The wise Dag Hammarskjöld, who served as the Secretary-General of the UN till his death in a plane crash, whose statesmanship we are in need of now, reminds us in one of his diary notes (“Markings” translated by Leif Sjoberg and W H Auden) — “what happens to the bee if it uses its sting is well known.”
Martin Luther King Jr. (“A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr”) teaches us that, whatever happens, we “must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter and indulging in hate….”
He goes on: “To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate.”
How are we to respond to hate? How are we to respond to oppression? How are we to respond to violence?
This is a question that perhaps also was on Taraknath Das’ mind when he wrote to Leo Tolstoy asking for support in the quest for India’s Independence. Taraknath, who was inclined to revolutionary means, had left India, arrived in the USA after some time in Japan, worked in a farm to survive, and went to become a distinguished scholar who taught at Berkeley, Columbia, Georgetown, and other Universities.
In “Letter to a Hindu”, the published edition of Tolstoy’s 1908 reply to Taraknath, Tolstoy points to the answer citing the Vedas, the Tirukkuṟaḷ, words from Krishna (in the Gita), and Swami Vivekananda. He writes: “In very ancient times love was proclaimed with special strength and clearness among your people to be the religious basis of human life.”
Why was love “proclaimed with special strength and clearness”? Tolstoy answers: “Love is the only way to rescue humanity from all ills….”