Applications of Jaina Ethics in Daily Life Issues

Published: 27.11.2008
Updated: 30.07.2015

Introduction

The Jain life style is respected by the vows, which a householder or a monk adopts. However, beyond this, there are certain others characteristics of Jain life style. While we are dealing with the formal vows for the householders and the monks in separate lessons, in this lesson we propose to deal with such aspects of Jain life style, which do not generally fall within the domain of vows. For this we have to understand some basic concepts.

The Concept of Righteousness

This first point is regarding the concept of righteousness. The Jainas hold that any person should have right attitude towards life. In the first place, this means that he aims at the achievement of right goal. Wealth or health may be necessary for a worldly life but they do not lead to the achievement of Summon Bonum of life. The Summon Bonum of life is self realization. When we have this end in view, certain type of life style follows automatically.

Bad Habits

In the first place, one would avoid the following bad habits.

    • Drinking
    • Eating meat
    • Gambling
    • Hunting
    • Theft
    • Having illicit sexual relations with the wife of others.

It would be clear that these bad habits are hindrance not only in spiritual life but in worldly life also. It is just possible that a person may find that business in wine or meat could bring more money. But even than a Jain is not expected to enter into such business.

A Balanced View

Secondly, Jain attitude towards life is that of non-absolutism. He cannot therefore. Be a fatalist, even through he believes that fate also play its own role. Similarly, he believes that one should help each other in social as well as spiritual life, but he should not be dependent on other for his success, because success depends mainly on one’s own efforts. The role of others and circumstances is only marginal. A Jain should, therefore, be independent. This concept of independent leads to the belief that no external super - natural entity like God interferes in our life, even through devotion to perfected souls brings about purity.

Dignity of Labour

Thirdly, as the Jains believe in exertion (shram) they are called shramanas. It implies that whatever is not in our hand is of little significance. For example, the birth if a person is not in his own hands. Therefore, a person is to be judged not by birth but by his action. Looking down upon any person, because he is born in a so-called low family, is not permissible. Casteism therefore, has no place in Jain view of life. In fact humanity belongs to one caste. In fact the basis of casteism is the profession which one follows. Spiritualism has nothing to do with the profession. Therefore, caste has no role in Jainism as it is pre-dominantly spiritualistic. We know what havoc has been wrought upon by casteism, particularly in our country. The matter of the fact is that socially every profession fulfils one or the other necessity of the social and as such no profession should be considered as inferior.

Physical labour came to be looked upon in our country. Therefore those who could afford avoiding physical labour did so. They thought themselves to be superior to others. This led to a class struggle. The matter of the fact is that physical labour is not only a social necessity but also an individual necessity. This Jain monk does all physical work by himself. In a society however division of labour should not result in discrimination against those who are given to manual work. Therefore exploitation, injustice, cruelty, dependence, selfishness and non-confidence and ego have no place in Jain life style. This means that a Jain believes in a civilized society based on equality, fraternity and freedom.

Freedom from Excitement

The second characteristic of Jain life style is freedom from excitement. Excitement leads to indiscrimination. Detachment means remaining unperturbed and calm under any circumstances. One should respect the views of others and try to make adjustments with those with whom one does not agree. Uniformity in thought or way of life is not possible. One has to see unity in diversity. Non- absolutism is the guiding principle in this direction.

Fearlessness

Non-violence is the cardinal moral virtue. One can observe non-violence only if one is fearless. A fearful will always think of eliminating those from whom there is danger. Only a fearless person can give freedom to others. In social context non-violence does not mean that one has not to defend his country. It only means that one should not be warmonger. It also needs preservation of environment by not exploiting the nature. Life is dear to everyone and we must have respect for life of not only human being but also even the animals.

Necessity and Desire

A distinction must be made between necessity and desire. Necessities are always limited, desires are unlimited. A social being has right to fulfil his necessities but a check must be exercised on the desires. One would find that one desire is not necessary. It may also be pointed out that an austere way of living is always preferable to a luxurious way of life because luxury makes one weak whereas austerity makes one strong. Exploitation leads to inequality and dissatisfaction. Exploitation of a nation by any another nation is also bad.

Spirit of a Dialogue

One has to be free from prejudices. Truth has no boundaries. It can be approached from different angels. One has to others view point also. Truth is multi-dimensional. A dialogue between those who have different viewpoint is necessary to have a approach towards life.

Equanimity

Equanimity is the highest virtue. In life one has to face favourable as well as unfavourable circumstances. If one is disturbed in these circumstances one cannot retain his balance of mind. He loses his peace of mind. When there is no peace of mind one cannot follow the right path because in fact, he cannot distinguish right and wrong.

Helpfulness

Out of the eight essential qualities of a right believer, which have been described in the lesson, the last three have social implications. They are re-establishing in truth those who debate from it, sense of brotherhood amongst the follower of right faith and preaching the importance of spiritualism. This means that a Jain has not only to be satisfied with his own progress he-has also to help others in their spiritual journey.

The very foundation of four-fold Jain order is an example of inter-dependence of the monks and the householders on each other. The monk has to depend on the householders for his physical necessities as food whereas the monk serves as a living example of spiritual life for a householder.

Three-fold Path of Sādhnā

The Jain view of life is not lopsided. It gives equal importance to faith, knowledge and conduct. Those, who believe that only devotion will do, are wrong. Devotion does help in purification but this purification should lead to purity in conduct also. Similarly knowledge of the metaphysical reality is necessary to have a proper view of morality. For example, if we believe that all life is one, just as the Vedantists do, or everything is absolutely transitory, as the Buddhist believes, then the very basis of ethics will be shaken. Samantrabhadra says that without knowing the real nature of things which is permanency in transitoriness, all moral distinction between the anti-thesis of bondage and liberation, punya and papa, heaven and hell, pleasure and plain will be blurred. Belief, for example, in the metaphysical view that the nature of things is absolutely transitory would make it impossible to carry on any financial transaction, or to explain the fact of memory, or to have any relation like that of husband and wife. This brings out the importance of right knowledge.

The Third Dimension of Supra-morality

Another characteristic of Jain view of life, which shares with other system of India, is too distinguished between the practical path and transcendental morality. What we call as good is only a path and not the goal. Good leads to favourable circumstances but not to liberation. Bad leads to unfavourable circumstances, which means that good should be preferred to bad. But in both the cases, the attachment is there. Both of them have to be abandoned in favour of a life of pure consciousness. The consciousness is neither good nor bad. It is knowledge. Simple and pure. Good and bad lose their importance at that transcendental stage. In practical terms, it means that one should not entertain any idea of superiority while performing a good action.

Secular Society

Another characteristic if Jain view of life is that they accept all social institutions and rules which do not come in contradiction to his right attitude and observance of vows. This makes one socially acceptable in spite of his own way of spiritual life.

Necessary Evils

As the Jains are known for their devotion to non-violence, it may be pointed out that a Jain householder has his own limitations. He has to share the responsibilities towards his family of earning livelihood and procuring necessities of life for them, as also to defend himself and his country from the offenders. For fulfilling his responsibilities towards his family, he has to adopt a profession. He has to be careful that he chooses a profession in which there is the least violence. In spite of this, it is not possible to avoid every kind of violence. Such a violence, which is involved in his profession, is accepted evil for him. Similarly, one has to be careful that while performing the daily routine of a householder like cooking. He takes maximum precaution against violence but still he is bound to commit certain violence. Which is the second necessary evil. As regards the right of self-defence, a householder has never to be offensive but as he has to defend himself, the violence involved in such a situation is the third necessary evil.

All the above necessary evils cannot be a householder but he can certainly avoid intentional violence, which means he should not commit violence for the sake of fun or satisfying his intense passions. Thus, he can lead a worldly life and still start journey towards spiritualism.

Relevance of Jain Way of Life

From what has been said above, we can safely conclude that Jain way of life leads to a civilized society on the collective level and a peaceful life at the individual level. It would be relevant to analyse as to how this way of life can universally solve the problems of human life.

Conclusion

It may be noted here that through the rules of conduct as prescribed by Jainism and recorded by us appear to be too elaborate and sometimes even superfluous, yet basic idea behind these rules is that of self-realization. When there is a feeling-realization of the true nature of the self and when one is completely lost in the bliss self-meditation, the observance of all the moral rules becomes spontaneous, coming from within and not being an imposition from without. The problems of human life arise out of various factors, which can be classified under the following board heads:

    • Scarcity
    • Injustice
    • Ignorance
    • Selfishness

Scarcity

In spite of the great strides of science and technology we know that humanity suffers from scarcity. Science tries to solve this problem in its own way by inventing tools for increasing production, by importing means of comforts and luxuries, and by developing new means of fighting against the furies of nature. But we know that apart from the scarcity caused by natural circumstances, there is also an artificial scarcity created by indulgence into such selfish tendencies as hoarding and profiteering not only by individuals but by nations also, trying to expend and wanting to occupy others territories by force.

“The greater the possessions, the greater the happiness” is the motto of many. Jainism teaches us quite the opposite: “the lesser the possessions the greater the happiness”. Happiness comes from what we are and not from what we possess. We should realize the blissful nature of the self, become free and be not the selves of worldly objects. This puts an end to the struggle for wealth and other possessions. For those who can reach the highest stage of monkhood, scarcity becomes a self-imposed virtue followed voluntarily in pursuance, of complete freedom from bondage; for those who cannot attain that height, limitations of possessions, coupled with a sense of detachment towards what one has, is recommended. The idea behind the vow of non-possession is not a morbid feeling of self-mortification but a sense of, and belief in the inherent bliss of the self.

The answer of Jainism to the problem of scarcity is; Be not attached to the worldly objects; be not their selves; turn to the self within wherefrom comes the true happiness. Has does not imply a life of inertia, but that a contemplation and contentment.

What is true of the individual is true of the nations. The glorifications of a king who desire to conquer others territory (vijigisu), through very commen in other ancient Indian literature, is foreign to Jaina literature; the greed for expansion is unmistakably condemned in the too well known story of Bharata and Bahubali.

Injustice

The bigger fish swallow the smaller ones. The mighty and the aggressive prosper, the humble and the meek suffer. The result is the rule of jungle. In the sphere of politics, we kill and crush in the name of caste, creed and colour. The result is war and bloodshed.

Jainism brings us hope of justice in the form of doctrine of karman. As we sow, so shall we reap. Through there is no God who sits upon judgement on us, there is a law, based on the theory of cause and effect, which works automatically and unfailingly.

All life is equal and the stronger have no right to do any injustice to the weaker; and if they do, they do not harm anybody but themselves. Ill feeling vitiates our morals structure first; it harms anybody else afterwards. To kill a man with a hot rod of iron, the killer will burn his own hands first before he can kill the other. It is not so much out of regard for the life of others that we are forbidden to kill, as out of regard for our own selves.

We should meet an injustice not with force but with forbearance. Enmity leads to enmity; but if we do not retaliate, it subsides. Parsva’s attitude of equanimity to Dharanindra and Kamatha beautifully illustrates the Jaina attitude, when the former tried to save him from the latter who tried to kill him.

Jainism has also opposed from the beginning any social injustice arising out of casteism or racialism. ‘Mankind is one community’, says Jinasena. Mahatma Gandhi successfully applied the creed of non-violence to redress the injustice of one nation against another. The creed of non-violence, if applied to the international problems, has the potentially of wiping out the institution of war from the surface of earth. Thus, the answer of Jainism to the problem of injustice is four-fold: doctrine of Karman, equality of life, non-violence and equanimity.

Ignorance

In spite of the spread of education in modern times, the problems of life seem to multiply rather than decrease. Of what use in knowledge, which binds us rather than liberate? Jainism teaches us that all knowledge is relative and co-related. Let us be respective to every thought. Let us not assume the attitude of finality about our knowledge. One-sided attitude only complicates problems rather than solve them. It does not give us any solution to such ethical questions as ‘determinism’ and ‘freedom of will’. Non-absolutism shows us the path of synthesis between fate and human effort; knowledge and action; and supra-moral plane of life and practical code of morality.

The answer of Jainism to the problem of knowledge is represented in its doctrine of non-absolutism.

Much of misunderstanding between one nation and the other could be solved it we could adopt the attitude of non-absolutism on political problems.

Selfishness

Selfishness lies at the root of all problems. All immoral practices arise out of selfishness nature of man. Selfish can be overcome by realizing the true nature of self. According to Vedanta, the individual self (atman) is identical, with the universal self (Brahman); and the summum bonum of life is to realize this identify. This broadens our outlook and lifts us above selfishness. Buddhism, on the other hand, asks us not only to destroy our ego but also to believe that the self, for which we struggle so much, is a non-entity. Both of these views represent entity and that each should have a distinct existence. What Jainism lays down is neither a belief in the unity of life nor in the non-entity of the self, but a distinction between the self (jiva) and the non-self (ajiva) and a victory over passion which are based on a false conception of the identity of the two.

An ordinary Jaina (samyagdrsti) is no allowed to indulge in feelings of anger, pride, hypocrisy and greed continuously for more than a year, a householder at an advanced stage (sravaka) for more than four months, and a monk for more than fifteen days. Perfection or libration is attained when these feelings are completely overcome; and not, as the Vedanta will have us believe, when the self merges into the universal self; as the Buddhism believes, when it is annihilated. We need not discard commonly experienced, separate, existence of the self.

The above ethical idea, which Jainism gave with reference to individual sadhana, could be interpreted afresh in the context of modern day problems to suggest that all nations could also maintain their individuality, and yet live in peace and harmony if negative ideas of anger, pride, hypocrisy and greed could be renounced. It could, thus, teach the possibility and utility of coexistence in modern times and bring the hope of a brighter future for war-ridden humanity of today. If Jaina ethics could bring home to us that alone, its purpose will be more than achieved.

Sources
International School for Jain Studies
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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Ajiva
  2. Anger
  3. Atman
  4. Bahubali
  5. Bharata
  6. Brahman
  7. Buddhism
  8. Casteism
  9. Consciousness
  10. Contemplation
  11. Environment
  12. Equanimity
  13. Fearlessness
  14. Greed
  15. International School for Jain Studies
  16. JAINA
  17. Jain View Of Life
  18. Jaina
  19. Jainism
  20. Jinasena
  21. Jiva
  22. Karman
  23. Mahatma
  24. Mahatma Gandhi
  25. Non-absolutism
  26. Non-violence
  27. Papa
  28. Pride
  29. Punya
  30. Sadhana
  31. Science
  32. Vedanta
  33. Violence
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