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The Quest for the Royal Road: Exhibitionanism

Published: 05.03.2016

Self-applause is a natural tendency in man. Combined with exaggeration, self-applause becomes exhibitionism. Self- applause may be based on facts. Then, there are no complications involved-. But, going away from this basis, one gets away from spirituality to be soul oriented.

Anyone inclined towards the soul would never desire to make a show of his qualities, not to speak of exaggeration. Only when he is inspired by the desire to show himself exaggeratively, he starts giving importance to exhibitionism and pomposity which in turn, makes his social life burdensome. In order to free it from that burden, it is necessary that man develops an attitude of simplicity and righteousness in his life.

I have been constantly thinking about it for the past two or three decades. My thinking is based on our strong traditions, which have come to us from Bhagwan Mahavira. He defined the periodic and eternal truths. Periodic truths keep changing in accordance with the changing conditions in time and place. Activities related to exhibitionism and affection are also related to the prevailing conditions. They had their social importance at one time. Today, that importance is lost. After loss of importance, if someone still adheres to them, is it not conventionalism?

The conditions prevailing today are not conducive to exhibitionism. The enlightened people have started resenting ostentations on the occasions like weddings, festivals, etc. However, at the ordinary level, people are still racing for such ostentations. Imitations and competition continue. It is quite possible that they are resorting to exhibitionism to cover up their inner vacuum.

The person who lives in society, does abide by the limits laid down by the society. But what is the point of carrying the burden of the limitation that make our life hollow from within? Those who flaunt their 'ego' in the name of social limitation, cannot show the right path to society. For a healthy social order, it is necessary that man keeps himself away from the activities that pollute the social environment.

This social exhibition also found its way in the field of religion and with that, religious places became the centres of exhibitionism. Religious people forgot simplicity. New costumes and new embellishments came in vogue. Even the mukhavastrika was not spread. The tendency to imitate among ladies encouraged exhibitionism. Glamorous dresses and jewellery amazed the people who were not used to such things. I studied those things and I reacted strongly. Looking at the social and religious affectation in the Jain and the Therapanthi societies, I gave them the formula of simple living. I did it at the time when the people indulging in such affectation and exhibitionism were being encouraged. There was a big uproar against-my suggestion. There were debates about the rights of a religious preceptor. The concept of social responsibility was analysed and I was declared to be a destroyer of traditions. Since my objective as clear, inspite of being a victim of social criticism, I from time to time attacked indulgence in exhibitionism blind traditions and mindless imitation.

People calmed down after that stormy reaction. They could see things clearly and there was an evaluation of my way of thinking. The conditions resulting from the changes in time and place supported my view and society developed the capacity to change the meaningless social conventions. Since the prevailing conditions favour my way of thinking, my own outlook is also becoming clearer. Now I feel confident about my thinking and I can give the directions very emphatically.

There are two ways of getting rid of the evil-rectification and diversion of the path. After rectification, the conditions giving rise to the evil end. In the absence of rectification, it continues to change the course and it continues to exist in a changed form. Then old forms of exhibitionism are on the way out, but they are being replaced by new types of activities. So long as man continued to be fascinated by exhibitionism, it would not be possible to stop such activities.

While thinking about pomposity and exhibitionism, I ask myself: Why is there so much exhibitionism in religious places? Is it not exhibitionism to decorate with dazzling electric bulbs the stage erected for religious discourse? What is the meaning of playing bands for the reception of the saints? The question is not unnatural. One such stage at Raipur had been erected in the South Indian style. It continues to be a matter of discussion even today. When such a thing happens, it becomes an event. It cannot become an example. Something can become an example only when it receives our support.

At times, when such incidents take place as exceptions, I have to take a neutral stand. During my visit to South India, bands were played to receive me and arches were made with green plants and leaves. Water pots were arranged all over. And there was the formality of receiving me with garlands, fruits and flowers. There were rice-decorations on the floor. And some girls did aarati with lamps kept in coconuts. Vermilion and saffron were applied on me and there were recitation of the Vedic mantras accompanied by the blowing. of conches. Water was sprinkled on the roads to receive me. Attempts were made to persuade those people to desist, but they were not ready to listen. They wanted to give me a traditional welcome at all costs. In such a situation, I can only explain my point of view, but I cannot put pressure on any one.

The traditions among the Digambara Jains are different. When we do not break our own traditions, what right do we have to force others to break their traditions? One has to learn to be indifferent to these things in order to clear the way for harmony. It is necessary to show tolerance for the sects in order to spread the message of non-violence.

When we entered Kerala, the Mayor of Thiruvanantha- puram, Shri Vamadevan announced that we would be given the traditional welcome throughout the State. Accordingly, we had to halt at several places to receive their greetings. But at heart, I was indifferent to all those ceremonial welcomes.

At the royal palace in Thiruvananthapuram, the Maharaja of Travancore and C. Rajagopalachari from Madras offered us a basket full of flowers at the reception. I said to Rajaji, "You are familiar with our ways of receiving someone. Then why these flowers? Rajaji said, "We know your ceremonies. But we too follow certain ceremonies. How can you reject them? In receiving you, we have honoured the ceremonies of both. We have not plucked a single flower. We have gathered only the flowers that had fallen on the ground. We would have broken your practice if we had plucked these flowers." On such occasions, I express my dissent by remaining silent.

According to spiritual criterion, exhibitionism has no value at all. In social sphere, it may be acceptable to some extent. But the situation becomes serious when people resort to exhibitionism for social prestige and for flattering their own egos. Certain things cannot be avoided when they are absolutely necessary. Even in religious places, in the interest of proper management, platforms are erected and electricity is used. But even these things, beyond the point of necessity, become exhibitionism. It is necessary to break social conventions in order to put an end to this exhibitionism. Otherwise, man would never get over the tendency to show off. Exhibitionism is a curse on society. It is necessary to be introspective in order to be free from it.


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. Bhagwan Mahavira
  2. Digambara
  3. Environment
  4. Kerala
  5. Madras
  6. Mahavira
  7. Mukhavastrika
  8. Non-violence
  9. Raipur
  10. Soul
  11. Thiruvananthapuram
  12. Tolerance
  13. Vedic
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