Hindu Killing Discussed
Question: Is killing to defend your country justified?
RADHIKA SEKAR holds a PhD in religious studies and taught Hinduism courses at Carleton and University of Ottawa. An aspiring Vedantin, she is a devotee of the Sri Ramakrishna Mission.
Ahimsa has always been a central philosophy in Indian thought. It was first presented as a code of conduct in the Chãndogya Upanishad, (8th century BCE) and deplored violence against “all creatures” (sarvabhuta).
However it was not expounded to imply pacifism. While peaceful ways of conflict resolution were encouraged, neither Hindu nor Buddhist texts explicitly condemn war. Skilled warriors were revered as a necessity for defensive warfare.
Hindu society has always emphasized civic duties and rising to defend one’s country would be seen as an obligation. The idea of a just war is presented in the Bhagavad Gita where Lord Krishna reminds the reluctant Prince Arjuna that it is his “duty” to fight. However, texts lay down stringent rules of combat within war; cavalry may only go into action against cavalry, infantry against infantry and so on, and wounded, the old and women and children were to be respected.
In modern times, a just war is defined by certain criteria relating to intent, conduct during combat and discussions on such grey areas as the use of pre-emptive strikes, amount of force, destruction of property and collateral damage.
An ardent follower of ahimsa, Mahatma Gandhi would not justify violence under any circumstance, and no matter how noble the cause. Victory so won, he felt, could only be temporary and degenerate into more violence.
But he was far from being a pacifist. Interpreting Arjuna’s turmoil as an allegorical reference to the human dilemma, he insisted we struggle and fight — but without using violence. I am prepared to die, he stated, but will not kill for any cause. By elevating the concept of ahimsa from an abstract and passive philosophy into a strategy for action he very successfully reconciled the idea of a “just war” with non-violence.
Accordingly, his followers i.e. the satyagrahis, were trained to die but not kill for their country.
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