Jainism At Crossroads



By Dr. Vimal Prakash Jain


Having observed the most server penances for 12 years, and having obtained perfect knowledge and enlightenment, Bhagwan Mahaveer, over 2,500 years ago declared that, "since all living beings, in whatever form of live or existence they are, they, love, desire, and like to live happy and detest unhappiness and hate to be killed, non-violence is the most sacred covenant for all of humanity". Mahaveer goes on to pronounce, "you are the one, you deem fit to kill, to obey your command, to inflict torture, to seize by force, to snatch away life. The noble one spends life with self-discretion. He neither kills, nor injures any living being. One who commits violence has to suffer the bitter fruits later on. Hence, let no one ever think of committing violence against anyone". This is the substance of the message Mahaveer wanted to convey to everyone who would care to listen. Accordingly, he preached nonviolent, honest, truthful, moral and legal ways of earning a living. He proposed the imposition of voluntary limits on human-greed and possessions. He promoted the distribution of wealth for charitable purposed towards the elimination of hunger, disease, ignorance, fear, injustice, and violence - individual or collective. He strongly desired the eradication of castism.

On matters concerning intellectual discussion, religion, faith, and philosophy e.g. the nature of truth and its expression in language, Mahaveer opened the floodgates of freedom of expression through his unique doctrine of Anekanta i.e. the principle of multiple views, which in effect means respect, tolerance and sympathy of others' views on matters of fact and opinion. About spiritual matters of god, extent of divinity, man and his salvation, Mahaveer, on the strength of realization of his own true self, firmly and explicitly declared that in the cycle of life as human beings, each individual has the full potential and capability of attaining perfect divinity and his own salvation. The differences among millions of forms of life belong to the stages of evolution, and not the fundamental potential, which means that all living beings including animals, birds, aquatic life and forms of vegetation are equally entitled to the right of life. The whole infra-structure of Jainism is thus interwoven around a nonviolent way and style of life, which is compassionate and sharing. Inspired by and depending upon these guiding principles, the Jains have enjoyed an absolutely glorious past and have profusely contributed to all phases and aspects of Indian history and culture.

But now the challenges that we as Jains and all major religions of humanity are going to face with the advent of the 21st century, which is going to be positively dependent on Science and technology, will be much different than today. In the 21st century scientists will be discovering new fundamentals truths about the origin and growth of the universe, human beings and other species of life, the secrets of man as a biophysical psychosomatic being, and the working and intricacies of the human brain and all other limbs of the body. Transplantation of human body, and the cloning of the the human species will become a practical reality. The means to a seemingly eternal life of one hundred, hundred fifty or more years will be available : with the above development in mind, basic questions about the faith in, and the truth of the fundamental postulates of Religion are going to be asked with greater vehemence. The validity of the universe as a creation of God, man as a symbol and representative of God's will in his own image, all the theories of good/bad human deeds and their resultants in the form of merits and demerits, happiness and pain, or heaven and hell, and all the theories of salvation will be questioned. Our future generations, less and less concerned in the denominational divisions of the Jain community, will like to know more about our rich heritage and the practical solutions we have to offer to the suffering humanity. One feels so much of frustration, isolation, loneliness, abandonment, helplessness and exploitation by the most cruel and greedy human monsters. So many human beings of all ages, colors, races, and sex are uncared for, or not cared about, not love, thrown out or born on the streets, and left or destined to die on the streets. Many suffer from physical, psychological and spiritual ailments. There is such a lack of understanding between man and men, man and society, and about his religious sensitivities, and there is so much bigotry and violence, that one feels the solutions will have to come not from science, but from human hands and hearts, from sympathy, compassion and sharing through love, with love of the divine or a faith in the divinity, and by reaching out whatever and wherever there be a need. When human hearts have been softened by their love, and reaching out, religious faith, spirituality and moral values will become important in human lives and have vital roles to play.

Through the prehistoric times, the Jains, collectively and individually, have been known and respected as patriotic, truthful, compassionate, and tolerant people. As recorded in our history, they have made almost unique contribution to Indian history, arts, culture and sciences of all ages. Jain charitable institutions, always came on top of the list. The stage has now been reached, and will be glaringly so, to reach out to the suffering humanity. Let us be prepared, then to offer the best of our heritage in religion, spirituality and knowledge in sciences and arts to the future generations.

You know late Hunaman Prasad Poddar, founder of Geeta Press, Gorakhpur, or Bhaiji as he was lovingly known, has done a yeoman's job in popularizing the whole wealth of Hindu literature. You also might have heard how much the Christian community does to make known, popularize and convert people to Christianity. To cite one example: the Bible has been translated into more than 5,000 languages and dialects of the world including some spoken by a dwindling human race of a few hundreds people only. More than 3,000 church communities are popular in the United States alone. Christian preachers of all age groups and religious denominations are available whenever and wherever you would want them to be. The example has been cited to make you realize the situation for people who feel concerned and people who need; and also to let you guess how much the community should and would have to contribute towards the efforts to reach everyone in need, and every heart open to receive the message.

Religion is needed most when men/women are faced with real life situations and problems not solved by outward means, and when inward spiritual guidance is needed from someone worthy of faith and trust and one who is within easy approach.

Now let us ask ourselves the question whether we are ready to be available at that point, or do we indeed ever plane to be there as individuals and as followers of Mahaveer, whom we owe our identity, are indebted to, and belong to.



Source : Authored by Dr. Vimal Prakash Jain
Director : B. L. Jain Institute of Indology
20th Kilometer, G. T. Karnal Road, Delhi-110036


Mail to : Ahimsa Foundation