Peace, non-violence and ahimsa

ABSTRACT: This is no scientific article but it sill feels right to start with the conclusion.

Global peace, world peace can mean different things. The world of a single human being is also at war at times.

If one wants to help peace, if one has made a decision to abstain from the mental-emotional junk food of Conflict, there are different steps to take.

Ideally one wants to be somebody who cannot hurt others. That is a high goal, which is not a reason not to aim for it. I call that “ahimsa” (Sanskrit for harmlessness).

The step before that, easier and more available, is non-violence. One step at a time we might arrive at peace.

As I wrote earlier I now call myself peace walker. That does not mean a state but an ambition: to really walk the talk of peace.

And talking of talk, let’s look at a very common saying in the peace sphere.

“Peace starts with the individual.”

I don’t like phrases that both 1) sound good and 2) don’t have a clear meaning. This phrase qualifies for both categories. If we want to go beyond mouthing vague feel-good phrases we should have distinct follow up questions.

  • In what way does the peace of the individual lead to a larger peace?
  • What kind of individual peace are we talking about?
  • What does peace mean to the individual?

Let’s have clear answers to those questions and I might agree with that statement.  But just spreading nice-sounding memes about is of no help.

My strong belief is that clarity is a precursor of peace, so let’s think clearly. Here’s my view of how peace might/ could start with the individual.

As I have written in so many texts we humans have something that I call “war seeds” in our hearts. It is only the name that is original, the observation isn’t.

Under the right (wrong) circumstance we can easily catch fire, become angry, and verbally or physically attack each other. Look at sports, football for example, and how this gentlemanly game can turn into violent hooliganism and even killing.

This is what I term war seeds in bloom.

Seeds can be choked, dried up, not watered. Or watered a lot, which leads from sports (Agon =battle, trial of strength) to Antagonism and then Agony, then outright war.

So what can the individual do against this development, this flowering of war seeds? He can look after his own garden, keep an eye on his own weeds.

Let me be much less abstract and describe how I, a soi-disant peace walker, try to handle this. First, some coordinates.

You who are reading this of course know about non-violence. It is called ahimsa in Sanskrit.

Here I want to distinguish two gradations, nonviolence in a more Western sense versus Ahimsa. In my interpretation non-violence (civil resistance, etc.) is what somebody DOES, while ahimsa refers to what he IS (his being).

Ahimsa is obviously the higher goal, admittedly a very high goal. However, it seems important to aim higher than just non-violence. Even if you chain yourself to a tree to passively to resist police arrest you might still have many much war seeds (anger, frustration, hate) in your heart. You just don’t act them out (perhaps because you are chained?).

I don’t want to belittle non-violence. That would be stupid and unrealistic. Non-violence in general is much better than violence, giving in to antagonistic impulses and feeding our belligerent impulses . But let us also see that non-violence only refers to our actions, not to our feelings and thoughts. Our hand is peaceful and passive, but not necessarily our mind and heart.

That said, non-violence is an important step towards ahimsa. We will not get there without non-violence.

A very practical example: Let us say that I have written something on Facebook about a subject on which people have “strong feelings”. (Those words indicate presence of war seeds.) Some people agree with me, some don’t and one person really lashes out against me.

What do I do in that case?

I have a martian element within me, too. I see the impulse to strike back, say something harsh “but just” (as one is tempted to call it). But since I am a peace walker I cannot just go with the downward flow.

If I had attained ahimsa I might give a wise, loving and totally non-polarizing reply. Right now I cannot. But I CAN be non-violent.


In the spur of the moment I can’t write a balanced reply, my seeds are too agitated; I am too angry and irritated.

I see two courses from there.

1) To just ignore it and turn my back. That is a rather classic way to respond. For some people that might be the best response, personally I see that a turn-your-back-to-it response contains an element of self-fear.

“I am afraid of what I might say to that person…”

2) The other response is the break, which in effect means slowing down.

Everybody understands that the break pedal is important, nay, essential in a car. Imagine all the catastrophes that would happen without it. We also have the folk wisdom of counting to ten when we fall into the clutches of Master Anger.

Counting is like stepping on the brake. It slows down our adrenaline reaction, turns off the water supply to the war seed.

Here’s how I step on the brake: I copy the message on Facebook, go offline and read it in peace and quiet.

An important reason for this has to with perceptive clarity. It is not a great discovery to say that a message, for example 3-4 sentences in a comment online, is often not really grasped.

What is really being said,and in what relation do I stand to it?

These questions never emerge, don’t even exist, in a heated discussion. I probably will react with a reflex, a knee-jerk, and reply  something not worthy of a peace walker.

Note here that this slowing down CAN also be part of a very different process, namely showing off, demonstrating how smart and intelligent we are. The goal then is to deliver a mental blow, a “crushing reply”. That does not rhyme with peace walking.

The peaceful aim should be to 1) understand what the other person really is saying 2) understand how I as a peace walker want to relate to it. Then my reply, if I still feel that I want to reply, will come from a very different part of me, a part of the garden where the war seeds do not bloom, at least not profusely.

No, I have not attained ahimsa, the non-ability to hurt. I still have within me the attraction to conflicts and polarization, but at least I have localized my break pedal. Now it becomes a question of remembering to use it.

In this way peace can “start with the individual”.

Realistically it might not go anywhere from there; it might also remain in the individual, although I think that every person who waters his peace seeds will send out positive waves. So I change my mind on that; I think  inner peace will have an effect on outer world.

Whether it can influence world events is another question.

Also one can ask how many peaceful individuals does it take to change the light bulb of war? The TM (transcendental meditation) people claim that a certain number of meditators change the collective atmosphere for the better, thus lowering crime rate for example.

That’s interesting but too often dismissed by “rational” people with irrational reflexes who see red before words like homeopathy or meditation. Who walk, as so many of us are, on the Small War Path; the path of martian conflict and polarization enjoyment.

The path of Venusian peace tries to balance that.

PS: Of course the example with Facebook takes place in the digital domain. Other rules apply for handling war seeds face to face.

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