The 2nd of October, marks Gandhi’s birthday and as a result of India’s suggestion at the UN, it also marks the International Day of Nonviolence.

It’s a terrible indictment on global society that we have to have a special day to mark such a supremely moral attitude and behaviour. This concept – nonviolence – is not new as its roots can be traced back to the concept of ahimsa meaning “not to injure” and “compassion” which is a central tenet of religions such as Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism and Gandhi was a big fan.

But nonviolence as a concept doesn’t just exist as the central tenet of these three religions. It can be found in all the world’s major religions and in secular thought.

Do not hurt others with that which hurts yourself – the Buddha

This is the sum of duty: do nothing unto others which would cause you pain if done to you – Mahabharata, XIII:114

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – Matthew 7 v.12

No one of you is a true believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself – Prophet Muhammad

What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the law: all the rest is commentary – Talmud, Shabbat 31a

In Happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self – Mahavira

Don’t create enmity with anyone as God is within all – Guru Granth Sahib

Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself. – Baha’u’llah, tablets of baha’u’llah, 71

When you treat others as you would have them treat you, you liberate yourself – Silo

If we would summarise all these beautiful expressions of nonviolence in one phrase we would say “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” This is also known as the Golden Rule and there are hundreds of variations of it throughout human history.

Yet in order to understand what nonviolence is, we also have to understand what violence is. And to understand these concepts we have to understand that both of them can be experienced by human beings, whether the violence or nonviolence is given or received. This experience is registered by human beings and this register we can define as “the experience of the sensation produced by stimuli detected by either internal or external senses, including memories and imagination.”

This may sound very theoretical and some readers will have already stopped reading by this point, but it’s crucially important because without this understanding of “registers” a precise definition of violence is not possible. Violence ultimately is what creates pain and suffering in human beings. Pain and suffering is registered by the body and therefore these registers indicate a state of violence.

The Argentinean writer and spiritual guide, and the inspiration behind Pressenza, Silo understood this clearly and was able to explain:

When people speak of violence, generally what they mean is physical violence, the most overt expression of corporal aggression. Other forms of violence, among others, economic, racial, religious, and sexual violence, can sometimes take place while their character is hidden, nevertheless resulting in the submerging or enslavement of human intention and liberty. In cases where these forms of violence are exercised openly, they are also at times then applied through physical coercion. Every form of violence has discrimination as a correlate.[1]

He also wrote:

We denounce violence as the fundamental problem of the present moment. All individual and social conflicts stem from a situation of violence.

We distinguish between numerous forms of violence and we are not just referring to its most evident manifestation, physical violence, which we find in wars, torture, terrorism, assassinations, assaults and physical punishment. There is also economic violence known as exploitation. There is racial violence known as discrimination and segregation. There is also religious violence, known as fanaticism or intolerance.

And there is also a psychological violence that begins within the family, it continues to be found in education, and it ends up putting the young to sleep and turning them into nihilists. This in turn opens up an abyss between the generations and this abyss threatens the stability of the individual and society.

So let us not be surprised when someone responds with physical violence if we have subjected them to inhuman psychological pressures or the pressures of exploitation, discrimination or intolerance. And if this response should surprise us it is either because we are an interested party of the injustice (in which case our “surprise” is also a lie) or because we only see the effects without noticing the causes that determine this explosion.[2]

So on this International Day of Nonviolence take some time to reflect on the sources of pain and suffering in your life. Think about them, study them and look for a way to change them. You don’t have to change everything in one go. Change one thing at a time. If it works, take encouragement from it and change the next thing. Find what causes the pain and the suffering, look for the root as best as you can and do something to change it.

To finish, here’s another quotation by Silo from his book “Humanise the Earth”:

Here is my question: As life goes by, is it happiness or suffering that grows within you? Do not ask that I define these words; answer instead according to what you feel. . . Though you may be wise and powerful, if happiness and liberty do not grow in you and in those around you, I will reject your example. Accept, instead, my proposal: Follow the model of that which is being born, not that which takes the path toward death. Leap over your suffering, and it will not be the abyss but life that grows within you.[3]

Happiness is inextricably linked to the practice of nonviolence. Happy International Day of Nonviolence. May the Force of Nonviolence be with you!

[1] Dictionary of New Humanism,

[2] Speech written by Silo and given in September 1982

[3] Humanise the Earth.