Feb 8, 2008


Economic Ethic Yogendra Sings says, "Jainism was mainly confined to the trading community, its emphasis on non-violence prevented agriculturalists from entering into its fold. Cultivation of land involved killing of insects and was prohibited in Jainism"(1988: 45). But Schrermerhorn calls it a long-standing misconception (1978: 105). Citing in his favour the life style of Jains in Karnataka and a considerable number in Gujarat, who are chiefly farmers, Schrermerhorn rejects the deductive argument of Jacobi as unsound (1914; 104). Sangave seems to fall in line when he says, "We come across numerous references pertaining to agriculture in Jaina literature from which it could be seen that in general agriculture was not forbidden to Jainas" (1980: 259).

However Nevaskar holds the view that though agriculture was permitted by the first Tirthankara, this was eventually regarded as permissible only as a matter of expediency and only as a last resort and a Jain who takes up such profession will be in the vow-less stage of soul evolution (1971:206 n.2). Noss regards the mahavrata-ahimsa, which passionately discouraged the taking of life a creature and to take any occupation involving the taking of life as the most important in its socio-economic impact on Jains. He asserts:

It constituted a limitation that must have seemed serious to the early followers of Mahavira, but at long last it actually proved to have economic as well as religious worth, for, the Jains found they could make higher profits when they turned from occupations involving direct harm to living creatures to careers in business as bankers, lawyers, merchants and proprietors of land. The other moral restrictions of their creed, which prohibited gambling, eating meat drinking wine, adultery hunting, thieving, and debauchery earned them social respect, and thus contributed to their survival in the social scene (1956: 152).

Jain philosophy is pluralistic, recognizing no line of demarcation between the creator and the creation. A Jain is expected "to work out his own salvation" but in all humility must admits that it is God who works in him" both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Sangave 1980: 170). Besides ahimsa, the laity was expected to limit its possessions. Personal effects were to restricted to necessities. Possessions of riches beyond those necessary for existence was considered detrimental to spiritual growth. As Jainism later developed, the acquisition per se of considerable wealth was in no way forbidden, but only the striving after wealth and attachment to riches. Weber compares this with the protestant idea that "joy in possessions" (parigraha) is objectionable, not possessions or gain in life" (Gellner 1982: 1534).

Asatya tyaga (vow not to lie) forbids saying anything false or exaggerated and so Jains strived for absolute honesty in business. All deceptions were prohibited (aseta), especially, all dishonest gain through smuggling, bribery and every sort of disreputable financial practice (Nevaskar 1971: 197-98). Since 'attention to business' was one of the twenty-one qualities ascribed to Jain laity, not only was the honesty of the Jain trader famous but also the wealth accumulated by Jains.

The religious vow demanding the restriction of travel (digrirati and desavirta) for ritualistic reasons encouraged Jain laity to concentrate in resident trade. This seems to have influenced them to take up banking and money-lending. Further, the strict methodical nature of their systematized way of life proved very helpful to the Jains in accumulating wealth. Nevaskar argues that the systematic way of life allowed no freedom to a Jain to squander his wealth. "At the same time, the warning against naive surrender to the world -- to avoid entanglement in karma through rigid, methodical self-control and composure, through holding one's tongue, and studious caution in all life situations -- helped the Jains to further accumulate wealth" (1971: 199).

The uncompromising attitude towards the doctrine of ahimsa and ritualistic restrictions on travel made migration to cities as the most natural course to follow. Thus the Jains became successful bankers, money lenders, merchants selling jewelry and clothing and in grocery, business and in industries. Basham expresses the same in the following words. "Jainism encouraged the commercial virtues of honesty and frugality and at a very early period the Jaina lay community became predominately mercantile" (1954: 293).

There are two notable differences between Weber's Protestant ethic and Jainistic ethic. While in the former the motivation for success is the for glorification of Transcendent God through the advancement in one's calling, while in the latter it is the desire for moksa deeply molded by ahimsa. Second, all vocations are of equal value for the former while the latter offers an index of profession -- nearly fifteen varieties of business enterprises -- that are to be avoided.

Struggle as a Group for Economic Primacy
Emphasizing the affinity between being religious minority and involvement in commerce, Weber says, "National or religious minorities which are in a position of subordination to a group of rulers are likely, through their voluntary or involuntary exclusion from positions of political influence, to be driven with peculiar force into economic activity" (1958a: 39). However, it must also be stated in unequivocal terms that the functional relationship between the loss of social approval and the urge for economic development is neither ubiquitous nor central to the growth process. All the same, Christopher Bayly's reason for the close affinity between Jainism and commerce certainly sounds very reasonable. He remarks that this affinity "may have been an artifact of the loss of paramount power by Jains in the North to Muslims and in the South to Saivites. This is consistent with their struggle as a group for economic primacy against other groups" (Carrithers 1991: 167).

Structural Advantages
Apart from their religio-ethic and the achievement-need syndrome, Jains seemed to have had other initial advantages. Their family structure was mostly of joint family pattern which greatly avoided the division of property and provided them greater accumulation of wealth and consequently a greater capacity for investment.

Yogendra Singh points out that Jainism was particularly an urban movement and this also had its share of contribution in the emergence of a new mercantile castes in urban centers (1988: 193). It is worth noting that Jains are more urban than rural: 59.83% of the total Jain population (1971 Census) is urban. Indeed among the religious minorities of India, they are the third most highly urbanized community after Parsis and Jews (Schrermerhorn 1978: 102). Commenting on a type of common religiosity among Puritans, Jains, Parsis, Jews and the commercial groups in Islam, Loomis and Loomis comment: "There seems to emerge in Weber's examination of religious origins the conclusion that an urban setting led to the movement away from the ecstatic trance or dream and toward the development of everyday piety and mysticism" (1969: 125).

Renouncement and Pompousness -- A Dazzling Paradox? Reynell, pointing out the glaring contrast between the goal of non-possession of wealth and the luxurious state of temples and shrines and emphasis on renunciation and austerity preached in those temples, highlights in her article the seeming paradox between, "the strictly ascetic renunciatory spirit of Jain doctrine and the opulence and wealth emphasized in its practice" (1985: 10).

To cite an illustration fresh from memory: Atul Kumar Shah's, son of Jain multimillionaire in Gujarat, renunciation of material wealth for solace in spiritualism in June 1991 cost his family a grand total over Rs 150 crores. Nearly Rs 20 lakh were spent on the 5000 calendar size invitation and each invitation was decorated with a 50 gm silver coin worth Rs 300/-. Gold and silver coins, pearls and diamonds scattered by Atul Shah during the cavalcade was estimated to be Rs 2 50 lakh. In the midst of all pomp and show questions of disapproval were raised: What was the necessity for such a show to celebrate renunciation? (Mahurkar 1991: 112-13).

There have been several attempts to solve this glaring paradox. Jonathan Parry is of the view that there is a natural affinity between ostentatious wealth and the ostentatious renunciation undertaken by Jain ascetics. It appears that this natural affinity seems to be based on the popular Jain belief concerning the value of wealth. Wealth is according to Jainism, not a sign of spiritual corruption but a sign of spiritual blessing. Gordon Johnson seems to agree with Jonathan's interpretation, when he remarks that the expensive public festivals and street processions of Jains help to establish and reconfirm Jain identity in the complex and turbulent urban world. Hence this popular Jain belief concerning wealth has to be viewed within their dominant identity: Merchant identity (Carrithers 1991: 17).

There is no canonical injunction against public performance of arms-giving and the Jain literature on dana (charity) proclaims arms-giving in public as a means of encouraging others to be even more generous. Muni Hitruchiji Vijayaji's defense of Atul Shah's glorious extravaganza falls in line here, "My idea was to project the importance of renunciation. The idea was to inspire other millionaires" (Mahurkar 1991: 113).

Another attempt to explain this Jain paradox is that no religious institution can survive without the laity being involved in an active way. If the laity renounces all their wealth, then the institution cannot survive. The essential concomitant of a begging wanderer is a non-wandering donor, whose generosity enables the ascetic to live. Hence without dana there could be ascetics, no transmission of the doctrine. Viewed from this perspective, it amounts to say, the more ostentatious the giving, the more community minded is the giver (Carrithers 1991: 36-38).

The paradox is also explained away through duality in the ethical conduct in Jainism. William explains that there is no correspondence between the fifth mahavrata of the Jain mendicant and the fifth a'?uvrata of the Jain layman, although both are called aparigraha-vrata (non-attachment to worldly things). Norman argues: "Since the whole structure of the begging community would be undermined if they were the same, the interpretation of the vow for laymen has necessarily to differ from that adopted for monks" (Carrithers 1991: 37). This line of argument underlines Jaini's explanation of aparigraha (1979: 160-87). He argues that renunciation is a reasonable interpretation of the vow aparigraha for a monk who has no possessions at all, but it is not appropriate when used for layman. This is clear from the account of Ananda, Jain layman given in the Uvasaga-daso (the seventh a'?ga -a section- of the Svetambara Jain canon), that aparigraha did not mean renunciation but limiting. Hence for layman, aparigraha would mean not clinging to something but in the sense of not believing that it was one's permanent possession. Norman points out further the Jain canon of Mahavira preaching a sermon to the monks about the rule which they must follow, while the absence of corresponding sermon for laymen is conspicuous(Carrithers 1991: 33). Finally a more pragmatic explanation would not be out of place. An unavoidable gulf between precept and practice is perceived in all religions.

In the precept and practice of Jainism one notices the linking of ethical code of religion with systematized way of life leading to a rationalization of economic activity. However, on the one hand the importance of ethical code of religion with its emphasis on asceticism in producing and legitimating the capitalist spirit among Jains is acceptable but on the other it is equally important to note that they also had certain structural (family pattern) and situational (geographical and achievement-need syndrome) advantages in their favour. Hence it is reasonable to hold that Jain's economic advancement was exclusively caused by their religiosity nor their religiosity was neither exclusively caused by their economic practices. But, obviously, it is beyond any question that these two components are closely related. The author of this article shares the opinion of Don Martindale that this linkage seems "to have developed in a spiral of mutual reinforcement over time, increasing the solidarity and effectiveness" of Jains within the Indian World (Nevaskar 1971: xx).

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T. Mohanadoss, University of Freiburg

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