Tenents of Jainism and the Modern Life

By Palakh Jain & Payal Seth

All human beings have a common goal in life- the attainment of peace and freedom from suffering. Getting to a peaceful state of mind is often confused with happiness, and hence the indulgence in desires. Desire to acquire goals, like more fame, wealth, and a perfect relationship, among others. If you carefully observe, you will see that anything that once made you happy, will at another point, be the cause of your grief too. Hence, while happiness is temporary, peace is eternal. So, in this chaotic world of endless pursuit of material goals, how does one attain peace? To answer, we turn to the three tenets or the three “As” of Jain philosophy: Ahimsa (non-violence), Aparigraha (non-acquisition), and Anekantavada (non-absolutism).

Ahimsa

Ahimsa means treating all living beings, including animals insects, and plants, as equal. This concept of equality is the core behind the theory of ahimsa as all living beings have the right to live a peaceful life. Going a step further, Jainism explains that violence cannot be measured by actual harm, as the harm might be intentional. Violence is defined by the absence of compassion and unawareness of the consequences of our actions. Hence, it lays down the importance of non-violence in thought, speech, and intentions. Why? Because violent thoughts are the source of violent actions.

We quote a story from the book “Autobiography of a Yogi”. Paramahansa Yogananda, a great Hindu monk, noticed that a mosquito sat on his arm. As a reflex, he was about to hit it, but he remembered the teachings of ahimsa, questioned his intention, and stopped.

Such examples reflect the great minds of people who are compassionate towards every living being on this earth. Once we view everyone as our equal, every living being having the same right to live a peaceful life as ours, then it will become impossible for us to hurt anyone else.

Ahimsa brings about this genuine change in our natures, and when we wish and practice bringing peace and less suffering to others, then we unfailingly get the same peace in our life. This is the law of moral causation, i.e. karma.

Aparigraha

According to Jainism, the more worldly possessions we have, the more likely we are to be unhappy in life. How? Acquisition of material, whether of things or in relationships, does not only mean a collection of things. It leads to feeling ownership and hence, a sense of attachment towards them. This itself is an act of ego and our future unhappiness. In psychology, this is conceptualized as a hedonic treadmill, i.e. the pursuit of one pleasure after another. We often get a surge of happiness when we acquire a thing, but over time, we become used to the feeling and do the same activity – think binge shopping – to get another dose of happiness.

But the true pleasure of eternal peace is attained through the selfless act of dispossessions of one’s wealth (aparigraha). We discuss a story that illustrates how this peace of mind, cannot be purchased even with millions of dollars.

In 1894, John D. Rockefeller, despite being one of the richest persons in the US, was at a loss of peace in his life. Upon his friend’s suggestion, he met with Swami Vivekananda, a revered Indian monk, who told him that “You are not the owner of your wealth, only a custodian of it”. He suggested Rockefeller utilize this money to eliminate the suffering of other people to finally gain peace of mind.

Even though now corporate social responsibility (CSR) is the buzzword in management, at that time, such a thing was unheard of. Following Swamiji’s advice, Rockefeller made a series of donations, and in 1913 found the Rockefeller Foundation. While there are several projects, one of the foremost was the development of a new variety of wheat by Norman Borlaug (father of the green revolution), which saved millions of people worldwide from starvation.

Giving to others is said to release oxytocin, a hormone that induces a feeling of warmth, and helps us connect with others. Donation – whether of money or time – is also said to be contagious, encouraging others to follow our suit. Hence, not only will dispossession of our time and material resources help us build stronger social connections and a better community, but it might also even spark a domino effect of generosity throughout the community. And, finally, it is only us who will benefit from the process. Using our possessions or skills for unselfish service to humanity eliminates ego and attachment, which is the key to having peace.

Anekantavada

Anekantavada refers to the principle of pluralism and diversity of viewpoints. We cannot always objectively know the entirety of the truth in any situation. Hence, if we act stubbornly and only think what we believe is right (while not heeding others’ viewpoints), then we violate this principle. This leads to the development of ego, false belief, and the power to judge someone, causing conflict and eventually grief to ourselves. We can use this principle to provide solutions to not just disagreements in our personal lives, but also several social and global issues.

For example, one may get irked easily if a motorbike rider cut in front of him/her while driving. But now, instead of feeling disdain towards such behavior, one automatically tells self that the person on the bike would have a genuine emergency for such a rash driving and wishes him/her peace.

Like Yogananda Pramamhans, one of us instead of usually killing the mosquito sitting on the arm cupped it in the palm of the hand and released it outside the room. Our experiments with these principles have brought about this joyful peace that constantly resides in our hearts.

In all, these principles unleash a sense of compassion, which goes beyond empathy. We don’t even need to be in someone’s shoes and understand their situation. Our innate compassion should be so overflowing that it doesn’t change due to the nature of the circumstances or the type of person involved. This innate, overflowing, homogenous compassion for all living beings brings out our genuine desire for peace and the end of suffering in others’ lives. This is the only way to attain eternal peace.

(Palakh Jain is an Associate Professor at Bennett University. Payal Seth is a Ph.D. Scholar at Bennett University.)

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times 

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