What is Violence and What is Not?

What exactly is Violence and what is an Act of Violence?

What is Ahimsa (Sanskrit for Non-Harming) and what is not?

Unfortunately, the English language is not really precise in its definition of Violence. It confuses the amount of and suddenness of force with intent.

Normally most people will call a hurricane violent. I say it isn't violent.


It has no intent. It is only a physical reaction to too much heat in one geographic area that needs to be brought back into Balance according to the Laws of Nature.

It means no harm to anything. It has no will of its own; and, therefore, no Free Will. Of course that doesn't mean it can't destroy and kill things. It only means that there is no intent, harmful or otherwise, on its part.

A Google search defines violence as:

  1. behavior involving Physical force intended to hurt, damage or kill someone or something.
  2. Strenght of emotion or an unpleasant or destructive natural force
  3. The unlawful exercise of physical force or intimidation by the exhibition of such force.

As you can see, numbers 1 and 3 involve intent and the use of Free Will. The meaning of number 2 does not. Yet, usually there is no distinction made in the minds of the listener between the two sets of definitions.

Yet, this is the crux of the problem; and, the basis for my argument that there must be intention to hurt and the use of Free Will for an action to be considered violent.

One other point to keep in mind is that thinking and feeling are actions, even if they are not apparent to someone other than the person performing the action.

Remember the old philosophical question: If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it fall, did it actually fall?

Well, how about: If you chopped a tree down in the woods and no one know about, did you chop it down?

Almost everyone will agree that in my question, you chopped the tree down. But, the first question has been debated for a long time.

What is the difference?

I see it as an acknowledgement of the use of your free will.

Now, let's jump right into the deep end of the pool.

Here are three scenarios. Which one do you think is the most harming, the most violent?

  1. A mother slaps her child in the face for accidentally breaking a vase.
  2. Given the exact same circumstances, another mother looks at her child and says with extreme vehemence "you are really dumb and clumsy. You never get anything right. You will never amount to anything. I am sorry i ever brought you into this world.
  3. Again under the same circumstances, a third mother doesn't do or say anything. She just looks at her child with a look of pure loathing, disgust and contempt.

Did you chose number 1? I didn't.

How about number 2?

I feel this is more violent by far than number 1.

Actually, I believe number 3 may be the most violent.

Why do I say that?

Because I feel that depending upon how severe the unsaid communication was in number 2, the scenario in number 3 may have struck the child with the most amount of damaging hate. It could be the one which does the most harm to the child because it came from the most hurtful of feelings.

Therefore, the hurt caused by these kinds of non-physically threatening actions is not limited to the physical damage only. The total amount of violence must be considered as the sum total of pain and suffering caused with intent by any means.

Indeed, using this reasoning, I could make the case that non-action can be more violent than action in certain circumstances.

Let's look at non-action as in only speaking and not doing an action.

Suppose one evil person gave this order to another evil person: "Go kill Mr. X immediately"; and, the order was carried out successfully.

Do you consider the person giving the order less violent than the person who did the killing?

If we use the first definition I cited above, we can see the person giving the order did not use his own body to perform "Behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something."

Yet, if this person ordered his own arm to do the killing, what would be the difference in his intent? In the outcome?

The person who did the killing was merely carrying out the intent of the first person. If he did so freely, then he is equally as guilty.

What if he was threatened with his own death or the death of a loved one if he did not perform the other's person order?

Which one(s) would be guilty of violence under those circumstances?

Let's look at a scenario in which voluntarily choosing not to act will cause many deaths and untold suffering.

Suppose that you were a security guard patrolling the secured areas in a public stadium during a huge event. You happen to notice a door to a mechanical area slightly ajar and proceed to investigate it.

You open the door and discover a person just about to set off an explosive device that you realize would collapse the stadium and kill tens of thousands of people.

If you wanted to stop this from happening, you know without a doubt that you only have enough time to draw your pistol and shoot to kill the person.

If you decide not to act or if you decide to do nothing because of the inherent violence in killing a person, you are deciding to let tens of thousands die.

Which decision causes more harm, more pain and suffering?

Killing someone or not killing someone?

Which act do you think is more violent?

I hope you just realized I am considering the decision not to act as exactly the same thing as the decision to act.

Perhaps this seems too clear cut. Perhaps it is. However, the principle involved is so simple that it is extremely easy to get it all wrong.

Yes, it is up to each and every one of us; indeed most spiritual traditions consider it to be the duty it of each and everyone one of us, to act in accordance with The Universal Principle. Some of the names of this principle are:

  • Sanatana Dharma in Hinduism
  • The Dao in Chinese Culture
  • Dharma in Buddhism
  • Allah's Will in Islam
  • God's Will in the Judeo-Christian Religions


It is simple to say. It is even simple to confuse your own ego's personal outlook for The Universal Principle.

It is not easy to get it right. It is not easy to realize which of our beliefs are strictly personal and which are truly in accordance with The Universal Principal.

In the Japanese Zen/Martial tradition, this process of trying to get it right is known as Polishing One's Mirror; where the mirror is one's own heart.

By continually polishing one's heart by getting rid of your impurities, you will eventually see the world as it is without adding any personal coloration's. You can see and understand things just as they are: in the same way a perfect mirror reflects exactly what shines into it. If the mirror contains flaws, it will act like a mirror in a fun house and distort all that it reflects back into the world.

In conclusion, I must point out that everyone needs to decide what kind of mirror they wish to be.

If you chose to become a perfect mirror, you will become capable of making choices free of your own personal desires and much more in Keeping with The Universal Way.

Any action which is in Keeping with The Universal Way cannot be considered violent unless one considers The Universal Principal to be violent.

This decision is up to each person to decide for themselves. It will go a long way in determining who and what you are, and how you will live your life.

If one decides that The Universal Principle is not violent, then training to use the Martial Arts for use in defending The Universal Way cannot be violent.

Using the Martial Arts, or indeed any though, word or action, to thwart, hinder or impede The Universal Way is Violent.