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The Quest for the Royal Road: The Shramana Culture

Published: 02.02.2016

Time always passes. Day after day, month after month, continue to pass by. In this process, even this week has passed. I spent this week in the Civil Lines and Subzi Mandi of Delhi. Although this area is called old Delhi, it does not in any way lag behind New Delhi. The city is quite close by. The area is thickly populated. It is open. It is a convenient place for the sadhus. The sadhus need a place that would suit their routine of religious practices. This is because the sadhus can put up with heat and cold, sun and shade, hunger and thirst and all such inconveniences, but it is not possible for them to face the real inconveniences of a place where they cannot fully observe their religious routine. However, all conveniences necessary for the purpose of carrying out their religious routine are easily available here. Of course, I am not the kind of a person looking for conveniences. We totally avoid the attitude of seeking conveniences. We never give importance of such an attitude. We also do not favour the view that even the house-holders should be keen about conveniences. The attitude of seeking conveniences is extremely dangerous. The main formula for a happy life is devotion to hard-work. Other people may or may not give up such an attitude. But it is indeed a matter of concern if the followers of the culture, which is devoted to hard work, try to avoid hard work.

We are living mainly at three levels-political, social and religious.

For once, let us leave aside the political level, because all over the country, its ground is the same. For once, we may consider even the social level of secondary importance. In the present context, we have to give thought to where we stand spiritually-religiously.

The culture in which we are living is the sramana culture. It may be asked if there is any other culture which are parallel to the sramana culture. The answer would be in the positive.

In India, two cultures have been prevalent for a long time-the Brahmin culture and the sramana culture. These two cultures, like two rivers, have been mingling together sometimes and becoming separate sometimes. It is not relevant to go into the details about the Brahmin culture, but it would still be appropriate to know about it briefly.

The basic treatises of the Brahmin culture are-the Vedas, the Upanishadas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharat, the Bhagvad Gita, etc. The culture based on the faith in these treatises is called the Brahmin culture in which more importance is given to yajnas and other rituals, worship and prayers, etc.

The sramana culture is also parallel to the Brahmin culture. Non-violence is the basis of this culture which is supported by the religious treaties like the agamas, pitakas, etc. The Jain, Buddhist, Ajivaka, Gainik and Parivrajaka- all these were the five traditions of the sramana culture. In the course of the long passage of time, only the Jain and the Buddhist traditions have been able to maintain their existence intact.

Like the Jain sramanas the Buddhist sramanas are also called Bhikshus. They wear coloured garments. Despite their different religious practices, there are quite a few basic similarities between them. The Jains and the Buddhists, both carry on the sramana tradition and are the followers of the sramana culture.

The most fundamental ground for the difference between the Brahmin culture and the sramana culture is ishvarvada or theism. The Brahmin culture regards God as the governing power of the universe and considers every act divine. Contrary to this, the sramana culture is based on the belief that the Soul is completely free. No outside power can interfere in the process of doing the act and enjoying its fruit. Even though the sramana culture accepts the existence of God, it does so in the form of a free spirit. According to the sramana culture, God is free from all the illusory worldly concepts like doing actions, enjoying the fruits of all actions etc.

The meaning of the three words-Shrama, Sharna and Sama are properly expressed in the single word samana.

Sramana is a Sanskrit word. Its prakrit form is "samana". The difference between these two is only of incomprehensibility and simplicity. The Sanskrit language is incomprehensible. Hence it became the language of the scholars. The Prakrit language is simple. It used to be the language of the people of that age. Bhagwan Mahavira used to speak only in the language of the people. We too speak here in the language of the people, which is Hindi.

The word Samana has three forms-Shramana, Shamana, and Samana. In that word lies the entire secret of the Sramana culture.

Let us shape ourselves by our own "shrama", i.e., let tendency of earning breed or money without hard labour, eating without work-never find any place in our life. It is not a healthy system in which one person earns and another person eats. Living by one's own labour is also a moral principle. If every individual accepts this formula than many problems of life would automatically be solved.

The Sramana culture provides us a vision even higher than this. He who follows the Sramana tradition, would never depend on anyone's mercy. Not to speak of another person, he would not like even to depend on God. Although even the Jains write in letters, "May God be kind to you", it is not suggestive of the Sramana culture. It is the result of not knowing one's own culture and tradition. The Jains should follow the practice of saying that people should follow the righteous path and they should have faith in their deities, gurus and religion, and therein lies their good.

It seems to me that the so-called theism has distorted human thinking. A person may indulge in the worst kind of action. If, by chance, his purpose is fulfilled, he regards it as the reward granted by God.

A person cheats others and exploits them and then he goes about merrily proclaiming, "God had been kind to me. My fate has changed."

The sramana culture proclaims-Do not depend on God. Endeavour to the best of your capacity. Accept only that which is available to you as a result of your own efforts. The Jain ascetics carry on this tradition even today. Their padyatras, their self-reliance, etc. are suggestive only of their devotion to hard work. Under no circumstances, do they forget their devotion to labour. That is why they are called shramanas.


Title: The Quest for the Royal Road
Acharya Tulsi
Publisher: Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
Edition: 2013
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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Agamas
  2. Bhagwan Mahavira
  3. Brahmin
  4. Delhi
  5. Gita
  6. Mahabharat
  7. Mahavira
  8. New Delhi
  9. Non-violence
  10. Prakrit
  11. Ramayana
  12. Sadhus
  13. Sanskrit
  14. Soul
  15. Sramana
  16. Sramana Tradition
  17. Vedas
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