Someone has sent me a very interesting story that I must share here:

Dr Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute in his June 9 (year not mentioned, but perhaps 2005 – a.k.) lecture at the University of Puerto Rico, shared the following story:

“I was 16 years old and living with my parents at the institute my grandfather had founded 18 miles outside of Durban, South Africa, in the middle of the sugar plantations.

“We were deep in the country and had no neighbors, so my two sisters and I would always look forward to going to town to visit friends or go to the movies.

“One day, my father asked me to drive him to town for an all-day conference, and I jumped at the chance. Since I was going to town, my mother gave me a list of groceries she needed and, since I had all day in town, my father asked me to take care of several pending chores, such as getting the car serviced.

“When I dropped my father off that morning, he said, ‘I will meet you here at 5 pm, and we will go home together.’

“After hurriedly completing my chores, I went straight to the nearest movie theatre. I got so engrossed in a John Wayne double-feature that I forgot the time. It was 5:30 before I remembered. By the time I ran to the garage and
got the car and hurried to where my father was waiting for me, it was almost 6:00.

“He anxiously asked me, ‘Why were you late?’

“I was so ashamed of telling him I was watching a John Wayne western movie that I said, ‘The car wasn’t ready, so I had to wait,’ not realizing that he had already called the garage.

“When he caught me in the lie, he said: ‘There’s something wrong in the way I brought you up that didn’t give you the confidence to tell me the truth. In order to figure out where I went wrong with you, I’m going to walk home 18 miles and think about it.’

“So, dressed in his suit and dress shoes, he began to walk home in the dark on mostly unpaved, unlit roads.

“I couldn’t leave him, so for five-and-a-half hours I drove behind him, watching my father go through this agony for a stupid lie that I uttered. I decided then and there that I was never going to lie again.

“I often think about that episode and wonder, if he had punished me the way we punish our children, whether I would have learned a lesson at all.

“I don’t think so. I would have suffered the punishment and gone on doing the same thing. But this single non-violent action was so powerful that it is still as if it happened yesterday.

“That is the power of Non-Violence!”

*   *   *

Non-Violence, as we normally define the word, is not just passive resistance. It is not only the rejection of violence.  It may have been defined so in the past. And, the definition may have worked well in the past. Not now. Non-Violence must be redefined for the modern times.

I define it as Dynamic but Compassionate Response to any given situation.

Violence is an instinct that we share with other species in the Animal Kingdom. Violence is nothing special. One does not have to cultivate it. Like thorny shrub, it grows by itself.

Non-Violence is not an instinct.
It is not a part of our sub-conscious. It comes from the super-conscious. It must be cultivated and developed; it must be nurtured and nourished. It is the product of hard work.

As a natural trait, Violence is part of “Ordinary” Action-Reaction Mechanism in all animals. Non-Violence is a kind of “Novelty”, something that can only happen in human beings. It is part of the human brain which is called Neo-Cortex. The part that can weigh, discriminate and withhold reaction. Hence, human beings can be responsive – not just reactive.

In the story above, the ordinary reaction of a father catching his son lying, would be to scold him. And, such reaction could have been accepted by the son caught red-handed.   But, the father did not do that. He responded to the situation quite differently, and the son was surprised. He was taken aback. He did not expect such response. Now, this was no ordinary reaction.

All actions call for reaction.
Arun Gandhi’s action was no exception. He couldn’t have escaped it. But, the kind of reaction he got was not an ordinary one. It was Extra-Ordinary!

Now, this kind of Extra-Ordinary Responsive Reaction is unique to human. It is unique to men and women who have developed their thinking ability to the maximum. Their Intelligence has reached such heights as couldn’t possibly be reached by any other species in the Animal Kingdom.

So, not only Compassionate, Non-Violence is also an Intelligent Response to any given situation. In other words, you cannot simply follow Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. in words, even deeds “just like that”, and consider yourself sufficiently Non-Violent.

Gandhi went on strike, and “just like that” the doctors working in Indian hospitals go on strike with firm faith that they followed Gandhi’s suit.

King organized rallies and marches, and “just like that” the political parties everywhere organize similar campaigns.

Are they really following Gandhi and King?

Gandhi went on strike to gain independence for his countrymen and women. King organized marches and rallies for the rights of the downtrodden. They did not have any personal motive. It is not the same with the Indian doctors and the political parties the world over today. They are only making use of Gandhi and King’s methods and ways for their personal gain.

A doctor going on strike without thinking about his patients – is being very violent. Political parties making use of Non-Violence for their personal gain – are equally violent.

Teachers go on strike to demand raise in their salaries.
This is very unfortunate. Why should they do that? Are their demands reasonable? Or, is it because of their ever-increasing wants?

If their demands are reasonable, and if their “needs” are really not met by the salaries they get – then this is very unfortunate. It means that they are being neglected, both by the society and the government. Such society and such government, sooner or later, must perish. Teachers are the backbone of the society. They supply the society with fresh blood that keeps it alive. Stressful teachers can only supply under-quality blood, contaminated with their stress. Such blood turns into poison and kills the society. And, without the society, government cannot exist.

However, if their demands are not reasonable, if they go on strike because of their ever-increasing “wants” – then they are disgrace to the very Teaching Institution. Persons with no self-restraint are not fit to be teachers.

In either case, teachers going on strike are not acting non-violently. No matter how peacefully they carry out their strike and how justified are their demands – they are neglecting their duty toward their students. And, negligence of one’s duty is an act of violence.

When their demands are justified, they should present them before the board of their institution, even to the education department, without disturbing their teaching schedule. That would be an act of non-violence.

It is the same with the doctors.
Doctors going on strike are acting very violently. They are forgetting their codes of conduct.

Alas, we often twist and misinterpret Gandhi and King’s teachings on Non-Violence to suit out needs and convenience. They used their tools for selfless motive. We use them for selfish motive. They worked for others. We work to benefit ourselves.

*   *   *

So, how do we interpret Non-Violence in modern times?
How do we practice it in our daily lives from daybreak to day-end?

Let us start with the morning routine:

  • Check the toothpaste that you use. Is it environment friendly? Are there chemicals in it that can contaminate the waters? If yes, then change to more environment friendly product. Get a herbal toothpaste. Even, make your own toothpaste without much use of chemicals.
  • Similarly, are you using environment-friendly soap, shampoo, face-wash etcetera?
  • If possible, do not wash your towel everyday. Dry them after each use. Wash them after 2-3 uses. Detergents are never environment friendly. This way, you can minimize the damage.
  • The same goes with clothes. Perhaps your shirt, blouse and underwear must be washed everyday, not your pants.
  • At the same time, you must also develop your sense of smell sufficiently, so your clothes do not stink. Wearing stinking clothes is not only an act of violence toward your body, but also toward others who come in contact with you. So, the key words are: Cleanliness, Economy, and Environment Friendly.

Next, we must also check our eating habits, our sitting and walking and sleeping habits. How do we act violently in our sleep? By snoring – if we happen to share a room with someone.

The way we carry out our business activities, the way we run our institutions, the way we live our lives – all must bear witness to our unshakeable faith in Non-Violence.

At the same time, we must also understand that sometime amputation of a limb becomes necessary in order to save the body. Such an act cannot be termed violent. A doctor performs surgery to save one’s life. He has tried his very best. And, yet the patient dies on the operation table. Surely, the doctor has not acted violently.

A soldier fighting to defend his country is also not acting violently.  Non-Violence does not mean that we must drop our defenses. Have them, but put all your efforts to settle all matters amicably without ever using them.

We must be intelligent enough to check each and every step of ours – whether it is violent or non-violent.

For our National Resurgence Day this year (May 20th, 2007), one of the instant food producers has sponsored a colossal TV show. Now, this is an act of violence. How can we expect a nation eating junk food to experience resurgence or resurrection? It is a very indecent and vulgar joke.

Having noticed this, if I do not reprimand them – non-violently of course – then I have acted violently not only toward my conscience, but toward the people of this country.

Junk foods are not only hazardous to our health, but also to our economy. In this case, the product I am referring to, uses almost 90% imported raw-materials. It is a sheer waste of our foreign exchange. We can live without such junk.

Non-Violence is not just a concept or a theory.
Non-Violence is a way of life. Either you live violently or non-violently. Living violently is natural, living non-violently is not. It is a kind of Custom Living. It is a luxury, yes. And, only the Consciousness Affluent can ever afford it.

But again, this Affluence is not a monopoly of the chosen few. Anyone can work to gain it. So, work hard, gain such Affluence and Join the Club!