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Labels Disguise True Identity

Published: 16.06.2004
Updated: 01.12.2010

One of Lord Mahavir's principles is: "He, who knows one, knows all; and he, who knows all, alone knows one." We are at a loss to find solutions to the problems because we do not know even one. It becomes essential to know all other things in order to be able to know an atom. Full knowledge of an atom is not possible without understanding its similarities and dissimilarities and presence or absence of relatedness with all other things. That is why when analyzing an atom one comes to know the countless laws of the universe.

These days we are obsessed with expansion. We have no liking for contraction. The Upanishads declare: "He who sees manyness is heading for a condition worse than death. Any attempt to know manyness, that is society, without trying to know the one (individual) is truly disastrous." Hence to understand society, we must first understand the individual.

The problems of the individual can be divided into three classes:

  1. Physical
  2. Social
  3. Mental or Spiritual.

Economic power or the power of money came to the fore ever since the beginning of civilization in order to fulfil the physical problems relating to the basic needs of life. But the advent of economic or money power gave rise to another problem: robbery, plunder, snatching and looting. The strong started terrorizing the weak. State power came into being in order to solve the above problem.
Even state power, which flourished to resolve problems arising out of economic power, could not remain untainted. The need for moral or religious power was felt to curb the arbitrariness of state power. Besides, religious power is also an answer to the inherent anxiety and uneasiness of human beings.

However, despite the emergence of all these authorities or power-centers, individual problems remain unsolved. The individual is even today poor and deprived. He is bereft of social cooperation. His awareness is blunted. What is the cause? According to me it is not hard to find out. The power-centers created for solving individual problems have themselves turned into problems. I recall a tale from the Puranas. By performing penance a mouse earned the blessings of Lord Shiva and turned into a cat. He did so out of fear of cats but still the fear of dogs continued. Through successive course of penance he kept changing from cat to dog to leopard to tiger and finally to man. One day Lord Shiva asked him, "Are you now free from all fears?" He replied, "Even by becoming man my problems are not over, for I am suffering from fear of death. I may, therefore, be favoured and turned into a mouse again." Lord Shiva once again blessed him and he returned to the original form of a mouse.

Modern man should also be thinking of reverting to his primitive state because in his case, too, all-new solutions turn into problems. Take the case of money. It was intended to solve a major problem but today it has become one of the greatest problems. At one place we find tons of money, and at the same time at another place people are crying in agonizing poverty. Money is less a means of fulfilling human needs and more a status symbol. State power, originally intended to provide order and security, finds itself incapable of doing so, since it has lost internal discipline. Religious power capable of inspiring state power to practise internal discipline is itself embroiled in its own affairs. Religion no longer has internal strength. It has become an instrument of state power. There could be no greater contrast than between the illustrious character of religion in the past and its lack-luster present-day form. It has all come about because people have reduced religion to mere rituals. Is it graceful that religion should seek the protection of state power? It is truly the case of the glowing fire having been covered with ashes.

In its radiant form religion stands for the experience of unity and harmony. We are witnessing a new thinking at present, which can even root out religion. People wonder whether religious worship practised for thousands of years has succeeded in solving the human problems. They have in fact come to believe that there has been no success at all. I am afraid I cannot agree with them. Even then I shall not try to evade their question. Anyone who uses their language of thinking can say that religion has failed to solve human problems. People want religion to help them accumulate wealth, cure disease and win legal suits. They do not use religion to solve problems, which it is meant to solve. They would do well to seek the help of a skilled businessman, doctor or lawyer. The solutions of the problems they seek have no direct relation with religion and yet most people are pursuing the above course.

We have cared only for the form and the name of religion. It is one of our weaknesses that our eyes and ears see and hear only external objects. No wonder we give importance only to names and forms.

We do not know how to respect the holy life of an ascetic. We only know how to respect the formal appearance. A vaishnava does not revere a Jain ascetic and a Jain does not revere a vaishnava ascetic; the simple reason being our reverence for the form and ignorance of type or content. The content gets lost in the blaze of appearance. Our sight is fixed on names and forms; we cannot look beyond them.

It is said that religion was responsible for wars. I have always refuted this contention. The main proposition of my argument is that wars were caused not by religion but by its form and name. The soul of religion is unity. No war can be fought without destroying the spirit of religion. The Vedanta propounds the principle that all sentient beings originate from the same source. Jain philosophy also asserts that all sentient beings are alike. Could human beings have fought each other, if the people had practised the above feeling of unity and harmony? Could one individual have exploited another individual? Could one man have hated another? Fighting, exploitation and hatred are thriving on the basis of manyness and discord. One person works tirelessly the whole day and earns some money. The entire family shares it, but no one complains. A cultured husband does not castigate his wife by telling her that he earns while she sits back at home. There is a feeling of unity in the family and so no occasion for complaint arises. Complaining is the outcome of disunity. Does any government employee receive kickbacks from his son? Does a shopkeeper deceive his son? Bribes and deceit are found only where there is no unity.

Feeling unity and harmony with everyone is the spirit of religion. The greater the identity one feels with others, the more the religiosity one imbibes. Thinking along these lines convinces me that we have merely touched the veneer of religion but have never felt its inner core. What we have seen are the outer garments. Shells and oysters in the sands of the sea beach, not the pearls lying at the bottom of the waters. What should we do then? This was precisely the question raised by Tolstoy.

The end-result of religious power is purity. It should be coupled with morality. A religious person has his gaze fixed only on the hereafter and rarely on the now and here. One is afraid of spoiling the hereafter in the absence of religion, but there is no fear that unethical behaviour is bound to spoil the hereafter. People feel remorse and consider the day wasted if they are not able to count the beads on a rosary on that day. But they neither have remorse nor consider the day wasted if they indulge in unethical behaviour. This is because they have convinced themselves that a few minutes of religious ritual will purge them of thousands of sins.
Today people are suspicious of a religious person because there is no compatibility between his inner being and external behaviour. His fragmented personality is unable to instil goodwill towards religion in the mind of the people. The dividing line between the religious and the irreligious, between a believer and a non-believer has disappeared. This should urge the religious people to give serious thought to the matter. I see only one way of strengthening the poser of religion: developing a feeling of unity or equality, and creating a bond between religion and morality.


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            1. Cooperation
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