Cultivation of non-violence and the power of truth

Mahatma Gandhi has been a source of inspiration to me ever since I was a small boy growing up in Tibet. He was a great human being with a deep understanding of human nature. He made every effort to encourage the full development of the positive aspects of the human potential and to reduce or restrain the negative.

Mahatma Gandhi took up the ancient but powerful idea of ahimsa or non-violence and made it familiar throughout the world. However, I think it is important to acknowledge that non-violence does not mean the mere absence of violence. It is something more positive, more meaningful than that. The true expression of non-violence is compassion. Some people seem to think that compassion is just a passive emotional response instead of a rational stimulus to action. To experience genuine compassion is to develop a feeling of closeness to others combined with a sense of responsibility for their welfare. This develops when we accept that other people are just like ourselves in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering.

As an admirer of Gandhiji, I consider the cultivation of non-violence and compassion as part of my daily practice. I do not think of it as something that is holy or sacred but as of practical benefit to myself. The practice gives me satisfaction; it gives me a peace that is very helpful for developing sincere, genuine relationships with other people. Mahatma Gandhi's great achievement was to revive and implement the ancient Indian concept of non-violence in modern times, not only in politics, but also in day-to-day life. He revealed how non-violence and compassion are relevant in today's world by showing that non-violence means that if you can help and serve others you should do so. If you cannot, you must at least restrain yourself from harming others out of recognition of their rights and needs.

Consequently, although violence is still rife in our world, the trend of global opinion is to recognise that the future lies in non-violence. Today, there is a growing awareness worldwide of the meaning of non-violence, but its application is not restricted merely to other human beings. It also has to do with ecology, the environment and our relations with all the other living beings with whom we share the planet. Non-violence can be applied in our day-to-day lives whatever our position or vocation. It is even relevant to medical procedures, education systems, legal procedures and other fields.

Another important aspect of the Mahatma's legacy is that he won independence for India simply by telling the truth. His practice of non-violence depended wholly on the power of truth. The unprecedented fall of oppressive regimes in several parts of the world has demonstrated once more that even decades of repression cannot crush people's determination to live in freedom and dignity. As a Tibetan who has spent more than half my life in exile, I continue to believe that for us too this truth will ultimately triumph.

~ Tenzin Gyatso is the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

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Himal Southasian