Violence Is a Choice

Violence Is a Choice

“Violence is a disease of human beings, but it is not so for animals. For animals, it is their nature. There is no possibility of nonviolence at the animal level; hence they have no idea of violence. Violence is a natural thing for animals – nonviolence is impossible. Violence is a disease that man has inherited from animals, and it is obstructing the evolution of his consciousness. As soon as his consciousness starts to evolve, his past becomes a bondage for him. Someone who is evolving is also every day tied to his past.

So, a person who wants to evolve must each moment break from his past and move forward.

“It can be said that someone who does not want to wipe out his past is denying his evolution….

“The animal heritage is man’s past; we have all passed through that stage. This fact is confirmed by science as well as religion. Some years ago, Darwin declared that man is descended from the animals. But thousands of years before Darwin, here in India, Mahavira, Buddha, and Krishna declared to the world that man’s soul evolved from the animals. The last link in man’s past was an animal. And before stepping onto the next link, he will have to disconnect from the previous one.

Being human is a state of transition, a bridge over which the animal passes to be transformed into godhood….

“But we experience the past as something heavy because it is the known. It is not so easy to be free of it, to get rid of it. We start feeling that we are our past. Millions of years ago, when humans were cavemen living in caves in the mountains with no fire and no way to light lamps, a fear of darkness entered man’s mind. The fear from those times pursues people even today. Now there is no darkness outside – there are no caves surrounded by darkness – but in spite of this, the fear of darkness remains even today. This fear, which entered man’s mind millions of years ago, pursues him still; it is still part of him.

“I have used fear as an illustration.

In exactly the same way, violence is an imprint carried by man from his past as an animal.

“Animals cannot survive without violence and we cannot live with violence. Man is not born violent, but we see that for many thousands of years man has done nothing but fight. He does not live, he just fights. It would be no exaggeration to say that man lives simply to fight.

“Thousands of wars have been fought in the last three thousand years. Those many thousands of wars were on a grand scale – but we quarrel and fight with one another twenty-four hours a day. It is difficult to find even a few moments in twenty-four hours when we are not involved in some kind of fight. Sometimes we fight with enemies, sometimes with friends, sometimes for wealth, sometimes for fame. We fight for status, and then our fight takes on a political dimension. We fight for wealth, and our greed becomes exploitation.

Sometimes we fight for no reason; the habit of fighting just makes us fight.

“When a man goes hunting, he fights without a cause; he fights and calls it sport. Man has sought and developed sports to satisfy his fighting instinct. All our sports are small forms, miniatures, of fights. Sports are our fights – futile fights, without reason. And when we have no reason to fight, even then we want to fight without a cause. If we cannot enter actual warfare, we can fight to win in a game of chess. Even in chess it is not a surprise if swords are drawn! Deep down, there is a strong desire to defeat others, so even in a game of chess the urge to fight with others is there.

“All our sports are different forms of warfare. Either we can say that our sports are different forms of warfare or we can even say that warfare is our most terrible sport. But man is fighting. What we call relationship is also a fight. If a traveler from planet Mars comes and watches a husband and wife for twenty-four hours, he will not believe that these two people had agreed to live together. His understanding will be that these two people have agreed to keep fighting twenty-four hours a day! Perhaps what we call family is an organization of people who have decided, ‘We will fight and never leave!’

“Life is full of violence on all sides; it is a disease of mankind. It may be inevitable for animals but not for humans. It should be remembered that with each new step in evolution, new responsibilities and new burdens are also assumed.

Every step in evolution is a step toward greater responsibility.

“Nonviolence has become a responsibility since the day we left our animal heritage and evolved into man, because the flower of being human can never blossom in the midst of violence. Man can only fully blossom in an atmosphere of love. That is why I say nonviolence is health, violence is a disease. A more dangerous disease than violence perhaps does not exist.

“It is difficult to find a human being who is not mentally ill.

What we call normal, healthy, does not mean health; it only means normal madness.

“It only means that all the other people are insane in the same amount: it is average madness. What we call mad is in fact ‘abnormal’ – someone has gone beyond the average. He has made a jump. Perhaps we are all mad people boiling at ninety degrees, and so those whom we call mad, those evaporating at a hundred degrees, have ‘become mad.’ There is no qualitative difference between us; it is only a matter of quantity….

“To be violent means to have a mind which is always restless unless it is quarreling, a mind which cannot be content without hurting someone or making someone miserable. Naturally, a mind which is eager to hurt others, or whose only intention is to make others miserable can never be happy. Deep inside, such a mind will be miserable.

It is a profound law that we can only give to others what we have within ourselves; we cannot give anything else.

“When I am eager to give misery to others, it only means that I am filled with misery and I want to push it onto someone else. Just as the clouds shower rain on the earth when they are filled with water, when we are filled with misery, we start throwing misery on others.

“The thorns with which we want to pierce others have to first be born in our beings – where else will we bring those thorns from? The pain that we inflict upon others, we have to endure its birth pangs within ourselves first.

The darkness that we want to spread to other people’s houses is not possible without extinguishing our own lamp.

“If my lamp is lit and I come to spread darkness in your house, the opposite will happen – together with me, your house will be lit: darkness will not happen.

“Someone who is interested in violence toward others has become violent to himself too; he has been violent to himself. Hence I will like to give you a maxim, and that is: violence is the evolution of violence toward oneself. When we are violent to ourselves inside, that violence overflows, spreads over like a flood, breaks the banks, and so reaches others. So, a violent person can never be healthy; he will be unhealthy within. Inside him there cannot be harmony, balance, and concord. He will be filled with discordance, conflict, and struggle. Someone who wants to be violent with others must first be violent with himself. That is a prerequisite.

Hence, to me, violence is inner conflict.

“It spreads onto others and becomes their misery, and when its seeds sprout and grow within, it becomes conflict, inner struggle, and inner pain for that person. Violence is a condition of inner conflict, inner disharmony, inner strife, inner discordance. Violence fights with the other later; first it fights with oneself and so moves forward. Each violent person is fighting with himself.

One who is fighting with himself cannot be sane: sanity itself means harmony.

“A sane person is one who has achieved harmony, synchronicity, and rhythm within himself. The imprint of harmony and music on the faces of Mahavira or Buddha is not even seen on the faces of master musicians sitting with a harp in their hands. It is seen in Mahavira, though his hand is devoid of a harp. That kind of music cannot come from a harp. It is a symphony of the soul within, which spreads and flows out in all directions….

“Violence is man’s conditioning, which was an inevitable part of the process of evolution from his life as a beast. Just as if someone comes out from a room filled with soot, his body is covered with soot, it spreads onto his clothes – it is inevitable. Animals can be forgiven because violence is unavoidable in their lives. Man cannot be forgiven because violence is now his choice: it is not inevitable that he choose violence….

“Violence is inevitable for animals; for man it is a responsibility. It is a fact for beasts, for man it is merely a prehistoric memory. It is the present for beasts, the past for man.

We have a choice before us. We can make a decision to be nonviolent, or decide to be violent. When someone decides to be violent, no beast can compete with him.

In fact, no beast can be as violent as a man because a beast is violent by nature and man becomes violent by design. Search the whole animal kingdom and you will not find beasts as violent as Genghis Khan, or Tamerlane, or Nadir Shah, or Hitler or Mao or Stalin. If we consult all the beasts of history trying to find a parallel for Stalin or Genghis Khan, and ask if they had similar examples, they would reply, ‘We are very poor in that respect; we have no memory, no recollection of such degrees of violence.’ It is interesting to know that no animal besides man becomes so violent toward its own species. No animal will kill a member of its own species, no animal will commit violence against it. This is a distinguishing feature of the violence of mankind as opposed to that of animals.

Man is the only animal who kills his own kind.

“It is an interesting fact that if an Indian wolf is left near a Pakistani wolf, it will not harm it; but to leave an Indian person near a Pakistani is dangerous. Language experts say this might be due to differences in language, and they seem to be right. They say that neither wolf speaks any language; the Pakistani wolf does not speak Urdu and the Indian wolf does not speak Hindi, so they don’t know they are foreigners.

“But a man from one province becomes a foreigner in another province. Gujaratis are foreigners in Maharashtra. Hindi-speaking people are foreigners to Tamil speakers. If what the linguists say is correct, and I feel there is some truth in it, we shall be compelled to make man silent one day, just to make him a human being. Perhaps it will be difficult to create humanity in the world without becoming silent….

Man is rational only in the sense that he rationalizes his follies, he is not rational in any other sense.

“Aristotle certainly said that man is a rational animal, but the history of mankind until now does not support him. History has disproved Aristotle. Man seems to be intelligent in one thing only: rationalizing his faults. Even when he kills someone, he rationalizes his action. He says, ‘I have to kill him because he is a Mohammedan, he is a Hindu. He is not an Indian, he is a Pakistani,’ and so on. As if being a Pakistani or a Mohammedan is sufficient reason to kill him.

“Men will find reasons to kill. A man is rich, he should be killed; a man is a communist, he should be killed. As the old reasons become worthless, new ones are found. New reasons replace the old ones that have become useless, which cannot be used now: ‘Let’s find new ones. Until now we have been killing many Hindus and Muslims, let’s make Hindus and Jainas quarrel now. If we don’t succeed in making Hindus and Jainas quarrel, let’s start dividing them into rich and poor, let’s have a class war.’

So people find convenient reasons whenever they want to commit violence, to kill.

“Animals never kill without reason. I am telling you this because if you can understand man’s violence, you will see that his violence is without reason. Violence is his choice, so no animal can be as cruel and as violent as man. Violence is natural for animals; it is not out of choice. But among mankind there can be a Nadir Shah and there can be a Mahavira. Nonviolence is not a choice for animals, but for man this choice has to be made.

“We have seen the valleys of men such as Nadir Shah, Stalin, and Mao, we have also seen the peaks like Mahavira, Krishna, and Christ.

Both are our potential.

Those valleys are the memories of our past, and the peaks are the longings for our future.”


Excerpted and abridged from: Osho, The Art of Living, Talk #6 – Transcending the Animal Heritage

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