THE RELEVANCE OF THE TEACHING OF LORD MAHAVIRA IN THE PRESENT WORLD (INTRODUCTION)


 

Prof. Sagarmal Jain

 

 

We are living in the age of science and technology. The growth of the scientific knowledge and technology have given new dimensions to our life and influenced each and every field of our living. Science has done a great service to mankind by providing amenities of pleasant living and saved him from many miseries and uncertainties of the primitive past. It has also destroyed many superstitions and religious dogmas, but at the same time it has also uprooted the moral, religious and cultural values of our society. Our traditional religious values and beliefs have been thrown away by this growth of scientific knowledge and out-look. We know much about the atom but not about the values needed for a meaningful and peaceful life. We are living in the state of chaos. Our life is full of excitements, emotional disorders and value conflicts. Thus our age is also the age of anxiety and mental tensions.

 

Today what is needed for a man, is mental peace and a complete integration with his own personality as well as with his social environment. Can religion, in general and Jainism in particular meet this need of our times? Yes, it can. Religion for Jain thinkers, does not mean some superstitions, dogmas and rituals, it has some eternal virtues and values, which can meet the needs of the time. First of all we should try to understand its real meaning and essence.

 

The Essence of Religion

 

Our fundamental question is what we mean by the term religion? Many of the western scholars define religion as faith. Prof. E. B. Taylor writes “Religion is the belief in spiritual beings.”1 Prof., Hoffding mentions “Religion is faith in the conservation of values.”2 According to Jaina thinkers also the inner core of religion is faith, but it is the faith in our own existence and our own real nature, religion is a firm belief in some eternal and spiritual values which are more essential for the uplift and existence of mankind. In the famous Jaina text, Kartikeyanupreksa dharma (religion) is defined as the real nature of the things.3 If it is so, then question arises what is the real nature of human being? Lord Mahavira has given two definitions of religion in Acarangasutra. He says “Worthy people preach that the religion is mental equanimity.”4 Equanimity is considered as a core or essence of religion, because it is the real nature or essence of all the living beings including human beings also. In a Jaina text known as Bhagavati-sutra there is a conversation between Lord Mahavira and Gautama.5 Gautama asked Mahavira “What is the nature of soul?” and Mahavira answered “The nature of soul is equanimity.” Gautama again asked “What is ultimate end of soul?” and Mahavira replied “The ultimate end of soul is also equanimity.” Acarya Knndakunda also equated the word ‘samaya’ or ‘samata’ with svabhava or essential nature of soul, further he also explained “Sva-samaya or sva-svabhava is the ultimate goal of our life.”

 

In Jainism, religion is nothing but a practice for the realization of our own essential nature of sva-svabhava. This enjoying of one’s own essential nature means to remain constant in sakibhava or drastahava. It is the state of pure knowership or subjectivity. In this state the consciousness is completely free from constant flickerings, excitements and emotional disorders and mind becomes pacific. It is the pre-condition for enjoying spiritual happiness and the way to get freedom from mental tensions, which are the vibhavas or impure states of mind. This is known in Jainism as samayika or practice for equanimity of mind. Nobody wants to live in a state of mental tensions, every one would like no tension but relaxation, not anxiety but satisfaction. This shows that our real nature is working in us for a mental peace or equanimity and religion is nothing but a way of achieving this mental peace. According to Jainism the duty of a religious order is to explain the means by which man can achieve the equanimity of mind or mental peace. In Jainism this method of achieving mental peace and equanimity is called samayika, which is the first and foremost duty among six essential duties of the monks and the householders.

 

The three-fold path of right knowledge, right attitude and right conduct is only an application of equanimity (samatva) in the three aspects of our conscious life i.e. knowing, feeling and willing. Even mindedness, broader and unbiased outlook and regard for others ideologies and thoughts are regarded as equanimity of knowledge or right knowledge. Detachment from the objects of worldly pleasures, balanced state of mind and the feeling of equality are considered as equanimity of feeling i.e. right attitude or samyak-darsana and control over one’s desires, regard for other’s life and property, equal treatment in social life are known as equanimity of willing or right conduct. Again, right conduct consists of three organs i.e. mind, body and speech. According to Jaina thinkers

 equanimity of mind, body and speech should be a directive principle of religious life. The equanimity of mind is non-attachment (anasakti or aparigraha), equanimity of body is non-violence (ahimsa) and equanimity of speech is non-absolutism (anekanta or syadvada). Non-attachment, non-violence and non-absolutism are the three pillars of Jainism, and are fully competent to meet the needs of our age and to establish peace and harmony in the world.

 

Non-attachment and Regard for Other’s Necissities

 

As I have already mentioned that most burning problem of our age is the problem of mental tensions. The nations, who claim more civilized and economically more advance are much more in the grip of mental tensions. The main objective of Jainism is to emancipate man form his sufferings and mental tensions. First of all we must know that what is the cause of these mental tensions. For, Jainism, the basic human sufferings are not physical, but mental. These mental sufferings or tensions are due to our attachment towards worldly objects. It is the attachment, which is fully responsible for them. The famous Jaina text Uttaradhyayana-sutra mentions “The root of all sufferings physical as well as mental of every body including gods, is attachment towards the objects of worldly enjoyment.”7 It is the attachment which is the root cause of mental tensions. According to Lord Mahavira to remain attached to sensuous objects is to remain in the whirl. He says “Misery is gone in the case of a man who has no delusion, while delusion is gone in the case of a man who has no desire, desire is gone in the case of a man who has no greed, while greed is gone in the case of a man who has no attachment.”8 The efforts made to satisfy the human desires through material objects can be likened to the chopping off of the branches while watering the roots. Thus we can conclude that the lust for and the attachment towards the objects or worldly pleasure is the sole cause of human suffering.

 

If mankind is to be freed from mental tensions it is necessary to grow a detached outlook in life. Jainism believes that the lesser will be the attachment the greater will be the mental peace. It is only when attachment is vanished, the human mind will be free from mental tensions and emotional disorders. For this Jainism preaches the vow of complete nonpossession for the ascetics and the vow to limit ones own possession for the house holders, which are technically called as aparigraha-mahavrata and parigraha-parimana-vrata respectively.

 

Non-Violence or Regard for Life

 

Samata or equanimity is a personal or inner aspect of our religious life, when it is applied in the social life or it is practiced outwardly, it becomes non-violence. Thus non-violence is a social or outer aspect of our religious life. In Acaranga Lord Mahavira give another definition of religion. He remarks--

 

“The worthy men of the past, present and the future all say thus, speak thus, declare thus, explain thus: all breathing, existing, living and sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented. This is the pure, eternal and unchangeable law or the tenet of religion.”9 In other words, non-violence is the eternal and pure form of religion. In Jainsim non-violence is the pivot on which its whole ethics revolves. For Jains violence represents all the vices and non-violence represents all the virtues. Non-violence is not a single virtue but it is a group of virtues. In Prasnavyakarana-sutra the term non-violence is equated with sixty virtuous qualities, just as peace, harmony, welfare, trust and fearlessness, etc.10 Thus non-violence is a wider term, which comprehends all the good qualities and virtues.

 

The concept of non-violence and the regard for life is accepted by almost all the religions of the world. But none of the religions obsere it so minutely as Jainism. Jainism prohibits not only killing of human beings and animals but of the vegetable kingdom also. To hurt the plants is also an act of violence or himsa. It’s basic principle is that the life, in whatever form it may be, should be respected, we have no right to take another’s life, because everyone wants to live as we do. The Dasavaikalika mentions that everyone wants to live and not to die, for this simple reason, Nigganthas prohibit violence.11 It can be said that the Jaina concept of non-violence is extremist and not practical, but we cannot challenge its relevance for human society. Though Jainism sets its goal as the ideal of total non-violence, external as well as internal, yet the realization of this ideal in the practical life is by no means easy. Non-violence is a spiritual ideal, which is fully realizable only in the spiritual plane. The real life of an individual is a physio-spiritual complex; at this level complete non-violence is not possible. According to Jaina thinkers the violence is of four kinds (i)Deliberate or aggressive violence i.e. intentional killing. (ii) Protective violence i.e. resorting to violence to save the life of one’s own or his fellow being or to ensure peace and justice in the society, (iii) Occupational violence i.e, the violence which one commits in his occupation such as farming, tilling the soil or running factories and industries, (iv) Violence, which is involved in performing the daily routine work of a house-holder such as bathing, cooking, walking etc. A person can proceed toward the fullness of non-violent life to the extent as he rises above the physical level. The first form of violence, which is deliberate, is to be shunned by all, because it relates to our mental proclivities. So far as the thoughts are concerned, a man is his own master, so it is obligator for all to be non-violent in this sphere. The other forms of violence i.e. protective, occupational and violence involved in daily routine work are inevitable so far as man is living on a physical level, but this does not mean that the ideal of nonviolence is not practicable and so it is not necessary for human race.

 

Non-violence is nothing but to treat all living beings as equal. The concept of equality is the core of the theory of non-violence. The preaching of non-violence is to honor the each and every form of life. Jainism does to discriminate the human beings on the basis of their caste, creed and color. According to Jaina point of view, all the barriers of caste, creed and color are artificial. All the human beings have an equal right to lead a peaceful life. Though violence is unavoidable, yet it can not be the directive principle of our living, because it goes against the judgments of faculty of reasoning and the concept of natural law. If I think that nobody has any right to take my life then on the ground of same reasoning I have also no right to take another’s life; the principle ‘live on others’ or ‘living by killing’ but ‘Living with others’ or ‘Live for others’ (parasparopagrahaojivanam).12 Though in our world complete non-violence is not possible, yet our motto should be ‘lesser killing is better living’.

 

Further we must be aware of the fact that in Jainism non-violence is not merely a negative concept i.e. not to kill; but it has positive side also as service to mankind. Once a question was raised to Mahavira: “O Lord, one person is rendering his services to the needy persons while other is offering puja to you, between these two, who is the real follower of yours!” Mahavira answered “First one is the real follower of mine, because he is following my teachings”.13

 

Through some one or other form of violence is inevitable in our life, yet on this basis we can not conclude that the non-violence is not necessary at all. Just as violence is inevitable for living, non-violence is also inevitable for social living. So far the existence of human society is concerned it depends on mutual co-operation, sacrifice of our interest for the sake of our fellow-beings and regard for others life. If above mentioned elements are essential for our social life, how can we say that the non-violence is an inevitable principle of the existence for human society. At present we are living in an age of nuclear weapons and due to this the existence of human race is in danger. It is only the firm faith in observance of non-violence, which can survive the human race. It is mutual credibility and the belief in the equality of human beings which can restore the peace and harmony in human society.

 

Regard for Other’s Ideologies and Faiths

 

Jainism holds that the reality is complex. It can be looked and understood from various view points or angles. For example we can have hundreds of photographs of the same and one tree from different angles. Though all of them give a true picture of it from certain angles, yet they differ from each other. Not only this, but neither each of them, nor the individually as well as jointly will give us a complete picture of that tree. They individually as well as jointly will give only a partial picture of it. So is the case with human knowledge and understanding : we can have only a partial and relative picture of reality, we can know and describe the reality only from certain angle or view-point. Though every angle or viewpoint can claim that it gives a true picture of reality, yet it gives only a partial and relative picture of reality. In fact we can not challenge its validity or truth value, but at the same time we must be aware of the fact that it is only a partial truth or one sided view. One, who knows only partial truth or has a one-sided picture of reality, has no right to discard the views of his opponents may also be true from some other angles. Jaina theory of anekantavada emphasizes that all the approaches to understand the reality give partial but true picture of reality and due to their truth-value from certain angle, we should have a regard for other ideologies and faiths. Thus anekanatvada forbids us to be dogmatic and one-sided in our approach. It preaches us a broader outlook and open-mindedness, which is more essential to solve the conflicts due to the differences in ideologies and faiths. Prof. T.G. Kalghatgi rightly observes “The spirit of anekanta is very much necessary in society, specially in the present day, when conflicting ideologies are trying to assert supremacy aggressively. Anekanta brings the spirit of intellectual and social tolerance.”14

 

For present day society what is awfully needed is the virtue of tolerance. This virtue of tolerance i.e. regard for others ideologies and faiths is maintained in Jainism from its earlier times to the present days. Mahavira mentions in Sutrakrtanga “those who praise their own faiths and ideologies and blame that of their opponents and thus distort the truth will remain confined tot he cycle of birth and death.”15 Jaina philosophers all the time maintain that all the view-points are true in respect of what they have themselves to say, but they are false in so far as they refute totally others view-points. In one famous Jaina text of 3rd century B.C. namely Isibhasiyaim, the views of different teachers of Sramanic and Brahmanic trends like Narada, Bharadvaja, Gautam Buddha, Mankhali Gosala and many others, have been presented with regards. They are called as Arhatrsis and their preaching are regarded as Agamas. Here I would like to quote two beautiful verses of Haribhadra (8th century A.C.) and Hema Candra (12th Century A.C.) respectively which are the best examples of religious tolerance. Haribhadra says:

 

“I bear no bias towards Lord Mahavira and no disregard to Kapila and other saints and thinkers, whatsoever is rational and logical ought to be accepted.”

 

Hemacandra says:

“I bow all those who have overcome the attachment and hatred, which are the cause of worldly existence, be they Brahma, Vishnu, Siva or Jina.”

 

Jaina saints tried all the times to maintain the harmony in different religious faiths and to avoid religious conflicts. That is why Jainism can survive through the ages.

 

The basic problems of present society are mental tensions, violence and the conflicts of ideologies and faiths. Jainism tried to solve these problems of mankind through the three basic tenets of non-attachment, (aparigraha), non-violence (ahimsa) and non absolutism (anekanta), If mankind observes these three principles, peace and harmony can certainly be established in the world.

 

 

 

Reference:

 

1.   Quoted in Dharma-darsana, p. 28.

2.   Ibid., p. 39

3.   Kartikeyanupreksa , 478

4.   Acaranga, 1/1/8/3.

5.   Bhagavati-sutra, 1/9.

6.   Samayasra.

7.   Uttaradhyayana-sutra

8.   Ibid., 32/7-8

9.   Acaranga, 2/4/127

10.  Prasanavyakaran-sutra, 2/1/21

11.  Dasavaikalika-sutra, 6/10

12.  Tattvartha-sutra, 5/21

13.  Avasyaka-vrtti, pp. 661-662

14.  Vaisali Institute Research Bulletin, No. 4. P. 31.

15.  Sutrakrtanga, 1/1/2/23