Ahimsa – the ultimate winner
Spirit of Non-Violence for Posterity
[Key note speech as Chief Guest at the 6th Biennial J.A.I.N.A. Convention, 1991 at Stanford University, Stanford, California, U. S. A., 4th July, 1991]
It is a great privilege to be invited to address this largest ever congregation of JAIN community outside India.
The Federation of Jain Association in North America deserves warm applause for transforming the 6th biennial JAIN convention into an event of historic significance, dedicated to extending Jain heritage of Ahimsa to the next generation.
The fellow feelings of the 40,000 Jains living in USA and Canada and the dauntless spirit of the activists among them makes me recall what the great German writer Goethe wrote once:
“The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities, but to know someone who thinks and feels with us, and who, though distant is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden”
We are fortunate to have in our midst renowned Jain Acharyas, Munis, Gurus and learned men. Our salutations to them with a deep bow in the guiding spirit of the ‘NAMOKAR MANTRA’. May their blessings help us achieve spiritual self-sufficiency and get rid of our negative vibrations.
A poet has aptly said,
“There is so much good in the worst of us,
And so much bad in the best of us,
That it does not behove us,
To speak about the rest of us”.
Let us in the first place learn to look at ourselves. The answer to the perennial question ‘Ko hum’ (Who am I) is provided in Jain thinking in ‘So hum’ (I am that). It is worth aspiring for “to be deep and deep, to be in and in” in the endeavour to unravel the ‘reality’ of the ‘eternal soul’ and its potential divine strength. Translated in simple terms, this means that we should not merely care for our emotional, physical and intellectual health, but also for our spiritual health and well-being.
Let us not get lost in the glamour of the many splendoured material comforts of our present day life. Let the desire to achieve ‘spiritual prosperity’ begin to take root in our reasoning, emotions, yearnings and actions. Jain philosophy enshrines “Shraman Sanskriti” (effort and action culture) to the highest pedestal much above information, knowledge, prayer, worship or ritual. Shraman Sanskriti is the all-important vehicle to practice Non-violence as a way of life and not merely as a religious injunction.
As a true Jain, we should seek to build a temple within oneself in order to attain ecstasy, which one young American practicing Jainism has described as “the balance joy” bridging the gap between suffering and salvation.
Jainism is a very dynamic and non-dogmatic form of spiritual discipline and development. It is a philosophy projecting a balanced and a comprehensive view of life. The directness and simplicity of prayer helps the lost and the confused to shed hypocrisy and ostentation and “to get connected again” to more stable peace of mind and more soul-satisfying living.
Jain holy texts teach human beings to be tolerant in a truly universal spirit not merely for doing good to others, but to themselves in the first place. Jain teachings are directed to conquering anger with calmness, ego with humility, deceit with honesty and greed through contentment through a process of what may appear to be austere and rigorous but in reality is persuasive self-control of both the mental as well as physical faculties. Self-restraint is not something forced down one’s throat but a discipline that makes you feel more relaxed and increasingly tension-free. Jain thought radiates an all-embracing light of love and compassion that has no barriers or boundaries and can be practiced by any human being as basis of his/her life ethics.
The cardinal principles of Jainism are the three ‘A’s: AHIMSA (Non-violence), APARIGRAHA (Non-acquisition) and ANEKANT (Relativity in thinking). They seek to inspire and guide the humanity to pursue the path of truth (SATYA), by truth and for truth. To separate oneself from the truth is in itself committing violence. We need to understand them in the most compassionate and service-above-self perspective.
In Jain ethos, non-violence is not just a principle but also an optimistic opening to a totally rational yet compassionate life culture. It helps you to realize that you are responsible to yourself as well as others around you for promoting an environment of love and selfless service.
In its truly universal orientation, the elements of nature – the earth, the sky, the air, the water and the fire are intrinsically interwoven with all forms of life. All must coexist and co-prosper in harmony with one another and not at the cost of one another. Non-violence thus emerges as a universal culture rooted to the basic theme of survival, evolution, growth and the full blossoming of life in all its splendour and variety on this planet of ours. It should be abundantly clear, as Jain Scripture “Yoga-Shastra” says that
“Non-violence is beneficent to all creatures and living nature; it is the best healing herb and symbolizes “the perpetual return of existence”.
Non-violence is a truly democratic concept with the emphasis on love and tolerance. It stems from the Jain concept of the equality of soul irrespective of differing forms of living creatures ranging from human beings to animals, insects and plants.
Human beings have a special responsibility in this regard, which in some ways have been callously neglected by them. Human beings must bring out humanity towards other fellow beings and the Nature and thereby achieve oneness with life. The rationale behind the positive principle and earnest practice of Ahimsa is the basic equality of all living elements. Mahavir has observed:
“Not to kill or hurt any living being is the quintessence of all wisdom. One must realize that non-violence and equality are essentials of ‘Dharma”.
Acharya Amitagati in his famous work “Samayika Patha” wrote as early as 11th century A.D.:
âžßðâé ×ñ˜æè »éç‡æâé Âý×æðÎ¢
ç€ÜCïðUâé Áèßðâé ·ë¤ÂæÂÚUˆß×÷ï
âÎæ ××æˆ×æ çßÎŠææÌé Îðß Ð
“Friendship towards all beings, respect for the qualities of virtuous persons, utmost compassion for the suffering people and equanimity towards those who may be hostile. May my soul have always had this feeling”.
Non-violence has an abiding relevance to the preservation and furthering of the civilizing values and lofty traditions of humanity. Humanity young or old, rich or poor, strong or weak must realize that non-violence is a sine qua non of justice, equality and democracy. Violent behaviour reinforced by cruelty and terrorism is rendering all the gains of progress devoid of any meaning and content.
Exploitation – mental as well as physical, political as well as economic, social as well as racial, will tend to perpetuate itself so long as we allow violence to sharpen its cutting edges, and let our own “violent ego complex” dominate our confused thinking and reckless behaviour.
The world is in turmoil. The highly advanced materialistic life culture is lost in its own ingrown contradictions and frustrations, tensions and pressures, disputes and discords, due largely to our conditioning towards self-interest and material acquisition. While on the one hand science has been harnessed to augment our comforts and luxuries, speed and mobility, the creative energies thus unleashed have also been put to violent and destructive applications.
Man’s vicious exploitation of the environment, his inhuman behaviour towards fellow living beings, infectious spread of the cult of violence indulgence in irrational behaviour and growing mal-adjustments in inter-relationships are rapidly making the world a most uncivilized place to live. Fear, hatred, anger, mistrust, depression and disillusionment persist in the midst of material plenty. Human values are changing for the worse and the generation gap is widening. In the inner recesses of the human mind, there is despair. The practice of non-violence can bring solace, serenity and stability to our lives.
We must realize with complete clarity that non-violence is not only the highest religion, but is the highest restraint, highest knowledge, highest happiness, highest penance and hence this highest gift needs to be treasured, promoted and spread far and wide.
Mahatma Gandhi used non-violence most effectively not only as political weapon but also an instrument for promoting social reforms and social justice. Martin Luther King’s non-violent struggle for the assertion of racial equality created a deep impact in the minds and hearts of not only the Americans but also people all over the world. Nelson Mandela spent almost three decades in Jail in peaceful non-violent protest endeavoringdemolish the citadel of apartheid through persuasive struggle and passive resistance. Recent radical changes in communism in Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have come by and large through peaceful assertion of the will power of the people in favour of democracy. East and West Germany have achieved historic reunification without violence and bloodshed.
Aparigraha (non-possessiveness and non-attachment) is integral to non-violence as a discipline of voluntary simplicity and not forced austerity. Insatiable hankering after materialism and growing instinct of possessiveness tends to goad individuals towards unjust exploitation, unethical conduct and violent behaviour. Every individual cannot be Mahavir or Buddha ready to renounce all material possessions and to seek communion with nature and the inner-self. But self-restraint and non-possessive instincts should be developed in a steady but determined manner gradually by shedding such things and habits that tend to make a human being their slave.
It is true that monks practice far greater renunciation and restraint than the laypersons. However even for them, this is what Acharya Yogindu (6th Century A.D.) says in his book “Yoga-Saar” in stanza 18:
Ï×é ‡æ ÂçÉUâ§¡ ãUæð§, Ï×é ‡æ ÂæðˆÍæ«¤çÂç‘ÀUâ§Z Ð
Ï×é ‡æ ×çÉUØ-ÂÚUçÌ, Ï×é ‡æ ×ˆÍæ-Üé¢ç¿Ø§Z H y|H
ÚUæØ-ÚUæðâ ßð ÂçÚUãUçÚUçß, Áæð ¥ŒÂæç‡æ ßâð§ Ð
âæð Ï×é çß çÁ‡æ-©Uçžæ×ª¤, Áæð Â¢¿× »§‡æð§¡ H y}H
“Religion is not practiced merely by studying scriptures or by merely keeping the book and the brush made of peacock-feathers or merely by living in some monastery. It is also not practiced merely by plucking hair by hand (Kesha-Loncha) Religion is practiced by to renouncing all attachment (Raga) and aversion (Dwesh), and becoming fully dispassionate and unattached (Vitaragi). Religion so defined alone carries one to the fifth plane of existence (Pancham-gati) and gives salvation”.
Vegetarianism is not just an eating habit but basic to non-violent culture and at the same time conducive to nobler thoughts and elimination of the aggressive urge.
An American lady Clare Rosenfield who practices non-violence as per Jainism not only with conviction, but inner delight observes:
“I only know that for me and our children, the vegetarian way of life is not only a way of removing ourselves from supporting the machines of violence and mentality of callousness towards helpless creatures, but it has given us a new and fresh outlook of life – a feeling of kinship with the beings with whom we share this planet.”
As Edgar Guest wrote:
“Who for God’s creatures small will plan,
Will seldom wrong his fellow men”.
Experience and experimentation in USA, Canada and Europe has shown that the local people can take easily to practicing vegetarianism in slow degrees without in any way feeling alienated from their local social moorings. If anything, this discipline has enhanced their confidence and will power and substantially taken care of their tensions, strains and other complexes.
Anekant is an important concept mirroring the worldview of Jain philosophy. Nothing in this world is or can be absolute. Everything is relative. The theory of Anekant expounds the multi-ended pattern of human social relationships and emphasis the dynamic and moving elements in them rather than a fixed static or single-track orientation. This helps a more objective attitude towards others – one of universal tolerance in place of exclusive attachment or hatred towards a chosen few. A son may be a son to a person but he may also simultaneously be a husband, friend, enemy or brother of another person.
Thus, life has multiple rays radiating from a single element. It is, therefore, only rational not to cling to your near and dear ones alone or to your land or belongings. A wider and non-dogmatic perception of human relationship will help the individual serve the society in a more self-less, devoted, kind hearted and enthusiastic manner.
Anekant approach helps in overcoming social mal-adjustments and subjective relationships, and the resultant rigidities in the social structure. It promotes social equality between the rich and the poor, the upper and the lower strata of society, the intellectuals and the working classes.
Jainism has not only shown a spiritual way of life to its followers, but because of its humanitarian, secular and scientific character it has inspired a distinct stream of culture which has enriched Indian Philosophy, literature, art, architecture, sculpture and pattern of living.
Jain philosophy in today’s world is an ever-vibrant stream of thought provoking a new universal human as well as a new universal environmental order. It seeks to take the humanity above the din and pollution of hatred, violence, mistrust and evil and selfish exploitation. It is an open philosophy, the benefit of which can be taken by anyone willing to improve one’s quality of life and to purify the process of rationalizing human conduct in situations of stress as well as harmony and tranquility.
The heritage of non-violence we wish to bequeath to the younger generation should certainly not be one of confused thinking and frustration at the turn of fate or conformity to rigid habits of thought and action. The younger generation is exposed to a wider world and a diversity of thought and culture much more than we were in our youth. We need to pass on to our children the message of truth and non-violence, spiritual equanimity and tranquility not simply in idealistic or abstruse terms, but in such a pragmatic way as would help them evolve into happy, healthy and peaceful human beings in this fast track and rapidly changing world.
“Jain tradition is not concerned with the salvation of the individual in a selfish manner. Every Jain must strive for the highest code of conduct, the highest code of restraint and the highest contribution he or she can make for the preservation of others. There is hardly any tradition which is more selfless”.
-Dr L.M. Singhvi
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