Jainism In Modern Times

By Prof. Wilfred Noelle

Man's achievements in the realm of technology are almost baffling. So baffling indeed they being so proliferate in character, the human mind itself is assailed with doubts. Whether it is man himself who is the creator and destroyer of all life or is he merely an instrument? Curiously enough this spell of doubt does not last long. A certain realization dawns upon him in spite of lurking skepticism that howsoever clever he might be in shaping and reshaping fluid and solid matter to raise his living standards, he remains in the final analysis, an impotent entity, in the face of even a puny challenge, hurled at him by nature, to thwart his resolutions. Despite this, man goes on advancing by dint of his prowess, ingeniousness, his art, and craft. This advancement, however, is mundane.

There is a saying, "Man does not live by bread alone." What does man want besides his crust of bread, which symbolically means it is the material well-being. Mentally man will be in poor health if he neglects his soul, his faith and his God.

We humans, the best part of nature, are imperfect and not everlasting. We take birth, we grow, live and die. Birth is an event of rejoicing and death is that of gloom and dismay. At birth we thank destiny and at death we do say 'they will be done' but invariably we are left in a perplexed state of mind. We humans philosophize death, the ultimate end, because we follow different religion and we interpret everything, both blessing and disasters, according to the teachings of the religions we are initiated into from birth or the religion of our adoption.

With this long introduction, let us discuss some of the points raised above with reference to the tenets of Jainism, and their short or longer range of influence on the mind of man. In the course of my stay in India I came in to contact with many followers of Jain religion, and held with them many religious discourses. This led me to study Jainism at some length. And appreciated a lot it says or preaches. I felt that it is my religion.

Jainism, I would say, is one religion which claims to have thrashed the problems of life and death in no dogmatic but in quite a rational way of thought. For a western, toned up in a religious philosophy which lays stress on life affirmation, it is no easy matter for me to reach the roots of an ancient phi­losophy like that of Jainism, which as a pre-Aryan thought, originates with life negation and tends to flow down in to the shoreless ocean of nirval) a. So I would either accept it and discard my own beliefs or strike a balance and arrive at a compromise.

The Nobel laureate Albert Schweitzer had also a similar observation in his book, Indian Thought and its Development. He has said that the real significance of a disputation between western and Indian thoughts lay in the fact that each becomes aware of what constitutes the inadequacy of both and is thereby stimulated to turn in the direction of what is more complete.

When one thinks of Jainism, thoughts irresistibly travel towards that magic word ahimsa, which according to Sanskrit English Dictionary by V.S. Apte, signifies harmlessness or abstinence from giving pain to others in thought, word or deed.

It is not only to be practiced for its own sake throughout the span of human existence but it also must be directed towards a definite objective. That objective is the attainment of nirvana or moksa, which is the ultimate goal of life with the Jains.

A book on Jainism has made a statement to the effect that modem age of science had lost its faith in 'Religion' because 'Religion' itself had lost its scientific foundation. The book which attributes this view to Jainism is misleading and is untrue.

Jainism, which I understand, does not fall into this cat­egorization and it ranks as a religion based, if not solely in the modem scientific foundation, but on the early examination and investigation of physical and biological sciences. The Jain literature amply illustrates the application of mathematical and biological notions in the explanation of karma and other related doctrines.

This religio-spiritual experience, makes me believe that Jain religion is a show case for Einstein's view that "religion and science do not stand in conflict but actually complete each other." Henceforth, we must agree that a rational religion is essentially a scientific religion. But no religion can become scientific merely on insistence. It must have a scientific and logical approach. Science is not static, experiments and cor­rections are inherent in it.

On the basis of this argument, Jainism can be described as a scientific religion due to the fact that its varied doctrinal assertions, one of which is the doctrine of tri-ratna right-be­lief, right-knowledge and right-conduct with compassion as its basis, encompasses its met philosophy as well as s spiritual approach to the question of life and after. But what is essentially intriguing to me is that a subtle religion that Jainism is. which in unmistakable term seeks to lift the human mind to heights of celestial purity, should remain confined to a comparatively small section of lndia. Why is Jain religion not expanding and bringing more and more people into, its fold? Perhaps, it would not be far too wrong to say that the reason for its limited following was the presence of an overdose of rigidity of rituals. In fact some of the outward symbolism, which people notice in everyday life, of orthodox Jain monks sporting a piece of cloth and covering their faces partly may make people somewhat inquisitive rather than interesting.

The unthinking might dismiss the whole affair as a mere mockery of religion and a sign of fanaticism. The serious minded among them would, however, look at it in different light. They would ask themselves whether the followers of Lord Mahavira, who preached compassion for all life, were indeed so good as not to hurt even the tiniest creatures in thought, word or deed. The crucial question is whether it is at all possible to translate this nobility into actuality. If we think hard on this, any other relevant question we would be drawn to the conclusion that one sign of a living religion is that its lofty ideals do not hamper the mental growth of its followers to the extent of isolating them from other members of the human race. In fact it should offer solutions to all vexed problems.

The teachings of Jainism prepare and impart training to the votaries of this religion as to how to live a pious life on earth in order to lighten the burden of the soul to such a pitch that it escapes the pull of the vicious circle of life and death. It is an intricate process, a part of which is based on the theory of sallekhan a, [which, even in the present times. is practiced mainly in southern India].

This might interest those who have an understanding of its principles and have relatively an advanced built-in spiritual mind-set. This, however, cannot hold out an absolute appeal to a rational being.

One of the most outstanding features in the whole gamut of philosophy in Jainism is ahimsa. This philosophical doctrine has a certain amount of fascination provided it is shorn of its rigid application. The Jains would not take to agriculture because it infringes the tenets of their Dharma. Can they afford to maintain the same self-imposed aloofness from the defense of their country in a time of crisis? [It is interesting to com­ment on this view. With reference to this subject, Mr. Mahavir Sahglikar of Po on a has a field study findings from a village, Samdoli in Maharashtra, According to his findings, seventy percent of Samdoli residents are Jains having 100 percent literacy rate and the remainder, though belong to different Hindu castes, are said to follow the Jain practices to a greater length. Because of this, Samdoli has been referred to as Jain village, and the occupations of the Jains in the village are very varied. They are teachers, engineers, doctors, farmers, and many have enlisted as soldiers, seamen and air force officers and cadets. Some have fought against the British in Netaji Susbashchandra Bose Anny and in recent times, they also have fought in all the wars that India waged against its neighbor. Some have laid their lives in the patriotic cause. (See details of the study in The Bulletin of Jain Friends Network, January 2004).

It is, therefore, imperative that even ahimsa should be interpreted in a manner that it does not transcend its narrow bigotry and becomes an interfaith catchword. Ahimsa should therefore penetrate into the minds and hearts.

To ki11 is by all standards an awful crime but to spread hatred which makes the hated, especially if they happen to be weak and defenseless, live in constant dread and peril is still worse. Let Jain religious leaders give a modern interpretation to Jainism and make other people aware of its import. Jainism was rejuvenated by Lord Mahavira through interpretations and elaborations of philosophy fitting the times and spread the idea of peace when brutality was much in evidence.

In fact, brutality has never vanished from human society although the emphasis is on values that undergone a change. A religion which has its roots in peace has a prior right to go to the people. People do not come forth themselves to embrace the faith without substance and new idea. It is not to suggest that people of other faiths be proselytized but there is a good deal of scope to give them food for thought. It is not quite charitable to say so but ahimsa, which is the keyword of Jainism, would have almost shriveled into a tiny shell had it been denied a new lease of life by Mahatma Gandhi, who equated ahimsa with God. [The knowledge and strength of ahimsa were brought to bear upon Gandhi, as his mother, though married into a Vaisnava family, had lived her Jain life.] He wrote thus in his autobiography: "My uniform experience has convinced me that there is no other God than truth. The only means for the realization of trust is ahimsa."

For the Jains, it is a matter of great pride that Lord Mahavira, who vehemently opposed the existing practice of animal sacrifice, built up a positive resistance against it. It could not have been a simple affair to stand against powerful adversaries who quoted the Vedas in support of their indul­gence in animal sacrifice. Lord Mahavira had his battles with many weapons and the best in his 'armory' was ahimsa.

Times have changed and so have values. No religion, howsoever great its founder, can serve humanity if its followers see only the trees for the wood. Academic discussions on vegetarianism and moksa will not be of much avail unless an organized effort is made to give the world a modem interpre­tation of ahimsa. The message of ahimsa should be spread far and wide. Ahimsa paramaha dharma, ahimsa is the best creed of the creeds.

To one who is established in ahimsa doctrine and practices, no thoughts of evil or injuring others will occur. Heart will be filled with love, kindness and affection, and that can be reciprocated to others. Real love fills the heart upon feeling oneself as the all consciousness Self.



Source : Jinamanjari Journal ( Editor: Mr. Bhuvanendra Kumar)
Volume 29 Number. 1 April 2004, A Bi-annual Published of
 Bramhi Jain Society ( Est 1989 ), United State of America and Canada.


Mail to : Ahimsa Foundation