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Mahavira, Religion and Economic Development

Published: 06.04.2009
Updated: 06.04.2009

The Northlines

Mahavira, Religion and Economic Development


Modern Economics has espoused the theory that man's lure of self-interest needs to be enhanced. It has, therefore, become the main objective of today's Economics that, as far as possible, the attitude of self-interest should be promoted. Development is measured by promotion of self-interest. Keynes strongly advocated this theory.

I do not say that this theory has no validity. Personal motivation of personal self-interest stimulates more work from man than anything else. It is very clear to us that self-interest is a big inspiration. Accordingly, the theory that modern Economics has established is meaningful and attractive. Every person should enhance his self-interest as much as possible and earn as much wealth as he can.

The principles presented by communism are no less attractive. It promises that nobody will remain hungry, remain without a house, without clothing and without employment. Everybody's needs will be satisfied. This was and has remained an attractive dream of communism.

In this context, let us analyse the philosophy of Mahavira.

Mark two words:

  • attractive and useful.

An article may appear tempting but may not be useful; and another which is useful but may not be tempting. And yet another article could be tempting, attractive and useful. Everybody becomes rich inspired by the attitude of self-interest, so that wealth, when it grows, is attractive but not useful.

Mahavira said that while earning wealth, human values should not be sacrificed. From this point of view, we find a major difference between Mahavira's concepts and the concepts of Modern Economics. Under Mahavira's philosophy, it remained imperative that in achieving economic development, values should not be eroded. But today the situation is different.

Keynes has said clearly: The time has not come when we should think about values or about morality. When all become rich, then it would become necessary to think about this. To Mahavira's Economics, development of compassion and sensitivity should keep pace with economic development. We should avoid a position where we become prosperous but the stream of compassion and sensitivity dries up. Man can amass wealth by cruel means, which could lead to development, but this kind of development should lead to impoverishment of millions of people.

And yet, it is not possible to remain entirely untouched by selfishness. Even a person doing meditation has his own selfish motivation. This is not entirely bad or undesirable. Serving self-interest could also be good but it should be within limits. Self-serving should not be such that it does harm to the well being of others. The individual is not the only entity. The world is very large; there are millions of people. A person may develop his self-interest to an extent that he achieves his own economic development but causes harm to others. This is certainly not the right thing to do.

Mahavira also said that along with economic development we should ponder over other aspects. Mahavira's shravak Anand was very prosperous from economic point of view. He possessed thousands and thousands of acres of agricultural land. He had a large cowshed having forty thousand cows. Capital worth crores was invested in his business. But being a member of a Vrati (devout) society his vow was not to use unacceptable means to earn wealth. On that basis alone, he had attained his own economic prosperity.

No religion puts an obstacle to economic development. Many modern economists have said that religions ordain restraints and tell people not to do this and not to do that. They maintain that these restraints are not productive and are impediments to development. In reality, however, it is only when we think in terms of worldly pleasures that they appear to be obstacles. If we consider them from the point of view of human welfare, we would find that they are not obstructive but conducive to development. If we invest in both pleasure and welfare, then economics could be very productive. On the other hand, if we confine it to pleasures, alone then we would find that today's economics has created many distortions in the society. It has made men cruel and misled them to the path of exploitation

The Nortlines - by the efforts of Mr. Lalit Garg
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  1. Anand
  2. Lalit Garg
  3. Meditation
  4. Shravak
  5. The Northlines
  6. Vrati
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