Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part LXXIII

Peace and War - I

Continued from Part LXXII

In mundane sense, peace is interpreted as a state of personal and/or community harmony, camaraderie and companionship in a social environment that is completely devoid of any conflict, hostility or violence between the individuals or groups. Ordinarily, such an environment is established among the individuals and groups by exercising behavioral restraints and constructive cooperation, and among the communities and nations through constant mutual considerations, diplomacy and peace-restoring efforts. On the other hand, war is usually a struggle between the opposing forces among the groups, communities and even nations owing to certain selfish interests or a particular end often involving an armed conflict. While peace ushers in personal and social security and tranquility as also long lasting effects such as better socio-economic outcomes, well-being of individuals and society, and qualitative change in environment, the common characteristics and consequences of war include violence, injuries, deaths, disabilities, starvation, illness, and so on.

However, Hinduism does not merely stops at the outward peace in achieving worldly comforts and pleasures leading to socio-economic well-being and avoiding individual or group conflicts. Instead, it insists and strives for the inner peace i.e. peace of mind which is achieved by relinquishing desires for the worldly possessions and pleasures that are of ephemeral and transient nature. According to Hindu scriptures, the practice of the Yoga of Equanimity is what that leads to an eternal peace and permanent bliss of the human soul. An equipoise mind having attained inner peace is free from the mire of delusion, desire for the fruits of actions, cravings for the material enjoyments of this world, unperturbed through sorrows and joy, and from passion, anger, fear and arrogance. Such a state of consciousness or enlightenment could be achieved through meditation, prayer and yogic exercises involving mental and physical disciplines. Same way the war is not merely a physical phenomenon among the individuals, groups or nations but also when the individual self faces inner conflicts owing to negative attributes that one needs to overcome through practice.

What Scriptures Provide on Peace and War!

Hinduism has a very rational and balanced approach towards the peace and war in individual as well as collective life in terms of communities and nations. For the peace, it endorses and addresses both external peace in terms of maintaining harmony, camaraderie and companionship among the individuals, communities and nations through the collective material progress as also the inner peace of mind of people through spiritual development. Similarly, Hindu scriptures are against any kind of violence, be it physical, emotional or mental at collective as well as individual levels and a lot of emphasis has been paid to the core virtues of Satya (truthfulness) and Ahimsa (non-violence) towards other beings. However, scriptures permit violence in certain eventualities including self-defence through a righteous war i.e. a war for the just cause. To achieve this, Hinduism has clearly laid down the goal of human life as Purushartha by well defining Dharma (righteous duty), Artha (material possessions), Kama (material pleasure) and Moksha (liberation) at various stages of life (Varnashrama or Varna System) that shall be individually and collectively performed as per the disciplines of Varnashrama. Just to recapitulate, the Varnashrama has four stages or orders: namely, Brahmacharya – the order of students; Grihastha – the order of householders; Vanaprashtha – the order of ascetics in woods or household; and Sanyasa – the order of hermits in the woods.

In the aforesaid orders, every householder has been permitted to earn money and material resources to judiciously spend it for the pleasure and peace of self and dependents. After enjoying upto a stage, people may relinquish it voluntarily for the inner peace and bliss in favour of pursuing spirituality as a Vanprasth and/or Sanyasi. However, the transient nature and futility of the material possession and outward peace is also explained giving option to the person at the Brahmacharya stage itself to seek the ultimate goal of life i.e. Moksha, if he (or she) is so inclined. Similarly, the Kshatriyas or the warrior classes have been entrusted with the administration, security and welfare of the individuals and society, who are permitted to judiciously engage in violence waging war against the evil-doers for a righteous cause. However, here again the emphasis is more on an inner war to defeat and overcome the demoniac disposition and attributes such as ego, anger, vanity, greed, arrogance, avarice, lust, hypocrisy, ignorance, and so on.

According to Hindu scriptures and teachings of ancient sages, those who are able to conquer material desires and cravings for the worldly possessions are able to live in inner peace eternally alike in cold and heat, pleasure and pain, and praise and criticism, because the Supreme Truth stands revealed in their consciousness. Such people attain permanent peace and harmony because they have no regret or fear for any loss knowing well that every soul comes in this realm empty-handed and will have to leave same way when the time comes irrespective of what they earned or possessed in this world. These people are blessed with the divine attributes of sublimity, forbearance, fortitude, external purity, absence of pride and enmity towards none. By virtue of their deeds, such people are non-violent in thought, word and action, truthful and genial by speech, without anger, and with composure of mind and compassion towards all living beings. Hindu scriptures accorded high value and significance to non-violence, justifying any reprisal or war only for the self-defence and cause of establishing Dharma as per the rule of law of the contemporary society.

Accordingly, Hindu scriptures including Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and other texts provide a large number of hymns/verses, instances and legends addressing the attributes of peace and war. The Srimad Bhagavad is yet another text that very comprehensively addresses every aspect of these two opposite yet related subjects in the form of the dialogue between Shree Krishna and Prince Arjuna in the Kurushetra at the onset of Mahabharata (the Great War) between the two sides of the Kauravas and Pandavas. In the following paragraphs, the two attributes are proposed to be illustrated through a few representative Mantras (hymns/verses) from the ancient scriptures/texts.

Peace: Role of Shanti Mantras

The Shanti Mantras or "Peace Hymns” are, in fact, prayers for peace usually invoking various deities in the Vedas and Upanishads. Apart from the Vedas, they have been more abundantly found in the Principal Upanishads such as Brihadaranyaka, Taittiriya, Kena, Chandogya, Aitareya, Mundaka, Mandukya and Prashna Upanishads These Mantras are usually invoked in the beginning of the topics and are recited at the beginning and close of the Hindu socio-religious rituals and discourses. The principal aim of peace hymns is to calm down the mind of the people engaged in the ritual or ceremony with added belief that the recitation of sacred hymns would remove obstacles, if any, in the task at hand. Most of the Shanti Mantras begin with the syllable Om and invariably end with the same sacred syllable followed by three utterances of “Shanti, Shanti, Shanti”, the literal meaning of the word is “peace”.

The most of peace prayers in Hindu scriptures are not of individual or regional implications and, instead, carry the universal appeal and message of happiness and well-being of all. Besides, they also tend to percolate good vibes in the outer world as well as the inner domain of the living beings, happiness and peace of the both being having cosmic connection. According to Hindu belief, when these sacred syllables are recited by us, this also coveys our kind and benevolent intention of spreading peace and goodness in all creation while experiencing it within the body and mind of ourselves. As already explained, the Shanti Mantras end with the sacred syllable Om (also Auṃ) followed by three utterances of the word "Shanti" i.e. Om! Shanti, Shanti, Shanti! The purpose of thrice utterance of the peace word is essentially to calm down and do away with obstacles in the three realms as follows:

  • The first realm is represented by the Adhi-Bhautika or visible physical realm of the external world, some of which may be a potential source or cause of obstacles such as wild animals, evil-doers, natural calamities, and so on.
  • The second realm relates to the Adhi-Daivika or divine or supernatural forces which could also be a source of obstacles such as the world of spirits, ghosts, demigods and deities.
  • Finally, the third realm is Adhyaatmika or internal forces that could also be a potential cause of obstacles. Usually objects pertain to people’s own body and mind such as various ailments and diseases, seething pain, laziness, or simply absent-mindedness.

As mentioned earlier, the verses of Srimad Bhagavad Gita comprehensively deal with the subjects of peace and war, which the author proposes to take a little later on in the second part. Among all Hindu scriptures, the Rig Veda is of the oldest vintage and one such peace mantra in oblation of the Agni deity is quoted here from this most illustrious and sacred text on general peace and well-being.

Sam gacchadhvam sam vadadhvam sam vo manamsi janatam,
Deva bhaga yath purve samjanana upasate.

Samano mantrah samitih samani samanam manah saha cittam esam,
Samanam mantram abhi mantraye vah samanena vo havisa juhomi.

(Come together, talk together, let your minds be in harmony; in same way as the ancient gods concurring acceptance of their portion of the sacrifice. Common be the prayer of all assembled, common be their end, common be the object, common be the desire. I repeat for all a common prayer, I offer for all with a common oblation.) (Rig Veda 10.191. 1-2)

Thus some of the earliest writings in Hinduism talk about the peace and well-being of all mankind as is clearly apparent with the aforesaid quote from the Rig Veda. As mentioned earlier, Hinduism never pursued a narrow approach as adopted by some other major and dominant religions of the world today. There appears to be no need to identify or call any of them by name(s) because every aware person knows it well how their clergy, influential and ardent followers aggressively argue and publicize worldwide that only their god is the true God and their faith is true religion; and that those who do not follow their God or religion are kafirs and/or sinners, often being even condemned to die by some of these people. On the other hand, Hindus since inception of their culture and faith (Sanatana Dharma) always talked about one universal God with many attributes and manifestations as well as universal brotherhood, praying peace, happiness and well-being of the entire mankind without exercising any discretion or discrimination.

Evidently, India has the longest history and tradition in the world advocating harmonious relationship and peaceful co-existence between man and nature (material and ethereal realms). This is vindicated from the fact that the ancient Hindus had a faith and veneration for everything in the nature, which was found useful for man in some way. This spirit of Hindus could be understood from the fact that they deified and worshiped even mountains, rivers, plants and animals since ancient age, which gave life and energy for the ease of human living. This Vedic practice has been kept alive till date with almost every practicing Hindu following these precepts. No other culture and religion in the world addresses this green and livable planet as mother earth or goddess Prithvi as Hindus do. While the West and Islamic world had been unscrupulously exploiting the natural resources of the earth till recently because they believed that every other thing in nature was created by God for their consumption, but the real worth of which was learnt by the Indians in the Vedic age itself, who considered themselves more as a trustee or guardian of natural resources praying for its long continuity and prosperity with balanced use to leave a healthy planet for future generation. This spirit of Hinduism is truly reflected in the following hymns of the Yajur Veda.

Om dyauh santir antariksam santih
Prithvi santir apah santir osadhayah santih,
Vanaspatayah santir vishvedevah santir brahma santih
Sarvam santih santir eva santih sa ma santir edhi,
Om santih santih santih.

{Let there be peace in heaven, peace in the sky, peace on the earth. Let there be peace (refer to coolness and freshness) in water, peace (refer to healing power) in the herbs and trees. Let there be peace in all devas, peace in Brahman (God), peace in all things peace at all times; let that peace come to me.)} (Yajur Veda 36.17)

For the sake of brevity, the English text of yet another Yajur Veda hymn (7.52) is reproduced here, which does not invoke the word “Shanti” recurrently but in essence it only emphasizes about concordance i.e. peace and agreement among various entities, union of minds and objects and avoid conflicts in the universe.

Let us have concord with our own people and concord with people who are strangers to us. Ashwins (Celestial Twins) create between us and the strangers a unity of hearts. May we unite in our minds, unite in our purposes, and not fight against the heavenly spirit within us. Let not the battle-cry rise amidst many slain, nor the arrows of the war-god fall with the break of day.

Another very sacred and widely used Shanti Mantra from the Brihadarankya Upanishad is popularly known as Pavamana, which literally means "being purified, strained". The mantra was originally recited by the Vedic priests or patrons as the introductory praise meant to be recited during soma sacrifice.

Om, asato ma sad gamaya
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya
Mrtyor ma 'mrtam gamaya
Om! santih santih santih.

(From untruth lead me to truth; from darkness lead me to light; from death lead me to immortality; Om peace, peace, peace.) (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.3.28)

In the aforesaid Mantra, the three statements are often referred to as the three Pavamana Mantras. The first line of statement has been variously translated by scholars in the past. For instance, Indologist Patrick Olivelle used terms ‘unreal and real’ and Swami Madhavananda ‘evil and good’ for asato and sad respectively. However, modern scholars relate the meaning of truth to Brahman (God) as the Sanskrit meaning of ‘sad’ or ‘sat’ is truth or what is real. Philosophically, the rejection of the material world is foreseen in terms untruth, darkness and death with the patron invoking the transcendental reality of attaining immortality. Pavamana Mantra has been in frequent use in the modern age so much so that it was recently quoted as an opening statement for the Economic Survey of the Government of India 2021.

Yet another very popular and altruistic Shanti Mantra is mentioned here, which is so often found quoted at the beginning of books or towards the end as a religious prayer:

Om sarve bhavantu sukhinah,
Sarve santu niramayah,
Sarve bhadrani pashyantu,
Ma kashcid-duhkha-bhaag-bhaveta
Om shantih shantih shantih.

(Om! May all be prosperous and happy; may all be free from illness; may all see what is auspicious; may no one suffer. Om! Peace, peace, peace.)

Although some sources on internet have quoted it from the Brihadarankya Upanishad but on verification it could not be substantiated. The actual origin of this popular Mantra could not be traced by the author from any well known scripture but a slightly modified Mantra carrying almost similar emotive meaning was found in the Garuda Purana (Uttarkanda, 35.51). In the aforesaid Mantra, the first line or statement appears as “Sarvesam Mangalam bhuyat”, the verbatim translation of which is very akin to “Sarve bhavantu sukhinah” and rest of the text is exactly same repetition. In fact, a large number of Shanti Mantras exist in various Upanishads and other Hindu texts, repetition of all such verses would only make the write up lengthy and cumbersome.

Although the scriptures clearly establish the relevance and interconnectivity of the outward and inner peace but focus has all along remained on the latter. This inner peace arises in an equipoise mind when the person is able to learn and gain mastery over the art of letting go. The majority in this world nurtures a materialistic approach with the habit of clinging onto the sensory objects with a tendency to keep a tight grip on mundane objects, thoughts, things, people we love or even people we dislike, and so on. Failures and disappointment with these things becomes a source of frustration, despair and grief for the person. In such an environment, chanting these peace hymns serve as simple yet powerful tools for people to recover and change their lives for good. Achieving the inner peace is a daunting yet the most rewarding job that everyone should try to cultivate.

Chanting Shanti Mantras is Beneficial

Most of the Shanti Mantras carry deep philosophical and spiritual meaning and message. For instance, the syllable Om followed by Shanti thrice reminds us the Supreme Power (Brahman, God) and acknowledgement of looking for peace of our body, mind and soul. Accordingly, the sincere and soulful chanting of Shanti Mantras is beneficial to us in various ways as briefly illustrated here:

  • It purifies and relieves us from negative energy, thoughts and feelings.
  • It relieves the body and mind from undue stress, sorrow and sufferings.
  • A systematic and scientific chanting associated with yogic discipline helps in minimizing and even completely eliminating physical, internal and divine obstacles.
  • The practitioner acknowledges the presence of God and peace in the cosmos and in return receives it back too with the divine grace.
  • It helps in developing positive feeling and virtues within the self considered as the divine attributes.
  • The long term accumulated experiences of chanting may open up noble spiritual vistas and positive developments in the practitioner’s life.
  • The immediate effects of many such mantras include the practitioner experiencing calming down and deep relaxation of the body and mind.

Scriptures on War & Conflicts

Hindu scriptures, particularly Vedas and Upanishads, considered the virtues of Ahimsa (non-violence) and Satya (truth) as core values, which naturally goes against the war and conflicts that essentially involve physical and/or mental violence. Accordingly, while one could find specific peace hymns in nearly all ancient Hindu texts, any explicit references of hymns and verses glorifying violence, war and conflicts are generally missing. The very precepts of Ahimsa naturally justify that war and conflicts must be avoided and contentious issues shall be solved with sincere and committed dialogue. If at all war becomes unavoidable, its cause and purpose must be legitimate, justifiable and lawful in self-defence with application of only commensurate force to restrain or punish the evil or enemy forces. In other words, it should be a righteous war to establish Dharma. In one of the later post-Vedic treaties namely Arthashastra, among other related aspects the subject of the proportionate response and punishment during war has also been meticulously discussed by the author.

The scriptural teachings discarding violence are part of the doctrine of Ahimsa, and the limited violence that is permitted in Hindu texts is mostly centred on the Kshatriyas or the warrior community. Ahimsa is also often pronounced as ‘Ahinsa’, and is derived from the Sanskrit root hims; while himsa is injury or harm, ahimsa is non-harming or non-violence to any living creature. As “Ahimsa Paramo Dharma” (non-violence is ultimate righteous duty) remained one of the core tenets of Hinduism since Vedic age, the underlying philosophy behind Ahimsa has been that all living beings are blessed with the same divine spiritual energy; therefore, any injury or harm to other living beings is akin to causing injury or harm to self. This is the reason why Hindu scriptures, including two post-Vedic age great epics Mahabaharata and Ramayana accorded high virtue and value to Ahimsa justifying any reprisal or war only for the self-defence and for the establishment of Dharma as per the rule of law of the contemporary society.

As already well established, the Rig Veda is the oldest known scripture that laid down the basic tenets and actions of the Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism). It does talk about Ahimsa and references including do’s and don’ts of war in hymns of different Mandalas. For example, Rig Veda hymn 10.22.25 uses the words Ahimsa and Satya (truthfulness) in a prayer to deity Indra; similarly, the term Ahimsa used in the Taittiriya Shakha of the Yajurveda (, where it refers to non-injury to the sacrificer himself. Also, it is mentioned in the Shatapatha Brahmana in the context of "non-injury". Non-violence towards animals finds reference in Yajurveda at many places endorsing a cordial and compassionate relationship among the living beings in a manner that “all beings look at me with a friendly eye, and I do likewise”. Then a number of verses of the Rig Veda hymn 6.75 dedicated to deity Indra also refer to different war related aspects including eventualities unjust in the righteous conduct of war. For illustration, such contingencies provided that someone should not be attacked from behind, it would be a cowardice act to poison the tip of arrow, and any sick and old, or women and children should not be attacked during war. An emotive translation of the Rig Veda hymn 1.39.2 reads as under.

May your weapons be strong to drive away the attackers,
May your arms be powerful enough to counter the foes,
Let your army be glorious, not the evil-doer.

The Sanskrit statement “Ahimsa Parmo Dharmah” finds a mention at many places with added qualification in Hindu texts, more particularly in the great Epic Mahabharata in Adi Parva and Vana Parva. While narrating the duties of Brahmanas in Adi Parva, it reads in one instance as follows: “He (Brahmana) should be benevolent to all creatures, truthful, and forgiving, even as it is his paramount duty to retain the Vedas in his memory...To be stern, to wield the sceptre and to rule the subjects properly are the duties of the Kshatriya.” The author could not lay hands on the exact origin of the phrase but the modern age scholars and saints maintain that the interested people have picked up only first part of it to glorify Ahimsa while the full text of the Sanskrit phrase reads as under:

Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah
Dharma himsa tathaiva cha.

(Non-violence is the ultimate dharma. So too is violence in service of Dharma.)

Thus the phrase underlines the virtue of non-violence as being the greatest Dharma (righteous duty) but violence for the cause of Dharma is also simultaneously justified. Even if, this Sanskrit phrase is not part of any scripture or Epic Mahabharata, the philosophy and spirit of it is in consonance with what Shree Krishna told Prince Arjuna during his discourse in Kurushetra about the great war. Hence even if the phrase does not contain the legacy of any ancient Hindu scripture, its application in letter and spirit is fully justified in the current age. Such an eventuality may usually occur due to external aggression by an enemy country or even owing to horrendous situation such as a terror attack created by evil-doers internally. Several treaties have been written in the post-Vedic age referring to such eventualities requiring commensurate punitive response by the authority. An example of Vishnugupta (Chanakya)’s Arthshastra is already given in the foregoing paragraphs in the same context.

The philosophy of non-violence is definitely against the war and various Hindu texts favour resolution of differences and conflicts through a sincere, sustained and truthful dialogue. However, if a war becomes imminent, the righteous people or side must go to war with the wrong-doer or aggressor with the commensurate and proportionate response objectively to punish the aggressor and restore peace and harmony as early as feasible. In the modern age, a war among the nations can only be initiated and terminated by a legitimate authority; say the head of state i.e. the King or elected President or Prime Minister, as the case may be. Weapons and war equipment used must be proportionate to the adversary’s potential and to meet the objective rather than causing indiscriminate destruction and devastation. Wounded and unarmed soldiers should not be attacked or killed; if caught, they must be well-treated, given due medical treatment and released at the earliest as per international protocol in vogue. Although like the ancient age, the ethics of war and rules of engagement are internationally evolved and applicable but the rogue nations and evil-doers merrily violate it in the modern age too as asuras habitually did it in the ancient age.

The ancient Hindu Shastras used the term Dharma-yuddha for a war, which is a Sanskrit composition formed from the combination of two roots/words: Of the two, Dharma refers to righteousness while Yuddha means warfare. The scriptures called it Dharma-yuddha because according to them, even a war should also be fought on certain principles and righteous cause to achieve intended goal(s) following certain rules which are fair and just to both sides. For instance, in a righteous war, only equals will fight equals i.e. the king, commander or an accomplished warrior of one side will engage the warriors of the same status in the enemy army. Similarly, the chariot warrior would avoid attacking the cavalry or infantry soldiers of the opposite army. The ancient war rules forbade the use of the celestial/special weapons on the rival warrior not in possession of such weapons or the ordinary soldiers of the enemy side. The rules of engagement also provided that the rival warrior should not be attacked while having lost or dropped his weapon or sought a temporary/brief time out. Dharma-yuddha also provided that the life of prisoners, women, children and non-combatants was spared, and armed hostilities stopped with the fall of dusk/night. Although mode and means of war have undergone drastic changes ever since, yet ethics and rules of war still have same relevance and significance for the human cause.

Continued to Part LXXIV 


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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