Jai Mahavir ji


This is Jainism

(By Dr. Hira Lal Jain, M.A., LL.B., and D.Litt. Vaishali, (Bihar)






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1.  According to the Jain Puranaa (scripture)  there was a time when the whole society of men lived in peace and harmony, without any trouble and without any struggle, every one getting what he wanted and being satisfied with what he got. There was then no distinction of the ruler and the ruled, the master and the servant, and no idea of mine and thin. There was then no religion. But the happy state of things was disturbed when the idea of private property and ownership caught the fancy of man. The harmony of society was then broken and an era of struggle for life and existence, with its consequent warfare and trouble, commenced. It was at this stage that the great teachers of the age preached religion in order to avoid, or, at any rate, to control, as far as possible, the clashes of worldly interests by placing before men certain higher ideals. Thus, according to Jainism, religion originally came in, not for safeguarding the future life of men in heaven, but as a measure to keep peace on earth, promote goodwill amongst mankind and inspire hope of a higher life in the individual. 

 2.   Various systems of religion have grown in the world at different times in different lands, if analyzed closely and intelligently, they will all be found to contain the same truths and the same morals. Difference will be found to exist in details and for the reasons that particular aspects of truth and morality are emphasized in one in a particular manner and not so emphasized in another. Jainism has attempted a "rapprochement " between these seemingly warring systems by a breadth of vision, which goes under the name of Syadvada or Anekanta. The Doctrine of Anekanta draws attention to the fact that there are innumerable qualities in things and beings that exist, and ever so many sides to every question that may arise. We can talk about or discuss only one of them at a time. The seeming differences in statements vanish when we understand the particular point of view. I say, "I am mortal." Another man says, "I am immortal." These are diagonally opposite statements between which there seems to be very little common ground. Can we accommodate both in one system? Jainism says, "Yes; please try to understand the view points of each statement before declaring them to be irreconcilable. Is it not that the one who says he is mortal is emphasizing the phenomena of birth and death of this body, about which there can be no dispute; which the other who says he is immortal is thinking of the imperishable nature of things in their essence. The form of things may change, but their substance, call it the soul or the primal matter, continues to subsist. Nothing that is, can be annihilated. In the Jain terminology, the one who calls him self mortal is true from the point of view of form or acquired qualities; while the other who calls himself immortal is true from the point of view of substance or inherent and essential qualities. Thus, what is irreconcilable opposition in the eyes of others is to a Jaina not only a mere difference of point of view but a necessary stage in understanding a thing in all its aspects. The two statements are supplementary of each other and go together to convey the truth. It is because a part is mistaken for the whole that the difference arises. Jains illustrate this by a significant story. Seven blind men went to get an idea of the elephant. Each of them could feel with his hands only one part of the huge animal, and when they sat down to compare notes, they began to quarrel. The one who had only felt the elephant's leg said that the animal was like a huge round pillar; the other who had felt the tail declared the animal to be merely like a stick; while the third who had felt the elephant's ear affirmed on oath that both of them were wrong, for, he was sure the elephant was like a winnowing basket. Thus they quarreled without any hope of coming to terms, for each had the conviction of personal experience in the matter. Till, at last, a man with eyes told them that they were all right and all wrong. They were right because each of them had stated a part of the truth; and they were wrong because they wanted to pass a partial truth for the whole truth. Put all the partial truths together and you get the whole elephant. Every difference in religious and philosophical ideas---- in fact, in all opinions and beliefs may, in this light, be understood to furnish not a cause for quarrel, but a welcome step towards the knowledge of the real truth. It is from this point of view of its synthetic out look that the Jaina system has been claimed by its own logicians as synthesis of the so-called false beliefs. 

 3.   We have seen above how difference, or, to be more accurate, a seeming difference of opinion may rise between two persons when they are actually speaking about two different aspects of the truth. There would, similarly, be a great manifestation of difference when they both use the same word in different senses. One says, "God is the Creator of the Universe." Another says, "God is not the Creator of the Universe." In spite of their utter difference the two statements can very well be reconciled if the idea of God in each case is analyzed when it will probably be found that the one who believes God to be the creator means by God the ultimate power of Nature which is at the root of all that exists; while the other means by it the absolved soul, the ideal of peace and supreme bliss which his opponent perhaps calls by some other name such as the Muktatma or the like.

4.    There can hardly be anything of practical value in life which will hold good for all times and all places in exactly the same way. Yet these important factors of time and place are frequently neglected or forgotten in estimating the truth of different statements, and this furnishes yet another fertile source of misunderstanding. Similarly when one kind of profession began to attract too many people, irrespective of their capacity for it, while other important and vital professions began to be neglected on account of the hardness of life involved therein, it became justifiable to bring into force the law of Varnasrama, so that there might be men enough for all kinds of necessary work in society. It would, however, not be just nor fair to maintain and emphasize these institutions of animal sacrifice and caste-restrictions when the time for them is passed. 

5.   This is the doctrine of Syadvada or Anekanta or view points which forms the basis and the sine qua non of the Jain system of though. It requires in relation to the particular point of view involved and with reference to the particular time and place. If these differences are clearly understood, the differences in principles will vanish and with them the bitterness also. Obviously, this is the best means of promoting common understanding good will amongst the followers of different faiths. One might say that this is mere common sense and that the principle is pre-supposed in every system of thought. It must, however, be remembered that the principle if kept in the background is always forgotten when needed most, and that common sense, unfortunately, is a thing which is most uncommon. In the Jaina system the principle is always kept in the forefront, and hence, religious toleration, fellowship and coexistence, is the essence of Jaina philosophy. 

 6.   I shall now deal with; another principle of Jainism which is also of very great importance and of universal application, but which has frequently been misunderstood and misrepresented. This is the principle of Ahimsa or non-injury to living beings. Primarily, the preaching of Ahimsa was directed against the institution of animal sacrifice in which hundreds and thousands, nay, millions of dumb and harmless creatures were butchered in the name of religion. This necessarily set the Jaina saints a thinking and they asked the question, "Is this shedding ;of blood really necessary for the betterment of the soul?" They received an answer from their inner conscience that the shedding of blood was not only not necessary but also it was against all canons of settled and peaceful religious life and holy conduct. But when the mind lies blinded by fanaticism reason, which alone can guide us as to the requirements of time and place, becomes obscured and superstition and custom take its place, so the Jaina saints decided to reawaken people as to their duty to wards themselves and towards all other beings. They emphasized Ahimsa as the rule of good conduct. Briefly stated, it comes to mean this: Life is sacred in whatsoever form it may exist . Therefore, injure no life, and let this be the highest ethical principle. Be a gentleman: a gentleman is one who has no tendency to do violence. Every religion worth counting recognizes the sanctity of human life; Jainism wants the same feeling to be extended to the other forms of life as well namely, beasts, birds and smaller creatures; But one might say that life in the world is well-nigh impossible with absolute abstention from injury to all forms of life. So Jainism distinguishes various kinds of injury according to the mental attitude of the person committing it; for it is the intention that causes sin. It is conceded that a good deal of injury to life is involved even in the daily duties of an ordinary man , such as walking, cooking, washing and the like pursuits. The various operations of agriculture and industry also cause destruction of life. Life, again, may have to be injured and even destroyed in the act of defending one's own life and property. So, with the catholicity, which characterizes all its rules, Jainism does not prohibits a householder from committing these three kinds of Himsa, which may be called accidental, occupational, and protective; rather, shirking from them would be considered a dereliction of duty. It is only the injury for injury's sake, for the merest pleasure or the fun of it without any thought and without any obvious higher end to serve, that a householder is recommended to guard himself against. Whenever the occasion arises, let him ask himself the question. "Is it necessary for me to injure this being, and if so, what is the minimum amount of injury that will serve the need?" This much care and caution would save him from a lot of wanton destruction. 

7.    It is not the infliction of physical injury alone that constitutes Himsa, but violence in words and violence in thought is also Himsa, and one must abstain from these too. Would these be called by reasonable men principles calculated to weaken communities and nations? In this age of armament and bitter struggle, one feels inclined to say, "Yes" to this question. But if religion has to fulfill its mission of bringing peace on earth and goodwill amongst mankind, it must always emphasize the ultimate good, and declare evil as evil howsoever unavoidable it may appear at any particular time. Consistently with this view, Jainism wants abstention from injury to life to be established as a rule of good conduct; it wants to make people gentlemen who have no tendency to do violence to anybody. With its outlook of Anekanta, Jainism abstain from inflicting injury; in such cases it recommends us to go by the rule of minimum of injury. 

 8.   The other Jaina ethical vows are truthfulness, abstention from stealing, and sex-fidelity, which need no comments here.  They, together with Ahimsa, it might be said in passing, constitute such a nice and simple code of good conduct that reasonable observance of it would leave no scope for the application of any of the sections of the Criminal Procedure Code. The fifth and last vow requires some explanation here. It is called "Parigraha Parimana Vrata" or the vow of setting a limit to the maximum wealth that one would possess. As said above more than once, the aim of Jainism is to avoid, as far as possible, undesirable clashes. in life and consequent disharmony in society. Under the present vow, a householder is recommended to fix beforehand the limit of his worldly belongings, which he would never try to exceed. If and when he has reached that limit, he will either try to earn no more, or, if the earnings come in spite, of himself, he would devote the surplus to charitable purposes the recognized forms of which are medical help, spread of education, distribution of food and other measures of relief from suffering. The spirit of the vow is clear. One should not be too greedy or selfish. The common wealth is limited, and so, in fairness to other, one should take to him self only as much, as according to his own reasonable estimate, he needs. This is good for the individual satisfaction as well as for the society. One cannot fail to recognize in this vow a very quiet and peaceful attempt at economic equalization by discouraging undue accumulation of capital in individual hands. It is, however, no fault of the religion itself if such noble principles have frequently been recognized in their violation rather than in their observance. At the same time, it cannot be denied that the vow has created in the Jaina community a very charitable disposition as a result of which large amounts of money are devoted every year to deeds of philanthropy and so many charitable institutions are being permanently financed by the community. 

9.    Yet another principle of Jainism might be mentioned here. Jainism does not preach that there is any special power ruling over the destinies of men from behind or above. On the contrary, it teaches that every individual works out his own destiny by his own mental and physical exertions which, by themselves, generate energies that bring to him agreeable or disagreeable experiences. This is the Karma theory of Jainism, which has been worked out, in great detail. According to it, nothing, as a rule, will come without effort, and no action will go without its appropriate result. It makes each individual fully responsible for his progress or decay----a sort of complete individual autonomy. The Jainas worship, not the creator or the destroyer of the universe but those great saints whom they believe to have known the ultimate truth and to have preached it to humanity. These saints they call Tirthankaras, that is, those who made it easy for others to cross over the ocean of life. 

10.     It will be seen that in a religious system like this there is no place for a distinction of caste and creed, and for a struggle for form and ceremony. But if within the Jain community these weaknesses exist, they are in spite of specific religious injunctions against them and as a result of the close association of the Jainas with communities where these play an important part. In its philosophy as well as ethics Jainism has close affinities with Hinduism and Buddhism, and, in fact, with every other religion such as Christianity and Islam which have the same end in view, namely the salvation of mankind. It, however, stands to the credit of Jainism that it actively seeks a synthesis with all other system through its outlook of Anekanta, and logically proves that it is one truth, which is revealed to us through its several aspects. It also wants non-violence in thought, word and deed to be established as a rule of good conduct. Thus, it makes a definite move towards a common understanding amongst all faiths that have been and that may be, and a feeling of brotherhood among all men. 

11.    The Jaina literary traditions claim a great antiquity for the religion, which had been promulgated and revitalized from time to time by no less than twenty-four Tirthankaras. The last of these was  Lord Mahavira. He was born a Kshatriya prince, his father and mother being Siddartha and Trisala, the king and queen of Kundalpur in the kingdom of Vaisali. But the luxuries of royalty made no appeal to him. His mind was steeped in thought about the greatest problems of life, namely, the sufferings of mankind and how to overcome them. The solution could never be found in the entanglements of the palace and the kingdom. He therefore renounced the world at the age of 30 and devoted himself to the practice of austerities, cultivating that discipline of the body and the mind, which is absolutely necessary for the right understanding of life and nature. This he did for a period of twelve years at the end of which Supreme Wisdom dawned on him. He found out the cause of misery and the way to remove it. The essence of his philosophy is already set forth above. This he preached for the remaining thirty years of his life winning a large number of adherents, to his creed. He attained Nirvana at Pavapur (Bihar) at the age o 72 leaving behind a strongly organized community, which has continued to flourish, with varying fortunes, throughout Bharatavarsha (India) during the course of the last twenty-five centuries. The community has shared fully in the cultural evolution of the country and made substantial Contributions to the national religion and philosophy, art and literature. Great was Mahavira's birth, greater still was the life that he led, and the greatest was the Truths that he revealed to mankind in the form of Jains creed. May the memory of His Holy preaching inspire in us that breadth of vision, that spirit of toleration and that feeling of humanity which is the highest and most urgent need of the world to day. 

                                                          OM SHANTI 

                                            MAY THERE BE PEACE

Note:- The words shown in Italic are from Prakrit Language.


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