Foundation in Jain Studies: Week 2

What a truly educational and fulfilling Wednesday evening!

In today’s class, Harshadbhai gave us the low-down on Mahavira and Early Jainism. He started the class by showing the Timeline of India and putting Jainism into temporal perspective.

Here are the key messages (fused with my prior knowledge and experience) that I took away from the class:

  • Anekantvad: Every being has the right to have their own belief. This doesn’t mean that you have to accept EVERYTHING. Rather it indicates that you can respect other people’s views, and allow them to respect yours. Afterall, our view of the world is only limited by what we know to be true, and the biggest hurt is created when we do everything in our power to defend that view. What if, although your view may be different, it actually complements the view of the other person? What synergistic solution could you both create, rather than putting up the barriers?
  • Ahimsa: Every being has the right to exist without fear of being killed or harmed in some way. However, Ahimsa doesn’t mean inaction. By all means, take action if you’re faced with an adverse situation and the need to protect yourself and others arises. Be pragmatic about it in a minimal-violent way. Wherever possible, do it in an absolutely non-violent way. It’s been said that sitting back and allowing injustice to take place is a cowardly act and is in itself an act of violence – although I’m still unsure of where I sit with this (i.e. if life’s about just observing situations that arise, with equanimity, without getting caught up in delight or anger towards it, then if you’re detached from witnessing an unjust act, is action really necessary?). Gandhi objected to wrong activity that he witnessed, and carried out that objection with minimal violence.
  • Anarambha: Avoid starting anything unnecessary. As I understand it, parigraha (the desire to own) leads to arambha (the starting of an unnecessary act). Also, I wonder if this lines up with the Taoist principle of Wu Wei, which is non-doing / non-action. According to Wei Wu Wei, the philosophy of non-dual action, when wu-wei (non-action) is done, nothing is left undone. It’s about following the flow of nature, without trying, behaving completely naturally and in tune with the natural order of things. From a karmic viewpoint, it’s about letting karma come to fruition, without forcing specific situations to take place, and so by not fighting and controlling situations, you embrace what you experience fully, and bind no further karma – so long as you have no raag (attraction) or dwesh (aversion) to it. This philosophy kind of sheds a whole new light on the general message in society that “you MUST make plans and make them work to be successful in life!” What do you think? Should you force life down a certain path, or should you just be an observer of whatever comes up for you in life? How do YOU see the game being played?
  • Samayik: This is not so much about the ritualistic 48 minutes sat down in complete isolation, in one spot, reading religious books, praying, worshipping, reciting rosary, or doing meditation. No way! It’s actually about coming closer to the true beautiful reality of our soul, whereby you express ZERO excitement (raag / attraction), and ZERO anger (dwesh / aversion) to any situation that you come to experience in your life. It’s just about equanimity, and practicing equanimity. It’s about observing yourself and the world around you, clearly responding to it, but not reacting to it. It’s about letting karma come to fruition, without binding more karma on top. So samayik as a ritual is INCREDIBLY helpful for us to come closer to our soul, because it keeps us focused on what reality is, penetrating through all the layers of distractions and delusions that hold us back from the truth.
  • Aparigraha: Restraining the desire to accumulate more and more. When you want something enough, chances are that you’re going to do what it takes to get it. You might fight someone for it, you might kill for it, you might steal, you might tell a lie to get it, you might negatively influence someone to get it for you. You might even harm yourself to get it. All these things, in the name of accumulation, you’ll do, and as you do them, you bind more karma, that of course keeps you tied up in the cycle of birth and rebirth. Beyond non-accumulation is non-possession. What if you have something, and you hold onto it so tightly because you’re afraid of losing it. Grabbing hold of it, not letting it go, is a result of a deep fear of change that you have within you. You anticipate change, and fear it. You hold so tightly onto things, onto people, because you don’t want it to change, and you end up suffocating these very people. So Aparigraha is not just about restraining your desire for accumulation. Aparigraha is also about not being possessive about what you do have, and releasing it from your grip so that it can flow naturally. There’s a story about two little boys playing in the garden. They see a pair of incredible butterflies, and walk closer to them. The first boy reaches out and catches a butterfly in his hand. The second boy does the same. The first boy, not wanting to lose this butterfly clenches his fist so that the butterfly doesn’t escape. Oops, too late – he’s just crushed it. The physical shell of the butterfly is still there, but he’s squeezed the life out of it. He wanted to keep it forever and now it’s no more. The second boy, however, faces his palm upwards and opens his hand. The butterfly floats out and playfully returns to the palm of his hand within moments. Have you noticed that when you want something enough, but you don’t obsess over how to get it, that before you know it, the very thing you want comes flooding into your life? There’s a brief personal example of that at my post on Travelling Alone But Never Lonely.
  • Ahimsa and the Environment: Wow, for me probably the biggest lesson of all! You know what, I’ll let Harshadbhai fill you in on this one. Read the full transcript of Dr Harshad Sanghrajka’s talk about ‘Ahimsa and the Environment’ given on Ahimsa Day at the House of Commons on 1st November 2006. In essence, if we gave enough importance to the elements of nature (earth, water, wind, fire, etc..) as we do to ourselves, then we’d understand that they are also life forms (types of Jiva). By us practicing ahimsa towards the elements, and have restraint in our activity with these life forms, then we wouldn’t be crying so much today about the state of the environment, pollution, and the ozone layer. Seriously, check out the link to his article – you’ll get it!

Following the class, a bunch of us went down for a social at a local place called Spice Rack on Honeypot Lane in Queensbury – the food there is terrific! We talked about our various professions, about yoga & meditation, about 6.30am walks, about the ‘Jain Jigsaw Puzzle’ and about what we each want to get from the classes.

Looking forward to week 3 of the Foundation in Jain Studies course…