Philosophical Foundations Of Jainism (An Introduction) ► [25] Benediction Of Jainism

Posted: 02.09.2008

To evaluate a particular school of religion or faith on the basis of the numerical strength of its followers would not be the right way to do so. Instead, if it is evaluated by the merits of its doctrines in the term of its effectiveness on and acceptability by the people at large, it would be more justified. So also, if Jain religion is also evaluated on the basis of the number of its followers, it would not be the right or the justified way of evaluation. It is, however, necessary to evaluate Jainism by finding out the fact as to how much Jainism has influenced the people's mentality through its tenets and also to what extent the present age mentality or trends can be influenced by them.

When we consider what Jainism has to offer to the world in the present times, a few highlights come to mind which can be put in sharp focus as under—

1. Doctrine of Naya

The voice of "conciliation" or "harmony" is being given every importance in the present age trends. Even a common man talks of "conciliation" and desires it. From where has come this voice? The doctrine of naya (nayavāda) propounded by Jainism is a special characteristic of Jain philosophy, which may be regarded as the source of this demand in the present age. The nayavāda is a great contribution of Jainism to the world. Its wider outcome is that all shades of opinion are exposition of the truth, when considered relatively. The nayavāda propounds that every statement or every thought represents truth. So we should not reject anyone outright by considering it false. On the basis of this doctrine, every school of philosophy gets recognition; this, in fact, is what Jainism has already done. This is megnanimity of Jainism. It believes that every philosophy, every thought, every sect or every view is true, if it is interpreted relatively but if anyone of them is in absolutistic form, it would become false. Thus, acceptance of all views as true is a great doctrine, and it can be regarded as a speciality of Jainism. Perhaps, there is no other philosophy which accepts so magnanimously that every other philosophy is also true.

The effort should be to reconcile even diametrically opposite view-points. The 'nayas' help us to look at things holistically. This way, Jainism does not reject any other philosophy, which may have its own particular views different from what the Jain philosophy accepts or holds. On the other hand, the spirit of 'anekānta' endeavors to find a common ground among all divergent view-points.

2. Universalization of Dharma

Now, the second peculiarity of Jainism is the acceptance of "sārvabhauma dharma", which does not confine dharma to a particular sect only; this non-sectarian character of dharma makes it "universal". The Jain philosophy has propounded dharma which is acceptable for whole of the humanity. Whereas many of the religions believe that "if you come in our fold or join our creed or faith, then and only then you can get salvation, otherwise not." No religion allows one to join other religion. In other words, it is not acceptable to other religions that the followers of other religions could attain salvation without coming into their fold.

According to Jainism, dharma is above a sect or a fold. In fact, one has to distinguish dharma from the sect. A sect is not dharma per say. There can not be an alliance of a sect with dharma. A person may belong to any sect, but if his psyche is pure, sacred, free from attachment and aversion, then he is a follower of dharma. This is the doctrine of universal dharma. Herein, the sect is not connected with dharma. It gives recognition only to dharma and not to any sect.

The dharma has to be one and same for all. Lord Mahāvīra said—evaluate the man not by the sect he belongs to or by the lable of his religion, but judge him by his virtues. This outlook of Jainism provides great relief in the present turmoil in the field of religion, which is the product of cross sectarianism. The Jain philosophy clearly demarcates between 'dharma' and 'saṃpradāya' (sect). 'Dharma' embraces all the humanity where as a sect means a group of persons holding certain views and engaged in particular rituals or particular kind of worship. 'Dharma' is not a theoretical dogma. It is enshrined in living a virtuous life.

One may not be a follower of Jainism, or a Jain by birth, but if there is a person whose conduct and behaviour are infused with righteousness and high conduct, whose mind is free from attachment and aversion, then definitely he is a follower of dharma leading to salvation, truly he is entitled to attain the ultimate emancipation. Indeed, such great was the concept of dharma given by Lord Mahāvīra.

The present age is the age of non-sectarianism. Although there is no dearth of sectarinists or fundamentalists even today, yet the enlightened thinkers today are not at all in favour of any kind of sectarianism. They are, in fact, in favour of dharma. They are dead against the fundamentalism or religious fanaticism. We may say that the characteristic of the present age is "non-sectarian" outlook. It may be unfortunate that such attitude free from narrow sectarianism has not become wide-spread in masses, that people at large are still reeling under the sectarian narrow-mindedness, even then it is beyond doubt that in the field of enlightened consciousness, the "non-sectarianism" is given utmost importance.

If research is being done in the history of thoughts and philosophical ideas, it would probably be found that it is Jainism which is the pioneer in the field of non-sectarian dharma or sārvabhauma dharma and that it was Lord Mahāvīra who first of all gave such magnanimous concept.

There is a technical term in Jain philosophy—'asoccā kevalī' (Skt. aśrutvā kevalī). It means that even a commoner, who has not studied religious books of Jainism or any other faith, who has not formally joined any particular religious sect or accepted someone as his guru and does not follow any prescribed religious practices can reach the summit of spiritual attainment and become a kevalī i.e., an omniscient one, free from attachment and aversion and passions (kaṣāya) like anger, conceit, deceit and greed, if he is possessed of virtues of true dharma like modesty, tolerance etc., by nature or by cultivating them through righteous conduct. The asoccā kevalī has been given the same status of kevalī in Jainism, which is attained by the duly initiated ascetic in Jain tradition through meticulous performance in Jain ascetic practices. There is absolutely no difference in the status of asoccā kevalī and other kevalī. Is it not a great acceptance of grand sārvabhauma dharma? It implies that the space is an universal existence, which can not be kept confined to bounded limits. In the same way, the true dharma or truth also cannot be confined within a sect or sects. We can say that the concept of non-sectarian dharma is indeed a characteristic peculiarity of Jainism.

3. Spiritualistic Doctrine of Equality

The third characteristic peculiarity of Jainism is the ādhyātmika sāmyavāda—the "Spiritualistic Doctrine of Equality". Jainism is well known for its emphasis on the principle of equality. In fact, the name of religion propounded by Lord Mahāvīra is "samatā dharma" or "sāmāyika dharma" (i.e., religion of equality). Even there is historical evidence that in past sāmāyika dharma was the name of Jainism. In ancient Indian literature, there have been three trations (1) Vaidika—based on Vedas. (2) Laukika—based on secular tradition related with popular beliefs and (3) Sāmāyika - based on samatā dharma. The whole śramaṇa tradition and Jainism belong to the last category. 'Samaya dhamma mudāhare muni'—Lord Mahāvīra propounded the dharma of samatā. Thus, one can find in Jainism the basic features of spiritual socialism.

It propounds that all living beings or souls, irrespective of their development, are equal. It means that right from the least developed souls of earth-bodied beings upto the highly developed human beings, all are equal as far as the element of 'soul hood' is concerned. This is not only a theoretical principle, but it is the base of applied samatā dharma in practical life.

Jainism has considered the doctrine of casteism (jātivāda) as atāttvika (i.e., without any metaphysical base). It has thus denied that anyone born in a particular caste should be regarded high or low according to the social status given to the caste. In times of Mahāvīra, the brahmanism (or the Vedic religion) recognised jātivāda as tāttvika—it believed in low or high status of the caste in which one was born. And, on that very base, one was considered touchable or untouchable. Such caste-system based on "birth in a particular caste" was in vogue, which had its roots in varṇa-vyavasthā. (The four varṇas such as brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya and śudra form the four classes in the society). But, today the thought and voice of the present age has undergone a change. It has accepted that in Indian social context, casteism has done a lot of harm to our society. Thus, itis dead against the casteism. Isn't that the influence of Jainism? Also, Buddhism has contributed to it. Jainism has always been fighting against it. Lord Mahāvīra preached that man does not take birth with a particular caste lable as such. Therefore, classification could only be based on what he does, what is his karma (action), and not by his birth.

"Kammuṇā baṃbhaṇo hoi, kammuṇā joi khattiyo,
kamuṇā vaiso hoi, suddo havai kammuṇā."

It means -

"It is by karma that one is brāhmaṇa;

it is by karma that one is kṣatriya;

it is by karma that one is vaiśya;

it is by karma that one is śudra."

Thus, before Mahāvīra, there prevailed a social system of four varṇa (classes). Mahāvīra, said, "It should not be based on birth in a particular caste; it should be based on karma i.e., present action or profession." The same person who is employed in defense services today may become a businessman tomorrow—today he is a kṣatriya, tomorrow he may become a vaiśya, or even he may be employed in teaching services, then he would become a brāhmaṇa. The same person may belong to all the four varnas (or jātis) by employing himself in different services. Thus, jātivāda is atāttvika - it is arbitrary. It should not be based on birth, but on karma. On the basis of this only, no one should be considered high or low on the basis of his birth. Hence, Lord Mahāvīra gave directives to his disciples—"Don't discriminate between man and man on the basis of casteism. If, say, a slave or a servant of a sovereign king is initiated first into asceticism, and his master happens to get initiated later, then it is incumbent upon the sovereign to pay obeisance to his former slave (who is now senior to him in tenure of asceticism); now he should not have the conceit that he was the sovereign king. One who gets initiated in samatā dharma has to observe the code of conduct prescribed for samatā dharma, and therefore, conceit is to be given up by him, for it is against the code.

The Lord himself initiated a chaṇḍālā, who was then considered an untouchable. In Jain religion, people from all castes and classes were given 'dīkṣā' (initiation). Harikesha Muni (who was a cāndāla) came from a very low class of social strata. But considering his virtuous life, all other munis, who came from upper class of society, bowed to him in reverence. That was recognition of his virtues such as penance, conduct without blemish and the sense of equality.

Bhagaván Mahāvīra insisted on giving equal status to all after being initiated into his order; he asked his disciples to refrain from all kinds of distinctions made on the basis of jati. In case fo Harikesha Muni, Lord Mahāvīra said, "See, O my disciples! the reverence given to Muni Harikesha even by the ascetics who belonged formerly to the high castes like Brāhmaṇa; it is the direct evidence of truth that it is the penance which is important and not the jāti." Thus, in Mahāvīra's philosophy, the false concepts like untouchability had no place whatsoever. He strongly suggested that no man could be hold untouchable or despicable. Lord Mahāvīra vehemently attacked social curses like untouchability and special privileges that were granted on social classification based on birth (janma).

He asserted that one who considers anyone despicable or keeps hatred towards anyone binds the deluding karma, as a result of which his soul is engrossed by stark delusion.

In ancient times, for quite a few centuries, the male dominated the human society. His counterpart, i.e., the female, was considered an inferior specie. For thousand years in the human society, man has meted with women various sorts of cruel, atrocious and wanton behaviour, the account of which is extremely shocking. Lord Mahāvīra was probably the first person in Indian history to have given an equal status to man and woman. He initiated women into this 'dharma saṅgha' (religious order) and drew up a very effective code of conduct, that has worked without blemish throughout the long history of Jain religion over 2500 years.

In no religions tradition before Jain religion or Lord Mahāvīra, we find that women were duly initiated in ascetic life. He was a pioneer in allowing women to be initiated as nuns in the religious order and creating a well organised congragation of nuns.

Initially, Lord Buddha was against the entry of women in his dharma saṅgha, fearing about the problems related to breach of fidelity, but he was later persuaded to accept it. When, for the first time, Buddha was requested by Ananda to initiate Gautami in his monastic order, he said to Ananda, "Well, it would not be all right or proper to do so", and he rejected his proposal. But, after that, Ananda insisted too much on his request, and at last Buddha agreed to his request, but at the same time, he commented, "Ananda! I am conceding to your request, but do you know that initiation of nuns in my monastic order would curtail its life by five hundred years, it would make it crippled." And the history bears testimony to the fact that on account of the nun's initiation, the Buddhist monastic order became hobbled much earlier, the reason being lack of discipline.

Lord Mahāvīra had already initiated nuns in his order, but he was too cautious to allow any laxity in discipline. Lord Mahāvīra was quite precise and clear in his enunciation of the rules and regulations pertining to monks and nuns. He was equally meticulous and strict about their mutual relations in the order.

In the period of 2500 years of Jain religion after Mahāvīra, thousands of nuns got initiated in the saṅgha, but no indiscipline crept in the order. Thus, Mahāvīra succeeded in establishing equality of sexes in the saṅgha, but at the same time his organisational capacity allowed the discipline to be kept intact. He proved that gender equality and organisation (or discipline) are not antagonistic. It would be rather wrong to conceive that you can save either of the two, and not both. In absence of strict organisation (and discipline), equality also could not be saved. Lord Mahāvīra was thus a true revolutionary in the sphere of religion.

We have seen that Lord Mahāvīra put woman at par with man. The trend of modem age has also been moving in the same direction today. I do not want to exaggerate my statement, but I feel that if we really go deep into deliberations, we shall find that the way of Mahāvīra's working, dealing with problems and his trend of thinking—all of these are in unison with that of the present age. We hear the echo of Mahāvīra's thoughts in the present age trends of thinking. May be, 2500 years ago, the then age did not understand the thoughts of Mahāvīra properly or could not digest them. But it is a fact that no good idea would go barren. It seems that it remains floating in the space for ever, and that when the opportune moment comes, even after several thousand years, some genius is able to catch it from the space-records and give it a proper shape. In this context, we can safely conclude that the trend of the present age or the age-consciousness is reflecting or echoing the same thinking presented by Lord Mahāvīra 2500 years ago.

4. Anekānta

The fourth speciality of Jainism is its philosophy of 'Anekānta'—adopting a multi-faceted view to look at anything.'Anekānta' also means acceptance of the phenomena of constant change, co-existence among opposite views and the spirit of reconciliation instead of confrontation. This goes very well with the principle of democracy, which is the hallmark of modern political thinking.

In the age of democracy, we see that a person who gets prominence today becomes mediocre at other times, and vice versa. Even the President of a country today would be a common citizen tomorrow, and so on. In anekānta too, the same thing can happen. An attribute which is under consideration is given more prominence, while other attributes are made subsidiary; at other times, the opposite may happen.

Another illustration which explains the theme of anekānta is that of "churning" process used in extracting butter from the buttermilk. In this process, while one hand is pushed forward, the other one is pulled backward and vice versa so that the churning rod is continuously set in motion which results in separating butter from the buttermilk. If both the hands used in churning are placed in front or both are held back, churning cannot be materialized. Anekānta is also like churning, in which the principal attribute at one time is made subsidiary at others, and vice versa.

Again, the same thing can be understood through the process of walking, in which when the right leg is put forward, the left leg put behind and vice versa, but we cannot simultaneously take both the legs forward. This way, by giving relative importance to both, we can walk, otherwise not.

Now, let us understand what exactly we mean by anekānta. When we want to describe about a thing or a particular attribute of a thing, what is needed is to take into consideration the importance of other things or other attributes also. We can make the one under consideration the principal one, and keep others as secondary, and then do the vice versa. Then, we can describe the truth. But, instead, if we make all principal or all secondary simultaneously, we can not get the truth, or the "butter". The principle of co-existence, in fact, is developed only on such relativistic approach. At present, this principle has been accepted as the "thought of the age". Similarly, the concept of democracy is also given the same status. The emergence of U.N.O. would not have been possible without such principles. It is only because of these concepts (which are nothing but the application of anekānta) that both communist and capitalist nations share the same platform and negotiate on the problems of world. It is, in fact, the implementation of the principle of syādvāda and co-existence. All such concepts of reconciliation and relativistic value are nothing but the corollaries of the universal principle of anekānta.

We may say that the theoretical concept of anekānta was given by Lord Mahāvīra, and the practical application was formalised 2500 years after him.

5. Aparigraha

The fifth principle of Jainism is 'Aparigraha' (Non-possessiveness related to material objects).

The trend of the present age is also in favour of aparigraha. Perhaps, one would think that it is quite a paradoxical thinking. But, actually it is not so. We agree that in the present age, the parigraha has increased manifold. But at the same time, in the post-Marxist period, there is a strong voice in favour of non-possessiveness. It means that there is a consensus in favour of limiting the individual possessions. Even the capitalists have started to feel the importance of such notions. The voice of economic equality has become so much powerful that it cannot be neglected.

Although there prevails autocracy and dictatorship in some of the nations, yet people there cannot give up democracy or even they want to project themselves as favouring democratic system. In the same way, even the capitalists talk of economic equality and feel dignified in doing so. It means that the idea of non-possessiveness has become more powerful—the philosophical or theoretical concept of Mahāvīra' s aparigraha has become more deep-rooted.

Conclusion

I have presented here the five fundamental principles of Jainism. The question may arise whether I am speaking in the terminology of the modern age or that of the ancient Jainism. A medicore modem thinker would think that whatever I have given here are nothing but the generally accepted best ideas of the modem age. But what I have really spoken of are the ageless tenets of Jainism, which are well substantiated, neither arbitary, nor manipulated ones. Their strong bases are available in scriptures; they, however, have now been accepted widely and taken the form of age-consciousness or the foundation of modem thinking world over. It proves the universal and perennial character of Jain tenets.

Once, when Achrya Tulsi visited Jodhpur, he was asked, "When the Jain tenets are so excellent, why the number of Jain followers is so small?" Acharya Tulsi said—"I don't believe that in reality, the Jains are so small in number as you believe." The reply was quite surprising. Acharya Tulsi clarified it—"Lord Mahāvīra's religion lives not in any credoes or dogmas but in the faith and practice of its virtuous followers. The appeal and relevance of such a religion transcends time and space. The basic tenets of Jain Dharma are—Ahiṃsā, Aparigraha, Anāgraha and Anekānta. Jainism is not a sectarian bunch of certain beliefs or a particular way of life. Its real spirit lies in the faith and virtues, which is the foundation for the well-being of humanity as a whole for all times to come. So, I am not speaking about the number of Jains by birth, but that of people a t large, who have faith in the Jain tenets and also who try to put them into practice, even though they are not Jain by birth. The number of
such people is definitely not so small as you think."

When sugar is put into milk, it dissolves and disappears, but the whole quantity of milk becomes sweet. So also, even if the Jain Dharma is not so prominently seen in the present age, it has definitely coloured the whole modern trend of thinking with its ageless tenets, and this impact is so great that it seems as if the they have merged into one.

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This is an edited version of the author's work:
Jain I Darshan ke Mool Sutra
Translated by Prof. M. P. Lele under the guidance of Muni Mahendra Kumar ji and Muni Dulahraj ji, Senior disciples of Acharya Mahprajna.

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