The Quest for the Royal Road: What is Non-Absolutism?

Published: 01.02.2016


An ant moves at an extremely slow speed. An eagle moves very fast. From the point of view of speed, there is no possibility of competition between these two. One day it was decided to hold a speed competition. There was the eagle standing ready on one side. Innumerable animals and birds withdrew from the competition since they felt it was futile to enter into competition with the eagle and accept defeat in the end. The eagle swelled with pride. It wanted to return after announcing that there was none in the world who could be its competitor. Suddenly an ant came forward. The supporters of the eagle looked at it, smiling sarcastically. Other animals also warned the ant against its audacity. But the ant possessed tremendous self-confidence. It said, "I would most certainly be defeated. Still I would like to test myself by entering the fray." All fell silent after hearing what the ant said. In the speed competition between the eagle and the ant, the victory of the eagle was a foregone conclusion. Laughing aloud, with the victorious arrogance the eagle said, "Oh, my dear ant, let us start. My capacity also would be tested alongwith yours. I congratulate you for the courage you have shown. Very well. I shall cross over you and overtake you in the fraction of a moment."

The ant started moving, while the eagle remained seated with its friends bragging about its brave deeds. When one is engaged in lively conversation, there is no consciousness about the passage of time. The morning changed into the afternoon with its scorching heat and soon it was evening. The ant reached its destination and felt self-contented. The eagle became aware of the situation when it was announced that the ant had won the race. Now it started cursing its friends for not warning it well in time. A Sanskrit poet who was present on the scene wrote:

"It is a relative truth that the eagle always moves fast and the ant always moves slowly. In spite of the speed being fast and slow, there are hurdles and chances of success. This incident can be thus interpreted from the point of view of non-absolutism—the ant moves slowly and it also moves fast. The purpose of its fast speed is to be always on the move. The eagle, though it moves fast, is without movement, because it does not move when it should.[1]


A milkwoman was churning the curd. There was curd in the pot and in the curd was the churner supported by a cord. She was churning the curd by holding both the ends of the cord.. After a while the butter was formed and the act of churning was over.

One day while churning, she thought that it was not right that she was keeping one hand in front and the other hand at the back. She must keep the hands either in front or at the back. She was afraid that if she did not do accordingly, the hands would think she was being partial and would cease to co-operate. She put that idea into practice, so that the hand in front did not move backward. Till the hand in front did not move backward, the hand in at the back also did not move in front. The milkwoman was now in a great dilemma. At last she brought both the ends of the cord in the same line so that both the hands were also in the same line. But the process of churning stopped without the forward and backward movement of the hands.

The milkwoman was now in a greater dilemma. At last she found the solution when she realised that it is good to move forward and also backward. Only so long as both the hands co-operated in the forward and backward movement would she be able to have the butter. When it is not possible to get butter from the curd by acting according to the principle of absoluteness, how would one get butter in life by way of good results? It has been said with reference to the state of mind of the milkwoman.[2]


A little boy was playing by the side of his affectionate mother. Suddenly he heard some songs being sung in the neighbourhood. He asked, "Mother, who is singing these songs?" The mother replied, "My child! A son has been born in a neighbour's house. These songs are sung to celebrate his birth."

A little later, that boy again heard some songs. But this time there were lamentations instead of melody. The boy was not pleased to hear those songs. He asked again, "Mother, who is singing these songs?" The mother said, "My child, these are not songs but lamentations. The child which was born in now dead. The grieved family is now lamenting over the boy's passing away."

The boy's tender heart was disturbed to the core. He wondered if life and death, happiness and sorrow, joy and lament always come together? Why were the songs at the time of the birth and death so much different? They were the same people, there was the same environment, the same language, then why these experiences of happiness and sorrow? He could understand the need for union and separation and he found his answer. To make it his life-long belief, he sought refuge under Bhagwan Arishtanemi.


I visited a university, where I saw three paintings. In one painting, the eyes were wide open, in the second painting they were completely closed and in the third painting they were half open. I wondered if the eyes were depicted in different ways with some particular aim in view or it was done quite naturally. After some thought, I came to the conclusion that open eyes were the symbol of materialism. According to the philosophy of Charvaka, only that which is tangible is right. There is nothing before or after it. There is nothing like the soul as an eternal entity. Whatever happens in the visible world alone is real.

Closed eyes symbolise spiritualism. Whatever is in the external world is an illusion. The individual who has lost his way in the external world can sojourn in the inner world. Hence close your eyes and look within, where one realises the self. This is one view.

But the Jain vision of life is not one-sided. Half open eyes represent the attitude of non-absolutism. Literally speaking, half-open and half-closed eyes indicate that spiritualism is real and materialism is also real. In the practical world, no one can ever lead a completely one-sided life. Spiritualism is indeed a lofty vision of life, but material needs are also there. Without materialism, it would be difficult for man to carry on in life. But without spiritualism, self- contentment and joy cannot be experienced. That is why the Jain philosophy ordains-look outside and also look within. Ignoring one's inner world is like negating one's development. Ignoring the outer world is like rejecting the life we are living. Look outside as much as it be necessary. Look within and contemplate on the self as much as you need. This is the middle path which is non-absolutism, the soul and substance of the Jain philosophy.

A king ordered his ministers, "Feed this lamb with nourishing food. But take care that it does not put on weight." The ministers got worried. One of the ministers had a son called Rohak. He understood why his father was worried. He said, "Father, keep the lamb near a lion's cage." Accordingly the lamb was kept near a lion's cage and even after being fed nourishing food for many months, it did not put on weight. Taking nourishing food and not gaining weight are two contradictory situations. But on the ground of non-absolutism, there are no contradictions which cannot be sustained simultaneously.


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Title: The Quest for the Royal Road
Acharya Tulsi
Publisher: Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
Edition: 2013
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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Arishtanemi
  2. Consciousness
  3. Environment
  4. Jain Philosophy
  5. Non-absolutism
  6. Pride
  7. Sanskrit
  8. Soul
  9. Yati
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