jain religion and teachings of bhagwan mahavir





(Non-possession and Non-attachment)

In Jainism, Aparigraha ranks in importance next only to Ahimsa, and is integrally related to it.Growth of attachment and possessiveness in a human soul is the beginning of violence. By the same token, the practice of aparigraha is the beginning of the development of the culture of non-violence.Aparigraha, inbuilt in the spirit of renunciation paves the way towards lasting happiness and genuine contentment. Mahavir explained this to his chief disciple, Indrabhuti Gautam in the following very meaningful manner :

One who has conquered unhappiness

Gains freedom from attachment

One who has conquered attachment

Gains freedom from desires

One who has conquered desires

Becomes full of equanimity

Non-possession implies non-attachment as well as a mindset of non-possessiveness. Mahatma Gandhi used to say

Live by need and not by greed. Take from the mother Earth what you need. The Earth will then be able to serve and support living creatures longer.”

Thus, non-possessiveness and non-acquisitiveness are vitally linked to the concept of ‘caring and sharing’, which is also at the root of non-violence.

In the broader perspective, Aparigraha represents a highly egalitarian and ethical aspect of Ahimsa. Material objects may be necessary for a person’s living, but it is not right to develop excessive attachment towards them. Owning a material object may not be as much of parigraha as one’s covetousness for it. Unethical needs, excessive or wasteful consumption, exploitative use of resources either by an individual or the society lead to injustice and violence. Thus violence and unjust exploitation arise from an attitude of excessive possessiveness. Mahavir’s message is

Any person who accumulates more than his legitimate requirements commits a theft on society”.

Renowned philosopher Arnold Toynbee has said :

Many a time the thought has occurred to my mind that some day the civilization could come to an end not by an atom bomb or famine, but by man’s loss of self-control, his unrestrained and continually multiplying wants, exploitative and abusive harnessing of resources and wasteful and often over-consumption. Such are the tensions of our growingly artificial and superficial civilization.’

Aparigraha acts as a radar for non-violence since it inculcates self-restraint, self-control and self-discipline, controls greed, promotes virtues of charity and generosity as well as piety and compassion towards others. Aparigraha helps in moulding one’s life style within well-defined limits (Maryada) and restraint (Samyam). It strengthens the concept of mutual supportiveness enshrined in Jain religion as PARASPAROPAGRAHO JEEVANAM. Aparigraha provides a rational, objective and equitable foundation for the practice of Ahimsa. Aparigraha provides strength to the philosophy of “give more and take less”. Both in individual as well as community life this culture has the potential of bringing true contentment and happiness.

Acharya Haribhadra observes in ‘Upadesa Tarangini 1/8 :

A person cannot be liberated on grounds of being a Digambar or a Shwetambar, by belonging to a particular sect or by adherence to any particular logic or thought attribute. A person attains emancipation only if he frees himself from the clutches of attachment and passions.’

For ascetics taking to the renunciation of all worldly ties, Aparigraha like Ahimsa is a MAHAVRAT (major oath). Its practice is very rigorous and demanding in order to wean them away totally from materialistic attachments and attractions. They have to practice Aparigraha not piecemeal but in entirety in thoughts and perceptions as well as conduct and practice. They have no possessions, no permanent abode, no monetary dealings. Their apparel is limited to two pieces of unstitched cloth for shwetambar monks and none for Digambar monks. They have to travel on foot only. They cannot stay long at one place except for four months of rainy season. This is called Chaturmas during which they preach religion to the devotees and strengthen religiousness in them. They depend for their food on Ahara given by devotees.

Thus, even rigorous aparigraha for the monks does not necessarily require them to become hermits and retire to mountains. Even after becoming Tirthankar, Mahavir moved among the people for 30 years arousing spiritual awakening in them and showing them the enlightened path of knowledge, perception and conduct.

On the other hand for lay persons, Jain religion defines Aparigraha in a more flexible manner. The vow of aparigraha as an Anuvrat seeks limitation of possession (Parigraha Parimana), and control over consumption (Bhogabhog Parimana). The degree and extent of non-attachment would depend on how far one is prepared to proceed in distancing oneself from attachment to property and material elements as well as restraining oneself from succumbing to endless desires and wants.

Bhagwan Parshwanath, Jain Temple, Dilwara, Mount Abu

For lay persons, the concept of aparigraha is not to suffer from shortages or unreasonable denial of one’s legitimate needs appropriate to one’s station in life, but to develop the spirit of detachment from unrestrained desires and accumulative outlook. Renunciation is not measured by the quantum of one’s possessions. It is determined by the attitude of dispossession and detachment towards one’s possessions.

Mahavir laid down the standards governing desires and prescribed the limits of consumption. As detailed in previous chapters, the five anuvratas are abstinence from unnecessary violence, abstinence from such acts of falsehood as may lead to the destruction of any property, taking away thing not given, illicit sexual relationship, and acquiring wealth and other possessions beyond a limit.

The seven supplementary vows are refraining from movement beyond a limited area, restricting movement to an even more limited area, refraining from wanton destruction of the environment by thought, word or deed, keeping aloof from sinful conduct for a set period of time, fasting on sacred days, not eating after sunset, limiting the use of consumable and non-consumable goods, observing special restrictions at secluded places and offerings to wandering ascetics.

Proceeding on the path of Aparigraha needs tremendous restraint and formidable will-power.The great Jain sage Kundakundacharya observes in SAMAYA SAAR:

Howsoever much you might consume, the urge and craving for more never leaves you, much like the insect which goes on sucking contaminated blood till it dies.”

Swami Samantabhadra writes in the Jain holy text “Ratnakarand Shravakachar :

Just as the fire is never satisfied with any quantity of wood,

Just as the ocean is never content even with the waters of thousands of rivers,

In the same way human beings never feel satiated with the satisfaction of their wants”.

Jain religion divides parigraha broadly into external and internal. External attachment (Dravya Prigraha) refers to possession of land, property, building, wealth, ornaments , industrial establishments, vehicles, pet animals and such other goods and services beyond a judicious limit. Attributes like lust and passion, greed, jealousy, anger, ego, malicious intent, deceipt, betrayal and various kinds of indulgence come under internal or Bhav Parigraha.Jain scriptures repeatedly emphasise that it is not enough to renounce the use of any item or to limit its consumption. Aparigraha demands that one should give up the feeling of wanting it or craving for it.

In Jain philosophy, Parigraha has been classified under three major heads, namely (I) Karmic bondages (Karma Upadhi), (2) Physical bondages (Sharir Upadhi), and (3) possessiveness of material things and accumulative urges

(Bhandopkaran Upadhi). The process of practicing non-attachment starts from detachment from material pleasures, commodities and services, and the mindset of accumulation of wealth.

The next stage is realization that while the soul is eternal, the body is perishable and trasient. Hence one should not ignore one’s soul purification by getting entangled in physical comforts and sensuous pleasures. The third stage is moving on to the Jain spiritual path of self-realization and soul awakening in order to liberate oneself from the schackles of Karmas. Karmic bondages, thus, constitute the most basic and challenging attachment.

Jain religion lays down 12 types of penance in order to develop required self-restraint for aparigraha. Six internal penance comprise of developing qualities of repentance, humility, compassion, self-introspection, meditation and intuitive non-acquisitiveness. Six external penance are periodic fasting, eating below appetite, giving up consumption of some items of food, clothing, living comforts either completely or limiting their quantity, regular devotion to religious activities and facing suffering or disability with equanimity and without tension.

Developing the instincts and practice of generosity and charity also promotes the mind-set of non-possessiveness. Charity may take the form of AHAR (giving food to the needy), AUSHADHI (distributing medicines to the needy), GYAN (imparting knowledge to others), and ABHAYA (refuge and protection to the deserving). Tatwartha Sutra says that charity lies in helping others in a self-less manner without expecting anything in return. Such acts undertaken voluntarily and with pleasure tend to purify one’s soul as well as create goodwill, fellow-feeling and fraternity in the society. Consistent with this concept, Gandhiji enunciated for the rich classes the Trusteeship principle and exhorted them to share their wealth for the welfare of the poor.

Practiced with strong will power and enthusiastic resolve, aparigraha brings tremendous soul-satisfaction and peace of mind, strengthens one’s self-confidence, and builds invaluable inner reserve of strength to withstand crisis situations. Thus, aparigraha-inspired charity or generosity is not only helpful to the recipient, but in the first place rejuvenating and joyous for the donor by bringing contentment to him. Symbolising large-heartedness, aparigraha promotes social harmony and mutual supportiveness in the society.

Basically inspired by the philosophy of Aparigraha, Jain community in India as well as now abroad has emerged in the front ranks of philanthropists with exemplary record of helping the poor and the needy in the fields of education, healthcare. disaster relief and social welfare. The psychology of aparigraha is not one of feeling forced to do it as a religious ritual, or a kind of suffering imposed, but of a task undertaken with enthusiasm, willingness, conviction, delight and positive orientation.

(end of Chapter 14)