Be your own light, guided Lord Mahavir
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Be your own light, guided Lord Mahavir

On fasting, violence, and self-realisation, here is what Jainism says

Be your own light, guided Lord Mahavir

New Delhi: Today is the birthday of Bhagwan Mahavir, the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism. Lord Mahavir’s teachings have taught the world self- reflection, non-violence, and frugality. To get a deeper understanding of the faith, I phoned Manish Modi, a scholar and publisher of Jain literature in Mumbai, to get a more practical insight into what the Lord’s teachings mean to us mortals in today’s day and age. 

The moot teaching, as per Manish, that the Lord has imparted us, is that ‘Bhagwat Kripa’ or god’s grace is not a miracle waiting to happen. There are no shortcuts to achieving the god’s grace in Jainism. It is achieved through following the eternal path to self-discovery. 

Since at the outset there is a disclaimer on miracles, the path to self-discovery is same for the ‘Shravak’ (follower or listener) as well as the ‘Sadhak’ (Monk). 

The lord says that he has found this path through experimentation, meditation, and self-contemplation. Here the faith doesn’t impose it on the follower to follow the teachings or the path. The lord is very clear when he says that he is telling you to follow the path without any obligation. One is free to follow it or ignore it. It is this teaching of Mahavir that makes the faith one of the most rational faiths in the world. The faith is very clear on the path of self-discovery. 

On reality, the Lord says that there is a multiplicity of realities, explains Manish. The concept is so vast and dynamic that it cannot be captured in words. The realisation of reality has to happen through the soul. He states that Jainism pioneered the concept of soul in its teaching which was followed by Buddhist scriptures later on. 

He shed light on many raging topics concerning the faith. On the concept of ‘fast’ or ‘fasting’ he explained that it is a discipline to go closer to the soul. The word used in Jainism for fasting is ‘Upvaas’ which itself indicates closeness to your soul or realisation. This concept is far detached from ‘Pradarshan’ or show off of your alpha male abilities to stay hungry for many days, explains Manish. 

Jainism is very clear on the utility of fasting. The follower should think about whether fasting has worldly benefits of name, fame and attention or spiritual benefits of soul searching and self-reflection. 

As the conversation carried on, I egged him on the elephant in the room which was the place of ‘violence’ and ‘non-violence’ in Jainism. 

Popularly, the Jain faith is known for its teaching of non-violence. However, a study of the scriptures indicates that the faith has mentioned three kinds of violence and even sanctioned two kinds of violence in exceptional circumstances. 

Violence as a construct in Jainism can be performed through mind, speech and body and need not be always physical. Hurting someone with libelous or slanderous utterances is also violence. Here are three kinds of ‘Hinsa’ or violence that the faith preaches. 

1) Arambhi Hinsa- This is ‘intentional violence’ done with a desire to provoke or agitate someone. Jainism never supports such kind of violence neither urges the followers to do it. The ‘no first use’ of weapons or attack by a country as a part of its war policy finds a first mention in Jainism through its teaching of staying away from Arambhi Hinsa.  

2) Udyogi Hinsa- When you breathe air, when you start a gas burner or when you indulge in the process of building construction. Even while you indulge in a simple act of walking you are indulging in what is called as Udyogi Hinsa. In this kind of violence you unintentionally harm or kill many living organisms. However, without it all worldly activities will come to a stand-still and hence the faith states this kind of violence as essential.  

3) Virodhi Hinsa- This kind of violence is practised when you indulge in your self-defence. The use of armies to defend your borders falls under this kind of violence. The use of martial arts for self-defence or indulging in sending armies for peace keeping is a part of Virodhi Hinsa. Manish explains that even Jain kings in the ancient times, although true to their faith, did maintain armies for defending their kingdoms. This was both essential and necessary. 

Here are a few broad points to understand the faith in a better fashion (courtesy: Manish Modi)

  • Jainism is one of the oldest faiths in the world and traces its roots to the most ancient times.
  • Jains recognise 24 ford makers who have conquered the senses and are beyond all desire. They are known as Tīrthankaras, Arihantas and Jinas and they promulgate the five eternal teachings of nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy and non-possessiveness.
  • Each of the 24 Tīrthankaras taught the path of liberation, giving the same message of nonviolence and self-control.
  • Tīrthankara Ādinātha was the first Tīrthankara of this era, and Tīrthankara Mahāvīra was the last one of this era.
  • The soul is eternal and the body is impermanent.
  • The sentient soul and insentient matter come together when the soul is encumbered by passions, attracting fine particles of insentient matter called karmas, which cause worldly bondage.
  • Jainism states that the quest of each worldly soul is the dissociation of all karmas, shedding all insentient matter, resulting in liberation and that the attainment of this enlightened detachment is of the nature of pure bliss.
  • Jains do not believe in an omnipotent being that runs the universe according to His/Her wishes. They believe in personal responsibility and hold each living being responsible for one's own acts of mind, speech and body.
  • Jains attach great importance to rational thinking and personal realisation, rather than blindly following rituals.
  • They place great emphasis on personal conduct and hold each person responsible for all her/his acts of mind, speech and body.
  • They hold that each person is imminently capable of attaining liberation.
  • They realise that all souls are equal and thus do not subscribe to any notions of inequality between human beings on the basis of gender, race, religion, caste, nationality, and ethnicity.