Ahimsa – the ultimate winner


JAINISM – A way of life”

[Speech delivered as Chief Guest at the First Asian Jain Congress held at Singapore on March 3rd, 1990]

It is a great privilege to address this distinguished audience at this first ever-Asian Congress of Jains. The Singapore Jain Society deserves warm applause for this thoughtful initiative. Guests from abroad like me are deeply touched by the warmth, hospitality and the friendliness of the local Jain community and their singular devotion to the Jain religion despite living away from India for so many years. The practice of Jain way of life with such fervor and faith is greatly inspiring and I recall William Blake’s poem.

I looked for my soul
But my soul I could not see
I looked for God
But God eluded me
I looked for a friend
And then I found all three”

Jain religion is one of the oldest religions of India. The names of the founder Rishabh Naath (or Adinaath), the first “Tirthankar” (Prophet) and of other subsequent prophets appear several times in the Rig-Veda and Yajurveda. This is indicative of the existence of Jainism even prior to the Vedic period (2500 B.C.- 600 B.C.).

In his book “Indian philosophy” (Volume I page 287), Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan has confirmed ancient historicity of Jainism in the following words:

Evidences are available to indicate that from early times even prior to the 1st century B.C., there were devotees of Rishabh Naath – the first Tirthankar. There is absolutely no doubt that Jain religion existed well before Vardhaman and Parshvanaath; Yajurveda refers to the names of three Tirthankars viz. Rishabh Naath, Ajit Naath and Arishtanemi. Bhaagwat Puran corroborates that Rishabhadeva was the founder of Jain religion”.

Among the ancient stone inscriptions, noteworthy is the inscription in elephant caves of Khand-giri and Udaigiri in Orissa. This 2100 years old ancient inscription by Jain Emperor Kharwel depicts that King Nand, predecessor of Pushyamitra, the Emperor of Magadha, after conquering Kalinga around 423 B.C. brought as victory gift the idol of Rishabhadeva. Three hundred years after King Nand, King Kharwel of Kalinga invaded Magadha and brought the idol back. Prior to the period of Kharwel, there had been the temple of Arihants at Udaigiri hill and references have been found in the motifs of Kharwel.

The first Tirthankar of Jain religion and its founder Bhagavan Rishabh Naath (or Adinaath) and his son Bharat find mention in Markandeya, Agni, Vayu, Garud, Brahmand, Varah, Ling, Vishnu and Skand puranas. Rishabhadeva is described as the son of King Nabhi and Queen Maru Devi.

It is worth mentioning that noted historian Dr. Radha Kumud Mukerjea in his book “Hindu Civilization” has referred to the ancient coins of Indus Valley civilization depicting Jain ascetic idols in meditation resembling the idol of Rishabhadeva preserved in the Mathura museum going back to 2nd century. It is also interesting that like the idols of “Nirgranthas” found in the excavations at Mohanjodaro, at Harappa also idols of Gods have been found in the naked form.

Historically later, Chetak, the King of Vaishali in Bihar, King Bimbisar (Shrenik in Jain literature) the famous of Emperor of Magadha and later Emperor Chandra Gupta Maurya were great promoters of Jain religion. In fact Emperor Chandra Gupta later became a Jain monk and joined. Acharya Bhadrabahu in the religions march towards South India in the wake of severe Famine calamity in North India. Emperor Ashoka was the grandson of Chandra Gupta. Although he promoted Buddhism, in his earlier years he was deeply influenced by Jain philosophy of non-violence.

In keeping with its ancient vintage, Jainism has not only shown a spiritual way of life to its followers, but has inspired a distinct stream of culture, which has enriched Indian philosophy, literature, art, architecture and sculpture, pattern of living and spiritual advancement. Although Jain religion did not spread abroad as widely as Buddhism, in India it came to be spread over in all parts of India. Holy Jain literature is found in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Hindi, Gujarati, Kannada and Tamil in varied forms of poetry, prose, drama and story. More than 100 rare manuscripts and 1500 old books about Jainism are kept in India Office Library and other British museums in U K alone in addition to the wealth of ancient literature, hand painted manuscripts, icons, cave drawings etc. available in India.

Jain religion has richly contributed to the cultural heritage of India, Temples at Abu, Ranakpur, Halebid, Girnar, Satrunjaya, Sammetshikhar, Deogarh and Sravanbelgola etc. besides being venerated places of pilgrimage are marvelous examples of art and architecture and ethically depict serenity in a detached and dignified from.

As it happens followers of the Jain religion come mostly from the business community on India and abroad. The fact they follow such a deeply humanistic religion with such commitment and candor indicates that they are not blinded by the lure of material attractions and possessions. The concept of universal brother hood and welfare not only of human beings but also of all the living beings inspires their daily endeavours as well as their striving to become progressively nobler and kinder human beings.

Jain religion is however, not a religion of the elite, the privileged or the rich. Its doors are open to anyone who wishes to follow it out of conviction and self -persuasion irrespective of one’s color, sex, caste, continent, language or nationality. It is democratic and universal.

On balance there is indeed very little mumbo-jumbo about the ritual part. Simplicity and directness of prayer is the hallmark of the practice of this religion. The emphasis is on being a ‘believer’ and not just a ‘worshiper’. To be a Jain, one does not need to be born as one or to be formally converted to it. One becomes a Jain the moment one pins faith in the philosophy of ‘live and let live’ and begins to practice it in day-to day life with conviction, dedication and faith.

Talking about the Jain philosophy to the people in South Asia is for them treading on familiar ground. This is the region where Buddhism has been a way of life for centuries.The teaching of Gautam Buddha have entered the blood stream of the people and have deeply influenced their culture and social ethos. There are striking similarities in the basic tenets of Buddhism and Jainism. At the same time there are nuances of differences in the relative degree of emphasis on the basis tenets as well as mode and rigour of their translation into day-to-day religious practice. At any rate, both the religions are on the same broad wave-length of inspiring self-transformation with a view to salvation from the world of illusions. Jain religion is historically much older then Buddhism and has deeply influenced and refined Indian philosophy on the moral and ethical plane particularly on the comprehensive and wide ranging concept of non-violence.

Likewise, while the culture and social background may be similar with the followers of the all -pervasive Hinduism, Jainism has a distinct identity of its own in terms of not only its spiritual and ascetic but also scientific and integrated approach to Man and Nature. It seeks interaction between Man and the elements of Nature not for destruction or exploitation but for construction and progress in an environment of harmony and compassion. The scientific analysis of the natural phenomenon in the ancient Jain holy books is striking and of relevance even in today’s world.

Lord Mahavir, the 24th and the last of the Jain “Tirthankaras” was a contemporary of Lord Buddha. He attained ‘Nirvana’ in 527 B.C. The common impression is that both religions came up as reformation movements to correct the distortions and rigidities that were beginning to develop in Hindu religion particularly as a result of increased war-fare, indulgence in animal sacrifice, spread of non- vegetarianism and the development of a rigid caste system which gave the Brahmins the monopoly of interpreting Holy religious texts to the followers.

The fact is that emergence of Buddhism and the strong revival of Jainism in a fully codified from during the life time of Lord Mahavir (599-527B.C.) and his predecessor Lord Parshvanaath (877-777 B.C.) helped to focus on the vital importance in religious faith of the principles of non-violence (Ahimsa), truth (Satya) and non-attachment (Aparigraha).

Abhorrence of war and conflicts was growing in the minds not only of the public but also of the ruling class as a result of indiscriminate bloodshed, cruel loss of life and the resultant misery, hatred and ill feeling that it generated. Interestingly enough it was the ruling class, which gave lead. All the 24 Tirthankar of the Jain religion were from Kshatriya or the ruling warrior class and so was the case with Gautam Buddha also. They realized that the victories of ‘peace’ would be more durable than the victories of ‘war’. They realized that violence only generated greater violence, but non-violence would spread stable peace, concord and serenity.

Jain philosophy is rooted firmly in the experience of life and is not something academic or theoretical. Life teaches lessons and if the lessons learned by one could be followed by others, they could become better human beings during their current life and move on towards eventual salvation and freedom from the cycle of life.

Jain religion does not believe in the concept of God-creator but in the eternal existence of soul, which takes its journey through various incarnations of life in search for the ultimate salvation. The destiny of the soul is inextricably linked with the five substances, namely Pudgala (atom), Dharma, Adharma, Akash and Kaal that control the universe.

Jain religion inspires as well as prescribes open hearted and inspirational reverence for the noble souls who have conquered their self and have set the worthy example of attaining spiritual perfection. The most frequently recited salutations in the supreme Namokar Mahamantra are addressed to them.

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* Salutations to those enlightened souls (Arihant) who have attained spiritual perfection and become spiritual victors with infinite knowledge, energy and bliss.

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* Salutations to those liberated souls who have become ‘Siddha’.

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* Salutations to the Preceptors (Acharyas) who have acquired depth of knowledge and clarity of perception concerning the eventual purpose of life.

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* Salutations to those spiritual teachers ‘Upadhyaya’ who have studied and grasped the Holy texts and help and guide others.

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* Salutations to all the saints who are pursuing the path of spiritual awakening and self-realization.

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âÃß Âæߌ‡ææâ‡ææð
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* These five salutations destroy all negative vibrations. Among all forms of bliss, this is the Supreme Bliss.

Bhagavan Mahavir preached every soul to be self reliant in pursuing the path of salvation. He observed:

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ÎéãUæ‡æ Ø âéãUæ‡æ Ø Ð
¥ŒÂæ çמæ×÷ï ç×žæ¢ ¿,
ÎéŒÂçU_ïUØ âéÂç_ïU¥æð H

Maker, unmaker of pleasure and pain. For, the self is the self, itself none else. Self again is friend and foe that induces good and evil.

Basically Jain thought does not provide for idol worship. However, idols of the 24 Tirthankaras in the Temples and on Mountain Tops came up since they gave the common man a medium to pin his faith on. The Sthanakvasi sect however, does not believe in idol worship and focuses on teachings of the religion as laid down by the Tirthankaras and preached by the ordained Saints and Gurus.

In the day-to-day practice and ritual of religion in Jainism, there is much greater element of asceticism, austerity, self-denial and self-sacrifice in contrast to Buddhism, Hinduism or Christianity. The feeling is emphasized at every point of time that the material life and possessions and the inter-woven web of relationships and attachments are not permanent factors. The soul comes alone into the world and departs alone. The individual must fend for himself, think and plan for life beyond the present one. At the same time while emphasizing individual’s path of salvation, Jain philosophy assumes and encourages the individual as an integral part of the society with commitments and obligations towards others as well as enjoyment of benefits flowing from the existence of organized social structure.

Jain religion has never been a proselytizing religion like Islam or Christianity. It has also not been a religion confined to a certain sect or segment of the society. Indeed it has been an open religion and anyone who volunteers to take up practice of Jainism can become a Jain. It is interesting to mention here that a very large number of Americans (estimated at around one million by American Vegetarian Society) have in recent years become vegetarian. Over 30,000 have taken to Jainism as a medium of their spiritual quest in the last over three decades at the Jain Meditation International Center, at New York under the inspired and dedicated guidance of Guru Chitrabhanuji. Since last 20 years, 30-40 American Jains have been coming to India annually to visit the Jain holy places of pilgrimage.

Given human imperfection and frailty, sects have come up in the Jain religion like in all other religions. But differences between Digambars and Shvetambars or Sthanakvasi, Terapanthi and others are more in terms of the religious ritual and superficial aspects of the routine practice of religion, and much less in terms of the basic philosophy of Jainism and its conceptual interpretation. In the modern times, with growing inter-marriages and social inter-action between different sects, a more unified impact of Jain religion and community is in evolution. This must be encouraged.

The religion provides for integrated three-fold approach consisting of -

Right Faith (Samyak Darshan)

Right Knowledge (Samyak Jnana)

Right Conduct (Samyak Charitra)

In this three-fold approach, lies the basic essence of Jain philosophy. This could be followed in varying degrees by ordinary men and women in their imperfect ways and by more ardent devotees at a higher level and by Gurus, Saints and Munis in increasingly perfect orientation. One who could reach the utmost perfection would attain enlightenment and become a Tirthankar. It is noteworthy that since the “NIRVANA” of LORD MAHAVIR in 527 B.C. for over 2500 years no one has attained the status of ‘Tirthankar’.

The importance of Jain religion should not be assessed in terms of the number of its followers. There are around 10 million followers in India and a million or so abroad – mostly of Indian origin. The importance needs to be seen on the impact which the Jain philosophy has made on the world humanism, on the catholicity of global outlook inspired by the concept of ‘Reverence of all life’ and by the emphasis on non-violence encompassing non-injury in thought, word and deed.

The search for truth and the practice of truth is one of the key aspects of Jain perception. Equally, important aspect of Jain thinking is to develop a feeling of gradual non-attachment from material possessions and attractions that seek to blind us to the materialistic paraphernalia of life to the extent that we mistake it for life itself.

Jain teaching is not merely critical of irrational thought, conduct or deed, but is conducive to promoting thought and action in the right direction. Jain Shastras teach Man to conquer anger with calmness, ego with humility, deceit with honesty and greed with contentment through a process of rigorous but persuasive self-control covering both mental as well as physical faculties.

One of the concepts underlying Jainism is ‘Anekant’. Nothing is this world is absolute. Everything is relative. The theory enunciates the multi-ended pattern of human social relationships and emphasizes the dynamic and moving element in it rather than a fixed or static or single-track nature of relationship. This helps a more objective attitude towards others – one of universal love in place of exclusive attachment or hatred or bias towards a chosen few. Life has multiple rays radiating from a single element. It is therefore, only rational not to cling to your very near and dear ones alone or to your land or belongings. A wider and non-dogmatic perception of human relationships will help in individual serving the society in a more selfless, devoted and enthusiastic manner.

Anekant theory thus helps in overcoming social maladjustments, hangovers of 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, the intellectuals and the working classes.

The world is in turmoil. We are close to the end of the 20th century. Its last decade has just commenced. The 20th century has been witness to two world wars and a number of local and regional conflicts. 20th century has also seen tremendous strides in science, technology and their unfortunate applications to increasingly destructive form of warfare. The atom bomb and the hydrogen bomb were followed by the invention of the nuclear weapons and accompanied by the indiscriminate spread of chemical weapons of mass destruction.

By the pressing of a button, the entire universe can be destroyed. The feverish arms race among the super powers has been sought to be justified by the deterrent theory as if the fear of using such weapons could prevent outbreak of war.

The tragedy of Hiroshima has, however, brought home to the world the cruelty of the destruction that could follow a nuclear holocaust.

In contrast to this trend, there has also been a parallel effort to build durable peace on the debris of war by setting up United Nations Organization and other international bodies to enable resolution of problems through negotiations across the table instead of in the war-field.

Now that a ray of hope is appearing on the horizon and chances of more durable world peace on the concept of global interdependence are taking shape, the relevance of non-violence increases and does not get diminished.

The sudden and frightening increase in terrorism has once again put violence on a pedestal from which it radiates fear, suspicion, mistrust and hostility. The call of the present time is to put a stop to the cult of violence and spread the message of non-violence at the local, regional, national, continental and global levels. Here the philosophy of Jainism assumes considerable relevance because it offers to the troubled humanity a path towards relaxed tensions, increasing serenity of mind, mutual tolerance, mutual accommodation and maximization of human welfare both for an individual as well as the society.

Jain philosophy offers not just a religion for an individual or the community, but a way of life for sustaining and promoting cherished values of the best and the noblest in the human culture and civilization. A true Jain can be an effective soldier in the struggle for a durable world peace. He can contribute effectively to the building of a world without fear, war, hunger or deprivation.

The Jain community has been very active in recent years in order to bring about increased awareness of Jainism. At several international congresses and conferences, Jain philosophy has been widely expounded and its knowledge spread not only among Jain but also among others. In USA, United Kingdom, Kenya and many other places Jain Temples have been built through the efforts and initiative of the local Jain Communities of Indian origin. The temple in Nairobi (Kenya) is a worthy example of Jain architecture; so is the temple inaugurated last year at Leicester in UK, which houses under one-roof places of worship for different sects of Jains. It was a discarded church building in a prime location in the city, which has been rehabilitated in a beautiful artistic and dignified manner as a Jain Temple. It is an example, which is worth emulating in order to carry forward the task of unifying the Jain community.

We need even more actively to spread the message of Jainism in terms of its relevance to the problems that the world is confronted with. We need to spread the message of Jainism to promote the concept of not only peaceful co-existence but also growing global interdependence

Let us remember and continue to stress at all times and on all occasions, that Jain religion is not a sectarian religion. Jain religion is not caste, convention, or regime-ridden. It is an open philosophy, 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. Jain religion is a universal philosophy even in a rapidly changing world in which human values are being constantly subjected to the pressure of material progress.


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