Beyond Sustainable Economy: Non–possession is a Religion

Published: 01.07.2017

Ahiṁsā, Anekānta and Aprigraha - these three doctrines are the great contribution of Jain philosophy and religion to the world. Ahiṁsā, that is, non-hurting, non-killing, or friendliness towards all living beings. Anekānta, it is the understanding of the object or an event from multiple perspectives. Aprigraha, it is the non-possession or a feeling of non-attachment. In this paper I attempt to explain the terms religion, dharma and aprigraha and to prove how aparigraha is to be considered as a religion.

The word 'religion' is derived from the Latin word 'religio', meaning a bond between man and God. Religion being a complex phenomenon, it has been defined in different ways by various philosophers. For instance, James Martineau[1] said: "Religion is the belief in an ever living God, that is, in a divine mind and will ruling the universe and holding moral relations with mankind." F.H. Bradley[2] has defined it as, "Religion is the attempt to express the complete reality of goodness through every aspect of our being." J.M.E. McTaggart[3] puts it as the "best emotion resting on a conviction of a harmony between ourselves and the universe at large."

If we take these definitions as attempts to state necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be a religion, it is not difficult to show that none of them is adequate. These definitions stress one aspect or another of religion, but by exclusion of others. There are polytheistic religions which do not agree to a single divine ruler of the universe and also there are religions such as Buddhism, Jainism in which a personal creator-god or gods play no role at all. Also, many identify religion with morality. But there have been and are also societies where there was or is no direct connection between the ritual system with its associated beliefs in supernatural beings and the moral code. Rituals were meant to maintain contacts with spirit worlds for good or evil, and often for selfish purposes. In this way, a definition of religion which is generally acceptable cannot be given.

The Sanskrit word 'dharma' is often translated as 'religion.' But these two terms do not exactly signify the same thing. Religion usually refers to God or gods, but this is not the case with dharma. Dharma can be without God. The word 'dharma' is derived from the Sanskrit root 'dṛ', meaning to hold, to carry. Jinadāsāgani says in the Daśavaikālika Sūtra that action which protects against evil and holds man in purity is called dharma.

It is said that the actions or the conduct which keeps humans in purity is dharma. The word 'dharma' has wide connotations. Firstly, it is used as the nature of an object (vathusabhavo dharma). Secondly, in Jainism, among six substances (astikāya) one is dharmāstikāya. Thirdly it is a particular kind of meditation. Fourthly, the Jain texts mention 10 kinds of dharma, such as forgiveness, etc. In common parlance, it is also used in the sense of 'duty'.  

Summarizing this I would like to state that both focus on the point that it is a belief, a code of conduct that holds or binds man in purity. Jains assert five basic codes of conduct. Lord Mahavira has given five basic principles of conduct, viz., non-violence (ahiṁsā), truth (satya), non-stealing acaurya, celibacy (brahmācārya) and non-possession (aprigraha). All five have their own importance, but non-violence is given the foremost place. Many texts say ahiṁsā is as the crop and all the other principles are as a fence to protect it. Not only this, the concept 'ahiṁsā' has in Jain religion become synonymous with 'karuṇā' (compassion) in Buddhism. The question arises why the principle of ahiṁsā is given so much importance among the five codes. Actually, what man perceives is only gross nature. He grasps external events and external causes. He does not perceive the internal causes. He perceives violence in particular in various forms, as killing, war, fights, quarrels, etc. Hence, he thinks about the eradication of violence and lays emphasis on non-violence in the first place. However, in the words of Ācārya Mahāprajñā[4], "Violence is a consequence". What we perceive are external actions and behavior. Great seers like Lord Mahāvīra and Lord Buddha have grasped the internal causes leading to violence.

Here, I would like to place some points showing how parigraha stands as the cause of violence or evil actions, and why aparigraha is to be considered as a religion.

1. Instincts are the basic nature by which the living beings are motivated. In Jain scriptures we come across 10 types of instincts e.g.  āhāra, bhaya, methuna, parigraha, etc. One among these is parigraha. There is no mention of hiṁsā as one of the types of instincts. So, what I want to emphasis is: parigraha is the basic instinct, which motivates man to perform certain violent activities.

2. In the Sūtrakṛtāṅga Sūtra (1.3) the Lord Mahāvīra says that a possessive man indulges in violence, gets it done by others and also gives approval to it. In this way he goes on binding karmas and falls into the cycle of miseries. Actually, possession and possessiveness these words are to be understood. Possession is the physical property in the form of cash, assets, animal beings, etc that which is tangible. On the other hand, possessiveness is the attachment towards or craving for possession. Possessiveness is a kind of emotional attitude in the sense as it has been defined by Lord Mahāvīra. Due to this craving man wants more and more. Once a single desire is satisfied many others desires surface. That's why it is said that jāhā lāhā tāhā loho[5] ­- 'where there is profit, there is greed' and even there is a famous saying in Jain canons, icchā u āgāsa samā anantiā - desires are endless like the sky'.

This all indicates that not only the physical possession is a cause, but internal possession too is a cause for violence. Attachment regarding possession is the main cause of violence. The more significant point which I want to focus on is that it is not that always by fulfilling the desires man indulge in violence. But even unfulfilment of desires also leads to violence. It would be clear by the following chart:

  1. Attachment ► more desires ► fulfilled ► causes violence by hurting or killing others ► impurity.
  2. Attachment ► more desires ► unfulfilled ► causes violence in the form of jealousy, greed, etc. ► impurity.
  3. Detachment ► control over desires ► less desires ► fulfilled ► less violence ► less impurity.
  4. Detachment ► less desires ► unfulfilled ► no violence ► complete purity.

In this way, external or internal possession in both these forms lead to violence and non-possession leads to non-violence and sustain man in purity. What give happiness to man is satisfaction and if man is not satisfied he becomes unhappy. In the case of possession man is unhappy if his desires are fulfilled or not fulfilled he remains unhappy because there occurs more desires or other new problems occur. Regarding this, the Sarvārthasiddhi[6] rightly states that when one gets object in possession one should be resolute to safeguard this accumulated possession. While securing property, violence is inevitable. Sometimes, for that reason, a man lies, in certain cases he steals too.

In this way, possession leads to a violent atmosphere. In order to create a violence-free environment, non-possession is a condition. With the application of non-possession in life we can survive peacefully and harmoniously. What is to be focused is that non-possessiveness/ non-attachment must become an attitude, a prime part of life. In other words, it should become the conduct of life. This will keep man purr in attitude and will protect him from evil activities. Not only this, it will be helpful for others too in living a happy and harmonious life. That's why Ācārya Mahāprajña rightly says, "Aprigraha paramo dharma." (Aparigraha is the highest religion.)


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Title: Beyond Sustainable Economy
Author: Dr. Rudi Jansma, Dr. Sushma Singhvi
Publisher: Prakrit Bharati Academy

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acaurya
  2. Acharya
  3. Acharya Mahapragya
  4. Ahiṁsā
  5. Anekānta
  6. Aparigraha
  7. Astikāya
  8. Brahmācārya
  9. Buddha
  10. Buddhism
  11. Celibacy
  12. Daśavaikālika
  13. Daśavaikālika Sūtra
  14. Dharma
  15. Dharmāstikāya
  16. Environment
  17. Greed
  18. Jain Philosophy
  19. Jainism
  20. Karmas
  21. Mahapragya
  22. Mahavira
  23. Mahāvīra
  24. Meditation
  25. Non-violence
  26. Parigraha
  27. Pujyapada
  28. Sanskrit
  29. Satya
  30. Sūtra
  31. Sūtrakṛtāṅga
  32. Tattvārthasūtra
  33. Terapanth
  34. Uttarādhyayana
  35. Uttarādhyayana Sūtra
  36. Violence
  37. Ācārya
  38. Ācārya Mahāprajña
  39. Āhāra
  40. āhāra
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