Terrorism arises from ignorance, materialism and ego
- To make sense of the senseless violence unleashed by terrorists, we can seek insight from the Bhagavad-gita’s analytical framework centered on the three modes of material nature. The modes reflect people’s psychological predilections. A mode-centered analysis goes beyond nominal ideological affiliation to essential operational motivation. Terrorist violence is in the darkest mode of ignorance.
- People’s defining mode can be inferred from their action and their intention. Terrorists attack civilians who are unarmed and unalert – the very antithesis of honorable warfare. The most reprehensible violence in the Mahabharata war was Ashvatthama’s nocturnal massacre of the sleeping Pandava forces. Yet even he didn’t target civilians, as do terrorists.
- While jihadi terrorists may claim to be motivated by religion and God, their intention is entirely materialistic – to gain power, property and pleasure, in this world or the next or both; and to establish their egoistic supremacy over everyone else. Jihadis are thus similar to the Nazis who too were avowedly materialistic and ego-driven. Nominally, jihadis are religious; and Nazis, anti-religious. But essentially, both are in the mode of ignorance, abusing their intelligence to rationalize perverted thought-processes (Gita 18.32).
- Applying the three-mode framework to violence, we can understand that all violence is not identical. The Gita acknowledges with hard-eyed realism that violence is sometimes necessary to curb those in the mode of ignorance, just as today we recognize that military action is sometimes necessary to check jihadis. Significantly, the Bhagavad-gita (03.30) prefaces its call for war with an unambiguous exhortation for elevation of consciousness: cultivate spiritual consciousness, become unselfish and non-possessive. Possessiveness, self-centeredness and materialistic ego – these are the core causes of violence.
- Essentially, the Gita inspires the elevation of human consciousness from ignorance to transcendence. Thus it helps humanity rise beyond the self-centered, ego-driven worldview that engenders violence, which sinks to its nadir in terrorist brutality.
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