Prevention of Mass Violence and Promotion of Tolerance
By Sarva-Daman Singh
Civilization spells the unfinished story of human progress from violence to peace. Peace, cooperation and co-existence come habitually to humankind, and are natural conditions of daily life. In the context of family, neighbourhood and society, we are more often than not at peace with one another. The constant consciousness of the self in relation to others, the indispensable interdependence, makes it obligatory to love and belong; rein in our greed and contain our aggression to leave room for, and provide for others. Violence is a painful regression, which rocks that orderly tranquillity, our sense of equanimity. Violence destroys, leaving death and devastation in its wake. It inevitably leads to more violence, greater suffering, and degradation of our humanity.
Truth is the first casualty of violence. Our most urgent need is the cultivation of requisite skills in the management of relations; right mode of address in communicating with people and communities; sensitive, creative, accommodating, thoughtful interaction with those around us. Sincerity of purpose is a prerequisite. Tolerance is not possible without understanding. Understanding is not possible without dialogue. And dialogue is not possible without restraint; without a charitable outlook; without respect for others; without patience with dissent and differences of perception, beliefs and practices. The diversity of humankind and of their thinking is an ineluctable reality. Equally inescapable is the need for comprehension, cooperation, co-existence and untiring exploration of the common ground to guarantee and promote the spirit of common goodwill. We are not alone. We are not separate from others. We are one with all existence. Happiness in isolation is a contradiction in terms, a self-cancelling chimera. It must always be shared for it to have any content, any meaning, any application, any relevance. How can we not feel the pain of others? Ātmavat sarva-bhteṣu yaḥ paśyati sa paṇḍitaḥ: he who sees all living beings as himself, is indeed wise! Impartial affection for one and all is the true basis of our humanity. “Holy is he, who is good to all,” says the Mahābhārata. As the Īśopaniṣad says: yastu sarvāṇi bhūtāni ātmanyevānupaśyati, sarvabhūteṣu cātmānaṁ tato na vijugupsate: “he who sees all creatures in himself, and himself in all creatures, no longer remains concealed.”1 His own truth is revealed when he comprehends the truth in others. When that happens, we make others’ joys and sorrows our own.
We speak, and to do so, use a wide variety of languages. The ability to translate our thoughts into words separates us from other species; but are we ever able to communicate all our thoughts in the words we clothe them in; in all their nuances; in their entirety? And then, once spoken or written, they become subject to multiple interpretations, many of them far beyond the range of our minds; beyond our control. Language is thus an infinitely imperfect, but the only available tool of meaningful communication. Even in the hands of masters, it remains inadequate to express all their thoughts, their dreams and their vision. Though, indeed, our words cannot transcend the limits of our terrestrial knowledge and experience, we strive, nevertheless, to express the Ultimate Truth or Reality, without convincing everyone with our varying formulations. The devotees of Truth know that it is infinite and immeasurable; too diverse to be held captive in a single formulation. The ultimate cause of being and becoming may for ever tease and tax our understanding; but may not necessarily be immaterial, for matter is the only visible yet invisible appearance and experience of eternity in all its reality.
Bahut savere vah kaun mere
Qarīb āke ye kaha gayā hai
Men harfe āḳhir kahān se lāuūn
Men har zamāne men boltā hūn2
Who is it, asks the poet Anwar Nadeem, that comes to him early in the morning to ask him: “where shall I find the last word, for I speak to every age?”
As things are, unfortunately, we become willing victims of textual tyranny. We must constantly watch our speech. Yathā śrutam tathā buddhiḥ: as one hears, so does one’s mind react. That is why the great Emperor Aśoka emphasized the crying need for vacaguti3, restraint of speech. An unkind expression, a careless word can cause so much pain. We should be able to love and listen, to give and forgive, and laugh at ourselves. Let us certainly learn from the past, but not cling to it. Let us never allow history to renew old pains and sorrows. The memory of past injustices should not impel us into retributive action, into the demolition of their visual vestiges that no longer hurt, but stand only as reminders of past mistakes that should not be repeated. We cannot repeat the past. We cannot refashion the past. We also cannot demolish the past. History should help heal, with understanding and appreciation; with the realization that we must do better. We refuse to be shackled to the past, while always learning from it. As the great poet Kabīr said, “the Truth-seekers’ battle goes on day and night as long as life lasts, it never ceases.” There is no need to compel humankind to conform to a single set of doctrines. There were, and there will always be many means and many ways to the Truth or God.
So many of us are keen and concerned observers of the human predicament; of the march of history with all its trials, which ‘cannot be unlived’; but from which we can pick up the pieces and strive for a better world, in which we do not just survive, but live with a purpose; with some passion to confront and confine, if we cannot entirely eliminate suffering and despair caused by selfish greed and intolerance of difference. There is so much pain in life which cannot stay mute and must express itself; which engenders so much pessimism. Yet hope is also everlasting; and a healthy sense of humour sustains it. The world is not perfect; but should we sit on our hands and do nothing? Pride is like a little river that never meets the sea, and blights our understanding; constricts our sympathies; and dries up the flood of compassion. There are many who fret at the ineffectiveness and impotence of their protest, as it is hard to accept the unjust and painful realities of the world. We speak; but people just listen and go their own way! The principal precept of religion is love and compassion, and certainly not divisive conflict; universal brotherhood and not sectarian strife. Every revelation takes us forward towards perfection; but the truth in its entirety cannot be contained in a single revelation. It is dynamic; it evolves; it expands; and the Divine Voice cannot ever fall silent. The messengers of God come to right the wrongs of every age. Truth is the story of our spiritual evolution that knows no bounds and brooks no cessation. We cannot silence the voices that will go on expressing this Truth. Any prohibition of free, exploratory and constructive speech detracts from the scope of our certitude. We should light lamps of love and hope, and never forget that we all belong to one race: ekā mānuṣī jātiḥ.
There are truths and truthfulness that form the basis of relationships. And there are variations, evasions and silences that sustain them. Life is too complex to be reduced to any definition of Truth as we understand it. Truth is a word like any other, expressing a value that must be many-sided and malleable, if it is to be relevant to our welfare. Honesty and sincerity of purpose is what matters! We must guide the masses towards peaceful resolution of their problems. The educated, the teachers and the leaders, the people’s representatives and the rulers owe it to the people to discourage discord and promote tolerance.
Quintessential morality lays down the codes of conduct to regulate our actions in relation to one another; to restrain our excesses; to curb our greed; to limit our acquisitiveness; to halt our aggression; to rein in our violence of thought, word and deed; to make our co-existence possible; to make our contentment and happiness a reality. It is imperative that people receive just and fair treatment in the frustratingly short span of their lives. Not everyone believes in reincarnation! There is so much to be done! There is so little time!
Dayā, dāna and dama, compassion, charity and self-control, dictated by Upaniṣadic wisdom, must guide and discipline our action. We must ceaselessly strive to end man’s inhumanity to man. We have to cultivate an all-inclusive, more human “religion” like Aśoka’s Dhamma, or Akbar’s Din-e-Ilahi, a mode of thought and practice that bridges the chasms that divide us; that harmonizes our differences with the compelling consciousness of our common human identity; of our common source of being and becoming; of our common genome; of our common pursuit of a decent human life free from want, hunger and disease; free from fear of unprovoked aggression; free from gross inequalities. We should work for a just distribution of the world’s resources, with our capacity to rise above narrowness to share what we have, including our happiness. We all love life. We do not want to die violent deaths. We cannot inflict on others what we do not want for ourselves. Buddha and Mahāvīra elevated the doctrine of non-violence to a position of first priority; and Jainism refused to put any limits on its application to life’s activities. And the Yajurveda4, even before them, intoned: mitrasya cakṣuṣā samīkṣāmahe: “we view the world with friendly eyes.”
We may learn lessons from Mahatma Gandhi’s life; his speeches and writings. His great fasts and self-inflicted suffering to cleanse hearts and quicken human conscience helped bring people to their senses and halt the bloody madness of sectarian violence before and after the partition of India. He knew that goodwill between religions was a prerequisite to peace and harmony in society. Religions have to explore and recognize the similarities they share. They have to comprehend the consensus of their common ethics. They have to learn to coexist and respect each other despite differences. Faith is personal. There is no compulsion, says the Koran, and there should be none, in religion and religious practices; and, therefore, there is no denying the imperative demand for understanding and accommodation. Gandhi gave his entire life to bring the Hindus and Muslims together. When the country lost its bearings in the throes of partition, places like Kolkata, Noakhali and Delhi witnessed the deathly dance of brutality blinded by hatred, provoked by intolerance. The blood of innocents stained both India and Pakistan. Gandhi undertook fasts to save the lives of both Muslims and Hindus. His last fast unto death was undertaken to save the lives of countless Muslims in and around Delhi; to help resettle them; to reclaim their places of worship; to calm frayed tempers; to restore sanity; to rekindle compassion; to help the rebirth and resurgence of humanity! While his life hung in the balance, people in India and Pakistan prayed for him and the success of his mission. Peace resulted from his fast. He survived. But a mad man still assassinated him.
We do not want to regress into medieval modes of insensate intolerance, barbarity and butchery. Fanaticism frightens. The face of fanaticism is ugly. It is essential for the silent majority against terrorism to break its silence; to denounce terror and acts of terror as a travesty of both religion and humanity. Any attempt at vindication or rationalization of bloody misdeeds is tantamount to complicity in acts of terror. Our condemnation must be vocal, strident and total. We must stand up to be counted. Personal autonomy does not and should not detract from our common humanity. We are consciously, and unconsciously, legatees of countless cultural inputs from every part of the world. People, languages, beliefs, practices are what they are because they have always derived ideas from every quarter. May noble thoughts continue to come to us from every direction: ā no bhadrāḥ kratavo yantu viśvataḥ.5 Certainty induces inertia of thought; doubt prompts progress.
There is no tautology in love and prayer; and there is none, whatsoever, in the reiteration of moral imperatives vital to the preservation of peace and goodwill on earth. We must repeat ourselves with tireless tenacity, owing to the sweetness and relevance of what we intend to convey, tasa tasa athasa mādhūratāya6, as the great Aśoka said. And to quote him again: nāsti hi kammataraṁ sarvaloka hitatpā7: there is no higher duty than the welfare of the whole world.
- Īśopaniṣad, VI
- Anwar Nadeem, Ye kaun mere qarīb Āyā, Hamlog Publishers, Lucknow, 2014, p.56
- Aśoka’s Rock Edict, XII
- Yajurveda, 18
- Ṛgveda, I.89.1
- Aśoka’s Rock Edict, XIV
- Aśoka’s Rock Edict, VI
Photo: Aththa Withthi
Professor Sarva Daman Singh, B.A.(HONS.), M.A., PH.D. (UNIVERSTY OF LONDON), PH.D. (UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA), F.R.A.S., was born in India and migrated to Australia in 1974. He won many awards and five gold medals during the course of a distinguished educational career at the universities of Lucknow and London. He has taught at the University of Lucknow, National Academy of Administration, Government of India, Mussoorie, Vikram University, Ujjain, and the University of Queensland, Australia, and held chairs of Indian History, Culture and Archaeology. He is at present Director of the Institute of Asian Studies, Brisbane. He has travelled widely, and lectured at universities and institutions in India, Sri Lanka, U.K., France, Germany, the U.S.A., South Korea, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. Apart from his contributions to numerous books, his publications include Ancient Indian Warfare with Special Reference to the Vedic Period, E.J. Brill, Leiden, with later editions brought out by Motilal Banarasidas, Delhi; The Archaeology of the Lucknow Region, Paritosh Prakashan, Lucknow; Polyandry in Ancient India, Vikas, and Motilal Banarasidas, Delhi; Culture through the Ages, (B.N. Puri Felicitation Volume), Agam, Delhi; The Art of Pir Tareen: Evocation of Beauty in Life and Nature, published by the Institute of Asian Studies, Brisbane; Indians Abroad, Hope India Publications and Greenwich Millennium Press Ltd, London, and Understanding Gandhi: A Mahatma in the Making, 1869-1914, Vij Books, New Delhi. As Honorary Consul of India in Queensland from 2003 till 2011, he addressed numerous forums, always stressing the indivisibility of humanity, and its cultural diversity as a natural expression of its floriferous creativity.
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