Beyond Sustainable Economy: The Deeper Religious Meaning of Aparigraha

Published: 09.07.2017

Comforts and glamour of external show-off are like the sweet wrappers around poisonous capsules to ruin the life-span and wellbeing of several births and deaths in future.

In terms of actual practice, the order of the five vows should be reversed with the vow of non-possessiveness being the most important. This vow is extremely important for the practice of celibacy, non-stealing, truthfulness and nonviolence. Without practicing non-possessiveness none of the other vows can be practiced adequately, that is, without any transgressions. The literal meanings of the word 'Parigraha' (possessiveness) are to surround, to hold on both sides, embrace, enfold, envelope, seize, clutch, grasp, catch, take possession of, etc. Thus Parigraha implies material possessions. However, in the Jain scriptures the definition of Parigraha is more profound. In the Tattvārtha Sūtra, Acharya Umāsvatī defines Parigraha.

Non-possessiveness (aparigraha) is a medicine for the ailing environment. It includes the full range of feelings from liking to craving. Thus possessiveness (parigraha) does not involve mere possession of money and material but the thoughts and feelings that are associated with them. Evidently, it is not possible for an average man or woman to fully embrace the concept of non-possessiveness by renouncing all possessions.

One is advised to give up the attributes of life that do not help to become what we are or what we should be. Still we often keep such attachment within our soul, mind, heart and body and stop ourselves from attaining mokṣa (also called nirvāṇa, i.e. the liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth and all of the suffering and limitation of worldly existence). According to the Jain Tīrthaṅkaras human beings who have attained enlightenment but remain on earth in order to teach, mokṣa is attained when we attain true perception (samyak darśana). It is only then that we remain in the true nature of the soul without attachment (rāga) and repulsion (dveṣa) and have finally reached the state of knowledge, bliss and enlightenment we have deep in our being always sought for.

There was a reason behind every principle formulated by the Jain teachers: it is to help us liberate our soul from creating the negative effects of unenlightened, illusion-based, pure thoughts, speaking and action. Attachment leads us to attracting different types of karma, which become compulsions and thus we keep moving from one birth with its suffering and death to the next, and so on forever until we learn better. There are two sides of a coin; pleasure and suffering, happiness and sadness, love and hate, wealth and poverty. Each is just a perception and in the pairs of opposites the one does not exist without the other. Once we have trained ourselves to raise our mind beyond these perceptions, we have attained what is called mokṣa, mukti or nirvāṇā, liberation. We have freed our soul from the dirt of this world.

With time, we tend to mold the principles according to our needs and we all know we have done that to an extent so that our self-consciousness justifies such a change. Isn't change the only constant thing in this world? Then why not change ourselves by changing our habits and our thinking and spreading the word of Jainism across the world in its purest form. We do not need to give up everything in order to do this. As it is we have molded the principles to our requirements. Acceptation of non-possessiveness comes only with a simple understanding that nothing in life is consistent or immortal. Everything today is going to change tomorrow, may it be things, status, money, relations or situations - good or bad. It is just a waste of time and energy to get entangled with worldly things and people and then become grief-stricken when we lose the things we have attached ourselves to. But this state of mind is much easier told than experienced. It takes a lot of thinking and understanding to achieve a state of non-possessiveness towards something. Life should be taken as a journey and not a destination. There will be indefinite stations in the way and each station/ phase has something new and different to show.

A vow of non-possession is directly concerned with the material well-being of human civilization, because the accumulation of wealth is the direct result of the marching steps of civilization. To possess wealth has become identified with civilization in our time. It has actually been the prevalent fashion all throughout the period of known history of man. But the enlightened jina, the spiritual conqueror over his lower mental, emotional and physical tendencies, abhorred this popular tradition and called it the conspiracy in disguise of the devil, i.e. karma. The devil as a matter of fact, allures the self-hypnotized souls to momentary pleasures of worldly comforts, so warn the jinas. These momentary pleasures warp the seeds of immense sufferings and woes in its body's construction. Diseases and psychological obstruction are the fruits of habits and decisions of previous incarnations. Comforts and glamour of external show-off are like the sweet wrappers around poisonous capsules to ruin the life-span and wellbeing of several births and deaths in future. Hence the wise preceptors exhort to renounce all the attachments of worldly life as soon as possible and adopt the culture of non-possession as much as it is possible.

As a token of compliance of the exhortation of the Tīrthaṅkaras the faithful believers have been renouncing their possessions since the time of ṛṣabha, the first Tīrthaṅkara of the era. Even today a sufficient number of Digambara Munis [nude Jain monks – Ed.] are still treading the earth, who have no nominal possession[1] with them. It is a rare example of moral boldness to follow in actual conduct what is eulogized in theory as an institution of the Dharma order. No institution in the world could dare to proclaim to renounce physical comfort to such an extent, barring a few individual cases here and there, but the Jainas did it by establishing the institution of an ascetic order. This is the singular example of its type, as what they say they do in actuality with extreme courage and boldness.

On this institution a theoretical objection is raised whether this practice will not lead humanity in the opposite direction of modern civilization? The short answer is: modern civilization is only for the superficial, not the inner pleasure of man. The next short question is: to what cost is this pleasure sought after? Obviously it is at the cost of nature, ecology, plants as well as animals. It is clear that in order to reach the competitive heights of civilization the entire environment and its resources of energy and physical materials such as coal and oil are being exploited. The result so far is the at present uncontrollable destruction of the environment, fierce pollution of the atmosphere and exhausting sources of energy and means of living. Is this scenario the guarantee of pleasure and progress? The Jaina asks a point-blank question from humanity: is the civilization so indifferent to us that we go to such an extreme point from where no return is possible and where total destruction of this civilized humanity is imminent and sure tomorrow or the day after tomorrow? Jaina wisdom is not in the mood to compromise with such a historic folly. By this suicidal approach we are clearing the way of the devil for complete victory over us. Hence the Jaina ascetics, though small in number and being a laughing stock of the so-called civilized modernists, are going on lighting the candle of firm conviction in the pitch darkness of delusion and self-suicidal ignorance.

Every common Jaina, though not a monk, therefore adopts an number of small vow of non-possession according to his circumstances and capacity and psychologically admires unhesitatingly the culture of non-possession.


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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. Aparigraha
  3. Body
  4. Celibacy
  5. Darśana
  6. Dharma
  7. Digambara
  8. Dveṣa
  9. Ecology
  10. Environment
  11. JAINA
  12. Jaina
  13. Jainism
  14. Jina
  15. Karma
  16. Mokṣa
  17. Mukti
  18. Munis
  19. Nirvāṇa
  20. Nonviolence
  21. Parigraha
  22. Samyak Darśana
  23. Soul
  24. Sūtra
  25. Tattvārtha Sūtra
  26. Tīrthaṅkara
  27. Tīrthaṅkaras
  28. WARP
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