Is Violence Ever Justified?


Is violence ever justified? According to several countries, "the 'enemy' occupied our land, killed us, kicked us out, is backed by powerful countries, so the UN and the rest of the world abandoned us, etc. So carrying weapons and shooting back at the aggressor is the only solution because diplomacy will not free our land and it’s self-defense.” For example, Palestinians vs. Israelis, black people in South Africa retrieving land from whites (not taking sides, only trying to illustrate the point). What about the Mahabharata war?

—Kouki, Lebanon


​Dear Kouki,

Each day I hear of the troubles in Lebanon and my thoughts and prayers go out to you and your beautiful land.

Is violence ever justified? Yes. There are times when violence is justified, even as we see Krishna exhorting the Pandavas (after trying every other peaceful approach which failed) in the Bhagavad Gita to resort to war in defense of dharma.

As it relates, however, to the circumstances that you describe such as the Israelis, Palestinians, and so forth, let us ask ourselves: Has ​​it worked? Has peace been achieved through violent means? No, it has only gotten worse.

In part, this is because the issues are not clear.  They are not “black and white.” It’s one thing to overthrow British occupation (a clear case of foreign occupation, in other words) but in the case of Israel, both groups have certain legitimate claims. I think, for example, of Kashmir! What a complicated situation made worse by certain government actions on all sides.

In freeing India, Mahatma Gandhi did not advocate violence. This was one of the greatest acts and lessons of the twentieth century. It was supposed to have served as a lesson and a tool for other peoples in similar situations. The twentieth century saw perhaps a hundred million people slaughtered by government action as well as terrorist actions, ethnic cleansing and on and on.

Yet, Paramhansa Yogananda stated that Mahatma Gandhi’s methods would not have worked on Adolf Hitler. So there are times when self-defense justifies taking up arms. We may have to fight for freedom but we don’t have to hate to achieve our goal.

There are no easy answers to these questions. I think the real question is more: “How can I live and practice ahimsa (non-violence) in my life? How can I be less judgmental? Less angry? Less willing to get even when I am criticized. Less inclined to gossip or otherwise to fuel bad feelings among and about other people?”

Can anger ever result in peace? (Only if it is truly “righteous” anger: energy stirred up in a just cause, not directed at individuals as such but needed to raise the energy necessary to take action against unjust laws, groups, or governments.)

In your neighborhood, clan, family or group, can you be a peacemaker? You can only do so if first, you have experienced inner peace through silence, prayer, and meditation. Peace to such a depth that you can remain calm even if your efforts are criticized or rebuffed. Test yourself first and see how strong are you.

Each of us must “be the change we seek in the world.” It is far more difficult to change oneself than to identify the faults of others. Walk the narrow path of the yogi, saint, or Sufi: self-contained, at peace and yet radiating that peace and wisdom to all whom you meet. If it is your dharma to act in political or social ways, the remedy is still the same: change yourself and put on the armor of God’s peace within you!

May you and your country find peace, prosperity, and harmony.

Nayaswami Hriman
Seattle WA USA