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Philosophical Foundations Of Jainism (An Introduction): [24] Dharma & Morality (Naitikatā)

Published: 01.09.2008
Updated: 02.07.2015

While deliberating over the Jain Dharma, the following four prominent topics should be discussed Metaphysics, Ethics, Mathematics and Parables. On the basis of these four topics, the Jain canonical literature can be divided into four categories as under:

Dravyānuyoga (Tattva Mimāṃsā) - Metaphysics

Charaṇakarṇāṇuyoga (Ācāraśāstra) - Ethics

Gaṇitanuyoga - Mathematics

Dharmakathānuyoga - Parables

Out of the above, the most important one from the point of view of its influence on society is the 'Ācāraśāstra'—ethics. Its impact is clearly visible on the society. Metaphysics remains in the background, while the social conduct and behaviour are directly related with the ethics. Lord Mahāvīra prescribed a model code of conduct to serve as a nucleus for harmonious social relationship. It was this basic formulation, on which 'Aṇuvrat' was later conceived. 'Ahiṃsā'—non-violence is on top of that code. Mahāvīra's sūtra is - 'Ahiṃsā' is dharma in itself.

Hence, violence cannot be perpetrated for the cause of dharma. In fact, it is only through the practice of ahiṃsā that you can protect dharma, and hence, no violence is allowed to protect dharma. Lord Mahāvīra proclaimed—the whole humankind is but one race. To discriminate on the basis of caste, colour, creed or to practice untouchability or to show hatred towards any particular section of the society is nothing short of violence.

There is no scope whatsoever of all such discriminations in the ahiṃsā-dharma. Any kind of discrimination if practiced in the society shall ultimately prepare the ground for violence. Dharma is well protected by 'Ahiṃsā'. It is not proper to resort to violence with excuses like violence for protecting the dharma.

According to Lord Mahāvīra, there are three basic characteristics or virtues, that govern the 'dharma'. They are 'ahiṃsā' (non-violence), 'saṃyama' (self-restraint), and 'tapa' (austerities). All these virtues are both spiritualistic in character (related to the purity of soul) and purely individualistic i.e., related with the person and not with the society. The conduct which is the product of the practice of the three virtues of dharma constitute the morality.

The consciousness free from rāga-dveṣa (attachments and aversions) in fact constitutes ahiṃsā. This is nature of pure (i.e., spiritualistic) dharma. The spiritual aspect of dharma ordains the followers to abide by a set of vows such as not to indulge in killing, falsehood, stealing and also to observe the vows like continence, non-possessiveness etc.. These are moralistic aspects of dharma. Our conscience, only when it achieves freedom from attachments and aversions (i.e., when it becomes rāga-dveṣa-mukta), reflects the true spirit of the spiritualistic dharma. That is the dawn of real spirituality.

Such dharma is not for the sake of anyone else or is least related with others. It is solely soul-centred. But non-killing etc. as the practice of moral vows are all centred round the conduct or behaviour involving others, and hence, they are all ethical or moral conduct. But, they all emanate from the spiritualistic dharma only, and that is why they cannot be antigonastic to dharma. Some of the modern thinkers, like Herbert Spencer and Thomas Huxley, who are known for their Naturalism or Humanitaraianism, held the view that religion and morality are two separate streams. But, in our opinion, this is not correct.

As a matter of fact, the conduct or behaviour which is justified from the view-point of spiritualistic dharma can never be unjustified from the view-point of moralistic dharma. The only difference between the spiritualistic and moralistic dharmas is that the former is soul-centred or self-centred, while the latter is centred round others. But they cannot be so much poles apart that the same conduct (or behaviour) may get support of spiritualistic dharma and opposition from moralistic dharma simultaneously.

Some sociologists however have distinguished dharma from naitikatā on the basis of the dharma prescribed in the smṛti literature (like Manu-smṛti). (But such dharma cannot be considered as spiritualistic dharma). On the basis of such dharma, it is possible to distinguish dharma from naitikatā. In such cases, the conduct prescribed by dharma may be anti-moralistic. But it is evident that such dharma would be only a ritualistic conservative religion to prescribe social codes of conduct which would justify certain actions despite their follies, in the name of religion. Such practices have ultimately led to hippocratic behaviour among men and have obstructed the natural process of development of the society.

We may conclude that the spiritualistic form of dharma is soul-centred, while that of the moralistic has a broader application in society. Thus, dharma has two dimensions, but both of them, being fundamentally based on the eternal truths, are not amenable to any fundamental change. On the contrary, dharma depicted in the books of Smṛti, which prescribe only a social code of conduct, is based on the utilitarian approach in relevence to place and time. Therefore, it is amenable to change. But, unfortunately, when such changable dharma is accepted as an eternal one and followed in toto, several social evils in the name of dharma crop up and the sociologists give a call against such dharma.

Ahiṃsā is the foundation of the society as a "system", and hence, it is inevitable in social relationships. It means development of 'abhaya' (freedom from fear), and 'anākramaṇa' (non-aggression). We cannot have laws of the jungle in a civil society. Abhaya and anākramaṇa are the two basic requisites for social harmony.

Even when the war between two or more nations come to an end, it is ultimately followed by "non-agression treaty", and sometimes even in time of peace, nations sign such treaties. The treaties in which people agree not to do aggression on each other or not to kidnap (or hijack) anyone and so on, stand as a guarantee for peace in society. So, development of the spirit of non-aggression and freedom from fear become the cornerstone of peace. That is why Lord Mahāvīra has prescribed ahiṃsā as the first principle in the code of conduct designed for the lay followers.

For the people, leading a householder's life and observing social obligations, a gradual process of development of code of practising ahiṃsā has been prescibed.

There are three stages of hiṃsā (violence) which require a gradual renunciation for a lay follower—

(1) Āraṃbhajā hiṃsā - the violence perpetrated during agricultural or professional activities such as commerce, industry etc.

(2) Virodhjā hiṃsā - the violence perpetrated for defense against agression.

(3) Saṅkalpajā hiṃsā - the violence perpetrated in intentional activities for entertainment etc.

For a social being (i.e., a lay follower), it is not possible to eschew the first kind; it would not be impossible but quite difficult to get rid of the second kind; but it is quite possible to renounce the third kind; of course, gradually minimise it.

First, he should shun all thoughts leading to wilful violence - ' Saṅkalpajā hiṃsā', coming to his mind out of frustration or anger. The second stage is ' Virodhjā hiṃsā' i.e., to keep his mind cool even when provoked and to respond to that without resorting to counter-violence. The last step is 'Āraṃbhajā hiṃsā'—to avoid by all means resorting to violence at any cost towards any being including nature and environment in general.

'Ahiṃsā' is a fall out of spirituality, yet it is equally effective in promoting social harmony. 'Hiṃsā' (violence) does not mean only killing people or other beings; worldly duals that hurt the sentiments of others is also 'hiṃsā'. All sorts of quarrels, false allegations, back-biting, defaming others etc., are also subtle forms of hiṃsā.

Immorality in one's actions in social conduct or in economic sphere also falls into the first stage of violence, i.e., saṅkalpajā hiṃsā. All these must be given up, if we want to create a healthy society. The first small vow called ' tAhiṃsā Aṇuvrat' is an effective instrument for creating a healthy society. Lord Mahāvīra experimented with this idea in his own times.

A social organisation of people, talking the vows, called "Vratī Samāja" was conceived. The society which is not vratī, i.e., which does not duly accept the vow to renounce hiṃsā and saṃgraha (limitless accumulation of wealth etc.), cannot be expected to remain free from the evil effects of hiṃsā and saṃgraha; it will necessarily be haunted by the problems due to the limitless desires (cravings) or accumulation of wealth giving rise to violence, and the ever new problems generated thereof. Near about five lakh followers of Mahāvīra's principles in his times pursued spirituality through the vows of 'Aṇuvrats'. Along with ahiṃsā, they practised aparigraha aṇuvrata limited (non-possessiveness).

In the concept of Vratī Samāja of Mahāvīra, there was equal stress on the vow of limited consumption to strengthen the practice of aṇuvratas of ahiṃsā as well as aparigraha (i.e., asaṃgraha). For, without the required restraint over the consumption, it is difficult to confine oneself to earn money through only the moral means (or pure means), and subsequently, the problem of immorality could not be solved. This lifts one to the higher plane of spirituality. Today, we should once again subscribe to the vows of aṇuvrat and pursue the path of ahiṃsā and aparigraha as prescribed by Lord Mahāvīra. The relevance of the concept of "Vratī Samāja" even after 2500 years in the present age is quite meaningful. It is hoped that every step In the establishment of such ideal society would bring new light to an individual as well as society at large.


This is an edited version of the author's work:
Jain I Darshan ke Mool Sutra
Translated by Prof. M. P. Lele under the guidance of Muni Mahendra Kumar ji and Muni Dulahraj ji, Senior disciples of Acharya Mahprajna.

© Adarsh Sahitya Sangh. New Delhi Published by:
Kamlesh Chaturvedi
Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
210, Deendayal Upadhyay Marg
New Delhi - 110002 (India) Printed at:
R-Tech Offset Printer Delhi-110032

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Abhaya
  2. Ahiṃsā
  3. Anger
  4. Aparigraha
  5. Aṇuvrata
  6. Consciousness
  7. Dharma
  8. Dharmakathānuyoga
  9. Dravyānuyoga
  10. Environment
  11. Fear
  12. Hiṃsā
  13. Jain Dharma
  14. Lakh
  15. Mahāvīra
  16. Non-violence
  17. Smṛti
  18. Soul
  19. Sūtra
  20. Tattva
  21. Violence
  22. Āraṃbhajā
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