The Jaina Way to Peace, Harmony and Social ExcellenceT
(a paper to be presented at the International Meeting to be organized by the Community of Sant Egidio at Cracow from Sept. 6 to 8, 2009)
By : Dr. Sohan Lal Jain Gandhi
The word ‘religion’ is used globally to mean ‘dharma’ in in Sanskrit and Hindi languages but as a matter of fact it falls short of the real meaning the word ‘dharma’ carries with it. Two word ‘religion’ stands for the belief in god or gods and the activities connected with their worship. It also denotes a system of faith called Christianity, Islam etc. In this context the word ‘religion’ stands for a religious sect. On the contrary ‘dharma’ means righteous or pure conduct and is shorn of labels. Samansuttam defines dharma as the most auspicious of all. Its characteristics are (i) ahimsa (nonviolence); (ii) samyama (self-restaint); and (iii) tapa (austerity). If a religion is devoid of these three essential values of life, it cant’ be called dharma.
When I discuss the Jaina way to peace and harmony, it becomes imperative for me to explain at the very outset that Jainism doesn’t stand for a sect. It is a way of life and doesn’t owe allegiance to a particular god. JAINA (also known as JAIN) means a follower of a Jina – the supreme sanctified teacher who has conquered the self and has attained omniscience (infinite knowledge). He is free from attachment and hatred and knows the cosmic truth in its entirety. According to the Jains he is a liberated being. He may be Mahavira, Buddha or Siva. The common mark of perfection in all liberated beings is complete annihilation of all forms of kasayas (passions). The Jain sacred text (navkar mantra) doesn’t identify a particular Jina. It only pays obeisance to five types of spiritual beings which include (i) arahanta (those who have destroyed their internal enemies i.e. anger, carnality, deceit and pride; (ii) siddhas (unbodied liberated souls); (iii) acharyas (spiritual masters); (iv) upadhyayas (spiritual teachers); and (v) sadhus (all ascetics of the world).
Jinas are also known as the Tirthankaras and the Jains believe that the continents of Bharata and Airavata of Jambu Island at the center of the cosmos are governed by the cycles of prosperity and suffering (utsarpini – ascending half) and (avasarpini – descending half) consisting of six aeons each. The twenty-four Tirthankaras appear in each ascending and descending half of the time cycle. At present we are in the 5th aeon of the descending half of the time cycle and the twenty-four Tirthankaras of the present descending half of the time cycle were born in the third and fourth aeons. The first Tirthankara of the Jaina tradition was Lord Rishabh who is said to have been born in the third aeon of this descending half of the time cycle and the last two Tirthankaras – Lord Parsva Nath and Lord Mahavira were born in the 4th aeon of the descending half of the time cycle. Lord Parsva was born 250 years before Lord Mahavira. Jainism today is known after Lord Mahavira – the 24th Tirthankara. He was born in 599 BCE in the kingdom of Vaisali in the Magadha region (Bihar), India. He was a contemporary of Lord Buddha.
This paper presents a review of the Jaina worldview of peace and happiness and analyzes the causes of violence, climate change and ecological and environmental degradation from a Jaina perspective.
My objective is to unfold the Jaina ethics of tolerance, interdependence, reciprocity, and reverence for all forms of life and explain its teachings of nonviolence, non-absolutism and restraint.
The Jaina Concept of Peace and Harmony
The Jains believe that the main cause of conflicts and unrest in the world today is man’s unrestrained activities of mind, speech and body. A good or bad thought first appears in human mind. If it is controlled and purged of evil tendencies, peace will naturally prevail. We can co-exist and grow only if there is peace. Highlighting peace as an essential value for our survival, the Jaina sacred text says :
je ya buddha aikkanta
je ya buddha anagaya
santi tesim paithanam
bhuyanam jagai jaha
(Peace is the basis of all the buddhas (Tirthankaras) who have come into this world and are likely to come just as the basis of all living beings is this earth.)
When man is gripped by the four tenacious passions of anger, pride, deceit and greed, he becomes aggressive and resorts to physical violence to gratify his lustful desires. Unrest, conflicts and wars have a very old history. It is said that since the advent of human civilization more than 6000 wars have been fought which resulted in the killing of millions of people. We have a recorded history of the wars fought in battlefields but the truth is that we have no record of the infinite disputes and conflicts we have with our neighbours during our interaction with one another.
The psychologists assert that aggressiveness is the basic human propensity. The seeds of war lie in human mind but they sprout and grow only when they are stimulated by passions. It is at this stage that thoughts of weapons appear in man’s mind and his propensity towards armament increases. When there is unrest the number of weapons of mass destruction increases. When unrest diminishes, a discussion on limiting arms begins. The main cause of unrest in the world is man’s imperialistic passion of possessiveness. Acquisition of wealth and violence are intimately connected. In the ancient days wars were fought mainly for women and land. Ideational and economic imperialism happens to be a major causative factor that leads to war.
In this perspective the Jaina principle of having a war with the self and achieving victory over it becomes very important. The soul occupies the most important place in Jainism. The rise of passions veils it with karmic layers which can be wiped by suppressing or eliminating our passions. It is a sort of war with the self. In this sense all Tirthankaras are spiritual victors. The heart of the great emperor Asoka who fought the Kalinga war which killed thousands of human beings was filled with disgust and distress. It led to his inner battle which transformed him into a nonviolent crusader. The Jaina key to universal peace lies in our ability to overcome passions. When we talk of disarmament and world peace, we will have to concentrate our attention on decentralizing economic system, political power and violence. The basis of peace or peacelessness is man’s classification into three categories of human-beings.
(i) Those who are very ambitious, highly possessive, unrighteous and are deeply immersed in the mire of wickedness, greed and exploitation belong to the first category.
(ii) The second category consists of those who are less ambitious, less inclined towards acquisition of wealth and believe in righteous conduct. They stabilize themselves in dharma and earn their livelihood by right means.
(iii) The third category consists of those who are nonviolent, non-possessive and righteous.
It is the first category of human beings who wage wars to gratify their lust for wealth, sex and political power. They produce arms. Lord Mahavira said, “The vicious mind, vicious speech, body immersed in vicious things and non-abstinence lead to armament.”
In the age of Mahavira it was commonly believed that those who were killed in a war or battle were born in heavens. Mahavira opposed this belief. When Gautam sought his opinion. He said, “Gautam, those who say so are not correct.” Man’s next birth is determined by his good or bad actions. Mahavira knew that it is impossible for a hourholder to refrain from violence completely, so he laid down twelve small vows for him. One of these anuvrats (small vows) is, ‘I will not kill an innocent being or in other words I will not kill a person deliberately.’ As a householder a man is also required to fight a battle but merely because he dies fighting he cannot claim birth in heaven. It is the state of his mind while dying in a battle that decides his next birth. Mahavira cites the examples of two warriors of his time.
One of them was his disciple Varun who obeyed the orders of his republic and army and took part in the battle. He had taken a vow that he wouldn’t strike at his enemy, first. So when he was challenged by his opponent to shoot the arrow, he said, ‘I will not strike first. I do not use a weapon against one who has not hurt me.’ The opponent was furious and attacked him with a dreadful weapons and injured him. Now it was Varun’s turn to retaliate and he took his bow, shot an arrow and killed him at once. But Varun was fatally wounded and knew that he would soon die. He got down from his chariot, put his bow down and paid his obeisance to all arhats. Thereafter he vowed not to eat and drink till he breathed him last. His mind was full of pure thoughts when he died. So he was born as a god in heaven. If people take a vow that they wouldn’t strike at any one first, the world would be spared of wars and conflicts.
Just one small vow, ‘I will not kill a person who has done no harm to me’ can create universal peace in the world. Jainism exhorts people to launch an internal war against passions and evil propensities and refrain from external war (physical violence). To war with the self is an auspicious act, one doesn’t benefit from external war. Only he who conquers his soul with his soul achieves happiness.
Lord Mahavira said, “jo sa hassam sahassanam, samgame dujjae jine egam jinejj appanam jaita suhamehae” – one person achieves victory over a million persons in a battle. The other achieves victory over the self. If we compare the two victories we will realize that the supreme victory is one that the other person has achieved by conquering the self.
The Jains are of the view that peace can prevail in the universe not through atomic bombs or other weapons of mass destruction but through self-restraint and nonviolence.
The Jaina Approach to Peace and Social Excellence
As has already been stated in the preceding section that both war and peace originate in human mind. In order to create peace, we must begin it at individual level. If the individual has the right inclination, attains a state of equanimity towards all and behaves ethically, society will be naturally free from violence. Dr. Nathmal Tatia, an internationally acclaimed scholar of Jainism, writes in translator’s introduction in Tattvartha Sutra that the most important values enshrined in Jaina scriptures are (i) nonviolence; (ii) non-absolutism and non-possession. I quote his exact words,
“Nonviolence strengthens the autonomy of life of every being. Non-absolutism strengthens the autonomy of thought of every individual. Non-possession strengthens the interdependence of all existence. If you feel that every soul is autonomous you will never trample on its right to live. If you feel every person is a thinking person you will not trample on his or her thoughts. If you feel that you own nothing and no-one, you will not trample on the planet. In the second century CE, when the Jaina philosopher-monk Umasvati wrote the Tattvartha Sutra, these principles were the only way to global peace. Today, this is even more the case. These are the only values that can save humanity from the deadly acts of war, economic exploitation and environmental destruction.”
According to the Jaina doctrine of anekanta, or non-absolutisms truth is many-sided. The ancient seers have investigated the nature of reality that surrounds the universe and have made diverse statements. According Jainism all these statements are true from their standpoints but they are all partially true. To reject the standpoints propounded by others and assert that what we say alone is true is not only wrong but also unethical. Conflicts arise when we become dogmatic in our view. Dr. Tatia says that standpoints are different perspectives from which a phenomenon can be understood. Another significant value that Jainism advocates is non-possession. The ideal is complete abstinence from all forms of possession – house, gold, silver, animals and all belongings but for a householder it is not possible. So Lord Mahavira asks his followers to a fix a limit to their propensity to acquire. Affluence is not a taboo for a householder but he should take a vow that he would not acquire wealth beyond the limit he voluntarily imposes on himself. This vow of gradually reducing one’s possessions paves the way for social excellence. The instinct of possessiveness must be curbed. The Jains believe in the three essential components of the spiritual path, right faith (samyag darshan); right knowledge (samyag jnana); and right conduct (samyag caritra). It is only through our true understanding that we can determine our spiritual path. The first and foremost thing a follower of Jainism is to understand these three essential components of truth. A Jaina lay person is also required to know the seven categories of truth. They are:
(1) souls (sentient entities)
(2) non-sentient entities
(3) the inflow of karmic particles to the soul
(4) binding of the karmic particles to the soul
(5) stopping the inflow of karmic particles
(6) the falling away of the karmic particles
(7) liberation from worldly (karmic) bondage.
The most important thing for a Jaina lay person is the cultivation of right faith and to be able to do that he must understand these seven categories of truth. Everything revolves around the soul. The world is said to be full of infinite jivas. A man must have the correct knowledge of souls and non-souls. The interaction between soul and matter is the nature of worldly life. It is only through the interaction with matter that the soul possesses the capacity for speech, breath or thought. Without this these activities are not possible. The other principle underlying the categories of truth is the law of cause and effect. It drives the universe through karma. Social disorder emanates from the inability of the individuals to see that they are themselves responsible for the problems. All life forms that are present on this planet are interdependent. We have environmental problems only because we do not recognize our interdependence. One of the most famous sutras in Jaina philosophy is parasparopagraho jivanam (Souls render service to one another). All that we see on this planet are both autonomous and interdependent. It is human patience, his indulgences and urges that are the causes and results of karma. These are the gateways by which karma enters a soul and binds it. The world is dominated by the four passions – anger, pride, deceit and greed which gives rise to individual and collective violence. They are the greatest obstacles in the path of peace both at personal and global level. Nonviolence is the only way to destroy karmic particles. Abstinence from violence is the starting point and central value of Jainism. We can conclude that the way to peace and as revealed by Jainism lies in unlimited nonviolence, unconditional tolerance and reverence for life. Jainsim proclaims that all life forms that inhabit the earth are sacred and should not be killed. The recognition that all life forms on this planet are interdependent, so we cannot survive if we do not cooperate with one another may help us to achieve world peace.