The word nonviolence is a very rough translation of the Sanskrit ahimsa, which literally means “the negation of the desire or intent to harm.” Beyond focusing on the act alone, we must look at the state of mind in which the act was carried out. For example, a person can defend herself or others with what looks like force, but if the motive is to stop a greater harm, then, to the extent that the actor harbors no anger toward or fear of the opponent, it is closer to nonviolence than violence. Conversely, it is also possible to commit an act that seems nonviolent in principle but the state of mind behind it is violent–that is, intending or wishing harm to the person or group to whom it is offered.
Why does this distinction matter?
Since human beings are more than bodies alone–that is, we also have mind and spirit–our psychological motives must factor into in how we understand ourselves and others. This is where the practice of nonviolence in our daily lives come to life–we do our best to harmonize our motives with our actions, seek to be of positive benefit to others and all of life at greater and greater levels. As Gandhi said, “our motives will determine the quality of our acts.” And for him, quality is effectiveness, in the long run, and it’s a challenge worthy of us. With practice, we can actually offer resistance to others with love, not fear or hatred, in our hearts.
Consider a time when you did not offer physical violence but accompanied an action you took with hatred, fear or separation in your heart. How did it feel? Conversely, how did it feel — and what resulted — when you offered someone resistance with a loving motive?
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 email@example.com