Ahimsa - The Science Of Peace ► [00] Preliminaries ► Preface

Posted: 30.12.2008

Gautam said, ‘Monks, accept not what I say as truth because it is backed by tradition, or because it is the law of the land, or because it sounds good, or because it comes from your teacher. Accept as truth only that which is sagaciously acceptable to reason as well as sentiment.

- Anguttar Nikaya

That which is old has become so only by passing away (with passage of time). That which is new is also going to become old (with passage of time). Old does not mean stable or irrefutable, who would accept without examining what has been labeled as old.

- Dvatrinshika of Siddhasen (6/5)


All that is ancient (old) is not always true; whatever is new is not always faultless. The wise accept the best after proper examination and discrimination. Only the foolish depend on interpretation by others and follow blindly.

- Malavikagnimitra of Kalidas

I do not favour Mahavir, nor am I prejudiced against Kapil etc. I would accept any one’s statement provided I find it true on examination.

- Loktattva-Nirnaya of Haribhadrasuri




Man, when he first opened his eyes, must have been astonished to see the infinite varieties of things and phenomena around him. When, he closed his eyes, he must have been equally astonished with his capacity to look into the world within. This capacity of observing the self in association with the environs as well as independently made him unique in the animal kingdom. That was the beginning of the long journey into the labyrinth of knowledge. This work is an effort to understand, through unbiased investigation, just one step on just one of the pathways of that hitherto unraveled labyrinth; the pathway known as Jainism.

Although, compared to Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam, Jainism has a small number of followers, it commands pride of a place amongst philosophies. It has a tradition of candid and original thinkers and a vast store of literature, covering a wide range of subjects.

Most of what we know as Jainism today is attributed to Mahavir and the lineage of his followers. One of the most revolutionary and radical thinkers of all times, Mahavir developed a unique method of analysis which could be applied to any facet of the two cardinal fundamentals: life and matter. He struck at the roots of blind faith, biased dogmas, and authoritative absolutism with the open minded, bold, and simple principle of Anekaantavaad/Syaadvaad (the first ever concept of relativity of truth).

As happens with almost every philosophy, Jain philosophy suffered under the weight of decaying traditions with passage of time. It stagnated and degenerated into a social system infested with ever multiplying misinterpretations. It became divided into sects and sub-sects. In spite of the array of brilliant scholars and original thinkers in its fold, Jain philosophy has, for all practical purposes, become a jumble of dogmas, idiosyncrasies, and sectarian fights on petty issues.

Although known as the most ardent opposition to ritualistic religions, it appears to have succumbed to ritualism. It now has subgroups and sects, perhaps, more than any other existing religion. Instead of following the path of right knowledge, right perception and right conduct, as was prescribed by its founders, the Jains have been sidetracked into petty fights of factionalism and religious power seeking. In the process, a large part of true knowledge has been forgotten and irretrievably lost.

While much of the profound knowledge of Jains has become extinct, whatever still remains buried in literature is enough for generations of scholars to study, evaluate, and revive for the benefit of humanity. The ideas put forth by the Jain thinkers were revolutionary not only for their times but continue to be so even today. In the remote past, when the creation of the earth and sky, and all we see was attributed to some omnipotent all pervading entity by almost every school of thought, the Jains said that the universe is without a beginning, ever changing and endless.

Mahavir expressed the idea in simple words - ‘There never was, neither is, nor will be a moment when this universe did not exist, is not existing, and will not exist. But at the same time, its apparent form continues to change with the passage of time.’ Such knowledge should never be neglected or discarded, and if frozen within the ice of misdirected tradition, it should be thawed out and revived.

The purpose of this work is not to enter a scholastic debate of establishing or disputing some philosophical statement or supporting or disproving the origin and period of some other statement. Its main theme is the religious disciplines prescribed for the citizen, the common man, by the Jain philosophers. Once understood in modern context, they will automatically raise the curiosity of people who have active interest and dedication towards reviving lost values for the benefit of humanity. They might go deeper and dig out the philosophical truth from the heaps of religious jargon.

To see how the Jain process of thinking and clarity of logic evolved, one needs only to look at any of the basic principles as described in the Jain texts and observe how elaborately every possible facet has been covered. The Jain texts convey the strength of each basic principle of philosophy, and also allow the possibility of progressive flexibility in applying it to social ways.

In its most simple form, the Jain philosophy starts with its conception of the fundamentals in nature: Jiva (soul), Ajiva or Jada (matter), Aakaash (space), Dharma (motion), Adharma (inertia), and Kala (time). From these, the exposition progresses to the hypothesis that all life is the result of the interaction of the two fundamentals soul and matter, and that the goal of every individual should be to free the soul from the bondage of matter.

This simple doctrine has been developed by Jain thinkers into the most logical path of purification that leads to liberation without the help of any external supernatural entity.

Without going into details of the basic theories, we proceed to the process prescribed for liberation of soul. The soul progresses through a continuous interaction with Karmic particles. It is always in the process of acquiring and shedding these particles, the result of which is continued suffering through cycles of rebirth. Through individual efforts, the soul may stop acquiring new Karmic particles and start shedding those already acquired.

These individual efforts have been explained in a systematic way, and guidelines have been formulated for different stages. In this book we will discuss the stage that treats the common social individual, the human being living in a society and involved in his day-to-day activities as a citizen and householder.

A separate chapter, The Philosophy, has been devoted to the basic concepts in the path of purification. This is a glimpse into what lies beyond the simple life of a citizen: the pursuit of an individual trying to rise above the social level. It is but a general discussion, not the step-by-step detail of the higher philosophy.

The first step in the practice of purifying the soul is to minimize the influx of fresh Karma. It has been observed that the cause for this acquisition can be summed up in five vices. The codes of conduct to help refrain from indulging in these vices have been prescribed and elaborated. Efforts towards total abstaining have been prescribed for ascetics. As the common citizen has to follow the social rules and laws of the state along with his individual pursuits, a partial abjuration of these vices has been prescribed for him.

The five vices are: Himsa (violence), Asatya (falsity), Asteya (theft), Maithun (libido), and Parigraha (Possessiveness). Abstinence from these vices leads to purification. The first step prescribed for purification is known as the Anuvrats, or minor vows. These vows are five in number and prescribe the code of conduct for abstinence from the five vices to a degree possible for a citizen. We shall try to understand just one of these in modern context.

Although the basis will be the traditionally accepted interpretations, the modern approach may open new insight and direction. It may even go against the tradition. It should not be taken as an attack on the faith of the followers of Jainism. It should be taken in the spirit that when truth is sought for, it is inevitable that the tradition of rituals and dogmas comes under heavy and unflinching attack. Reforms are inevitable result of such critical but constructive analysis.

Any reforms coming from any source should be considered with an open mind before acceptance or rejection. Reforms have never been denied by the authors of Jain principles, because if they are healthy they are within the framework of the basics. The form of these principles, which most of us know and try to follow, is nothing but the social religion, or the applied form of the Jain philosophy. As such, there should be no bias against healthy reforms.

Out of ignorance impossible rules based on faulty interpretations of the basics given by the original thinkers are sometimes formulated. Once such rules are made and followers find them difficult to observe, the next generation of blind followers formulate rituals to sidetrack the impossible rules. Once started, the process continues because no one has courage to face the wrath of the mass of blind followers that would be triggered by such challenges to the interpretations or the second-hand knowledge from the past.

Like other branches of Indian philosophies, Jainism has developed the subject of logic to a great extent. Unfortunately and ironically, more people have used logic for the purpose of rationalizing or justifying the statements of the past rather than for examining them and making necessary corrections. The efforts of a few towards unveiling the truth get lost in the crowd of die-hard traditionalists.

When judged in context of the modern knowledge of the physical world, the traditional meanings and interpretations generally appear to be faulty. On proper examination, however, it becomes evident that the major fault does not lie with the original concept but with the interpretations. After all, an interpretation reflects the depth of knowledge of the interpreter not of the original thinker.

One should not forget that the original concepts of Jainism came from a highly endowed individual, capable of direct perception and experience of the physical and metaphysical world. The gap between his caliber and that of the society around him was vast. As such, his conceptions and statements must have been interpreted in terms society as a whole could understand, given its limited knowledge and capacity to perceive. This work of interpretation must have been done by a progression of disciples bridging the gap between him and the society.

The quality of any interpretation depends on two factors; the purity and depth of knowledge of the interpreter, and the general intellectual standard of the society at which the interpretation is directed. The original concept must have come in the form of simple statement of reality as perceived directly by the thinker. The disciples linking him and the society must have first tried to understand the concept as far as the depth of their knowledge allowed them to, and then to put it in a simpler form understandable by the common people. As the distance between the original thinker and the common man grew in all dimensions (space, time, and intellect), the true knowledge diffused. That is why the practice of regularly examining and correcting the available information is very important and essential for removing the accumulated fog.

Philosophy, in its purest form, is an individual pursuit. The knowledge thus gained is then shared, accepted, and followed by people around the original thinker. With passage of time it is examined, debated, elaborated, dressed, etc. What results from these processes is religion or, to be precise, social religion. It has been an established practice in Indian society that almost all rules of social conduct have been included in religion in the name of god, or as causes of good and bad results in next life. May be, the reason behind this practice is that the fear of unknown is much greater than the fear of law.

In any event, this practice has vastly increased the volume of religious literature. As such, it is almost imperative that while looking analytically into the religious and philosophical works of the past, one must try to probe more and more deeply to dig out the truth concealed within the numerous interpretations. An unbiased approach becomes all the more necessary because with passage of time quality of the interpretations and commentaries faces numerous ups and downs in the onslaught of ever changing social circumstances.

Such reforms call for an open-minded approach of being prepared to accept any change in interpretations necessitated by the progressive increase in the knowledge of the physical world through development of science and technology. In the end such approach can be beneficial to the fields of both science and philosophy and to their offshoots.

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

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

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