We must discriminate between absolute non-violence and relative
non-violence. Absolute non-violence means not even raising a hand even to defend oneself
from unjust attack. Relative non-violence means only using violence to defend oneself and
one's community. Relative non-violence is appropriate for communities and for those who
have not renounced the world, and above all for the Kshatriya or noble class of people who
cannot idly stand by in the face of oppression.
Absolute non-violence - that is, not resorting to force even to defend one's life and
property - is a Dharma in Hinduism for Sannyasins or those who have renounced the world,
and therefore have nothing to defend. Yet even Swamis
can use force to protect their country should they choose when their country is attacked.
We note that in the course of Indian history that monks and Brahmins at times found it
necessary to resort to violence to defend their religion and their country against
The Indian independence movement received much impetus from
Swamis and Yogis in Bengal around the turn of the century, including such figures as Sri
Aurobindo and Sister Nivedita, the fiery Irish woman disciple of Vivekananda, who
advocated the use of force to overthrow the British. Freedom fighters who advocated the
use of force against the British, included Tilak, Aurobindo, and Savarkar. These figures
also followed the teachings of Yoga and Vedanta and were not necessarily less spiritually
minded than Gandhi, whom they did criticize for his excessive ahimsa.