The Vision Of A New Society: 36 ►The Curse of Prosperity and Poverty

Published: 10.11.2019

Human race can be divided into two classes. One class are the people who live according to some determined style of life. In the other class are the people who have no ideal or goal before them. The way they live, becomes their life-style. Mahavira indicated three types of life-styles:

  • Anichchha [1],anarambha[2]and aprarigraha[3]
  • Alpechcha [4], alpharambha [5], allpapararigraha [6]
  • Mahechchha [7], maharambha [8], mahaparigraha[9]

In the third life-style, there is no limit to accumulation of wealth. The individual is not content even after acquiring all the wealth of the world. He wishes to accumulate more and more. For that purpose, he adopts the path of maharambha. Arambha means violence. In worldly life it is not possible for beings to avoid violence. But when violence crosses all limits, the individual becomes cruel. Such people have been characterized by the adjectives like savage, deceitful, pretenders, fierce selfish, murderous, etc. The individual who earns his livelihood by sinful means, come in this category.

Those who lead their lives according to the first type of life style do not accumulate wealth. For such person, the path of violence is completely closed. Violence is directly related to accumulation of wealth. When there is no accumulation of wealth, there is no need for violence. Desire is the mother of violence. A non-violent person is without desires. It is possible to suppress desires. But it is not the safe way. Suppressed desires seek new outlets. At times, man even becomes a lunatic by suppressing the desires. That is why the path of restraint has been considered the safest.

The third type of life-style takes man away from reality. It leads him to a garden path and pushes him into the dark tunnel of materialism. The first type of life-style is not easy for an ordinary person to follow without strong will-power, confirmed determination and zeal to go against the current. Any talk of non-accumulation of wealth, non-violence and restraint of desires would be too much for a layman. There is a life-style which prescribes the middle path and since it is midway between stark materialism and extreme spiritualism, it has been regarded as a practical life-style.

Householder cannot do without Money

Mahavira accepted for himself the first type of life-style, but he laid stress on the style following the middle path. He established an order (of ascetics) for the people living according to the first types of life-style to which he admitted only fifty thousand people. These people were called mahavrati or the ascetics who observed the five big vows. Those following the middle path were also grouped in an organization, which was joined by about five lakh people. They came to be known as sravakas, who observed the five small vows. The Mahavrati group possesses no wealth. Its way of living is different from that of the worldly people. There is no place for possession of wealth in this case, while the (anu) vrat people cannot do without processing wealth. In their case, both earning and possessing wealth for living have been recognized. If a householder is without money, it becomes a cause of concern for him. Lack of money means poverty. There is a verse which refers to poverty with sarcasm:

"Poverty, I bow to you! Ever since you have visited me, I have become a siddha.[10]by your grace! What is the condition of the siddhas? They see everyone, but no one sees them. Today, I see everyone, no one ever glances at me. Who would bother to look at a poor man and who would listen to him?[11]

Stress on Purity of Means

Mahavira's economics does not prohibit the householder from earning money. It talks only about purity of the means. Mahavira did not accept the principle of earning money by any means whatsoever. He laid great stress on purity of the means. He said that the money earned by impure means deprives a person of his peace of mind. He never considered smuggling and bungling desirable activities. Nor did he approve of accumulation of wealth by creating an atmosphere of fear and terror.

In the present age, a new way of earning money has come into vogue by which man becomes a multimillionaire overnight without doing any work or investing capital. This is the method of kidnapping. Any prosperous professional or his child is kidnapped and crores of rupees are demanded as ransom for the release of the captive. If the money is provided, it means encouraging a bad tradition and if it is not given, one has to face the trauma of the murder of the kidnapped person. What is surprising is the fact that the kidnappers carry out their operations without any fear, whereas the kidnapped person and his relatives live in constant fear.

Curse of Both Poverty and Prosperity

Man aspires to be happy. He regards earning money also as the cause of happiness. But if we look at the miserable plight of the wealthy people, the idea of finding happiness through earning money is shattered. Mahavira said, "The extremely poor and the very wealthy cannot follow the path of religion.[12]" The starkly poor suffer from want and they cannot be free from the anxiety of earning a living. They cannot have any inclination to understand religion. On the other hand, the too wealthy tend to indulge in luxuries of life, and for that reason, they do not find any religious discussion to their liking.

There were some people during Mahavira's times, who were supremely happy although they were financially not so well-off. One of them was SravakaPunia, who lived in a small hut in Rajagriha and was a devotee of Mahavira. He lived by making punis[12]that is why he was known Punia Sravaka. He was satisfied with whatever he earned by selling his punis. He was very particular about his religious practices. He resorted to minimum violence and possessed very little money. His desires were limited. Therefore, despite his limited means, he was very cheerful. Had happiness and cheerfulness anything to do with money, he would have never been happy and cheerful.

There is another instance referring to a very wealthy man called Mammana. He possessed immense wealth which he could not enjoy. In spite of being so opulent, these were no end to his miseries. He used to gather wood at the riverside at night. Once when the Queen Chelana saw him collect wood on a dark night when the clouds rambled and the lightning crackled; she remarked to the King Srenika, Such poor people live in your kingdom."

The King was astonished. He sent his attendants to call that man and asked, "Who are you? Why are you working so hard on such a terrifying night?" That man said, "Maharaj, I am the son of a wealthy man in your kingdom. My name is Mammana. I have one bull with me I am working day and night to have a pair of bulls."

The king ordered his attendant to give him whichever bull he wanted from the royal pen where bulls were kept. Mammana went and saw but did not approve of a single bull. When the king was informed about it he was eager to have a look at Mamman's bull. Mammana said, "Maharaj, my bull cannot come here. Kindly grace my house by your visit." The king went to Mammana's house and was amazed beyond words to see his bull in the basement of the house. It was a bull studded with jewels. The King said, "You stupid man, there is not enough wealth even in the royal treasury to make pair of a bulls like this. You want to have a pair such bulls by starving yourself and sweating out with hard work day and night! What would you do with those bulls?" Mammana was silent.

Queen Chelan also saw that bull. Her reaction was, "This man is not poor but greedy. He is so prosperous and yet he is undergoing so much hardship. If wealth brings happiness why should Mammana be unhappy?" Mahavira's economics says that happiness, and misery is not related to wealth, but to man's mental attitude.

Importance of a Person According to Utility

There were all kinds of persons among the followers of Mahavira. If a man like Punia with his meager means was his sravaka, King like Srenika was also his sravaka. Who was more important between the two? In Mahavira's view, both of them were important in their own places. Their importance lay in their utility. As far as the pursuit of samayik is concerned, Mahavira gave more importance to sravaka Punia. He said to King Srenika that if he could earn the benefit of even one samayik of Punia sravaka, he would not have to go to hell. This incident indicates the importance of Punia sravaka.

Srenika was a very powerful ruler of his times. Punia sravaka did not enjoy the influence of the King. Jainism cannot have as much impact by the name of Punia sravaka as by the fact that even King Srenika was a follower of Mahavira. From this it can be said the importance of any person is determined by his utility.

Mahatma Gandhi and Louis Fischer

Money is the means for man's live hood. It is not the end. Yet people make frantic attempts to acquire more and more wealth. In that context many people say that certain limit should be fixed for economic development. It is all very well to talk about such a limit. But so long as desires are not regulated, such limit would be mechanical and imposed. Determination of the limit by the Establishment does not change the human mind. Discretion in this matter is what is required. The limit fixed out of a sense of discretion changes not only the definition of happiness but also its experience.

When Mahatma Gandhi was living at Sevagram, the American journalist Louis Fischer wanted to write his biography. He expressed his desire to stay in the Ashram. Mahatma Gandhi gave the permission and Fischer started his work. It was the height of summer and there was no air-conditioning facility at Sevagram. Fischer said, "Mahatmaji, I cannot work here. If the temperature rises further, living would be difficult." Gandhiji said, "So, you want air-conditioning! I shall make the arrangement."

Gandhiji said, "Get a huge tub and fill it with cold water. Put two stools in the tub. On one stool let Louis keep his files and on other stool he can sit." The tub was installed in a cool shade. Mahatmaji called Louis and said, "Unbutton your coat and turn up your trousers. Sit on the stool with your feet in the water. See, it is now an air-conditioned place! Now carry on with your work peacefully."

Louis Fischer worked, sitting in that tub. The problem of the summer heat was solved. Many such situations arise in life and each person can have a different attitude to adjust to the situations, as they arise. In this situation, how can there be a set limit for development?

Limits of Development According to Mahavira's Economics

One concept with limited development according to Mahavira's economics is that of social order which is free from exploitation. He prescribed five formulas for such a social order which should be completely free from exploitation:

  • No violence to a human being or an animal.
  • No bondage of a human being or an animal.
  • No maiming of any human being or an animal.
  • Depriving a dependent human being or an animal of the means of living by not giving enough food and water on time.

How could any economic system which provides full opportunities for development to one person and depriving the rest of the people even the means of satisfying their basic needs be acceptable? If the people on whose labor and life the economy develops do not get adequate wages for their labor or if there is no provisions for their safety, the premises of such development of that economy can be questioned. In Mahavira's economics, compassion towards the people, who contribute to the development, has  same importance as self-restraint. Any economy which is devoid of sensitiveness and compassion cannot protect the interests of mankind.


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Title:  The Vision Of New Society
Author:  Acharya Tulsi
Publisher:  Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
Digital Publishing: 
Amit Kumar Jain

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Anu
  2. Fear
  3. Gandhiji
  4. Jainism
  5. Lakh
  6. Mahatma
  7. Mahatma Gandhi
  8. Mahavira
  9. Non-violence
  10. Rajagriha
  11. Samayik
  12. Siddha
  13. Sravakas
  14. Srenika
  15. Violence
  16. siddhas
  17. vrat
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