Ideals and Values/Harshness or Cruelty

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Vishal Agarwal

What is Harshness or Cruelty?

Harshness is the opposite of compassion, mercy and gentleness. In extreme cases, harshness involves a total lack of gentleness and compassion. At this point, it becomes cruelty. The characteristics of people who show harshness and cruelty are:

  1. They are very hard-hearted, obstinate, cruel and non-budging. In the name of following rules, they do not care whether the rules are causing more harm than benefit.
  2. They do not have any mercy in their heart for others.
  3. They are rude in the name of being ‘straight-forward’ and do not treat others with gentleness.
  4. Sometimes, they are outright violent and commit unspeakable acts of violence and injury.

In the Taittiriya Upaniṣad,[1] it is said that if we are uncertain of the right course of action and are confused about what we ought to do, then we should approach learned Brāhmaṇas who are lovers of justice and Dharma, doers of good deeds, who are not led blindly by others but by their own understanding of Dharma) and also who are not harsh.

But just because someone is harsh in his mannerisms does not mean that he is a bad person. Conversely, a gentle person is not necessarily better than a harsh person, if that gentle person hides deceit and dishonest or other vices behind his soft speech and cultured behavior. Therefore, we must not judge people superficially just by seeing their harsh behavior.

Story: The Harsh Behavior of Swami Virajananda

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An example to understand this is to study the character of Swami Virajānanda, the Guru of Swami Dayānanda Saraswati in the 19th cent. C.E. The former was a very quick tempered and a harsh person. He was the teacher of Princes in a Rajput kingdom in western India and was very meticulous about punctuality. One day, the Princes arrived a bit late. Swami Virajānanda immediately packed up his bags and left the kingdom to move to Mathura, another city in North India, because he had zero tolerance for his students arriving late.

A few years later, Swami Dayananda became his student around 1851 CE. The Guru would get annoyed at little things and even hit his grown up students. One day, Swami Dayananda swept the floor of his Guru’s room and heaped the garbage in a corner to pick it up soon. Suddenly, the Guru arrived and stepped on the heap of garbage. He flew into a rage and beat Dayananda with a stick. But despite his Guru’s harsh behavior, Dayananda did not get upset. Instead, he started massaging the hands of his Guru saying, ‘Gurudev, I am young and my body is very sturdy but your arms are weak. I apologize if I have caused pain to your arms.”

Swami Dayananda knew that his Guru was very knowledgeable and kind hearted and therefore he did not get upset by the harshness of his behavior. To understand these vices better, read the chapters on compassion and gentleness later in this book.

Scriptural Quotations on Harshness and Cruelty

Bheeshma said – Do not hurt anyone’s heart, do not utter words of cruelty, do not put down others and do not speak harsh words that cause turmoil in their minds. This type of speech takes the speaker to hell, therefore do not speak this way.[2]

Bheeshma said – How can someone desire to kill another while wanting to live himself. Therefore, we should make available for others all those things that we desire for ourselves.[3]


Notes & References

  1. Taittiriya Upaniṣad 1.11
  2. Mahābhārata 13.104.31
  3. Mahābhārata 12.259.22