Ahimsa - The Science Of Peace: Appendix

Published: 22.01.2009
Updated: 30.07.2015

Appendix

 Excerpts from the booklet ‘Experiments with Jainism: A workbook on Jainism in practice by Atul K. Shah - A Young Jains publication.

Experiments With Jainism

In London, the Young Jains have developed a new approach to practicing Jainism. Young people are generally well educated in science, and the western mode of teaching encourages them to question. Many are asking deep and searching questions about religion and its relevance in modern life. Much more attention is focused at schools on science and the scientific approach. Religion is rarely taught. In contrast, the Indian education system is different, and there is much more faith about religions than in the west. As a result, if we are to convince young people about the relevance of religion in modern life, a new approach is needed.

We have developed a new method of translating these principles into our own life, which is both enjoyable and educational. It does not assume any prior faith in Jainism. It is a scientific approach, thus appealing to the young. In essence, it takes one principle of Jainism at a time and prescribes a method of practicing it for a limited period. Participants are required to keep a detailed record of their experiences during that period and a follow up meeting is held to discuss the results.

The most important technique given in the scriptures is the vow. It is a promise which one makes before god to observe certain principles for a fixed number of days, for example a ‘pachakhaan’ (a specific vow for a specific period) is taken when one decides to fast (upavaas) for one day. Irrespective of what happens that day, such as feelings of hunger, one is determined to fast and completes it. The experiments with Jainism are an extension of this central principle in our scriptures.

However, it must be emphasized that one cannot climb the stairs if one does not have the energy or the commitment. Similarly, one cannot get happiness in Jainism if one does not want to work towards it. Reward only comes with effort.

All the experiments we have conducted so far are shown in the appendix. We will now look at one experiment in detail - the experiment on ahimsa.

Example: Experiment On Ahimsa (Non-Violence)

This is one of the most popular Jain principles. Its common translation is ‘non-violence’ but in reality it is a very positive principle and means respect for all life. Mahatma Gandhi was one of the strongest supporters of Ahimsa. He believed that rather than being a sign of cowardice its practice requires great courage and inner strength. He practiced Ahimsa in all aspects of life from having no personal enemies to the concept of ‘satyagraha’ or passive resistance. And he succeeded.

Aim: To perform a limited test of the Jain principle of Ahimsa and evaluate its usefulness through personal experience.

Method:

    1. For a period of seven days, participants should attempt to refrain from all forms of violence towards other human beings. Examples of violence include: anger, hate, gossiping, personal criticisms, evil thoughts, jealousy and of course physical violence.
    2. We must try to remove violence from speech, mind, action and also not support others if they engage in violent conduct or thought. This is still a limited test because Jainism applies to all living beings.
    3. The most important thing is to try your best at pursuing these principles without letting it interrupt your daily tasks.
    4. You will find that there are certain techniques which help: e.g. observing silence for an hour each day; spending your evenings reading good books; trying to think about the good aspects of all your family members and close friends and to understand them.
    5. All participants should maintain a good record of their experiences for their own benefit. You will find that whilst doing the experiment you will make lots of observations and develop a better understanding of the principle.
    6. Please complete and return the enclosed questionnaire. A follow-up meeting has been organized at the usual venue to discuss individual experiences.

Questionnaire

Before experiment

  • Q.: What is your opinion on the practical relevance of Ahimsa in modern society?
  • A.: It is an important principle and relevant to modern life. In practicing Ahimsa, one is not only calm within oneself, but also does not do harm to others.

After experiment

  • Q.: Do you think that the Jain principle of Ahimsa is useful in everyday life? Is it practical in modern society?
  • A.: It is very positive principle - it prevents us thinking negatively. I do not think it is possible to practice to the full extant. It helped build up my will power and have cordial relationship with friends and colleagues.
  • Q.: Which aspects of the experiment did you find difficult? Why?
  • A.: Trying to restrain my anger was very difficult because I am very short-tempered. Also being passive and non-critical was difficult as I am very prone to do this.
  • Q.: Which aspects did you find enjoyable and illuminating? Why?
  • A.: Being on good terms with people around me and not arguing or finding faults was very enjoyable. I found that by my being non-aggressive and cordial, people reacted very positively to me

Results of Experiment

1. Before experiment

Most felt that Ahimsa is a useful principle in everyday life. However some conflicts were raised by Ahimsa e.g. psychiatrists often say that one should show one’s emotion and not bottle it up; during discussions on India’s partition, Mahatma Gandhi offered ruling power to the Muslims in order to practice Ahimsa and stop violence and bloodshed - was this a good thing?

One extreme view suggested that it could never be used as an ideal because if we look around us all leaders or managers of successful organizations are aggressive!

2. After experiment

The following points emerged from the questionnaires and the discussion:

Gossiping - definition is a problem e.g. talking about others without hating them cannot be against Ahimsa. Gossiping is very likely and tempting in social situations i.e. where you have a group of people meeting without any serious purpose. Either these situations should be minimized or if one finds oneself in this situation, attempts should be made to reduce gossiping by shifting the discussion to a more constructive tone.

Criticism - Mahatma Gandhi once said to the Governor of India, “I am aware your Excellency that I have been the cause of much distress to yourself but I hope it will not stand between us as men.” He felt that under Ahimsa one cannot and must not hate or despise the enemy, however, one might disagree with his views. Criticism should not end in hate.

Observing silence - Very useful. Forces an inner search. Helps to keep calm. Helps to talk less and do more. Gandhiji found this a very useful way of controlling his anger.

Thinking about the good aspects of close friends and family - When we are angry, we tend to dwell on weaknesses of others and do not see the problem in perspective. Performing this exercise helps in practicing Ahimsa and gives rise to harmonious relationships. “It is very useful in meetings; one should never attend a meeting with an angry mood,” a participant commented.

3. General comments about the experiment

Most participants felt that it was a very useful principle in everyday life. However, they found it was a difficult principle, which needed gradual effort. They commented:

“Controlling my anger made me feel happy and generally trying not to hurt others also made me feel better. I enjoyed the whole week.”

“It helps to reflect on one’s actions.”

“Being on good terms with people around me and not arguing or finding faults was very enjoyable. I found that by my being non-aggressive and cordial, people reacted very positively to me.”

“I felt unusually relaxed during the experiment.”

Many found that at work Ahimsa conflicted with assertiveness; for example if your boss asks you to do something you do not want to, then you should not say no. It was decided that Ahimsa does not mean that one should not disagree with others. Assertiveness need not conflict with Ahimsa.

It was felt that it might be useful to focus the experiment even more in future (e.g. deal only with anger).

Discussion And Evaluation Of Above Experiment

The above experiment did not focus on all aspects of ahimsa e.g. walking with shoes is violent and results in the killing of insects. This was not prohibited in the experiment. However, it focused on some aspects such as anger, gossiping and provided positive techniques e.g. observing ‘mauna’ (silence) for an hour a day. At the end of the experiment, participants cannot claim that they will never be violent for the rest of their life. What they can claim is that they have experienced a taste of non-violence and can make their own judgment as to its usefulness in their own everyday life. They may decide to continue it and develop their own experiments, which include other aspects of ahimsa, and thereby experience its higher richness.

 The Young Jains Project

We started this project three years ago when we launched our first ‘experiment with anger’. We have since conducted several experiments all of which are given in the appendix. They included principles like aparigraha, asteya, tapas, satya, and of course ahimsa. Instructions were sent to our members through our newsletter and a follow up meeting to discuss the results of the experiments was held. On average about fifteen people attempted the experiment to varying levels of seriousness and we have collected some of the questionnaires which they completed. We found that the experiments were at times ambiguous and there is scope for refinement and improvement through experience.

The method of the experiments was designed by us. There is scope for improvement in these methods, but the ones shown in this booklet are a reasonable first step. When designing the experiments, we found that there was some overlap between the various principles and this sometimes confused the real issues. For example, tapas does not necessarily mean fasting only - it can be extended to self-control of the senses. Thus it can mean that a ‘tapasvi’ should not loose his/her temper, which is similar to being non-violent. This is also part of the principle of Ahimsa (non-violence). Therefore, there is overlap between ahimsa and tapas and we cannot do separate experiments!

Jain principles were not designed to be totally different from one another, and are part of a common wider philosophy. If they overlap, it means that the philosophy is consistent and unified. It is therefore important that the participants should not get bogged down by some of these apparent conflicts between principles. Ideally, the design of the method of the experiments should be refined and focused as opposed to general and vague. Communities in different parts of the world should adapt the experiments to their own environment.

Group Involvement

It must be emphasized that a central ingredient of success in this project is that it must be a group effort. For example, if there are problems of interpretation, these must be shared with other participants and if they are doing it at the same time, it is more enjoyable and rewarding. Ideally, these should be conducted with the guidance of Jain monks (or other sagacious individuals), since they are the real practitioners of Jainism. Unfortunately, in the western world we do not have easy access to monks, and thus this is very difficult.

The need for reflection after each experiment cannot be overemphasized. If one completes a work assignment or an examination, one must know the result. This is the only way one can assess and learn from one’s effort. This would point out the mistakes or the knowledge of Jainism that has been gained as a result of doing the experiment. Follow up meetings must always be held to discuss the results, and ideally, everyone should be reading good spiritual books such as Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography and books on Jainism. A suitable bibliography of books in English is suggested at the end of this booklet. The leader of the discussion group should be knowledgeable about Jainism. If one were living in a small town where there are few Jains, a good solution would be for the whole family to do the experiments collectively.

Individual Experience

The most important point about this whole experiments-technique is that it cannot be understood ‘second-hand’. Each person should try the experiment first hand - only then can he/she benefit through his or her own personal experience. At the discussion stage, we often found that the experiences of each individual were different. However, the conclusions were similar. Many participants found that the experience showed how far they were from practicing the principles in their own lives. This is a very important revelation.

We found that those who did not participate in the discussions, contributed very little to the discussions. Through direct experience, one develops one’s own understanding and interpretation of the religion. Experience leaves a permanent mark in one’s memory.

What happens after the experiments? Do people continue these principles in their own life? Our results have shown that for most serious participants, the experiments have left a mark on their lives. They have a much better idea of their needs, and a greater awareness of their inner violence. It has brought them closer to Jainism and encouraged them to practice the principles in their everyday life. Their approach to life has become much more positive, and it has helped them in continuing Jain work, despite busy schedules.

Summary And Conclusion

Jainism is a religion of everyday life. It can be practiced in our jobs, business or at home, provided we have the will to do it. It can lead us to a path of real happiness. Unfortunately, few of us practice the principles, and there are several reasons for this. Practice requires commitment and knowledge of Jainism and the techniques of practicing it in everyday life. The experiments that have been described in this booklet are one way of developing a technique of putting the principles into practice.

As an example, the experiment with Ahimsa (non-violence) was described and a detailed questionnaire was presented. The results were summarized. These showed that the principle is so profound and workable even in modern life. It is not a burden and can prove to be a source of joy and contentment for the participants. The limitations of the experiment were also explained. Ideally, the experiments should be focused and capable of being translated into practice.

Young Jains, a youth organization based in the United Kingdom, has been conducting these experiments for the last three years. They are conducted in a group and each time, a follow up meeting is held to discuss the results of the experiment. The importance of group participation cannot be overemphasized.

This would make them enjoyable and at the same time very educational. It was emphasized that for anyone to benefit from these, they should be experienced first hand. Only through personal experience can a deeper knowledge and awareness of the power of Jainism be obtained.

In the appendix, all the experiments conducted so far are described and the results have been summarized. It is sincerely hoped that this booklet will be used as a workbook and that Jains living in the western world will start to practice the principles in their own lives. In this way, the flame of Jainism will remain shining even outside India.

Sources


Prakrit Bharati Academy
Publisher:
D.R. MEHTA, Founder & Chief Patron

First edition: 1987
Second enlarged Edition May: 2004
Third Edition July: 2008

© All rights reserved with the author

Printed at:
Raj Printers & Associates, Jaipur, India

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Ahimsa
  2. Anger
  3. Aparigraha
  4. Asteya
  5. Atul K. Shah
  6. Environment
  7. Fasting
  8. Gandhiji
  9. Jainism
  10. London
  11. Mahatma
  12. Mahatma Gandhi
  13. Non-violence
  14. Satya
  15. Science
  16. Tapas
  17. Tapasvi
  18. Violence
  19. Young Jains
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