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Beyond Sustainable Economy: Aparigrahavada in Shravakachara

Published: 14.07.2017

[1] Ṣravakas are householders, leading their lives according to the code of conduct laid down in Jainism by the Jain ācāryas (acharyas), the leading ascetics. Almost thirty-five Jain ācāryas have written their codes of conduct for the laity. Not all Jain householders are śravakas, but all śravakas are Jains. They may be living in houses with their families and be well settled as a laity or may have taken renunciation partly, may have left their house and family to join a sangha[2] but then they are not involved in their own nor in other's families. śravakas are those laymen and laywomen who keep continuously in contact with the ascetics thus vitally functioning as the four legs of the throne of the jina.

The aim of every awakened soul is to achieve bliss and happiness, but not at the cost of the happiness of others. The reason is also that worldly happiness only lasts for a short time, and finally will end in sadness if it does not serve the purpose of awakening the soul. The awakened soul does not want to hurt others and cherishes the idea that every living being be happy on Earth, because everyone lives through the odds of life in nature.

Hunger, tiredness, sex and fear are the basis or animal instincts common to every human being. To fulfill these drives, an ignorant being, not caring for others, behaves selfish, causes violence and pain or disadvantage to others. The real wise were the Tīrthaṅkaras, literally ford-makers, for the community who realized the suffering in the world of not one, but all through repeated lives. They taught a way of living that should have brought them across the cycles of rebirths and to survive spiritually despite all suffering.

They, as great thinkers, realized that the body appears to have been born through the parents, but it is the soul inside it which keeps this lump of various tissues so well organized as the real master. It has earned this particular life through earlier accumulated karma, that is, the actions and tendencies of former lives on earth. Thus the soul (jīva) has become trapped for good or evil, pleasure or pain under the influence of its own karmas to face the fruits in the form of the present life and all that comes with it. No one else is responsible for these sufferings, no-one else can be blamed or can be induced to replace a present situation with a better situation. His own efforts in this life only will correct the course of its path. Then why not take a course that will free him from bondage of all karmas? So they set out to perform and leave out particular actions in order to live a life which does not allow fresh karmas to flow in, but on the contrary to deplete karma faster in this life itself.

To live a life like this requires a firm determination and very strong stamina, also unlimited tolerance and a very strong will. They took renunciation (because when one is born one possesses nothing), giving up every possession and with no security of even getting food and shelter. Thus they proceed to face their own previously created karmas and to counter them courageously forever. Their determination as such was and is today covered under vows (vratas) never to be broken. These people are called the mahāvratis, i.e. those who have taken the Great Vows. With firmness they led and lead their whole life while rising spiritually, setting logical examples, silently, with compassion, kindness and mercy for every cohabiting soul (with whom they live and lived on earth before) achieving gradually enhanced knowledge. They finally reached or will reach omniscience (kevala) – though it must be added that, according to Digambar Jainism, in the present age of materialism and spiritual ignorance it is impossible; but better times will come according to the cyclic laws of Nature. When this omniscient knowledge is reached, the information and knowledge of the whole universe lay open before them, including that concerning every single living being. But even that was and is not their ultimate interest or final purpose. Their aim was to end their own cycle of rebirths in the worlds of illusion. Hence, through their divya dhvani (resonance of the jīva or living-conscious essence[3]). Those who reached this stage in the past  gave out every information for the benefit of others, showing the path to achieve that goal. Even animals could understand them. The saints that followed them wrote down the details of preaching in the form of scriptures, also writing a code of conduct for the ascetics to achieve this via the shortest possible journey, known as the Mūlācāra (the last one of which was written by Ācārya Vattiker).

But not every believer or follower of a jina, i.e. a spiritual conqueror over all lower tendencies and illusions, is strong enough to follow the path of mahāvrata to achieve the aim of salvation in this one life. Hence a moderate path for the laity was also given out by the great thinkers so that the people could achieve the aim gradually in a limited number of  successive lives; for the soul is immortal and is the only component of knowledge and chetana (cetana)?[4] (consciousness) with endless attributes; all reflected in any living being in Nature. The code of conduct for the laity is to minimize the influx of karma and is given to them by the Jainācāryas as śravakācāras. The most popular one is the śravakācāra written by Ācārya Samantabhadra. His text narrates how śravakas should be careful in there life to control their own vices and weaknesses while living in the community once he or she had taken the small vows or anuvratas.

A most common weakness for any human being is the wish to ensure security for the future, because nothing in the hand of the future is certain. With such fear people tend to hoard and stock possessions beyond limits for their comfort or control. Such retention deprives others around and puts them to immense suffering, and it is also harmful for oneself. Possession to a limit is favorable for the laity, but only to a certain extend, i.e. that what one needs, and for that reason one has to control one's desires.

Possessions are said to be of 24 types, as stated in the śravakācāras. Ten are external possessions visible to others, and fourteen the internal ones, which are 'invisible'. But once the external ones are eliminated, these internal possessions have to be regulated as well. The external possessions are described in the Tattvārthasūtra by Ācārya Umāsvāti (or Umāsvāmi).

These external possession are thus said to be:

  1. Area of land, fields for agriculture, gardens, orchards, etc., as property owned by any person. Beyond a limit neither can one manage it by oneself nor do others get it for their utility. Then the owner needs servants and workers, pestering them, etc.
  2. Houses or buildings, for living as Vastu. (i.e. in comfort, surrounded by furniture and gadgets, etc.)
  3. Silver – as currency or luxury.
  4. Gold – for ornaments or display of richness.
  5. Money – or other exchange media, such as gems, precious stones, mines, etc. and cows, elephants, horses etc. owned with the purpose to exchange them for goods.
  6. Grains/crops – security for survival in the future.
  7. Servants – for the comfort to get help as and when one desires.
  8. Slaves – ownership and command on others, thus curbing their freedom.
  9. Containers – to hold one's belongings.
  10. Utensils – for daily and occasional needs.

All these possessions induce arrogance and enhance the ego of the owner. The eight types of egos or 'selfies' are those of beauty, richness, intelligence, status, mother's family, father's family and inheritance, energy (as of body builders, power to command). Though these are defined, the possession of them also gives rise to an ego of superiority and richness, hence these are denied by an awakened soul.

By limiting oneself one can still have a minimum of these to live in ease with others. Because clothes do not explicitly fall in these ten categories many śravakas hoard clothes beyond imagination uselessly. Yet cloths fall under the category of silver and gold (which are used for glitter and wearing). Digambara śravakas use the necessary cloths, but within one's own set (i.e. self-chosen) limit.

The invisible or internal possessions are influenced by the external possessions, poisoning one's psychology, and vice versa. Hence they are also to be brought under control and taken care of. Fourteen of these internal possessions have been enumerated as follows:

  1. Mithyatva or wrong belief: under denial to realize the truth one becomes absorbed into the illusive world, feeling possession of everything, considering oneself as the master of money, property, family, pets etc., while one's own body is beyond one's control. Nothing that is not the self can become the self - only the soul is me, that is, the self. All non-self around us, to which we attach ourselves, is in fact the cause of suffering, but fools cherish them nevertheless as their own, and as a result is trapped in suffering. With a false ego people, and even animals, become violent for their own safety and security, thus causing new influx of karma. The same applies to all passions. Passions are the energetic causes of bondage to germination even over life-times, are the causes of all delusions and conquered sufferings.
  2. Anger: under influence of mithyatva the notion of mine & dine develops. Always one cares only for 'I' and 'mine', causing anger even when the slightest problems arise. Anger brings in a heavy flow of long-term karma.
  3. Ego: with anger the ego gets supported, which means to take oneself as superior by a false feeling of superiority (pride, haughtiness).
  4. Deceit: the above three make the person more greedy, but by not disclosing one's greed, one tries to trick the self and pretends this attitude in one's behavior. This too degrades his character.
  5. Greed: with shamelessness added to it, one becomes openly greedy. Nowadays everywhere, in India and world-wide, one sees corruption, due to the four points shown above, when one has no clear idea one goes on hoarding and possessing, forgetting all limits, feeling never satisfied, or deciding as to what one will with all that has been hoarded, while depriving others.
  6. Gender: this also induces false superiority, or induces tricks to tempt and befool others.
  7. Rāga (affinity): when selfish, one leads to domination of possessions and command the one for one feels attracted or has raga.
  8. Dveṣa (jealousy, hatred): out of frustration the same affinity turns into jealousy and damage by violence and this works out in hurting others under frustration.
  9. Laughing at or mocking others: a degraded person cheating innocent persons for the enjoyment of his own success and making fun of others, is also a vice under parigraha. A really awakened śravaka or śravika [5]never hurts others by laughing at them. Not even do they cut jokes, because by jokes the person laughed about is hurt very deeply. It is violence against the others being mocked at.
  10. Rati: passionate love felt for others in order to command the other.
  11. Arati (disliking): passionate hatred felt against those close to oneself. It hurts and leads to violence. Sometimes it even leads to revenge.
  12. śoka or sadness: by one's own sadness the whole atmosphere around becomes poisoned  and no-one can feel comfortable when one sees or feels that the other is depressive. But desires have no end, hence a śravaka is advised not to be sad about petty set-backs, because otherwise there will be a reaction.
  13. Jugupsa (curiosity or nosing around): a śravaka must never feel curious about the confidential matters of others, nor should he be nosing around. This habit would degrade him or her and load them with unnecessary burdens, as a possession.
  14. Bhaya (fear): parigrahis with possessions always have the fear of getting robbed of their possessions. With this fear people with evil tendencies around them get a chance and the provocation to claim other's possessions even tortures them.

An ascetic never has any possessions. If he has, no one will regard him as an ascetic, hence an ascetic must take care not to possess anything externally or internally.

A woman is a possession for a man and vice versa, man is a possession for a woman. Hence ascetics don't marry, while they observe celibacy.

A śravaka, if he or she has no possessions, will be regarded as poor or even as a beggar. So for his or own self-respect and for giving charity they must have some possessions; but these must be availed by a fair means and with honesty, limiting themselves in life to a simple way of living, and of service to the ascetics. The śravakācāras throw enough light guiding the śravakas, the laity, as to their code of conduct with regard to non-possession.

Possession is considered to be the root-cause of all evils and violence. But as life can not be maintained with nothing, a śravaka holds him- or herself within limits. In case they procure more as results of their merits, the surplus is given as donations into charity to temples and to the nation for the good of others. The main factor is the satisfaction that comes to every taker of the vows through observation of the code laid in the śravakācāras.

The Jain community in the world is in a minority and even in India does not comprise even one percent of the population. The Jains hold 24% of the economy of the nation and contribute one third of the tax revenues. They have a hundred per cent literacy and run charity institutions like hospitals, schools, colleges, shelter homes, scholarships etc. Those amongst them who are poor still have self-respect and never beg. Under the principle that whatever one earns one should spend less than that, they work in Jain families only and earn their livelihood while maintaining their vows. The śravakācāras regulate and guide by means of the anuvratas (small vows) and the parigraha parimana vratas (limiting one's possessions) so that every śravaka limits his/her expenses and possession to serve the society through living a satisfactory life.


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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. Acharyas
  2. Anger
  3. Anuvratas
  4. Arati
  5. Body
  6. Celibacy
  7. Chetana
  8. Consciousness
  9. Deceit
  10. Dhvani
  11. Digambar
  12. Digambara
  13. Divya Dhvani
  14. Divya dhvani
  15. Dveṣa
  16. Fear
  17. Greed
  18. Indus script
  19. Jainism
  20. Jina
  21. Jīva
  22. Karma
  23. Karmas
  24. Mahāvrata
  25. Mithyatva
  26. Omniscient
  27. Parigraha
  28. Pride
  29. Raga
  30. Sagar
  31. Sangha
  32. Sneh
  33. Sneh Rani Jain
  34. Soul
  35. Tattvārthasūtra
  36. Tolerance
  37. Tīrthaṅkaras
  38. Umāsvāti
  39. Violence
  40. Ācārya
  41. ācāryas
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