our instinctive desires, the very camouflage of emotion or passion by reason would be impossible. It is clear that ethics is not the product of mere instinct.
All the systems of Indian philosophy lay emphasis on the ethical preparation as a prelude to the spiritual realization. The Yoga system enjoins upon us to practice Yama and Niyama. Yama includes Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha – Non-voilence, truthfulness, honesty, continence and freedom from avarice. These are called Mahavratas. The chief of them all is Ahimsa and all other virtues are said to be rooted in it. The observances are purification external and internal, contentment, austerity, study and devotion to God. The Yoga speaks to us of three ways by which the primary instincts may be controlled and they are rejection, substitution and sublimation. According to the first, whenever the mind is assailed by an undesirable impulse, it tried to shut it out or reject. Where there is a strong current of a particular impulse subconsciously, the mind substitutes consciously of counteracting opposite impulse. The ultimate aim of Yoga is to bring about a complete transformation of the substance of our nature.
Of all the moral virtues, Ahimsa or non-violence stands as a negative term in which negation has a sense of prohibition. It means resistance from himsa and the moral implication of Ahimsa is an urge to desist from deep rooted and prevalent tendency of man to harm, injure or kill his fellow beings or his fellow creatures. But himsa or violence is held to be a natural instinct by many psychologists. They point to children whose attitude is selfish and cruel, for children take delight in being cruel and often play the role of tyrants with great pleasure. Sadism is only perverted and extreme form of this natural delight in violence. Violence therefore appears to be a natural tendency of man; as of animals which finds its expression in aggression and other criminal acts. But man is a rational being and the rational nature of him demands that he should transform the natural tendency into the normative one, and that he should act according to moral norms and standards. Violence ever defeats its own ends. A gentle world, a kind look, a charming smile can work wonders. There is a secret pride in every human heart that revolts at tyranny. You may order or drive an individual but you cannot make him respect you. To be innocent is not to be guilty; but to be virtuous is to overcome it. It is the edge and temper of the blade that make a good sword but not the richness of the scabbard and so it is not money or possessions that make man considerable but his virtue. Ahimsa is such a moral virtue which raises man far above the animal creation and links him with the Divine. The failure to live up to the moral and spiritual standards at the individual, social, national, and international levels has resulted in the moral and spiritual skepticism and anarchy. We have to reaffirm not the rights but the duties of man, the rule of love, the supremacy of moral and spiritual values. This is the way to peace.
The collapse of civilization has come about because of the neglect of Ahimsa . A renewal of it is possible only if ethics becomes once more the concern of thinking human being and , if individuals seek to assert themselves in society as ethical personalities. That Ahimsa is the foremost moral virtue. Mahabharat makes it clear in this saying, “Just as the foot marks of all other animals disappear in that of the elephant, so all other virtues merge in Ahimsa.” The objective of Ahimsa is to cherish reverence for life, not only human but also for animal life. When this reverence for life shall be scouted and belittled consistently, then civilization will go down into the trench of time. Dr. M. Deddow Bayly, the President of the International Forum has rightly observed: “If civilization is to be saved from the approaching crisis and if real values are to be preserved, it must be not on a foundation of blood, cruelty and callous exploitation of the lesser creatures but on thought and action motivated by the beautiful and world embracing principle of Ahimsa or Non-violence. For man, degraded by such brutal practices as now often prevail in the human-animal relationship, is not fitted to lay the foundations of a new order of society, which at once can ward off a terrible catastrophe to the human race.”
This article ‘Peace through Ahimsa’ is taken from H.H.Mahatapasvi Shri Kumarswamiji’s book, ‘The Divine Lore’.