I recently reread ABY and was struck how different the non-violence message of Mahatma Gandhi is from Krishna's instruction to Arjuna in the BG that it is his duty to fight evil. To fight or not to fight evil, that is the question. I would be interested to hear your opinion how these opposing spiritual viewpoints might be reconciled.


Eric Elbers

—Eric Elbers, Canada


Hello Eric,

This is an excellent question. In answer, allow me to offer what Swami Kriyananda wrote in conveying Paramhansa Yogananda’s viewpoint on this topic in The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita:

Mahatma Gandhi’s belief of the rightness of ahimsa (non-violence) is both valid and not valid. One should always, certainly, hold an attitude of ahimsa. That is to say, one should never wish harm on anyone or anything. As Swami Sri Yukteswar said, however, “This world is inconveniently arranged for a literal practice of ahimsa.” Sri Yukteswar’s advice concerned the killing of mosquitoes. Many insects are harmful to human life, and should therefore be kept under control. It would be difficult, moreover, if not impossible to avoid treading on and killing small insects; when driving ones car to avoid killing the insects flying against ones windshield; when cooking, not to kill harmful bacteria; even when inhaling, not to destroy tiny, invisible creatures. The scriptural proscription against doing harm refers, Sri Yukteswar explained, to one’s attitude. One should not wish harm to anything, but one may be obliged to kill harmful creatures. Indeed, to protect them at the expense of human life would be a sin, for man’s body is more highly evolved spiritually than that of any lower animal.

If a lunatic were to enter your neighborhood and start shooting at people, assuming there was no other way of restraining him it might be karmically right, as well as necessary, to kill him. Better one deserved death than many that are undeserved.

There are times, as I said, when war is right, because necessary. Krishna, representing the voice of God, had declared at Kurukshetra that the side of the Pandavas was right and just. For Arjuna to refuse his duty as a warrior in that war would have been, not a virtue, but a sin.

As an interesting aside, Paramhansa Yogananda remarked on at least one occasion that the reason Gandhi’s ahimsa movement succeeded was that it was directed toward the British, who understood and appreciated nobility of character and action. He added that, if the Indians instead had been under the rule of the Soviets, the adherents of ahimsa would have been butchered.

It all boils down (as it so often does) to one’s inward attitude much more than one’s outward actions. That is why, even if a deeply ingrained habit forces us to do something wrong, it is less of a wrong if we are inwardly resisting the habit even as we act, than if we are fully invested in continuing the habit.

I hope this is helpful.