JAIN RELIGION – TEACHINGS OF MAHAVIR
SECTION – I : INTRODUCTION
CHAPTER – I
WHAT IS RELIGION?
Religion is a stream of well-knit and harmoniously blended thought, perception and conduct which relates itself to the search for truth about the very basis, nature and purpose of human existence. Religion or Dharma, as it is called in Sanskrit, is very aptly defined as “Dharayati iti Dharmah”. This means that the faith that holds human beings from straying off the path of truth and succumbing to false delusions is religion.
Dharma connotes the stimulation of the process of attaining self-realization, soul purification and soul awakening. Religion brings home the awareness and conviction that life is not all matter. It also comprises the spirit. Spiritual orientation is essential for the attainment of lasting happiness and bliss.
The word ‘Religion’ is derived from the latin word ‘ re-ligare’, which means to reconnect or bind. Materialistic culture aggravates the inner anxieties and physical insecurities of life. It erodes a sense of purpose and trivializes human destiny. It creates illusions of happiness, that may comfort the body but are not soul-satisfying. Religion makes human belongs experience transcendence for which the soul hungers. Greater and faster the material progress, there is even greater realization of the need for spiritual insight and the desire for wisdom.
Religious beliefs have existed since the first human communities on Earth. They have been generally shared by a community and express the community’s culture and values through myth, doctrine, theology, ethics and ritual. Humanity’s search for the ultimate reality, called by whatever name, has been at the root of religion. Religion has served as a vehicle for the deep-rooted spirit of inquiry into the mysteries of universe creation and human destiny entwined with them.
Jain scripture ‘Dashvaikalika Sutra’ highlights four supreme gifts that are difficult to attain as the fountain spring of religion. First is the gift of being born as a human being; second the gift of being ignited with a longing for truth and of having that longing fulfilled; third the gift of developing faith in and love for the true teachings one hears; and fourth the gift of being so filled with enthusiasm and conviction as to put the teachings into practice in one’s daily life.
The human quest for an understanding of the origin and purpose of life and the nature of existence has gone on from times immemorial, ‘Who am I?’, ‘From where do I come?’ ‘What is my role in this universe’ and ‘Where do I go from here’ are questions that have formed the essence of religions. Religions have been instrumental in awakening human consciousness to universal ideals of conduct and to transcendent insights that have laid the foundations of the world’s great civilizations. Their histories stretch back thousands of years.
The irresistible call from within has constituted the religious dimension- the highest, deepest and universally binding dimension of all. Whether one lives in north or south, east or west, is white, brown or black, rich or poor, man or woman, spiritual quest has taken the shape and form of religion, religious beliefs and faith traditions since the first human communities on the Earth. The feeling has grown that religion guides and protects all those who imbibe it, grasp it and nurture it in their day-to-day beliefs, behaviors and expressions.
The doctrines, myths, rites and rituals may be varied, yet the religions have promulgated universal tenets of ethical conduct towards others in their respective historical and geographical settings. Their founders were exceptional persons commanding deep reverence for having attained a degree of self-realization and spiritual energy that enabled them to resist all evil and seek the highest ideals of good despite innumerable obstacles, difficulties and suffering.
World history has been witness to a wide variety of religions coming up and asserting their identity ranging from tribal faiths to organized religions in varying historical conditioning and environment. Each religion is inspired by its own vision of the divine and has a distinct cultural ethos. At the same time, each religion perceives the divine power as the source of unity and peace. Religions have provided to the confused humanity the eventual purpose and the right technique of living. They have reduced stress and strain of modern living, and trained one to think for oneself to analyse, investigate, realize the essence of life and true nature of soul-uplifting happiness.
Religions have formed the foundations of cultural identity and have decisively shaped world civilizations based on differing but not exclusive views of ultimate value : non-violence as supreme religion in Jainism, compassion and benevolence in Buddhism, devotion and mystical unity of Divine self in Hinduism, love for the creator and one’s fellow beings in Christianity, submission to the will of Allah in Islam, morality and ethics in Confucianism, and obedience and perseverance in Judaism.
Religions have responded to the stirrings of the soul, and have focused on soul energy and power to seek liberation and eventual salvation from overpowering and intoxicating material illusions (maya) that keep the souls entrapped in the never-ending cycle of birth and death. Religions have inbuilt in them an ethical and moral code of conduct to ensure right relationship with the creative force of the universe. Spiritual beliefs have been echoed from early times in the visions and sermons of prophets and saints, thoughts of thinkers and philosophers, and songs and folklore of dreamers and poets in all parts of the world.
Religion has been widely interpreted as ‘victory of good over evil’ This is underlying the common belief that good deeds and virtuous conduct will take you to heaven, while bad deeds and sinful conduct will take you to hell. Religions have been votaries of ascendancy of love over hatred, amity over hostility, coexistence over exploitation, compassion over cruelty, nonviolence over violence and truth over falsehood. In one form or another, each religion has elaborated the concept of sin and the way of getting rid of it by doing good deeds.
Each religion has developed its own logic and ritual. Rituals are born of human instinct of adoration and awe towards the unseen power underlying all life in the universe. Conceptual thought culture reflected in the scriptures, worship modes, prayer, meditation, penance and contemplation are intended to promote conquering of one’s ego and spiritual awakening. In its own way, each religion seeks not only to sustain life, but to elevate it to a higher spiritual plane.
However, for the average follower of a religion, rituals have tended to be identified as religion. Often people have been hypnotized by seemingly miraculous powers of rituals and have drifted from the spiritual substance of respective religious beliefs. Religions have been reduced to mere ritualistic allegiance to Gods and Goddesses.
The religions of the world have not necessarily grown in isolation. They have enriched one another in diverse ways at significant points of contact, while maintaining their distinct identity. This has happened between Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism in the early centuries in a spirit of synthesis. At the same time history has also been witness to clashes including violent ones between religions as well as between sects of the same religion. Each religion has also developed within its own parameters considerable diversity of beliefs as well as practice both in the interpretation of doctrine as well as rituals. This has, over a period of time, led to the formation of sects and sub-sects in the same religion.
The global perspective has not at all times, been harmonious and accommodating. This has tended to weaken and compromise universal translation into daily life of people of love, compassion, synthesis, piety and mutual tolerance- which happen to be fundamental tenets common to most religions. Instead ritualistic rigidities, caste-ridden prejudices and hypocritical assertions of egoistic superiority over other religions and even sects within the same religion have found their way in the mindset of priests as well as the common folk.
A poet has put it aptly:
So many sects, so many creeds
So many paths that wind and wind
While just the art of being ethical and kind
Is all the world needs
Albert Schweitzer, who was a life-long practitioner of compassion in action has observed that : “Any religion which is not based on respect for life is not true religion. Until he extends his circle of compassion to all living beings, Man will not himself find peace.”
Mahatma Gandhi, the 20th century apostle of non-violence was fond of reciting the following prayer, which brings out what religion should imply in the conduct of day-to-day life in the spirit of ‘Live and let live’ :
Not for any kingdom do I long
Not even for the kingdom of heaven
Not even for the freedom
From the endless cycle of birth and death
For one and only one thing do I long
To free living beings from their agony and pain
To wipe away their tears.
(end of Chapter 1)