Hinduism on Peace and Violence

The subject of violence has engaged the best minds in India's religious history. Although Mohandas K. Gandhi has made non-violence synonymous with Hinduism, the tradition has long recognized legitimacy of violence under some circumstances. The dominant, pragmatic approach has endorsed violence when necessary to protect one's state or people from external or internal attacks. A divergent tradition, insisting on the complete renunciation of violence, was ascendant during the period of the Upanishads. It asserted that violent action must, by the law of karma, produce a violent reaction, and that any action that promotes the interest of one at the expense of another individual is rooted in spiritual delusion that obscures the single spiritual reality—Brahman. The conflict between these competing approaches to force constitutes the heart of the Bhagavad Gita, a dialogue between the god Krishna and the mighty warrior Arjuna, who refused to fight in a righteous cause. Krishna explains that violence is not only necessary for the defense of justice, but that such violence need not conflict with spiritual life. The contradiction between the two values is resolved by disciplined action (action without regard for its fruit), insightful action (recognizing the true nature of the self), and complete devotion to Krishna.
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