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Journey into Jainism: The Value of Renunciation (2)

Published: 17.09.2017

Metaarya was born in a well-to-do and respectable family. Soon after his birth, a goddess, envious of his good looks and fortune, kidnapped him from his family and abandoned him in a forest. A woman belonging to an untouchable caste (Chandal) found him and out of compassion took him home.

In this way, Metaarya was brought as an untouch­able. The goddess, who had come to repent her jealousy in banishing Metaarya from the world, tried to atone for her sin by advising him to take the path of renunciation and thereby escape the cycle of birth and death. Metaarya however, was hardly prepared for such a step. He protested that he could not renounce the world without first knowing the delights and temptations he would be resisting.

"My friend," the goddess told him, "it is only possible to rid oneself of something if one is not completely entangled in it."

"But how can I forsake what I haven't had, what I am almost absolutely ignorant of" Metaarya responded. "Renunciation means to give up all luxuries. A poor person's lack of luxuries is not due to spiritual sacrifice but due to economic deprivation. I wish to follow the true path of spiritual good. You may lead me towards it after a set duration. I shall not transgress the time-limit you set."

The goddess was impressed and convinced by Metaarya's argument. She allotted him twelve years to get acquainted with the pleasures of the world, and helped him to win the hand of King Shrenik's youngest daughter. As the son-in-law of the king, few luxuries were denied Metaarya. Caught up in the enjoyments of being a royalty, he forgot his agreement with the goddess. She, however, was very punctual.

As the time-limit came to its end, the goddess appeared before Metaarya and reminded him of his plan to accept the path of renunciation. Metaarya could not believe or accept what he was being asked to do. So deep was his entrenchment in the allures of materialism that initially he refused to embark upon the path of emancipa­tion as planned. The goddess reproaches and admonitions took their toll and eventually Metaarya succumbed to his duty and became a monk.

Although a monk, Metaarya still dreamed bitterly of the material pleasures he had forfeited. Even during prayers, he regretted the day he had met the goddess. He travelled with the monks from village to village and observed his peers undergoing severe penance, as they busied themselves in meditation and the study of the scriptures (Agamas). In such a spiritual atmosphere, Metaarya could not share with anyone his harsh sense of loss and regret. The restrainful and peaceful life of the monks with whom he lived gave new dimension to his thought. "I lust after the pleasures of the flesh and the material world," he thought, "but these monks are not tainted by any such desire. The peace and serenity that emanate from their faces make me ashamed. Have 1 strayed from the true path I chose twelve years ago?"

Gradually, Metaarya underwent a complete meta­morphosis. He concentrated on his monkhood. Spiritual practice (sadhana), adopted under compulsion, became the part and parcel of his life. Engrossed in the life of a monk, he studied the scriptures and adopted a life based upon non-violence as an extension of non-attachment. Many years passed as he performed sadhana. Metaarya became lean and thin through long periods of penance. Though physically weak, his spiritual splendour was reflected in his face.

In his journeying through many villages, he once again came upon the town where he had passed the twelve years of opulence. At that time he was finishing a one- month fast. It was the day of his parana (the first meal after a fast). In search of alms, Metaarya came to the house of a goldsmith, a man known for his skill and respected by all. On that particular day, he was preparing for King. Shrenik a gold necklace made of golden barley grains. When he saw Metaarya, the goldsmith bowed in respect and went into his house to get some offerings. In his absence, a heron sat down and ate the grains, mistaking them for real barley.

The goldsmith returned to offer the alms to Metaarya, then went back to his workseat, only to find the grains stolen. The goldsmith's fear and anger were compounded by the fact that the necklace was being prepared out of expensive material for the king himself. The goldsmith looked about, but found no person there except the muni. He questioned Metaarya, who kept silent. Metaarya did not, even by his physical gestures, indicate the guilt of the heron for to do so would amount to killing the bird. A muni's vow of non-violence means that he does not commit violence, does not ask others to do it, and in no way supports it, as would the act of revealing the culprit surely do.

The goldsmith concluded, because silence often indicates guilt, that the man before him was not a real muni and had stolen the gold grains, and was insolent enough as well to stand before him tauntingly in his refusal to confess and repent. The goldsmith became very angry and abused Metaarya, who kept calm all the while. Infuriated at what he still perceived to be insolence, the goldsmith in his rage brought a long strip of wet leather and tied it very tightly around Metaarya's head. As it began to dry and

Infuriated at what he still perceived to be insolence, the goldsmith in his rage brought a long strip of wet leather and tied it very tightly around Metaarya's head.

compress Metaarya's skull, he still acknowledged no pain and felt no malice or ill-will towards the goldsmith. He was fee from emotions. When the leather dried completely and Muni Metaarya fell dead, he was filled only with peacefulness and so became free from the cycle of birth and death.

Meanwhile, the heron still sitting on a tree and trying to digest its too rich a meal became restless. How, after all, could it possibly be able to digest the gold barleys? The moment that Muni Metaarya fell to the ground for the final time, the bird passed excreta and the golden grains dropped to the earth before the goldsmith's shocked eyes.

At first though relieved to have found the precious pieces, the goldsmith soon realized his horrible mistake in killing the man who probably was a muni after all. He then realized that it had not been insolence but serenity that explained the muni's silence and tranquillity even in the face of death. He bent down to check if the muni was really dead and at the closer range recognized the man as the former son-in-law of the king.

The goldsmith was now very worried indeed. The first idea to come into his head was to seek the refuge of the muni: he bowed down by the side of the muni and put on the clothes of the dead muni. News of the return and death of Muni Metaarya quickly spread throughout the village and justice was demanded. The people condemned the goldsmith and demanded that he should be punished. Upon hearing the news, King Shrenik was very sorry; he felt as if he had been twice struck in losing both his former son- in-law, a muni, and his best artisan. Nevertheless, he knew he had a duty to fulfil and ordered his soldiers to arrest the goldsmith and bring him before the court.

The goldsmith, in the guise of a muni, was presented to the king. Out of respect for the monastic order the king declared that he would not punish the goldsmith in that uniform. He proclaimed, "So long as he is in this dress, he will not be punished; the moment he violates this rule, he will be executed."

The goldsmith had only put on the uniform to escape death, and felt himself far from ready to accept the life of a muni. But what else could he do? He joined an order of monks and travelled with them. Eventually he chose for himself the path of detachment and renunciation. Like Metaarya, he became engrossed in meditation, performed penance, and finally attained true liberation.

Sources

Title: Journey into Jainism
Author:
Sadhvi Vishrut Vibha (Samani Smit Pragya)
Publisher: Jain Vishwa Bharati, Ladnun, India
Edition: 2012

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Agamas
  2. Anger
  3. Fear
  4. Meditation
  5. Muni
  6. Non-violence
  7. Parana
  8. Sadhana
  9. Shrenik
  10. Violence
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