The pessimism of Jainism is nowhere better
illustrated than in the famous parable of the man in the well, said to
have been told by a Jain monk to a prince in order to persuade him of the
evils of the world.
There was once a man who, oppressed by his
poverty left home and set out for another city. But after a few days he
lost his way and found himself wandering in a dense forest. There, he saw
a mad elephant angrily rushing toward him with upraised trunk.
Immediately he ran to flee there appeared before him a terrible demoness
with a sharp sword in her hand, in fear and trembling, he looked about him
in all directions for a way of escape until he saw a great tree and ran
towards it. But he could not climb its smooth hole, and afraid of death,
hung himself into an old well nearby. As he fell he managed to catch hold
of a clump of reeds growing from the wall, and clung to them desperately.
For below him he could see a mass of
writhing snakes, enraged at the sound of his falling, and at the very
bottom, identifiable from the hiss of its breath, a mighty black python
with its mouth wide open to receive him. And even as he realized that his
life could last only as long as the reeds held fast, he looked up and saw
two mice, one black and one white, gnawing at the roots. Meanwhile, the
elephant, enraged at not catching its victim, charged the tree and
dislodged a honeycomb. It fell upon the man clinging so precariously.
But even as the bees angrily stung his body, by chance a drop of honey
fell on his brow, rolled down his face and reached his lips, to bring a
moment�s sweetness. And he longed for yet more drops and so forgot the
perils of his existence.
Now hear its interpretation.
The man is the soul.
His wandering in the forest is existence.
The wild elephant is death.
The demoness is old age.
The tree is salvation, where there is no
fear of death, but which no sensual man can attain.
The well is human life.
The snakes are passions.
The python is hell.
The clump of reeds is man�s allotted span.
The black and white mice the dark and light
halves of the month.
The bees are diseases and troubles.
The drops of honey are but trivial
How can a wise man want them, in the midst
of such peril and hardship?
The general plan of a Jain temple is of a portal and colonnades,
a closed hall or open courtyard and an inner
shrine for the
images. The principle image of the
Tirthankarato whom the
temple is dedicated, is flanked by two
attendants and by smaller
images of the twenty-four Tirthankaras. In
the image sits naked with eyes downcast. In
it sits clothed with a loincloth, has
protruding eyeballs and is
often adorned with jewels and flowers,
Every Jain temple also has a �saint-wheel� (siddha-cakra).
Its basic form is that of a stylized flat lotus with four petals attached
to a circle in the center. Placed in the petals and in the circle are
representations of the Five Great Beings in meditative posture (seated
with crossed legs). Often the principles of right knowledge, right faith
and right conduct are incorporated too. The diagram is invoked for the
destruction of sin and for the common good to prevail.
Taken from Cary NC library.