Violence and Gita

violence and gita

Mahatma Gandhi found inspiration for his satyagraha or non-violent protest in the Gita. Balgangadhar Tilak on the other hand found in Gita justification of violence if the intent and objective is righteous. So does Gita preach violence or not?

I remember an essay on Gita written by Wendy Doniger in which spoke of how Gita goes out of its way to justify violence. She also quoted Romila Thapar as to how Buddha would have responded to Arjuna’s crisis differently. You can imagine how this essay would upset many Hindus, especially those who keep telling their children how Hinduism preaches non-violence and hence, vegetarianism.

The contrast between Buddhism and Hinduism is stark. The founder of Buddhism walked away from his family and his kingdom to become a hermit who rejected desire, sex and violence. By contrast, Hinduism insisted that a man perform his duty based on caste rules. Whatever be his views on desire, sex and violence, he had to marry, produce children, take care of his family by pursuing the family profession. He who was born in a warrior family had to go to war and fight. He who was born in a butcher family had to slaughter animals for food. Ramayana and Mahabharata valorise not war so much as the pursuit of social obligation, even while engaging in long discussions on the morality of war.

At the heart of this controversy is the fundamental question: is violence good or bad?

To answer this question, we have to pay attention to role of violence in nature and culture. In nature, animals survive by indulging in violence. Herbivores bite and tear plants. Carnivores hunt animals. Violence is used to establish pecking order, mark territory and isolate mates. Culture is also established through violence. Forests are burned to create fields. Riverbanks are broken to create canals. Mountains are blasted to find minerals. Animals are castrated to serve as beasts of burden.

Thus violence is intrinsic to both nature and culture. Violence enables animals to find food. Humans use violence to generate wealth and lay claim to property.

Buddhism has a monastic tilt. A monk rejects wealth and property. So he rejects violence. But society is not made of monks. How does one help people who have no choice but to participate in violence? How does one help a soldier who has to fight in a war or a policeman who has to catch a criminal? We may not use violence to offend, but we have to use violence to defend and survive. We do not like being at the receiving end of violence, but we do know that violence is sometimes necessary to create a civil society.

Today, Western media is horrified that its pacifist understanding of Buddhism, constructed by its dealings with Dalai Lama, is being challenged by brutal violence perpetrated by Buddhist leaders in Burma and Sri Lanka. Here the question is not about outgrowing desire, it is about wealth and property, which are essential aspects of human existence. As long as we want wealth and property, there is no escaping violence. And violence thus perpetrated has consequences that we are obliged to suffer.

Gita recognizes this.

~ Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik


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  • I don’t think the use of violence is used here though it is right. What if all are Budhist monks and ISIS attacks? So many Budhist states are there, there sis no army? I dont think you can call self-defense as violence.

  • Hopefully violence will the the last choice in any situation, something that we should think twice before getting involve with it. Also, we must accept any consequences coming up from violence since we have agreed to involve. Violence is a matter of choice. If we’re not ready to accept its consequences, then don’t do any violence.

  • You are making Caste herditry by saying that if u are born to a Kshyatriya wage war and if born to a Butcher u slaughter animals…
    That is not Hinduism, caste was always criteria based on profession and skill was it not?

    • There is point in what you have said, just to keep/bring order in society and for clarity the above said works in majority but like you said those with the skills and interest can take up the position if the one thinks he can do good in that.

  • Read it. First of all Gita is a ancient Holi book of Hindus. Philosophy of Gita is way of life for Hindus. And for others it’s a view only. May I ask why no one till date given or written any Judgment on Koran or Bible or Sri Guru Granth Saheb? No one can dare to do so….Then Why only on Gita? Foreign researcher can keep or publish their reports but no one is granted permission to give judgement or to dissect GITA. It is a Holi Granth like any other religions in India and world. We demand full respect for it.
    Also these days it’s a fashion to write or say anything controversial to climb the ladder of success . As media today very happily gives lime light to such people. Taking advantage of tolerance of the people in this country.
    Gita did not advocate for violence in any chapters . But I strongly believe what Lord Krishna said to Arjuna at the battle ground. That was a duty….there is a difference between duty( to protect ones honour , home,
    n people) and violence simply for power, greed, wealth etc. It’s written in other Holi books too ” He who takes away your home, wealth n wife , killing him is not a sin”
    By the way martial art originally from south India. And Traveled to Japan with Buddhist monks. Ancient time all monks were taught this for self protection. When they trevelled through mountains and jungles from one place to another.
    Violence can not build a country or culture it can only successfully destroy all existing culture…
    We understand Meanings of what’s written in GITA not easy to understand for every one. But that not give permission to publish anything people like about a ancient Holi Book of India.
    Thank you.
    Purobi babbar
    Writer/ film maker/ food critique/ press member

  • If there was no violencein india how do people die inmillions in non illness although TB AIDS Malaria Filaria dfiarhoeas from infections to mal nutritions make india with preventable diseaes greatest number among the third world number of unatural cause of death violently Practical observation does not support the theory that india does not have homicide kilings riots any less

  • Mr Patnaik a sepoy and boot licker par excellence is a paid agent of Wendy. He has not understood Geeta and has gone to the extent of saying that Indian temples are of Western origin.

    Geeta is context based and Wendy who has a freudian lens and is possibly sex starved will do well to know the tradition as well.

    All these comments are self serving and it will be a good idea if Patnaik will have the courage to do the same for Hadiths or bits in the First Testament. Lynch mob will wait for this swine then.

    It will beehove a rascal that this swine

  • Mr.Patnaik in how many instances of violence you had to do to make wealth and property.You charge hefty sums on merit.No violence involved.Violence against injustice is approved in Hinduism.

  • so what Romila thapar nad wendy has done to the scriptures should be discussed openly among the audience then the leftist mind will be exposed.