By Swati Chopra February 2002 For eons, followers of Jinas, the spiritual victors, have walked the Indian soil as living examples of the Jain dharma of ahimsa (nonviolence), satya (truth) and an eco-friendly way of life. In the 2600th birth anniversary year of the last Jain Tirthankar, Bhagwan Mahavir, we look at the relevance today of Jainism’s unique elements like conservation of nature and relativism of truth It’s a cold morning in early January. The sun, enveloped in thick fog, provides little warmth. Wrapping my woolen shawl around my head, I walk briskly to an assignation with a Digambar(sky-clad, as naked and unadorned as the sky) Jain muni (monk). I catch sight of him from where I take off my leather shoes and empty my leather wallet. He is sitting cross-legged a few feet away, his morpicchi (peacock feather whiskbroom) next to him. He is sky-clad, a complete aparigrahi (one who has no possessions). For more than five decades, he walked the land, in good weather and bad, through forests and mountains, preaching and practicing the creed of the Jinas, the gentle spiritual conquerors. Till the elements no longer bothered him, nor did afflictive emotions. And his body took on the color of the earth he treads. Greeting me with a toothless smile that transforms his face into the kindest I have ever seen, Muni Vidyanand says: ‘What is Jainism? It is a dharma rooted in nature, as dynamic as it. It is a recognition of the ever-changing nature of reality and a search for that which is constant.’ A quest for what is strong and beautiful and true. A quest as old as humankind. A quest that is at the heart of the Jain dharma of nonviolence and compassion. AN ANCIENT CREED Contrary to popular perception among non-Jains, Vardhaman Mahavir, the prince-turned-ascetic who lived 2,600 years ago and was a contemporary of Gautam Buddha, was not the ‘founder’ of Jainism. In fact, there is no concept of a ‘founder’ here. The Jains believe their faith to be an imperishable self-perpetuating one, woven into the ever-moving wheel of time and spooling at its every turn. During every upward and downward motion of this wheel of time, called utsarpini and avasarpini respectively, 24 Tirthankars (pathfinders) are thought to appear to propagate and revive for their age the eternal truth contained in the dharma. Every Tirthankar is a Jina, he who has attained kevalajnana (infinite knowledge) by conquering his passions, and in his compassion for all beings, builds bridges (tirthas) to enable them across earthly sufferings. The present cycle, thought to be a downward swing, has had its share of 24 Tirthankars, the first of which was Rishabhdev and the last, Vardhaman Mahavir. Historians have even found evidence of the existence of a Jain-like religion in the Indus Valley Civilization that flourished almost 5,000 years ago. Says Osho, who was born a Jain, in I Am That: ‘In Harappa and Mohenjodaro statues have been found which can only be related to the religion of the Jains—naked statues, sitting in a lotus posture or standing like Mahavir, meditating. Only Jains are known to meditate standing: no other religion has prescribed standing meditation. And they are all naked—only the Jain religion has believed in naked masters. Jain religion seems to be far older than Hindu religion; it must have come from Harappa and Mohenjodaro. They must have been Jain cultures; remnants of it remained and they infiltrated the Aryan mind.’ KAIVALYA, THE ULTIMATE AIM It is, I think, significant that at the core of this most ancient of world religions is a direct, and permanent, perception of reality, called kaivalya. This supreme state of being is the moksha of the Vedantist, the nirvana of the Buddhist, the satori of the Zen practitioner, the Holy Grail of all spiritual seeking. According to Jain belief, the individual soul progresses through lifetimes, sloughing off some karmic debts, and incurring others. This cycle goes on repeating until a crucial (human) lifetime is reached where strict penance is required to get rid of the remaining good and bad karma and, more importantly, to conquer once and for all bondage to one’s desires and consequently, to samsara (earthly desires). Kaivalya is the great state of oneness where the soul experiences everything as it is, without the filters and veils of samsara, beyond the strain of constant being and becoming. Of Bhagwan Mahavir’s kaivalya, the revered Jain text, Uttarpurana, says: ‘After fasting for two and a half days, taking not even water, engaged in deep meditation, he (the Venerable One) reached the highest jnana (knowledge) and darsana (intuition), called kevala, which is infinite, supreme, unobstructed, unimpeded, complete and full.’ Then again, in the Kalpa-Sutra: ‘When the Venerable Ascetic Mahavira had become a Jina and an arhat (worthy of worship), he was a kevalin, Omniscient, comprehending all objects. He saw and knew whence they had come, where they would go, and whether they would be reborn as men, animals, gods, or hell-beings. He knew the ideas and thoughts, the food, doings, desires and deeds of all the living beings in the world.’ It is towards this ultimate omniscience experience th at the entire gamut of Jain views, thought processes and conduct is geared and its asceticism, morality and lifestyle focused. JAIN PARTICLE PHYSICS Although the concept of karma is present in varying degrees of importance in Hindu and Buddhist streams of thought, Jainism has its own interpretation of it that to me, as somebody not born a Jain, has a ring of familiarity, but then again, not quite. There is, of course, the familiar strain of each act attaining its logical fruition and keeping the soul involved in cyclical births and deaths. Cessation of all karma then is the desired aim. What Jain philosophy also offers is a detailed understanding and description of the mechanics of the entire process, that in some ways, almost seems borrowed from quantum and particle physics! According to it, the soul-defiling karma actually exists as minute particulate matter in the universe and interacts with the pure, omniscient soul. Now if the soul harbors any passions or desires, the karmic matter settles upon it and bonds with it, thereby obscuring its pure nature. This soul-karma bondage remains until the fruition of the relevant desire, when the karmic bond falls away like ripened fruit from a tree. But there’s a catch. In bringing that particular karma to fruition, many others have been created. And so the process continues. In The Scientific Foundations of Jainism, Yorkshire-based scientist, Prof K.V. Mardia divides the entire process in four axioms: 1. The soul exists in contamination with karmic matter and it longs to be purified. 2. Living beings differ due to the varying density of karmic matter. 3. The karmic bondage leads the soul through states of existences (cycles). 4. a) Karmic fusion is due to perverted views, non-restraint, carelessness, passions and activities. b) Violence to oneself and others results in the formation of the heaviest new karmic matter, whereas helping others towards moksha with positive nonviolence results into the lightest new karmic matter. c) Austerity forms the karmic shield against new ‘karmons’ as well as setting the decaying process in the old karmic matter. Prof Mardia goes on to discuss the soul-karmic matter (which he calls ‘karmons’) bonding in terms of interactions between quarks, leptons and gauge bosons, three elementary particles being researched in modern particle physics. MY TRUTH, YOUR TRUTH That is not all, however, that is of interest in Jainism to contemporary minds. There is something uplifting and liberating, and thus germane, about an ancient faith that looks at the world with a complete openness towards its many different ‘truths’. At a time in history when every religion, ideology and economic system claims to possess the best, most successful, superior-most truth, the gentle Jina whispers reassuringly: ‘My truth is fine from my standpoint, and so is yours!’ In the past few decades, there have been, in many small ways and in different parts of the world, efforts to move towards societies that embody not only ‘unity in diversity’, but more importantly, ‘diversity in unity’. As the world begins talking about integrating the voice of the ‘other’, the subaltern, the dispossessed, the marginalized, into a plural, multicultural, multiethnic society, I think it’s time the twin Jain ideals of the manyness and relativity of truth (anekantavad-syadvad) are reexamined. In The Jain Declaration on Nature, presented to HRH Prince Philip of England, eminent scholar and Chancellor of the Jain Vishwa Bharati (Deemed University), Dr L.M. Singhvi explains: ‘Anekantavad, or the doctrine of manifold aspects, describes the world as a multifaceted, ever-changing reality with an infinity of viewpoints depending on the time, place, nature and state of the one who is the viewer and that which is viewed.’ About syadvad, he says: ‘Anekantavad leads to syadvad or relativity, which states that truth is relative to different viewpoints. Absolute truth cannot be grasped from any particular viewpoint alone because it is the sum total of all the different viewpoints that make up the universe. ‘Because it is rooted in the doctrines of anekantavad and syadvad, Jainism does not look upon the universe from an anthropocentric, ethnocentric or egocentric viewpoint. It takes into account the viewpoints of other species, other communities and nations and other human beings.’ Ideal for successfully managing conflicts, nations, relationships, lives! Ganini Pramukh Shri Gyanmati Mataji, a Digambar
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