War and Duty in Hinduism


by Jayaram V

Whatever justification we may have about waging wars, a war in itself is a grim reminder of our inability to use reason and resolve problems. It is evidence of our collective failure to live in peace and control our beastly nature.

No one would perhaps think of waging a war of any kind if they consider the amount of bloodshed and the problems it imposes upon millions of war victims and innocent people.

Yet, nations and communities resort to violence either to silence their opponents, to assert their strength and dominance or to make a statement. Wars are also fought because of pride, lust, anger, envy and hatred. Waging wars in the name of religions is even worse. It defeats the purpose why people practice their faith and improve their conduct.

Violence is inherent in earthly life. Nature promotes violence to establish the dominance of species and improve their ability to survive and corner the resources. Perhaps, for Nature violence is neither a moral nor a religious issue, but a way to resolve inefficiencies and weaknesses inherent in life forms and promote strength and efficiency in them.

A constant battle goes on in our lawns and backyards where weeds want to replace the grass we want to keep. We fight on behalf of the grass and the methods we use to remove the weeds and keep our lawns green are no less violent. When we clean our houses, barns and basements, we kill germs, insects and pests. Thus, even if we want to remain non-violent, we cannot avoid violence to ensure our survival and Wellbeing.

Animals and insects are also prone to violence. They fight to defend themselves or secure food. Some of them, such as monkeys, elephants, and ants fight in groups to protect their turf or assert their dominance. To test their competitiveness and fulfill its aims, Nature prefers to use its own creations as specimens by promoting violence and aggressive conflicts among groups and entire communities.

Only humans are endowed with the intelligence not to play the game Nature intends us to play and stay above our baser and natural instincts. Yet we have not evolved mentally and spiritually enough to control our animal instincts and defeat Nature's designs.

Over the centuries, we have made tremendous progress on many fronts and won many battles against Nature and our own limitations. Yet, all this fades into background when we consider the advances we have made in modern warfare and the knowledge we have gained to create immensely destructive and cataclysmic weapons of warfare. We have reached a stage where we can wipe out entire life upon earth in a few hours or minutes.

The earth is the only known planet to possess life with certainty. Yet, so far, not much attention is paid to our collective death wish. There is no shortage of religious and pious people in the world who wait with an expectation for the destruction of the world so that the faithful can ascend to heaven and live in the company of God. Rationally speaking, this is insanity beyond redemption.

From history we learn that however limited a war may be in its scope and destructive nature, it is certainly not a pleasant experience for anyone. We may give medals of honor to the brave soldiers and applaud the services they render to a nation, but we cannot ignore how bruised a nation becomes at the end of a war, even if it has won the war.

In the ultimate analysis, in a war both the victor and the vanquished suffer from heavy causalities and life changing situations. It is a calamity that we bring upon ourselves out of our stupidity and selfishness.

Every war that is waged upon earth for one reason or another, leaves a permanent scar in our collective consciousness and a permanent negative record in our collective history. Every war we wage points to our collective failure to resolve our differences rationally, value life and live in peace.

The wars that we wage upon earth are an indication that we have yet to understand and appreciate the importance of our existence upon earth and consider it a unique opportunity to play our dutiful role in the universe as heirs to its riches and abundance for our own good and the good of other species.

When we think of the wars, we cannot ignore the paradox, that as a race we are intelligent enough to step into the shoes of the Creator and yet foolish enough to indulge in our self-destruction.

When we envision the universe with its billions of galaxies and the vast distances that are mind-boggling even to a trained mathematician, waging wars on earth seems such a petty and insensitive option. Life is so precious, precarious and unique that consigning it to the flames of war is the most hideous thing we can conceive.

Undoubtedly wars also have played a constructive role in the progress of our civilization. In the past, wars have freed people from evil and oppression and from the designs of the wicked and evil rulers. Many wars have been fought in the past for a good cause when reason failed to resolve disputes.

Thus, however unpleasant they may be, when viewed in terms of good and evil and when one side is decidedly evil, we cannot ignore the spiritual dimensions of wars. In the battle for supremacy, when the wicked and the evil try to join hands, it becomes the responsibility of the good and the pious to unite and oppose them.

In Hinduism, nonviolence is considered the highest virtue. Nonviolence is viewed as the ability not only not to hurt and injure but also not to disturb. According to its tenets, a truly nonviolent person is neither disturbed nor disturbs others. In short, it is a state in which one is free from all mental and physical agitation and aggressive tendencies.

Hinduism is also realistic enough to acknowledge the necessity of war to oppose evil and protect good. In the mortal world the good and the evil are engaged in a perpetual war, which is waged primarily in the body and the mind, with the Self as the witness. The same situation manifests in the external world as some people become good and some turn to evil because of their past actions and inherent qualities.

When a number of people fail collectively to oppose evil in themselves, their collective failure becomes externalized as actual wars in the battlefields of the world. When the humanity collectively fails to deal with their own evil nature, then God Himself incarnates to deal with the evil that has settled in the minds of people.

This is the lesson we learn from the Bhagavadgita, in which Lord Krishna reminds us of our spiritual nature, yet does not discount the Imperativeness of war to protect ourselves from the evil actions of others.

Even God, under extraordinary circumstances, would not hesitate to unleash His wrath against those who try to disturb His creation. Whenever there is a decline of righteousness and ascendance of evil, He incarnates upon earth personally to protect the righteous and destroy the evil.

The message is eternally relevant because good can never be separate from evil and as long as there is creation, there will be a tussle between the two, which will be fought at various levels both internally and externally.

Today some nations are following the advice of Lord Krishna, although they may not be aware of it. They are trying to restore balance and order against people who are bent upon causing chaos and disorder and spread fear and anger. They want to curtain human freedom and force people to live according to their beliefs and ideology. In the face of this crisis, it is up to us to decide whether these nations deserve our support and sympathy for the sacrifices they are making to protect us or allow the evil minds to implement their nefarious plans.

Whether we are part of a war of mere witnesses to it, we cannot be free from the ripple effects each war unleashes upon the humanity as a whole. Right now several wars are being waged in various parts of the world. Some are righteous wars and some are wars fought for egoistic reasons. These wars have affected millions of people and threw them out of their homes and motherlands. Millions of people are languishing as victims of war or as refugees in refugee camps.

In these circumstances, the only way people can keep sanity and peace is by keeping their faith in the righteous cause, in their allegiance to God or good, and in the dutiful nature of their roles in such wars. It does not matter to which religion they belong and how they may worship God, as long as they do not to submit to evil and continue to fight to uphold the values they cherish. They need to know whether they are on the side of good or evil and whether they actions promote the agony and suffering of others or bring them relief.

In any conflict involving human values and peace, what matters is how you think and what vibrations you send out into the thought world, your attitude in the face of disinformation, discrimination and falsehood, and your commitment to the values that sustain progress and make the world a better place to live with freedom and dignity. What matters is whether you care for the highest and the best your mind can envisage and whether you are with the humanity or against it.

It is natural for an ordinary person to be emotional and judgmental about matters that affect him immediately and ignore the long term benefits they may eventually bring. Administering a vaccine may cause you temporary pain, but in the long run protects you from harmful pathogens. So is the case with certain actions of ours.

No one likes a war when it is going on for the misery it brings to countless people. Wars create a lot of bloodshed, uncertainty, emotional and physical distress, social strife and economic hardship. The following suggestions are meant for those who are forced to engage in a war either directly or indirectly and deal with the personal and emotional problems the situation forces upon them.

1. A soldier participates in a war as a sacred duty, or as an obligation, arising from past karmas. War is a collective karma and a sacrifice in which Death (Kala) is the presiding deity.

2. He should not think of the consequences of war but focus upon the task or the action and perform it sincerely without expectations.

3. He should fight the war as an offering to God and offer the results of his actions to Him.

4. Detachment, renunciation and dutifulness are the hallmarks of a great warrior.

5. A war should be fought not to win medals of honor but to protect the honor of the country and ensure the order and regularity of society.

6. A soldier should remember that a war is part of God's Will and Divine Plan in which he is a mere instrument. The results of such a war are already determined by God, and his duty is to enact his role and facilitate that plan.

7. He should know that he is not his mind and body, but an eternal soul which does not kill and which is not kill. He should therefore fight bravely and fearlessly as a witness to a Divnie Plan.

8. He should remember that his actions do not taint him if he performs them without personal desires and intentions.

9. He should honor his duty and stick to it, however difficult or inferior it may be compared to the duty of another and perform it sincerely, instead of taking up the duty of another, however superior it may be.

10 He should keep his mind and body pure and healthy with good food and keep himself free from evil nature and demonic qualities of greed, lust, egoism, cruelty etc.

11. He should cultivate wisdom to discern the right from wrong and participate in a war for a just cause.

Thus, while wars in themselves are unduly harmful and unleash great destruction upon people, a soldier who has an obligation to participate in it as a warrior must do so with detachment, and as a duty, and with the conviction that he ibis fighting a righteous war to protect the lives of many innocent people and uphold the will of God. He should not take pride in his actions or consider himself the doer. He should not also fight rewards but to fulfill his duty and obligation. He should also fight a just war, without resorting to evil. Most importantly, he should keep faith in God and His role in creation.

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