Religious Studies

Hinduism: attitudes towards fighting and warfare

Most religions offer teaching on war and conflict. And over time religion has been at the heart of conflict between nations.

Hindu sacred texts on war

Hindu attitudes to war and peace are based on the teachings of Hindu sacred texts such as the Vedas, the Laws of Manu and the Bhagavad Gita.

Ahimsa (a very important belief in Hinduism) means trying to fight injustice and evil but without using any physical force.

Many Hindus believe that any violence is always wrong. This includes fighting in a war or killing animals for meat. They believe that actions like this will produce bad , karma (meaning all actions have consequences). However, war is not forbidden in Hinduism. The gods of the Vedas are asked to send prayers to help in battles and to take soldiers who are killed in battle straight to the afterlife. It is the dharma (duty) of Kshatriyas, the warrior caste, to fight in battles when required.

In the Bhagavad Gita (sacred text) Krishna (an avatar of the God Vishnu) has a discussion with a Kshatriya called Arjuna. Arjuna does not want to fight but Krishna explains that it is his duty.

Think thou also of thy duty and do not waver. There is no greater good for a warrior than to fight in a righteous war.

Bhagavad Gita 2:31

Therefore, within Hinduism, there are different opinions about violence and fighting.

Hindu rules of warfare

The Hindu approach to war and peace are found in many of the scriptures, but the Laws of Manu, the Rig Veda and the Mahabarata make important points.

The Laws of Manu tell Hindus about the right ways to behave during war. It says that Kshatriyas should fight out of duty. They must show honour and mercy and not attack the elderly, women or children. Also they must not attack people who are asleep or who have surrendered.

Some Hindus believe that these teachings are for all time while others think that they do not apply to modern wars where civilians are often injured or killed and there is very little face-to-face combat.

The Mahabarata (in the Bhagavad Gita [Bhagavad Gita: The Song of the Lord. Spoken by Krishna, this is the most important scripture for most Hindus. Tradition dates it back to 3,000 years BCE, though most scholars attribute it to the first millennium BCE. Considered an Upanishad. ]) expresses the Hindu attitude to war and peace through the terrible dilemma faced by Arjuna. Arjuna faced going into battle against his kinsmen, his cousins and teachers and the thought of the slaughter that would follow appalled him. Krishna gave him the advice that it is sometimes necessary to fight a just war to overcome evil forces. Krishna reminds Arjuna that to fight for peace, justice and truth is to fulfil the law of God.

The Rig Veda says:

The warrior should not poison the tip of his arrow, he must not attack the sick or the old, a child, or a woman or from behind. These are sinful acts and lead to hell even if the warrior is the winner.

Rig Veda 6

MK Gandhi

Gandhi

Gandhi

The great Hindu leader MK Gandhi taught that violence was always wrong regardless of circumstances.

Gandhi practised a belief called satyagraha or peaceful, non-violent protest.

He believed that victory could be gained without violence. Throughout his life he demonstrated his commitment to this belief.

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