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JAINISM – THE CREED FOR ALL TIMES

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PREFACE

Jainism – the faith propounded by Tīrthaṅkaras (the Prophets Propounders of the Jaina faith), call it a creed, a faith or a religion – places a great emphasis on the universally appealing principle of ‘LIVE AND LET LIVE’ enshrined in its guiding principle of absolute non–violence towards all fine and gross living–beings of the universe.

Though Jainism, as the very name suggests, is the creed or the set of beliefs propounded by the Jina or the conqueror of the self by vanquishing the spiritual foes that hinder the soul’s progress towards its ultimate goal of spiritual emancipation or liberation from the mundane existence, which is fraught with sorrow and misery. However, it is not a sectarian religion within the confines of its rituals and traditions but a religion of humanity. With its comprehensive perspective and vision of spreading world–wide the culture and practice of non–violence, peace and harmony integrated with the concepts of detachment and lack of dogma, it has a global relevance in the contemporary world.

No claim about the superiority of any creed over the others can be justified. However, all faiths are a reflection of the stage of evolution of the seers who propound their precepts and principles and to that extent it can be said that Jainism, as a creed reveals a high degree of evolution of noble thoughts on the part of its Propounding–Prophets or Tīrthaṅkaras and it compares well with other noble creeds such as Buddhism, based on the noble principle of universal compassion, and Christianity that preaches universal love. Also, it stands to the credit of Jainism that while other noble religious philosophies extend their compassion or love to humans or at the most to the visible gross life forms like animals, birds and fishes; Jainism extends the ambit of its practice of non–violence, compassion and love to all fine and gross life–forms up to the one sensed unicellular life.

Jainism’s is one of the highly evolved religious philosophies of the world and it is based on the perfect vision (Omnivision or Kevalya–darśan) and the perfect knowledge (Omniscience or Kevalya Jñāna or Sarvajñatā) of its Prophet–Propounders and is, therefore, based on absolutely true and logical bases. The logical base of Jainism is most visible in its ‘Doctrine of Karma’ (Karma–Siddhānta), which is based on the principle of ‘cause and effect’ and has been perfected to mathematical precision by its seers. It lays down, to minutest detail, the relationship between the actions (at physical, vocal and thought levels) and the inevitable fruits or retribution thereof.

Its importance and universal appeal lies in the fact that it is a complete creed that encompasses the three essential areas of enquiry – Philosophy and Metaphysics, Cosmology, and Ethics – that urges its adherents to abide by the five most important moral and ethical precepts of Non–violence (Ahiṁsā), Truthfulness (Satya), Non–stealing (Acaurya), Sexual discipline or righteous conduct (Brahmacarya) and Rational possession meaning ‘non–accumulation of undue wealth’ coupled with lack of encumbrance in the form of attachment to whatever essential possessions one has (Aparigraha), which not only ensure their spiritual upliftment but also preserve good social order.

The most non–dogmatic creed, Jainism’s underlying thought–current is that of Non–absolutism (Anekāntavāda), which says that everything in this world is relative (depending upon the view–point – ‘Naya’ taken) and not absolute. This makes it the world’s most tolerant creed that can see and appreciate the others’ points of view with an open mind without the blinkers of dogma. Its method of seven–fold predication (Saptabhaṅgī Syādvāda) that makes its own assertions and others’ criticisms mild and inoffensive, giving it the most non–violent form of speech ever possible.

The twenty–four Prophets that propounded this creed, since time immemorial, are known as Tīrthaṅkaras or ford makers because they organised their followers in a four tiered religio–social organisation (Tīrtha) that serves as a ford to cross over the chasm of worldliness to attain nirvāṇā. This organisation is so sound that it has kept its essential form intact even after two and half millennia have elapsed since the nirvāṇa of the last TīrthaṅkaraBhagvānMahāvīra.

It is its sound organisation, universally appealing principles and wholesomeness of the creed that make it eternally –‘THE CREED FOR ALL TIMES’.

I have presented the essential features of this wonderful creed, called Jainism, if at all it can be called an ‘ism’, with their relevance in the solution of the problems of the present times, in six sections besides the benediction.

The first section is introductory in nature. Along with a brief but authentic description of the life–events of the last Prophet–Propounder of the current form of Jainism – Bhagvān Mahāvīra, some light has been thrown on the eternality, historicity, originality, form, concept of reality, the concept of the soul, that of karma, the beginningless association of soul and karma, freedom from the clutches of karma (mukti) and the question of theism or atheism of Jainism have been dealt with in the following three chapters of this section : –

1. Mahāvīra : The Messiah Of Mercy, and

17. Aṇḍaka (The tale of the eggs) from the Jñātā–Dharmakatha,

18. Mṛgāputrīya (The legend of Mṛgāputra) From the Uttarādhyayanasūtra, and

19. Rohiṇī Jñātakathā (The legend of Rohiṇī) from Jñātā Dharmakathā)

In the sixth and the last section of this work, entitled ‘Practical Jainism’, the universal principles of the creed preached by Bhagvān Mahāvīra and their relevance in the present day times have been brought out in relation to the practical applications of the Jaina precepts in as diverse fields as ‘Personal Happiness’, ‘Social Harmony’, World Peace’, ‘Environmental Protection’, Leadership And Management’ and ‘Personality Development’ through the following six essays: –

a. Jainism and Personal Happiness,

b. Jainism and Social Harmony,

c. Jainism and World Peace,

d. Environmental Concerns of Jainism,

e. Leadership and Management Through Anekānta, and

f. Personality Development Through Jaina Precepts.

At this stage I must admit that due to the constraints of space, it has been possible to cover the subject only cursorily. But, as it is meant for the uninitiated laymen, it will eminently serve the purpose of exposing them to the essentials of this incredible creed – Jainism.

Śreyas

Udaipur,

Makar Sankranti,

January 14, 2006. 

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