QUESTIONER: KRISHNA WAS ESSENTIALLY A SPIRITUAL MAN, BUT HE FREELY TOOK PART IN POLITICS. AND AS A POLITICIAN HE DID NOT SHRINK FROM USING THE TRICKS OF THE TRADE. IN THE BATTLE OF THE MAHABHARAT HE GOT BISHMA KILLED BY DECEIT — A NAKED WOMAN WAS MADE TO STAND BEFORE THAT VENERATED OLD SAGE, WHO WAS A VOWED CELIBATE. IN THE SAME WAY, DECEPTION WAS USED TO KILL DRONACHARYA, KARNA, AND DURYODHANA.
THE QUESTION ARISES: SHOULD A SPIRITUAL MAN TAKE PART IN POLITICS, AND IF SO, SHOULD HE BEHAVE AS ORDINARY POLITICIANS DO? AND, WAS MAHATMA GANDHI WRONG IN LAYING STRESS ON THE PURITY OF ENDS AND MEANS? IS NOT PURITY OF MEANS IMPORTANT TO POLITICS?
Let us first understand the difference between religion and spiritualism; they are not the same thing. Religion is one avenue of life, like politics, art and science. Religion does not contain the whole of life; spiritualism does. Spiritualism is the whole of life. Spiritualism is not an avenue of life; it encompasses the whole of it. It is life.
A religious person may be afraid of taking part in politics, but a spiritual person is not afraid. A spiritual person can take part in politics without any fear. Politics is difficult for a religious person because he is tethered to certain ideas and ideals which come into conflict with politics. But a spiritual person is not bound by any ideas or concepts. He accepts life totally; he accepts life as it is. So he can easily participate in politics.
Krishna is a spiritual man, he is not religious. Mahavira is a religious man in this sense, and so is Buddha; they have opted for one particular avenue of life, which is religion. And for the sake of religion they have denied all other avenues of life. They have sacrificed the rest of life on the altar of a part. Krishna is a spiritual man; he accepts life in its totality. That is why he is not afraid of politics, he does not shrink from going headlong into it. For him, politics is part of life.
It is important to understand that people who have kept away from politics in the name of religion have only helped to make politics more irreligious; their non-cooperation has not made it any better.
I repeat: Krishna accepts life with all its flowers and thorns, its light and shade, sweet and sour. He accepts life choicelessly, unconditionally. He accepts life as it is. It is not that Krishna chooses only the flowers of life and shuns its thorns; he accepts both together, because he knows thorns are as necessary to life as the flowers. Ordinarily we think thorns are inimical to flowers. It is not true. Thorns are there for the protection of flowers; they are deeply connected with each other. They are united — members of each other. They share common roots, and they live for a common purpose. Many people would like to destroy the thorn and save the flower, but that is not possible. They are parts of each other, and both have to be saved.
So Krishna not only accepts politics, he lives in the thick of politics without the least difficulty.
The other part of your question is also significant. You say that in politics Krishna uses means that cannot be said to be right. To achieve his ends, he uses lies, deception and fraud — which cannot be justified in any way. In this connection one has to understand the realities of life. In life there is no choice between good and bad, except in theory.
The choice between good and evil is all a matter of doctrine. In reality, one always has to choose between the greater evil and the lesser evil. Every choice in life is relative. It is not a question of whether what Krishna did was good or bad. The question is whether it would have resulted in good or bad had he not done what he did. The question would be much easier if it was a simple choice between good and bad, but this is not the case in reality. The realities of life are that it is always the choice between greater evils and lesser evils.
I have heard an anecdote:
A priest is passing a street when he hears a voice crying, “Save me, save me! I am dying!” It is dark and the street is narrow. The priest rushes to the place and finds that a big strong man has overpowered another man, who seems to be very poor and weak. The priest demands that the strong man release the poor man, but he refuses. The priest physically intervenes in the struggle and succeeds in releasing the victim from the strong man’s grip, and the poor man takes to his heels.
The strong man says, “Do you know what you have done? That man had picked my pocket and you have helped him to run away with my purse.”
The priest said, “Why didn’t you say it before? I thought you were unnecessarily torturing a poor man. I am sorry; I made a mistake. I had thought I was doing something good, but it turned out to be evil.” But the man had already disappeared with the purse.
Before we set out to do good, it is necessary to consider if it will result in evil. It is equally necessary to know that a bad action may ultimately result in good.
The choice before Krishna is between lesser evil and greater evil. It is not a simple choice between good and evil. The fighting tactics which Krishna uses are nothing compared to those used in the war of Mahabharat by the other side, who are capable of doing anything. The Kauravas are no ordinary evil-doers — they are extraordinarily evil. Gandhi would be no match for them; they could crush him in moments. Ordinary good cannot defeat an evil that is colossal. Gandhi would know what it is to fight with a colossus of evil if he had fought against a government run by Adolph Hitler. Fortunately for him, India was ruled by a very liberal community — the British — not by Hitler. Even among the British — if Churchill had been in power and Gandhi had to deal with him, it would have been very difficult to win India’s independence. The coming of Atlee into power in Britain after the war made a big difference.
The question of right means, which Gandhi talks about so much, deserves careful consideration. It is fine to say that right ends cannot be achieved without right means. However, in this world, there is nothing like an absolutely right end or absolutely right means. It is not a question of right versus wrong; it is always a question of greater wrong versus lesser wrong. There is no one who is completely healthy or completely sick; it is always a matter of being more sick or less sick.
Life does not consist of two distinct colors — white and black, life is just gray, a mixture of white and black. In this context men like Gandhi are just utopians. dreamers, idealists who are completely divorced from reality. Krishna is in direct contact with life; he is not a utopian. For him life’s work begins with accepting it as it is.
What Gandhi calls “pure means” are not really pure, cannot be. Maybe pure ends and pure means are available in what the Hindus call moksha, or the space of freedom. But in this mundane world everything is alloyed with dirt. Not even gold is unalloyed. What we call diamond is nothing but old, aged coal. Gandhi’s purity of ends and means is sheer imagination.
For example, Gandhi thinks fasting is a kind of right means to a right end. And he resorts to fasting — fast unto death every now and then. But I can never accept fasting as a right means, nor will Krishna agree with Gandhi. If a threat to kill another person is wrong, how can a threat to kill oneself be right? If it is wrong of me to make you accept what I say by pointing a gun at you, how can it become right if I make you accept the same thing by turning the gun to point it at myself? A wrong does not cease to be a wrong just by turning the point of a gun. In a sense it would be a greater wrong on my part if I ask you to accept my views with the threat that if you don’t I am going to kill myself. If I threaten to kill you, you have an option, a moral opportunity to die and refuse to yield to my pressure. But if I threaten to kill myself, I make you very helpless, because you may not like to take the responsibility of my death on yourself.
Gandhi once undertook such a fast unto death to put pressure on Ambedkar, leader of the millions of India’s untouchables. And Ambedkar had to yield, not because he agreed that the cause for which Gandhi fasted was right, but because he did not want to let Gandhi die for it. Ambedkar was not ready to do even this much violence to Gandhi. Ambedkar said later that Gandhi would be wrong to think that he had changed his heart. He still believed he was right and Gandhi was wrong, but he was not prepared to take the responsibility for the violence that Gandhi was insisting on doing to himself.
In this context it is necessary to ask if Ambedkar used the right means, or Gandhi? Of the two, who is really non-violent? In my view Gandhi’s way was utterly violent, and Ambedkar proved to he non-violent. Gandhi was determined till the last moment to pressure Ambedkar with his threat to kill himself.
It makes no difference whether I threaten to kill you or to kill myself to make you accept my view. In either case, I am using pressure and violence. In fact, when I threaten to kill you I give you a choice to die with dignity, to tell me you would rather die than yield to my view which is wrong. But when I threaten you with my own death, then I deprive you of the option to die with dignity; I put you in a real dilemma. Either you have to yield and accept that you are in the wrong, or you take the responsibility of my death on you. You are going to suffer guilt in every way.
In spite of his insistence on right means for right ends, the means that Gandhi himself uses are never right. And I am bold enough to say that whatever Krishna did was right. In a relative sense, taking his opponents into consideration, Krishna could not have done otherwise.