March 19, 2003
We see today that the whole world is shying in horror from the war America is planning against Iraq. And indeed the devastating consequences of war on human beings and the environment have been so well documented, that no man or woman, in his or her right mind, would condone it in the 21st century.
There is on top of that in the West, a growing distaste for violence, to which Christianity, which not only emphasises love for the neighbour but also adds a sense of guilt at having committed a sin when you kill someone, has greatly contributed.
In India, Buddhism and Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent philosophy, have also given rise to a similar distaste for battle, even if it is done in self-defence. It is not the purpose of this piece to debate the moral wrongs or rightfulness of an eventual war on Iraq, as it has been widely and repeatedly done — and very brilliantly — elsewhere. But rather to look at war from a Hindu point of view, a point of view that has often been the subject of many misunderstandings.
‘Man’s natural tendency,’ writes Sri Aurobindo, India’s great nationalist, yogi and prophet of the New Age, ‘is to worship nature as love and life and beauty and good — and to turn away from her grim mask of death. We adore god as Shiva, but refuse to adore him as Rudra.’
Thus, war has often baffled or even repelled man. We saw how Ashoka turned Buddhist in Kalinga, or how Gandhi refused to help in the war effort against the Nazis and the Japanese, or how today, youngsters all over the world have spontaneously risen in protest against the impending US battle against Iraq.
Five or six thousand years ago, Arjuna faced the same dilemma. Remember how, casting down the divine bow given to him by the gods for that tremendous hour, he says: ‘It is more for my welfare that the sons of Dhritarashtra, armed, should slay me unarmed and unresisting… I-will-not-fight.’
In the words of Sri Aurobindo, Arjuna’s refusal to fight, ‘is the emotional revolt of a man hitherto satisfied with action and its current standards, who finds himself cast by them into a hideous chaos where human beings are in violent conflict with each other and where there is no moral standing ground left, nothing to lay hold of and walk by, no dharma.’
Yet, if we observe man and nature closely, we find — even today — that war and destruction are not only a universal principle of our life here in its purely material aspects, but also of our mental and moral existence. Everything is a struggle in our planet, all plants, animals and human beings have to struggle against each other, right from the moment of birth; even business is a warfare in disguise. It is then evident that the actual life of man can make no real step forward without a struggle between what exists and lives and what seeks to exist.
The Gita, as we have seen, takes for its frame such a period of transition and crisis as humanity periodically experiences in its history, in which great forces clash together for a huge destruction, and reconstruction, intellectual, social, moral, religious and political.
Furthermore, in the words of India’s great avatar: ‘It is an illusion to think that our hands should remain clean and our souls unstained for the law of strife and destruction to die out from the world. On the contrary, abstention from strife and concomitant destruction may help one’s moral being, but leaves the slayer of creatures unabolished.’
We have seen for example how France has still not come to terms with the collaboration of many Frenchmen with the Germans during the Second World War, or how the neutrality of Switzerland is a sham. The prosperity of Switzerland often rests on the ill-gotten gains of dictators, or on the stolen money of Jews murdered by the great asura Hitler.
‘It is only a few religions which have had the courage, like the Indian, to lift-up the image of the force that acts in the world in the figure not only of the beneficent Durga, but also of the terrible Kali in her blood-stained dance of destruction and to say: “this too is the Mother.” And it is significant that the religion which had this unflinching honesty and tremendous courage, has succeeded in creating a profound and widespread spirituality such as no other can parallel.’
The Gita thus proceeds from the acceptance of the necessity in nature for such vehement crisises and it accepts the moral aspect of the struggle between righteousness and unrighteousness, between the self affirming law of good and the forces that oppose its progression. The Gita, concludes Sri Aurobindo, is therefore addressed to the fighters, the men of action, those whose duty in life is that of war and protection of those who are at the mercy of the strong and the violent and for the maintenance of right and justice in the world.
In this light, the proposed war on Iraq takes another shape: men in their folly, think they are the deciders, the doers, the great arbiters, but who is pulling the strings from behind? Mr Bush and his generals believe they have planned every possibility, plugged every loophole. But there is no way they can control the consequences of the action they are going to undertake.
Who is right and who is wrong in this whole affair? There is no such thing as a good Bush and a bad Saddam and the tendency of the whole Western and Indian intelligentsia to portray America as an evil empire bent on hegemony and Iraq as an innocent, persecuted nation, makes one a little uneasy. After all, has not the United States risen up and paid with its blood every time the free world was in danger and is not Iraq one of the nations which has sponsored international terrorism, particularly against Israel?
Therefore, in the present state of human nature, with its ego, ambition, lack of love and brotherhood, war is still inevitable and we have to accept it. Awaiting better times, the ‘supramental’ which Sri Aurobindo and the Mother of Pondichery came to usher, we should only remember what Krishna tells Arjuna on the eve of the Kurukshetra battle: ‘You are not killing the soul, but merely the material body: we will all be reborn, again and again, till humanity understands that love — and love only — is the only answer to all our differences.’