Why not practice ahimsa on social media?

It is a good way to make our digital space compassionate and heart-warming!

The vitriolic reactions on social media to Tarun Vijay’s purported statement about South Indians is disturbing. I too found his comment shallow. But I responded posting lyrics of famous Bollywood songs, celebrating dark-skinned people, on my Facebook timeline. “Hum Kaale Hain Toh Kya Hua, Dilwale Hain…” (Gumnaam), “Gore Nahin Hum Kaale Sahi…Humsa Ek Nahin…” (Desh Premee). Clearly, I don’t see the need for so many people to demonstrate so much angst against what can, at best, be termed an immature point of view. Tarun, to his credit, has clarified that he never intended to hurt anyone’s sentiments. But in all the social media din, his clarification has been drowned; it is lost in all the hate that’s being hurled at him.

Of course, racism in any form must be strongly condemned. So, I am not advocating that we condone it. All I believe is that we, as a people, as a society, seem to be investing so much of our productive time, energy and emotions in reacting on social media. And almost all reactions, at most times, are steeped in hatred and divisiveness. It need not be so. An eye for an eye is not called for at all. It will serve no purpose. I have learnt that ahimsa does not only mean non-violent action; it also means non-violent thought. And if we deploy ahimsa thinking in our social media posts, we can make our digital space so much more compassionate and heart-warming.

AVIS-Viswanathan-ahimsa-thinking-on-social-media

I don’t want to belabor this point by being preachy. But I do find a simple post that celebrates being human far more enriching to engage with than a well-argued, data-driven post that tell us what’s wrong with our world or than one that spews venom at someone who is unscrupulous or who does not know how to conduct themselves in public Life.

On our morning walk, we see gentleman who walks with a group of noisy men who opine loudly on the previous day’s political developments. The group’s pointless chatter can be heard from a street away. But the man walks silently in group. We don’t know him. He doesn’t know who we are. But every day, unfailingly, when he passes me and Vaani, he will make it a point to look at us and beam a big smile. In writing today’s blogpost, and in discussing the angsty behavior most people display on social media, I found it pertinent to point out the man’s smile in contrast to his group’s mindless cacophony.

I guess you now know what I am encouraging all of us to do.

Employ ‘ahimsa’ for your inner peace

Learn to deal with your detractors with love and forgiveness. See how this approach helps you remain peaceful.
Ever so often we encounter detractors. Neighbors, colleagues, bosses, family, kids__everyone, at some time or the other, tries to throw a spanner in the works. Wantonly, inadvertently or even deliberately. And we immediately snap into the ‘How Dare You?‘ mode. Our minds instantaneously start spewing negative thoughts, abuses (we may not always physically express them, but the mind goes on jabber-jabber) and we become, well, terrorists – albeit of a different kind. We start shooting off our mouths indiscriminately__at all and sundry__because one person has upset us. The issue__the reason why we are upset__is no longer important as the person that caused the upset becomes our enemy number one.

Gandhi championed and practised a process called ‘ahimsa’ to deal with such situations. Popularly misunderstood as his theory of non-violence, ‘ahimsa’ is today dealt with as a sexy ideal – something that you want to flaunt but don’t know how to practice. Many even believe ‘ahimsa’ is impractical. Actually, ‘ahimsa’ must be understood first for it to be practised right. What I have learnt from the thinker-guru, the late Eknath Eswaran (1910~1999), is that ‘ahimsa’ actually means the absence of violence. Which is, the state when even violent thought is absent and true love, our native state, prevails.
I have known from experience that it is possible to practice ‘ahimsa’ in the world and times we live in. When someone tries to derail your plans or attacks you, wantonly, inadvertently or deliberately, don’t enjoin in the strife. The best way to win any battle is not to fight at all. Instead, remain silent. And wish, deeply from within, that person all luck. Wish that their deepest desire gets fulfilled. If you wish so, genuinely, anyopposition/opponent will melt away! I have been practising this for several years now. And with each opportunity, my ability to harvest inner peace only gets better. I have come away unscathed from physically (when there has been a possibility of assault) challenging situations and emotionally excruciating circumstances by employing this method. I must confess that there are times when I have wanted to retaliate, but my awareness – honed by my daily practice of mouna (silence periods) – has always helped me.
To me, ‘ahimsa’ is a method. It is a process. It is a philosophy. It can be your way of Life too. Try it. It works! Happy experimenting!

Practice non-violent thought – be the change

To find inner peace, learn to practice non-violence – to ensure non-violent thought – within you!
No one practised this better than Mahatma Gandhi, whose birthday it is today. He taught the world the power of courage, the courage of non-violence. And he didn’t talk only about physical courage or summoning physical courage. He championed non-violent thought. He truly celebrated the spirit of Ahimsa – which does not simply mean non-violence as the English translation suggests, but is about non-violent thought. Gandhi was, to be sure, the original Angry Young Man (much ahead of the venerable Big B on Indian celluloid) as Shyam Benegal’s classic The Making of the Mahatma (1996) portrays. Of course, through the famous railway platform experience of Pietermaritzburg of June 7, 1893, Gandhi’s anger against the British establishment had led him to pursue a path of confrontation with the Empire – and he launched his historic crusade then – but Benegal’s film shows how Gandhi understood his tendency to lose his temper and how he conquered rage, replacing it with non-violent thought. Incessant practise through his years in South Africa, through engaging himself in service and daily meditation, Gandhi became an embodiment of love and compassion. This is what led him to employ non-violent thought – Ahimsa – as a key weapon in uniting 300 million Indians, who were as disjointed then as they are now, without even the boon of technology we are all blessed with today, in the struggle against the British empire. 10 days before his assassination, on January 20, 1948, someone, believed then to be a Sikh youth, hurled a bomb at a gathering Gandhi was addressing. The bomb missed the target and Gandhi survived. A group of Sikhs called on Gandhi the next day to clarify that the assailant, who was by then arrested, was not a Sikh. Gandhi rebuked the delegation for playing the religion card. He said, irrespective of which religion the youth belonged to, he only wished him well.
There’s great merit – and an urgent need – to reflect on Gandhi’s Life and message today. Not that any of us, busy with our unpauseable lives, even has half-a-chance to change the world and make it more peaceful. But we can focus on ourselves. And change ourselves. Every time we find a violent thought rising in our minds, we can quell it. We can make a small beginning instantaneously and slowly build on it. For example, each day, subconsciously, when we swear to ourselves over the conduct of a fellow road-user or at the slimy machinations of a colleague at work or at the dishonesty that is prevalent in public Life or at an insensitive act of a neighbor – when we even say words like idiot or f@*$ or ba#@$*d – let us remember we are encouraging violent thought. The less violent we become in our minds, the more peaceful we will be in our souls. And the more peace we are within, the more peaceful our worlds will be. This cannot happen by merely wishing for change. This can happen by being, as Gandhi famously said, the change!

Get off that “ledge” and get going…

Last night I watched the 1993 Hollywood action movie Cliffhanger. In the movie, Gabe, played by Sylvester Stallone, is a mountain rescue team member. When attempting a rescue mission, across from a ledge on a mountain top called The Tower, Gabe is unable to save Sarah, whose harness breaks and she falls 4000 feet to her death. Gabe is unable to forgive himself and vows to never attempt another rescue in his Life. In fact, he gives up climbing. Eight months after Sarah’s funeral, Gabe comes to pick up his belongings from his girlfriend Jessie’s place and asks her if she too will go with him. Jessie is livid and distraught that Gabe’s gone into a shell and is grieving with guilt. She tries to talk to him, invites him to move on while explaining to him that it wasn’t his fault! But Gabe refuses to accept her point of view. In one final, desperate attempt to make him see reason, Jessie screams at him. She says: “If you don’t forgive yourself, let go and move on, you will be on that ledge forever.
Metaphorically, many of us are on our own “ledges” too. Often times, we make Life choices that backfire or even blow up on our face. It’s important we recognize that making mistakes, judgment errors, is an integral part of growing up. Almost with every wrong call, the realization that it was indeed a wrong call is instantaneous – as soon as it fails or bombs! Within ourselves, we know that it didn’t work out. And we know for sure that it was our __ the individual’s __ mistake. But we will not want to admit it, and instead prefer to grieve with guilt, pretty much like Gabe, because it “feels good” to take the “higher moral ground”. Well to sit on a perch, even if it made from a mountain of guilt and self-soothing morality, is good for a while. But how long can anyone be up there? And how long can anyone be carrying the burden of a past guilt? At one time or the other, you have to climb down, you have to set down your guilt, free yourself, and move on. If you don’t do that, you will be depressive and will suffer endlessly.
Today is Kshamavani– the Forgiveness Day, per the Jain calendar. Mahavira taught that forgiveness begins with the Self. Unless you forgive yourself for your mistakes, your transgressions, your anger and your ego, you cannot forgive others. And if you don’t forgive others you are a breeding ground of more hatred, more anger, more himsa (violence – violent thought). The Jains use a very beautiful phrase to practise and propagate forgiveness: Micchami Dukkadam. It means ‘May all the evil that may have been done be fruitless’.
Today’s a good day to make an intelligent choice. To forgive. Begin with yourself. Let go of all resentment. And let all the himsa in you, turn into ahimsanon-violent thought. Get off that “ledge”, learn to forgive, if possible forget, and move on! You, surely, will live happily ever after!