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Beyond Sustainable Economy: A New Model of Non-Possessive and Nonviolent Lifestyle

Published: 07.07.2017

I am of the view that the Jain Model of Non-Possessive and Nonviolent Lifestyle can become a universal model for emulation by all those who believe in ecological ethic. It does not have any sectarian component in it and can become a useful instrument to save the planet from destruction and ensure survival into the third millennium.

S.L. Gandhi[1]

His Holiness the late Acharya Tulsi once gave a slogan - "nij par śaṣan, fir anuśaṣan[2] - first control the self and then talk of discipline." This statement is an epitome of the model of non-possessive and nonviolent lifestyle. Discipline stems from self-restraint. Without restraining the self if a person expects discipline in social life, it will only disappoint him.

One of the most celebrated philosophers and a leading Jain spiritual leader, His Holiness the late Acharya Mahapragya (1920-2010) had made the education and orientation of people in ahimsa as the main mission of his life. He moved from village to village and city to city spreading ecological ethics and creating ahimsa awareness among the people. He was of the view that a person's evil propensities are responsible for several diseases that appear unexpectedly in his body despite his being careful about his eating habits. Explaining this phenomenon he writes - "Emotional impetuosity gives rise not only to hiṁsā (violence) but it also weakens the body. Both bhava (emotion) and roga (disease) are intimately connected. Many experiments have been made in this area. If a person has a feeling of jealousy towards another person, he runs the risk of being gripped by peptic ulcer. He will think that he has been careful enough in eating, then, how is it that he is a victim of peptic ulcer? It is beyond his comprehension that it is his jealous nature that has caused it. It has now been proved beyond doubt that man's diseases have much to do with his powerful emotional drives and unhealthy lifestyle.[3]

The Jain Way of Non-Possessive and Nonviolent Living

After a careful study of the Jain values, their impact on life and man's relationship with his environment, a Jain model of non-possessive and nonviolent living was developed by His Holiness Acharya Mahapragya. It consists of the following eight components. These propositions are interconnected, and all of them can be approached from the starting point and in the light of each of them. In this article they will be approached from the viewpoint of aparigraha.

The eight principle are:

  1. samyak darśana (right faith or true spiritual insight).
  2. anekānta (the doctrine of non-absolutism)
  3. ahiṁsā (nonviolence)
  4. sāmana saṁskṛti - sam, śam, śram (the mendicant or ascetic culture - equanimity, continence and laboriousness)
  5. ichchha parimana (limiting desire)
  6. samyak ajīivika (right means of livelihood)
  7. samyak saṁskāra (right formative influence)
  8. aharśuddhi aur vyasana mukti (purity of food and freedom from addictions)

1. Right Faith (samyak darśana)

Right faith is the most fundamental of all, because when one has the right faith in the teachings of those having superhuman knowledge, i.e. those who have seen Truth directly without interference of a speculative and/or mystified mind, all other things are studied naturally and without doubt with an open heart and mind. Right darshan or vision also means the True way of seeing nature or the universe as it is - not indirectly through books or what teachers tell. On the other hand, 'wrong views' are those which derive from grasping and hoarding 'substitute truths' by imperfect minds and false egoness - talking the 'truth' before one really knows it. Therefore, parigraha is ego-grasping of comfortable 'truths', also called maya ('illusion'), and aparigraha is the not grasping (by the ego) or even the absence of wishing to grasp (because it is philosophically impossible) of anything that is beyond mental understanding. The truth itself IS, and cannot be grasped by any limited mind, and is universal - always greater than what any personal ego can conceive.

It is the man's deluded belief that is responsible for all the evils he indulges in. He fails to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. His deluded belief gives rise to his feelings of rāga (attachment) and dveṣa (hatred). It is these two human propensities that wreak havoc on the living beings that live around him. So the first component of a Jain model of nonviolent lifestyle is samyak darśan[4] (enlightened worldview or right belief). A person endowed with samyak darśan considers an arhat (an ascetic who has destroyed the four destructive karmas[5] and is free from attachment) his deity, adores the ascetics who try to suppress their passions by self-restraint and believes in the truth as propounded by omniscient beings, i.e. a path that leads to freedom from passions. The true spiritual insight consists in one's belief in arhat, the path of righteousness shown by them and a true guru. Its results are:

  1. the development of right faith (samyak darśana);
  2. the development of a creative outlook;
  3. the subduing of anger, pride, deceit and greed, the four major passions.

False perception of reality hinders the growth of peaceful co-existence, humility, fraternity, friendship, straightforwardness and business integrity. All obstacles disappear and life becomes enlightened once a person follows a lifestyle dictated by right faith (samyak darśana).

2. Non-absolutist attitude (anekānta)

Because transcendental, universal Truth is beyond the capacities of the human mind, no human being can mentally grasp it totally. They can only see things partially. Still many people - including scientists and philosophers, erroneously take the part for the whole, and believe that their findings are 'absolute' and 'indisputable,' and are prepared to grasp their point of view tightly and defend it at the cost of almost everything - sometimes even their life. Still, all that they can not perceive at the moment may contain many elements of truth which are equally valid. This is clear to any wise philosopher - still ego's are big, and for many have more attraction than the truth that their views are only speculations and steps towards gaining transcendental insight. Obviously this attitude is harmful and a 'wrong view.'

Social harmony depends largely on our ability to look at divergent views from a non-absolutist angle. Life is relative, therefore without treating our own view as unimportant, we should try to understand the viewpoints of others as well. He alone can lead a healthy social life who follows non-absolutism and open-mindedness in his day-to-day social interaction. One should think, "If I ascribe some element of truth to my thoughts, how can I deny the same to someone else's thoughts?" He alone can have harmonious relationships who can reconcile the opposite views and develop a non-absolutist attitude. Biased attitudes towards others and dogmatic insistence on a viewpoint make our life dry, bitter and sad. One who follows a nonviolent lifestyle must inculcate a non-absolutist attitude towards others. It is an important component of a nonviolent lifestyle. The outlook of a follower of the anekānta[6] lifestyle is characterized by humility. It automatically resolves disputes and strife. One's domestic life becomes pleasant, happy and sweet. In the absence of a universal feeling of non-absolutism, it is vain to hope for any improvement in human relations. We must realize that the truth is many-sided. The whole truth is known only to omniscient beings but at the same time it is also true that every standpoint or viewpoint or religious belief has an element of truth, hence it should be respected. This reconciliatory attitude paves the way for peaceful co-existence.

The results of living according to the anekānta lifestyle are:

  1. development of a non-absolutist outlook;
  2. development of an attitude of harmony;
  3. development of an attitude capable of harmonizing the opposites and controversial views.

3. Nonviolence (ahiṁsā)

Tīrthaṅkara Mahāvīra said, 'savve pana na hantava, esa dhamme dhuve nije sasae - no living being of the world is violable - deserves to be killed. Only ahiṁsā dharma (dharma rooted in ahiṁsā) is steadfast, everlasting and eternal.' Ahiṁsā is the greatest dharma. Just as ahiṁsā is an eternal truth so is hiṁsā (violence) a stark reality. It has become a part of social life. Its predominance will endanger our survival. Killing under whatever pretence is the taking (parigraha) of physical life that is under custody of another soul, and therefore in every sense illegal. Apart from causing suffering to the victims, it obstructs their soul's fulfillment of duty and their opportunity to choose their own direction for this life.

So Mahavira exhorts his followers to at least refrain from avoidable violence. Both mental and verbal violence are more harmful than physical violence. So the ideal is to abstain from violence in thought, word and deed. Not only Mahavira but all great individuals, including Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Tolstoy and Martin Luther King and many others, upheld ahiṁsā as the greatest virtue.

A person who chooses a nonviolent lifestyle has to take a vow that he will at least refrain from killing innocent beings. Ordinary men cannot avoid violence altogether in their daily life. Even those endowed with right faith undertake discussions with a view to finding ways to minimize violence. Dialogues become important starting points on the road to the development of nonviolence. The first principle underlying the above process of minimization requires the relinquishment of avoidable violence. Due to negligence, attachment and strong desires people indulge in a lot of violence. Therefore those who want to adopt a nonviolent lifestyle should always remember the precept: 'Minimize violence. Avoid unnecessary violence.'

Cruelty causes unnecessary violence. Murders and feticide are clear illustrations of violence. Suicide is an example of a flurry of excitement. Human apparent motive behind cosmetic goods is the desire for make-up and beautiful looks, but at the back of it lies cruelty.

One who avoids unnecessary violence does not overuse soil, water and vegetation. In using them he practices restraint and discrimination.

The results of a nonviolent lifestyle are:

  1. the development of sensitivity;
  2. ecological and environmental harmony;
  3. steady growth of friendship with other living beings.

4. The ascetic culture (śramana saṁskṛti)

The most vital force of the Jain lifestyle is the śramanic culture. 'śramana' is a Sanskrit word which in is the various Prakrits called saman, śaman and śramana. A saman is he whose heart is pure and who treats all sentient beings like himself. A śaman is he who knows how to subdue his passions and excitement. A śramana is a tapasvi[7] who undergoes religious austerities like fasting and mortification of the self and is given to doing hard work and self-reliance. They take the dharma of aparigraha to its ultimate consequence, and therefore are a continuous inspiration to remind the world of the opposite of its present trends.

Would you like to be treated as inferior or subjected to wild anger and ill-treatment or to be exploited by others? If not, you would have to change your lifestyle. You would have to treat all others as equal and consider no one inferior. You must learn to curb your excitement and impulses. You must not create obstructions in the way of someone's earning his living.

The results of a lifestyle based on the śramanic or ascetic culture are

  1. human unity;
  2. putting an end to racial and caste hatred as well as untouchablity;
  3. peaceful co-existence;
  4. balanced behavior;
  5. development of self-reliance.

5. Limiting or Restraining Desires (ichha parimana)

Material objects that sustain life on this planet and help jīvas to live comfortably are limited, but the number of people far exceeds the limit. Their desires too keep growing. As a solution to this problem Tīrthaṅkara Mahāvīra propounded the principle of limiting or restraining one's desires. Individual ownership is necessary for the worldly progress of a householder but unlimited ownership runs counter to the creation of a harmonious socio-political world order. So there is a middle way - limit your desires; limit individual ownership and acquisition; limit individual consumption.

Limiting desires is a great challenge for the present economic competitiveness and for the rat race for development. The experiment is difficult but in it alone lies the solution to the problem. A follower of nonviolent lifestyle must limit his desires.

The results of the lifestyle based on limited desires are that

  1. its practitioner shares, parts with a part of the resources he acquires;
  2. he contributes to building a healthy society.

6. The right means of livelihood (samyak ajīvika)

In order to sustain his life man has to earn a living so that he may buy his bread and satisfy his hunger. He must work to enable him to fulfill his basic needs i.e. bread, a house and clothes. As he makes progress in his work, his wealth increases gradually and with it his desires and greed also swell. His right faith or samyak darśana restrains his greed. His consciousness of the purity of means awakens in him faith in nonviolence. He begins to realize that he is not alone on this planet. There are innumerable living beings who also need the earth's resources for their survival. This realization leads him to limit his needs. He refrains from employing dishonest means to earn money. He becomes morally conscious and guards against tarnishing his image and character. He always remains vigilant and uses only the right means to earn wealth

The results of the right means of livelihood are:

    1. clean business and integrity;
    2. abstinence from the trade and business that involve intoxicants, meat, fish, eggs and similar items which are undesirable for eating;
    3. abstinence from activities that involve smuggling;
    4. abstinence from adulteration of food stuffs;
    5. abstinence from trading in arms;
    6. abstinence from felling trees and destroying forests.

7. Exposing children to right formative influences (samyak saṁskāra)

Modern children should be made aware of aparigraha as much (or rather more than, or in stead of) the values of possessing material objects, short-term psychological satisfaction and much money. Greediness is not an inherent part of human nature, as has been proved may times by anthropological research on cultures which had had little contact with the western ways, showing that sharing, friendship, family relations, friendliness, naturalness and respect for nature are more prominent psychological traits than greed. So 'modern' children too can be taught these traits, both by example and by intellectual presentation.

An individual dedicated to samyak saṁskāra or right educational influences promotes this in his daily life. Life without direction leads nowhere. The right direction is one that leads to one's destination or goal. And our destination is the realm where there is equity, balance and self-conquest. It is therefore essential that from the very beginning such education is imparted to children as may lead to that destination. Birth, christening, marriage, festivals and death are special occasions which lend an identity to the individual and this identity is made possible by some rituals and sacraments. The Jain rituals are (in contradistinction with the rituals of many cultures where animal and human sacrifice was practiced) never contrary to the spirit of ahimsa. It must be borne in mind that ugly exhibitionism, wastefulness displayed on such occasions only sow the seeds of greed, agitation and violence in society. They also create a negative impact on the pristine minds of children. Only such rituals should be performed as have right formative influences on children.

8. Purity of food and freedom from addiction (aharśuddhi aur vyasan mukti)

Apart from the ecological crisis and the crisis of economic inequality, a major burden on the people's shoulders is the food and health crisis. In other words: overconsumption (i.e. parigraha) of foods not harmonious with our natural biological system and the ecosystem of which we are a part and puts a now almost unbearable burden on the global ecosystem called 'Earth' and its resultant: much unnecessary disease among the people and a thriving chemical-pharmaceutical energy, which is so successful that the producers have lost all control over their greediness, and which causes huge and dangerous chemical pollution, human attachment to a false health idea as well as fear, and, last but not least, much suffering in the animal kingdom. So many wise teachers throughout the centuries in all cultures, and most of all our own intuition, have taught us moderation and saneness with regard to taking what is necessary for the maintaining of the soul's temporary vehicle - the physical body. But is our palatal parigraha - which might be called a psychological disease or addiction - which desires more and more satisfaction, ultimately and unavoidably leading to our own disease and possible death as well as to that of the planet.

Purity of food is a requirement not merely of religious texts but also of health science and practical psychology. There is an ancient saying which states that 'as you eat so you think.' Science has further enlarged this concept by stating that there is a causal chain of food, neurotransmitters and behavior. Eating meat and animal fats in general may result in the constriction of the blood vessels which in turn enhances the chances of coronary and heart diseases.

Use of alcoholic drinks affects the liver and other organs. Likewise nicotine contained in tobacco poisons the system of smokers and chewers of areca nuts mixed with tobacco. This again leads to the constriction of blood vessels and enhances the chances of contracting cardiac ailments, cancer and other deadly diseases. The most obvious result of tobacco tar is cancer.

Gambling and similar addictions also cause mental afflictions and thus prove a curse for those seeking mental peace and happiness. It is vitally important to keep away from them.

The results of using pure foods and freedom from addiction are:

  1. healthy and balanced life;
  2. improvement in physical, mental and emotional health;
  3. protection from criminal instincts.

I am of the view that the Jain Model of Non-Possessive and Nonviolent Lifestyle can become a universal model for emulation by all those who believe in ecological ethic. It does not have any sectarian component in it and can become a useful instrument to save the planet from destruction and ensure survival into the third millennium.


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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. Acharya
  2. Acharya Mahapragya
  3. Acharya Tulsi
  4. Ahimsa
  5. Ahiṁsā
  6. Anekānta
  7. Anger
  8. Anuvibha
  9. Anuvrat
  10. Aparigraha
  11. Arhat
  12. Bhava
  13. Body
  14. Buddha
  15. Consciousness
  16. Darshan
  17. Darśan
  18. Darśana
  19. Deceit
  20. Dharma
  21. Discipline
  22. Dveṣa
  23. Environment
  24. Equanimity
  25. Fasting
  26. Fear
  27. Gandhi
  28. Greed
  29. Guru
  30. Jaipur
  31. Karma
  32. Karmas
  33. Mahapragya
  34. Mahatma
  35. Mahatma Gandhi
  36. Mahavira
  37. Mahāvīra
  38. Maya
  39. Mukti
  40. Non-absolutism
  41. Nonviolence
  42. Omniscient
  43. Parigraha
  44. Pride
  45. Saman
  46. Samyak Darśana
  47. Sanskrit
  48. Science
  49. Soul
  50. Tapas
  51. Tapasvi
  52. Three Jewels
  53. Tolerance
  54. Tulsi
  55. Tīrthaṅkara
  56. Violence
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