In order to truly understand non-violence as a lifestyle we must pay our dues to those who came before us and know more about the origin(s) of non-violence in its entirety (first as a teaching, secondly as an idea which lead to movements and finally, what non-violence means as a lifestyle). The two teachings for this post of non-violence that I will be pulling from are Jainism and the teachings of Jesus Christ.
The teachings of non-violence dates back to 3000 B.C. with the ancient religion called Jainism, one of the oldest religions in the world. Those who practiced Jainism, referred to as Jains, followed four general premises: ahimsa (“not to injure” or “compassion”, also known as non-violence), anekāntavāda (many-sidedness), aparigraha (non-attachment, which correlates with non-violence), asceticism (service and self-sacrifice). Devout Jains have five main vows: non-violence, truth, not stealing, celibacy or chastity or sexual continence, and non-attachment. The foundations of all of these vows is that of non-violence.
Ahimsa (non-violence), refers to not partaking in anything that is violent (physically, verbally, and/or mentally) which applies to all living beings, including animals of any kind, even insects. Jains even wear masks to protect flies to avoid accidentally inhaling any insect. Since they apply this non-violence to all beings, they naturally are all vegetarian/vegan. For Jains there is no such thing as avoidable or unavoidable non-violence, it is about consciously choosing not to participate in violence. For example, stealing (which is violent) is stealing, whether it is done directly or indirectly (from purchasing goods that are stolen from the person you buy the goods from). If a person does not know where the seller got the goods from then they do not buy those goods. Another example we can look at is that of child labour. We all can agree that child labour is something that is violent and ethically wrong no matter what the case is, whether we are participating in perpertuating child labour directly (companies who consciously choose manufacturers that practice child labour practices to make their goods for the sake of more profits) or indirectly (buying from unethical companies who choose manufactures who consciously choose this practice of child labour). Either way, directly or indirectly, we are still perpetuating this child labour to exist in our world. If the company is not fully transparent about their practices, as most companies are, there is no need for anyone to buy goods from them. This is also applied to the products that they get for food (e.g. any dairy products), if the animals are mistreated in any way they refrain from buying such products. For example, many newborn cows are killed within days of birth for special enzymes (called rennet which are secreted by mucous membranes that line the calfs’ fourth stomach), that turns liquid milk into “flavorful” cheeses like parmesan and cheddar cheese for the daily consumption of a lot of people. This has been happening for thousands of years (and is still happening today), however scientists recently found a way to genetically modify organisms such as bacteria to make those same enzymes.
For Jains, Anekāntavāda (many sidedness) states that the ultimate truth and reality is very complex and has many sides to it. This ultimate truth cannot ever be stated or described in words. This is also refers to the notion that not one person holds the full ultimate truth, and that we all hold partial truths of the ultimate truth. In other words, we all have individual parts of the puzzle, which is why we need each other in order to complete the beautiful puzzle: the ultimate truth. Withholding this truth from others is considered violent, because we are neglecting ourselves and others from having our partial truth to be able to contribute to the ultimate truth. Telling lies is also considered to be violent because we are committing verbal violence, against ourselves (because we are not speaking our truth, and instead believing our lies which is only deceiving ourselves) and can injure another person’s feelings.
Aparigraha (non-attachment), is necessary for self-realization and so we can fully live a life of non-violence. It calls for complete detachment of anything whether it is mentally (i.e. clinging to an idea), physically (to materials) and pleasures (pertaining to "action") from worldly affairs. “A person who hoards wealth deprives poor and hungry persons of their wants. Surplus wealth could be used to provide food and clothing to the needy. Thus adopting the principle of non-possession means following a non-violent way of life” (Holmes, 12). In living without these attachments, it allows us to be truly free and not have this feeling of needing this or the other, whatever it may be (i.e. more shoes, more clothes, more drugs/alcohol, more money, etc.). In detaching ourselves from these worldly objects we can then lead a life of love, a life where we have sympathy, empathy, and compassion for one another. In this way, we also do not see other people as separate anymore, the rich who may have a lot of material from the poor who does not have much at all. When we are free of attachments, we can better see that we are all one in this world. We can see that we are all equal, that we are all here to help one another, and not to compete with another for fame, more materials, more money, for more and more of things that do not actually matter. .
Finally, Jainism’s notion of asceticism (service and self-sacrifice) cannot be done by just anyone. Anyone who is devoted to this premise of Jainism is someone who is strong and who has the discipline to have self-control and be self-devoted to fully practice the teachings and lifestyle of Jainism/non-violence. In leading this kind of lifestyle of non-violence, we are to suffer because we are going against the grain of society. In doing so, we might be ridiculed from being different than everyone else (anything from being called derogatory names, from others creating lies about us, to being thrown objects, etc.) which might cause uncomfortable situations for us. That is why only the strong, that lead with our soul force can follow through. Anyone, can lead a violent lifestyle, absolutely everyone can because it is the easy thing to do. It has been the way that society has conditioned us, so of course, it is the easy way out. “Hey, everyone is doing it, so why shouldn’t I, right?” The purpose of this lifestyle is to uplift humanity and cure/prevent anymore violence that is occuring in our world. In this way we will not be truly free until we are ALL free.
Other teachings that have majorly contributed to the teaching of non-violence as a lifestyle came from Jesus Christ. One of Jesus Christ’s central teachings on non-violence is found in the New Testament, which is the Sermon on the Mount (Gospel of Matthew Chapters 5, 6, & 7). He taught his followers that good behaviour alone is not enough, and that they must even love the evil doer through action; not simply just walking the other way to avoid confrontation or any disputes.
Often times non-violence is mistaken for pacifism (the belief that any violence, including war, is something that is unjustifiable under any circumstances, and that disputes should be settled by peaceful means) when they are not the same thing. Non-violence is something that is active which uses the heart to do so; it is not something that is passive. This is illustrated, through Jesus’ words when he tells his followers,
“If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles...Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:39-42).
In this teaching, he is not teaching his followers to be passive about any situation where they are confronted by the “evildoer”, instead Jesus taught his followers to be active with the “evildoer” with the use of perfect love. When he says, “Be Perfect...as your heavenly Father is perfect”, Jesus is referring to the Father (God) as perfect love; love that is unconditional. It is only with this perfect love, that we are able to love the “evildoer”. There are many other teachings within the Sermon on the Mount, however this teaching of being active with perfect love is pivotal to the teachings of non-violence in general. The beauty of the word non-violence (even though it is seen as a negative word because of the word non), is that it lets the person actively choose not to pursue in violence, by choosing more than not partaking in violence (like a pacifist would do or a peacemaker would), but instead by consciously choosing to take action(s) with this perfect love.
No leader, even that of fear (“who” is leading our world into violent matters), can ever maintain power without the consent of the people of the world. The only reason why fear is allowed to rule our world is because we allow it to, by “buying” into it. If fear would not sell in our media, whether it be through news, social media, the prison complex industry, our education system, and any other system that instills fear, it would not exist. If we as a people do not “buy” into fear and give fear power, those in power and control (who are asleep and working from the ego) would lose profits and to maintain control they would therefore have to “sell” us something that WE would “buy” into, such as love. This is the only way that we can be free and truly liberated. The beauty of it all, is that it being with the individual, it begins with me. It begins with you. As Gandhi famously said “be the change you want to see in the world”.
Stay tuned and I will go over how non-violence as an idea/movement originated in the United States, what we can learn from those before us who brought the non-violence idea and movement(s) to the United States, the steps that we can take together to lead a lifestyle of non-violence, the impact we can have together to cure our world from all of the violence happening so we can transform and restore our world from all injustices.