Feb 17, 2008

Introduction to Jain Philosophy

INTRODUCTION TO JAIN PHILOSOPHY

Lord Mahavir was born in a Royal family 2,583 years ago (i.e.
year 599 B.C.) and was given the name Vardhaman by his parents.
Being son of a king, he had all worldly pleasures, comforts, and
services at his command. But at the age of thirty, discarding
all worldly entanglements, pomp and pleasures; he set out alone
in search of a solution to eliminate pains, sorrows and
sufferings of all living beings and guide them to eternal bliss
(Moksha).

Vardhaman travelled barefooted and with only one cloth to cover
his body throughout the country, mostly wandering in the
Jungles, constantly meditating and suffering all types of
hardships, for about twelve and half years. During this period,
his spiritual powers fully developed and he achieved Perfect
Enlightenment (Kevalgyan).

During these twelve and half years, he was so much calm and
peaceful against all unbearable hardships that he was given the
name Mahavir, meaning very brave and courageous,

According to Jain Religion, there are twenty four Tirthankars
and Lord Mahavir was the last and twenty fourth Tirthankar. All
these Tirthankara achieved Perfect Enlightenment and preached
ways and means to reach high level of Spiritual Perfection and
ultimately; in future Reincarnations, to reach the stage of
Perfect Enlightenment, which means Cosmic consciousness, and
Self Identification with all life, with the Universe, in the
service of the highest ideal to liberate the Soul from all
bondages of Karmic Atoms, accumulated through one's own good or
bad deeds.

Lord Mahavir also preached on the line of these predecessors the
Gospel of Universal love , emphasizing that souls of all living
beings, irrespective of their size or shape or spiritually
developed or under-developed, are equal and we should love and
respect them. He explained that from eternity, every individual
soul is in bondage of Karmic Atoms, that are accumulated by its
own good or bad deeds, Under the influence of Karma, the soul is
habituated to seek pleasures in materialistic belongings and
possessions, which are the deep rooted causes of self-centered
violent thoughts and deeds, with anger, hatred, greed and such
other vices as their by-products. These result in further
accumulating Karma.

To understand the relation of Karma with soul, following example
will suffice. Diamond is mined out from depths ranging 3000 to
5000 feet. At that time it is covered with many impurities dirt
etc, After mining, it is washed, beaten, slaved to clean all
outside impurities and then the rough stones are sent to factory
for cutting and polishing. Only after undergoing all these
processes of cleansing, cutting and polishing, diamond comes out
as a lustrous brilliant jewel, worth its full value. Same is
the case of our soul. In the present condition, it is covered
with many impurities viz. Karmic Atoms, which bar it from
exhibiting its original brilliance and luster. Like diamond,
soul should be cleaned and be free from all impurities by
gradually melting out existing Karmic Atoms and at the same time
care fully avoiding further accumulating the same.

In general routine, living beings are melting out some of the
past Karmas by enjoying or suffering the effects of past good or
bad deeds and at the same time accumulate other Karmas by good
or bad deeds in present life. Thus the soul is never completely
relieved from Karmic bondage, Lord Mahavir therefore, asked to
watch passively the effects of Karma, taking good or bad effects
as the result of good or bad deeds of the past and neither to
rejoice or feel unhappy in times of prosperity or adversity
respectively. This way old Karmas are melted out and no new
Karmas or at least very little Karmas are accumulated. If this
process continues, gradually all Karmas are melted out and in
future reincarnations, the soul will be completely liberated
from the bondage of Karma, eventually achieving Perfect
Enlightenment.

Lord Mahavir, after achieving Perfect Enlightenment, started
giving Sermons according to what he visualized through his
knowledge and for thirty years, travelled around the country,
explaining the causes of all miseries and describing in details,
how to liberate the soul from the bondages of Karma. Later all
his sermons were recorded by his learned disciples on Tadpatris
(leafy paper that was used in those days to preserve records for
future references), which are even today accepted by his
followers as authentic version of his teachings. These are
called AGAM SUTRAS and although many are lost and destroyed in
course of time, some are even today preserved in the Archieves
of Jain Libraries. These are preachings of Jina, conqueror of
vices and hence the Religion is known as Jainism and the
followers are called Jains.

To go into full details of Jainism is certainly not within the
scope of this little brochure, however hereunder we have tried
to give a comprehensive idea about Jainism.

Lord Mahavir proclaimed five main principles to achieve mental
peace and for peaceful coexistence with other living beings and
gradually release the soul from bondages of Karma, at the same
time raising it to higher spiritual perfection. These five
principles are:

1. AHIMSA: Non-Killing and Non-Violence,
2. SATYA: Truth-abstain from telling lie.
3. ASTEYA: Non-Stealing.
4. BRAHMACHARYA: Celibacy
5. APARIGRAHA: Non-Attachment and Non-Possession.

AHIMSA - Non-Killing and Non-Violence:

According to Jainism, all living beings, irrespective of their
size, shape, or different spiritual developments, are equal. No
living being has right to harm, injure or kill any other living
being. Every living being has a right to exist and it is
necessary to live with every other living being in perfect
harmony and peace. Violence of every type is and should be
completely ruled out. Mental tortures by way of harsh words and
any type of bodily injuries should also be avoided. Even
thinking evil of some one is also considered HIMSA (violence).

In known history, we have many examples of wars, massacres and
wanton murders and killings by different peoples either to usurp
some land, or wealth and even at times to propagate their faith
and beliefs. Even today we hear of huge stockpiles of arms,
armaments and destructive devices, so dangerous and capable of
destroying all life and vegetation within moments. Jainism
totally disapproves this kind of mad race of preserving
superiority at the cost of general mental peace and safety of
all living beings. Jainism professes that adherence to the
principles of Ahimsa is the only solution to avoid any calamity.
It is a fact that there is no example of Jains, having resorted
to armed warfare in the period of known history, except for
giving protection to poor and powerless from the tortures and
maltreatments of greedy and ruthless tyrants. They have never
fought for usurping land, riches or power from any subordinate
or incapable person or even from their adversaries. This is
because they believed and adhered to the principles of Ahimsa.

SATYA - Truth-abstaining from telling lie:

To speak truth and avoid telling lie is another important
principle. It is advocated by nearly all Religions. One lie
ends up in many false statements and this ultimately puts you in
jeopardy. Speaking truth raises you in high esteem with other
people and they love and respect you. A liar is always seen
with suspicious eyes, which give mental grief and loneliness.
For harmonious and peaceful - coexistence, speaking truth is
essential.

ASTEYA - Non-stealing:

In a general sense this means non-stealing. Every code of moral
conduct despises theft, which means robbing some one of his
possessions either without his knowledge or by force. In
Jainism this has wider perspective. Even while walking on road,
you come across something and for which there is no claimant
nearby, if you take it, it is theft.


BRAHMACHARYA - Celibacy :

Celibacy means abstaining from immoral conduct. Mind and body
deteriorates by waste of energy and immoral conduct. On the
other hand, stored energy helps in countering the effects of
vices viz, anger, fear, greed, passion etc, and maintains a
sound healthy body, with peaceful mind, For this principle,
Jainism has provided that for those who take to ascetic life,
discarding all worldly possessions and attachments have to
observe this principle very rigidly. But for those who are not
so advanced as to observe ascetic life are given permission to
marry and carry on worldly life for the purpose of procreation
without excessive indulgence. However they are also required to
conserve their energy and maintain radiant health so that they
may have a peaceful and tranquil mind to achieve spiritual
advancement.

APARIGRAHA - Non-Attachment and Non-Possession:

By this one is required to limit personal needs to minimum.
Importance should never be given to amassing big fortunes. More
one tries to and craves for worldly belongings and wealth, he
has to strive hard to get these, this in turn increases mental
tension and brings innumerable hardships, Once when you get
indulged in material pleasures and belongings, your craving for
these increases and your nature becomes greedy. Anger, greed,
passion are all offshoots of possessive nature and one
completely forgets the moral and spiritual values of life. With
your needs limited to minimum requirement, you will enjoy real
happiness and have a peaceful mind.

Apart from above five principles, importance is also given to
SAMYAM-Control over Self and TAPA-Fasting and forbearance.

SAMYAM (Control over Self):

Samyam is very essential to control and cool down emotions like
Anger, Hatred, Greed etc. In day-to-day life, control of speech
and conduct are very imperative. Irrational speech and immoral
conduct are conducive to many high handed and irresponsible
actions. That completely shatter, your peace of mind, resulting
in unsound health and unbalanced thoughts. All these come in
the way to Right Knowledge and thinking. Control of Speech and
Conduct saves one from all such painful experiences. Your mind
will be clear to think in right perspective and find easy and
peaceful solution to any complicated problem.

Apart from this, Jainism advises Samyam (Control) over self in
any circumstances, avoiding excessive indulgence. Adherence to
the lofty ideals of Ahimsa (Non-Violence) is also very difficult
- rather impossible, if excessive indulgence is not controlled.
Ahimsa (non-violence) and Samyam (control over excessive
indulgence) are so very closely related that if Ahimsa is
considered Soul of Religion, Samyam may be considered Breath of
Religion.


TAPA (Fasting and forbearance):

Literally Tapa means fasting. There are many variations in
observance of Fast. Some can do without any food for days,
while others may not be able to skip even one lunch. So fasting
is advocated within individual capacity. Main condition in
fasting is that one should not feel the pinch of fasting. While
fasting if you have a craving for food, it is not a fast,
Jainism says fasting is a process of cleansing the body and mind
by burning out all its wastes and impurities. For meditation
and concentration, a healthy body with a cool and tranquil mind
is a prerequisite and this is achieved by the cleansing effect
of fasting. Fasting is to stop over-eating habits and to avoid
excessive indulgence in the intake of food. At the same time,
fasting is not meant to starve. It is meant to open up vistas
of sound and radiant health and tranquil and balanced mind,
essential for Meditation and Concentration, to be practiced for
spiritual advancement,

TAPA has also another meaning. You come across many hardships
in this world. At times you are given very bad treatment. You
are rebuked with harsh words. You suffer loss of your personal
belongings and riches. In all such circumstances, it is very
common that you loose temper and think in terms of retaliation.
This further adds to your Karma, But Jainism advocates
forbearance and tolerance under such circumstances, thinking
that these are all the results of your past bad deeds and that
it is nobody's fault. Where you suffer these with calm and cool
mind, without any ill feelings towards the doers of such
malicious acts, you burn out past Karmas and no new or say very
little new Karmas are accumulated. This process of burning out
Karmas is also a kind of TAPA because you stay completely calm
during these sufferings and control your temper, which requires
immense moral and physical strength.

Lord Mahavir stressed importance of SAMYAG DARSHAN, (Right
Faith) for acquiring SAMYAG GYAN (Right Knowledge) and SAMYAG
CHARITRA (Right Conduct) for putting into practice whatever one
has learnt. We shall see in short what Lord Mahavir explained.

SAMYAG DARSHAN or Right Faith:

In the first place, one must have complete faith in the
principles of religion. There should not be any superstitious
beliefs (Mithyatva). Whatever is said in the Religion
should be thoroughly believed. Path of salvation is not easy
and there is no short cut to that. This can be achieved only by
one's own efforts, Tirthankars envisioned the path to Perfection
in their Omniscient Knowledge and by following their preachings,
perfection can be achieved. However Right Faith and full
subjugation to the principles are necessary precondition.


SAMYAG GYAN or Right Knowledge:

When you have Right Faith, your inquisitiveness and craving for
true knowledge will increase. You will follow the path shown by
the master very faithfully and then you will try to understand
the meaning of his various preaching, by referring to various
Sutras and asking questions to his disciples. With more
knowledge acquired, you will understand in course of time about
Karma and their influence over the soul. You will also know
that the soul, without the bondages of Karma, is pure, full of
radiance and has infinite strength and infinite knowledge. Soul
without the bondage of Karma has not to undergo cycles of birth
and death. Until now, you have acquired the Right knowledge.
But with further research and thinking, you will also find the
way to eliminate Karma. At this stage, your knowledge and
experience about soul in its pure form, will go beyond your
imagination and this will lead you to further progressive path.

SAMYAK CHARITRA or Right Conduct:

With right knowledge, it will be very clear to you that real
happiness is not in possessing and enjoying the worldly
belongings but in abandoning them. Until now you were passively
watching them as the consequences of your own good or bad deeds.
But now these are burdensome and hindrances in the achievement
of Eternal Bliss and Eternal Joy. You are attracted to the
Ascetic life and become a monk. From here starts the process of
further progress, which ultimately leads one to Perfect
Enlightenment, in future Reincarnations.

We shall now take up certain important features of Jainism,

THE UNIVERSE AND ITS CREATOR:

Jain Philosophy does not give credence to the theory of a
Creator of The Universe. On the contrary, it asserts that the
Universe has always existed and will always exist in exact
adherence to the laws of Cosmos. There is nothing but infinity
both in the past and in the future. Universe however does
undergo countless changes but in fact nothing is lost or
destroyed. Everything is recycled in one or the other form.
Jainism has provided concrete facts to substantiate this theory,
which can be referred in Jain Sutras.


ANEKANTVAD (Philosophy of Non-Absolutism) and SYADVAD (Theory of
Relativity).

The Priciple of Anekantvad and Syadvad are very valuable
contributions by Jainism to world thought. These teach us how
to realize truth in its varied aspects, Every substance or any
situation has many varied aspects and to arrive at truth, we
must examine the same from various different angles, An easy
example of this is that a man in relation to his father is a son
but the same person in relation to his son is a father. This
theory never discards any particular thought and at the same
time never asserts that other theories are totally wrong.

Jainism declares that in a given situation and at given time,
any thought or theory may seem to be wrong but in the context of
other situation and references the same thought or theory may
be right. So the student is required to study them from
various angles, considering every view point with cool head and
without prejudice and arrive at a right decision after very
careful thought and research, By means of Anekantvad or Syadvad,
one can easily establish unity in diversity and therefore it is
a great instrument for peaceful coexistence.

Jainism is considered very rigid and austere to practice. But
this is only to those who have never tried to understand it
thoroughly or whose approach to this religion is only
superfluous. Because of effects of Karma, that keeps our soul
in bondage, we are all habituated to enjoy and seek pleasures in
materialistic belongings. Jainism advocates complete detachment
from the worldly pleasures because it asserts that pleasures and
happiness, enjoyed from materialistic belongings, are very short
lived and they end up in a painful experience.

Happiness that finally gives painful experience is not real
happiness. Real and permanent happiness is in releasing the
soul from the bondages of Karma and relieving it from cycle of
births & deaths. This could be achieved only by gradually
making a practice of discarding the worldly possessions. As we
are all surrounded by and are enjoying worldly pleasures, at
first sight, to discard these seems very difficult and painful
and we consider Jainism as rigid and austere. But once you get
trained with this ideal, happiness and blissful experience, that
is derived from this, will make you forget that Jainism is hard
and rigid.

Jainism has laid down moral code of behavior for practice in day
to day life. It teaches to live in harmony with every one. In
this war torn world of conflicting thoughts, peaceful
coexistence is very important and Jainism stresses this point.
Oppression or coercion are completely ruled out in Jainism.


Lord Mahavir and Lord Buddha were born and lived around the same
period and preachings of both these great saints were based on
nearly same principles of discarding material pleasures and
belongings and live austere life to liberate the soul from
bondages of Karma. Concept of real happiness was quite
different according to these two great religious leaders and
therefore they laid great stress on ascetic way of life.
Although there existed some differences of thoughts, both
strongly advocated Principles of Ahimsa and Universal Love,
which are even today, in this world of conflicting ideals,
equally good for man kind and living beings in general.

Principles of Jainism, if properly understood in their right
perspective and faithfully adhered to, will bring contentment
and inner happiness and joy in the present life and elevate the
soul in future reincarnations to a higher spiritual level,
achieving Perfect Enlightenment, reaching its final destination
of Eternal Bliss, ending all cycles of Birth & Deaths.

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