Saturday, June 11, 2005

An Ethical dilemma-II

Gandhiji soon had to answer to yet again, regarding the calf that he had had put down.

September 22, 1928


This is my argument, in the fewest possible words, about my deliberately killing the calf.

1. The calf was in great pain. It had been under doctors’ treatment and they had given up all hopes. We could give it no help. Four or five men were required to turn it on its side, and even then this caused it pain. In this condition, I thought that dharma lay in killing it.

2. I see dharma in applying to human beings, in similar circumstances, the rule which I apply to other creatures. There are fewer occasions of acting in that way towards human beings, because we have more means of helping them and more knowledge for doing so. But history tells of occasions, and we can imagine others, in which there might be non-violence in killing a person, in the same way that there is non-violence in an operation performed by a surgeon.

3. The argument that he who cannot create life has no right to destroy it and that no one can violate another’s dharma does not apply in a case like this. That argument can be advanced only for the purpose of preventing violence, that is, cruelty. It may be itself an act of violence to advance such an argument to a person about whose non-violent motives we have no doubt at all, for it is likely to confuse the reason of such a person if he is not vigilant enough and may dissuade him from performing an act of non-violence.

4. It is necessary to bear three points in mind in order to understand the non-violence of the act in question:

(1) It is ignorance to believe that every act of killing is violence.
(2) As there is violence in killing, so also there is violence in inflicting what we regard as lesser suffering.
(3) Violence and non-violence are mental attitudes, they concern the feelings in our heart. A slap given through anger is pure violence, whereas a slap given to a person bitten by a snake to keep him awake is pure non-violence.

Many other arguments can be deduced from this. If you wish to ask me any question exclusively concerning dharma, please do. You can use this letter in any place and in any manner you wish to. My only aim in life is to discover dharma, know it and follow it. I do not wish to breathe a single moment if I cannot do that.

Vandemataram from