Ahimsa (non-violence) in Daily Life



By P. Krishna

Krishnamurti Foundation India, Rajghat Fort, Varanasi 221001, India


Ahimsa or non-violence in daily life is not merely a matter of deciding not to hit or kill another. That is just the outer manifestation of a feeling of anger or hatred within our consciousness. So long as such feelings arise within us we are not truly non-violent, just because we are able to control the outer manifestation of it through our will. So, if one wants to be truly non-violent, one must examine the cause of anger/hatred within us and see if it is possible to eradicate that. So long as the cause exists, the effect will appear and controlling the effects will only produce a conflict between ‘what is’ and what ‘should be’, which is a subtle form of violence within oneself. Therefore, instead of positing what should be and forcing oneself to live up to it, it is more important to understand ‘what is’ and see if that can change.

We think that ‘what is’ undergoes a change if we fight against it and decide not to be that way; but a little investigation reveals that the state of anger or hatred does not disappear because of our decision or wish. Indeed, our decisions work only in very superficial matters. One can decide what to wear, what to eat or which language to learn but we cannot decide to love or be peaceful and happy or stop worrying. Reason and will can undo what reason and will had created but they cannot change a state we were not reasoned into. The cause of anger, fear, violence and hatred lies much deeper in our consciousness and the field of reason and argument does not reach there, though it can trigger an inquiry.

So, if we really want to be free of the cause of anger, division and hatred within us we need to learn about them by watching these within ourselves: from where do they arise, how to they grow and what they do to our life. In so observing and learning about oneself, there is the possibility of a deeper insight into the problem, which may eliminate the cause. The Buddha taught that ignorance is the cause of sorrow: ignorance not as lack of knowledge but as illusion in the mind. Illusion is just a mental construct which one accepts as true because one has never examined it. It is born of imagination and has no existence in Nature, therefore it is a non-fact. Illusion can also arise from giving excessive importance to something which in reality has very little or no importance in life.

The problem is that the mind that has an illusion is not aware that it has an illusion because it takes that to be true. Such illusions lie at different levels of our consciousness. At the most superficial level they are in the nature of superstitions. These can be dispelled even by scientific or intellectual inquiry. Then there are cultural illusions which lie deeper in our consciousness such as our particular concept of God, our feeling of patriotism, our attitude towards the opposite sex and so on, all of which we imbibe imperceptibly through a form of osmosis with the environment in which we grow up. Deeper than these are the psychological hurts we carry in our memory, though their cause has long since disappeared. The cultural characteristics give us a sense of identity and of moral values, which differ from one culture to another. The psychological memories create a feeling of personal identity. These divide people, make them feel “we are very different from them” though that may not be a fact. The Buddha said, “The other man is yourself” but it does not seem so to us. It is our illusions held in memory that divide us, not facts; for the facts are the same for everyone. Imaginations and opinions about the facts differ and divide us. He gave the analogy of two candles, saying the difference between two human beings is like the difference between two candles and that is not more than the difference between what a candle is now and what it was half an hour ago! To me that means that the difference between you and me is about the same as the difference between what I am now and what I was 10 years ago. Ten years ago I did not have the knowledge and experience which I have now since my memories did not contain the experiences of the last 10 years; and the difference between me and you is also only a difference of memory. In our consciousness we are all alike, with the same instincts, the same feelings of fear, anger, jealousy, desire etc. We all have the capacity for thinking, imagination, awareness, emotions etc irrespective of where we are born. It is because we identify with our memories that we feel separate. It is like one IBM computer telling another identical computer, “I am very different from you” because it is programmed a little differently! We have near identical bodies and our consciousness operates the same way, so where does the division come from?

Not all differences create division. We have never had wars between tall people and short people or grey-haired people and black-haired people. So we do have the capacity to perceive differences as just differences of no great import. Why can we not perceive differences of religion or nationality in that way? Why do some characteristics lead to formation of groups but not others? It is when our mind attaches value-judgements to certain characteristics and creates a feeling of superiority / inferiority that condemnation and hatred are born. That the man from Europe is white and the man from Africa is black is a fact; but the notion that whites are superior to blacks is an opinion which creates racism. Unless we see the falseness and inherent danger of such thinking, it will not change and the division arises despite all the talk of ideals and morals.

Out of that feeling of division comes hatred and out of that hatred comes violence. So, to end violence and hatred in oneself one must end illusion which is the source of all this disorder in our consciousness. Fortunately, illusion can be ended by discerning what is true and what is false; because when one perceives the false as the false, it ends. Facts cannot be ended but illusions, being imaginary things can be ended. Since the disorder in our consciousness arises from illusions, it can be ended; but order cannot be imposed upon disorder through discipline. Such a disciplined order is still disorder because the illusion has not been eliminated. This quest for the ending of disorder in consciousness is the true religious quest, beyond all the traditional forms of religion. It is the quest for self-knowledge, which is the key to wisdom. Socrates said there is only one virtue and that is order in consciousness. That is the central purpose of religion: to create virtue in consciousness. The truth may be that we are all a little different from each other but none of us is superior or inferior to another. The process of measurement and comparison creates the illusion of being superior and divides. Since our own mind creates that, it is possible to see the danger of this and free the mind of such measurement and comparison.

This quest for truth is really an unlearning process: unlearning the false within our consciousness. To do that, one has to become a student of oneself and learn not so much from books written by others but through one’s own observation of the way our consciousness operates in daily life. It is constantly revealing itself to us in our relationship, if only we have the eyes to see and a learning mind which lives with questions rather than conclusions. Violence is born out of our attachment to our own opinions and conclusions and a sense of pride in them. To have a learning mind is to know that one does not know the truth and to be in a constant state of inquiry. Then every disorder one encounters in one’s consciousness is an opportunity to learn and end the illusion from which is arises. Without such self-learning which discerns what is true and what is false, one does not grow in wisdom and therefore does not change fundamentally. All true change is a by-product of such deep learning; the rest is only control and adaptation, it is not freedom. Krishnamurti regarded such a learning mind as the true religious mind. To quote him: “The religious mind has no belief, it has no dogma. It moves from fact to fact. Therefore the religious mind is the scientific mind. But a mind that is trained in the knowledge of science is not a religious mind.” When one regards the religious mind to be a mind in quest of truth, then there is no division between it and the scientific mind. They are seen as complimentary to each other, seeking truth in two different aspects of a single reality which includes both the realm of nature and of human consciousness. The conflict between science and religion is then seen as arising from an illusory way of defining religion as some kind of belief.

I am afraid there is no short-cut to non-violence. The practice and acceptance of a pre-formulated ideal of non-violence is not real non-violence. It is an illusion to think that one will gradually become non-violent through the practice of certain methods and techniques. If one says it will take ten years to gradually become non-violent, one is giving oneself the license to remain violent for ten more years! It is not a matter of practice; it is a matter of perception. One does not perceive truth gradually; either one has perceived it or one has not. Time does not help us to perceive. Time just passes, irrespective of whether we perceive or do not. If we do not perceive the truth, we continue to live with the illusion and nothing changes substantively; the feeling of gradual progress in this area is an illusion. With time one grows in knowledge and experience but not in wisdom. Experience often brings with it fresh illusions or strengthens existing illusions further. One can thus find human beings who are vegetarian and do not kill even insects but they may be very cruel in other relationships in life. The practice of certain non-violent actions does not in itself create a non-violent consciousness. The practice of certain actions or methods takes time but time by itself does not bring wisdom or transform consciousness.

One can see the truth of this in our world-affairs. We have not moved one iota in 60 years over the issue of Palestine or the issue of Kashmir, despite all the efforts made by the United Nations and all the diplomatic compromises. The problem lies deeper at the level of our identification with certain communities which then view other communities as rivals. More of the same kind of thinking, which creates the problem in the first place, can never solve it. What is needed is to get out of that illusory mindset. The same is also true of the problems of the world as a whole. Experience has not taught us not to make war and not to solve our problems through violence. Our history of the last 3000 years is a history of battles and wars. It will not change with more time; it will change only when we learn to look at the ‘other’ human being differently, irrespective of where he or she was born, what they eat or how they pray.

We are trained into division, competition and rivalry. The truth is we are brothers and the same laws of Nature have given birth to us all. When we realize that truth, the violence will end. That realization can happen at this moment or it may not happen for another 3000 years. That is up to us! If we want to see this change happen in our world, we must educate children differently and inculcate the religious quest for truth with the same or greater zeal than we do the scientific quest for the truth about how nature functions. We need to have both a deep understanding of the external world of Nature around us and the inner world of our consciousness. At present we have almost completely neglected the religious quest in education because we think religion is antagonistic to science. That is an illusion.