An Eye for an Eye makes the whole world blind: Mahatma Gandhi
Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius once said- “Whoever does wrong, wrongs himself; Whoever does injustice, does it to himself, making himself evil.”
Now whilst Marcus’s words may appear to be common knowledge to you and I, the stoics knew better! They were aware that it took a great deal of discipline and wisdom to have such solid logic overrule their emotional reactions to outside events.
I think most of us are familiar with Gandhi’s words around the theme of non-violence. He said- “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” A simple yet profound statement.
Before we dig deeper into this quote, let me ask you a question. Have you ever experienced engaging in hateful conversations and interactions with people, where you might have succeeded in having the last word, yet walked away feeling like you’re lesser than?
You see, whilst it feels good in the moment to give someone a dose of their own medicine, unfortunately, the feeling that lingers once it’s all over is not an enjoyable one.
And let’s be honest, our ego gets the best of most of us no matter how hard we try to avoid conflict.
So if what Gandhi said was the perfect antidote to violence and hate, how can a common person implement said philosophy into their lives? Let’s tackle this both an individual level, and on a collective scale.
On a personal level, punishing or harming a person we disagree or hold a strong dislike for may seem pretty fair and reasonable, right? However, even in the pursuit of momentary pleasure and vengeance, we end up damaging ourselves a whole lot more in the process.
Let me tell you an insightful story about the Buddha. There once was a man who out of his strong dislike and ignorance of who the Buddha was, came up to him and spat on his face.
Deeper Insight into quote by Ernest Hemmingway: We are all broke and that’s how the light gets in
Buddha’s disciplines were enraged at the sheer disrespect and audacity of the man, yet the Buddha smiled and remained silent. He told his disciples that the man in fact had not spit on him because he was unaware of who the Buddha was, but instead had spat on his “idea” of Buddha; and therefore his own mind!
Confused and ashamed by Buddha’s reaction, the man spent a sleepless night wondering about the exchange between him and the Enlightened One. He returned to the Buddha the very next day to seek forgiveness.
On doing so, the Buddha replied that the man he spat on yesterday was gone and the one asking for forgiveness at present was no longer the same person either.
Now, if we were to take anything away from this story, it would be the virtue of detachment and forgiveness. The Buddha was detached from his ego and this enabled him to see that the man’s actions were completely unrelated to him.
Meeting a negative action with a negative reaction only creates a “vicious cycle”. To break that once must act not from a place of ego, but from a place of peace, harmony and forgiveness.
How about we look at another example to illustrate the same? A drop of ink added to a cup of water has the ability to stain the entire cup of water.
However, the same drop when added to an ocean is powerless when faced with the magnitude of the vast ocean.
Similarly, a broad, clear mind which has the ability to remain undisturbed by anything undesirable like hate or violence (just like the ink) is what we call an “oceanic mind”.
People with a mindset like such know that hate can never be fought with more hate, just like darkness can never be dispelled with anything but its opposite i.e light.
So going back to Gandhi’s words, what dawns as a certain truth is that giving an eye for an eye is a recipe for loss on both ends. It is a destructive exchange of actions rather than a creative one.
Instead, what if we were to focus on the call for “higher good”, maintain composure in chaos, and be like the depth of the ocean which remains unperturbed by the surface waves?!
Then as the Stoic philosopher Seneca would say- “We’d all be beams of divinity within mortal bodies”! And what could be more sublime than that?!