Let Us Learn To Live: The Art Of Assuring A Fortunate Life In The Next Birth

Published: 28.02.2012

What the next life is going to be is predominantly determined by how one lives in the present. Penance, simplicity, forgiveness, self-restraint, and forbearance will not only improve the present but also the afterlife.

People who believe in reincarnation desire Sadgati (the fortunate life) in their next life. Those who do not accept the idea of rebirth aspire for a better life in heaven or wherever they believe they will go after death. The prelude for a better next life are explained in the Jain scripture Dasavaikalika:

"Tavo-guna-pahanassa, ujjumai khanti-sanjama-rayassa.
Pareesahe jinantassa, sulaha suggai tarisagassa."

This translates to:

"The practice of penance, simplicity, forgiveness, self-restraint, and forbearance in hardship leads to good standing in one's next birth".


Penance is one of the pre-requisites to ensure nobility in the next life. Practitioners of penance can purify their spirit by eliminating the accumulated bad "karmas" and the acquisition of the good "karmas" conducive to a better current as well as future life.

What is penance? Although commonly perceived as abstaining from food and water for a certain period of time, this practice is not limited to fasting. There are twelve different ways of observing penance:

  1. Fasting (Upavasa)
  2. Reduced diet (Unodari)
  3. Limiting food types (Bhikshachari)
  4. Abstinence from delicacies (Rasaparityaga)
  5. Physical forbearance (Kayaklesha)
  6. Controlling the senses (Pratisanleenta)
  7. Repentance (Prayashchitta)
  8. Humility (Vinay)
  9. Service (Vaiyavritya)
  10. Study of the scriptures (Swadhyaya)
  11. Meditation (Dhyana)
  12. Physical and emotional detachment (Vyutsarga)

Fasting is the most widely observed form of penance. People give up food, and sometimes water, for days. While medical studies have consistently shown that periodic fasting, restricted to liquid intake, has many health benefits, the "Jain" fasting is much more valuable. While fasting (Upavasa) may not be possible for everybody, particularly those with physical limitations, limiting food intake (Bhikshachari) is a practical option. Some may find it difficult to eat less than to observe a complete fast and therefore a resolve to abstain from certain delicacies from time to time may be an alternative. Penance disciplines the self. The goal should be to differentiate between "living for eating and eating for living".

Repentance, humility, service, spiritual books, meditation, and physical and emotional detachment are part and parcel of penance as well. These practices bring about inner purity which in turn cultivates true happiness for the life cycles to come. One should practice penance to the extent one's body can support it, based on one's capabilities and stamina. Contrary to common myth, Jain philosophy does not believe in torturing the body. Instead, it teaches us how to deal with physical suffering gracefully and to judiciously use the power of our senses. Just as a good athlete pushes his body to its limits to reach his goal, the spiritualist forces his thought process to achieve inner purity. Of course, at no time does either ignore the body's wellbeing, since a sound body is essential for penance.


The second criterion for a better next life is simplicity. However, it is not easy to understand the true meaning of "simple". Simplicity is a virtue of a great soul. When Jesus was asked, "Who can enter the kingdom of God?" he answered, gesturing towards a child, "One who is as simple and pure as child."

A person who is beyond deceit and subterfuge is capable of achieving this powerful "simple" state. Deceit breeds problematic tension, and yet people resort to this degrading practice because of its perceived short-term advantages. In an assembly, Gurudev Tulsi asked his disciples, "What increases and what decreases with age?" A monk astutely replied, "Knowledge increases and simplicity and purity decrease with age." Very few people can maintain simplicity and purity with escalating knowledge. A truly learned person realizes the importance of "simplicity" in intention and "purity" in feeling, thereby lifting the self from ever present worldly concerns.

Once, a poor man was wandering aimlessly in the streets. A rich man spotted him and offered him a job as watchman for his garden. The poor man accepted the job and fulfilled this duty for a long time.

One day, the rich man had some guests in his house. He instructed his watchman to bring an apple from the garden. The watchman obeyed him, but the apple he brought turned out to be sour. The angry owner summoned the watchman and shouted, "Can't you differentiate between sweet and sour apples?" The watchman replied that he could not. "Why can't you?" the owner shouted again. The watchman replied, "Because I have never tasted any of them." The surprised owner asked, "Having stayed in the garden all day long, you haven't eaten any apples?" The watchman replied, "No sir, I have not, because you have employed me to watch the garden. A watchman is not at liberty to eat the fruit. If I am not supposed to let others steal, then how can I do the same?"

The honest watchman was none other than Abraham Lincoln.

Simplicity indeed is a great virtue. It means oneness of outer and inner self and of speech and action. A simple person is dear to one and all.

Practicing simplicity may be a difficult endeavor, while cheating is often an easily learned trait.

A mother once instructed her child to apply labels to the containers in the kitchen so that she could identify their contents. The child carried out her instructions. The next day when the mother opened the container marked "Sugar" and it turned out to be salt, she asked her son for an explanation. The child said, "I did so to cheat the ants!"

People seem to have lost faith in simplicity. They believe that a simple man is prone to tricks and an easy target for con artists. They do not hesitate to exploit a simple man but would never want themselves to be exploited by others. The attitude that simplicity is a weakness that lowers one's status and esteem is a misconception. In a spiritual sense, a person deceiving another is only deceiving himself. He paves the way for his own downfall. Bhagavan Mahavira said, "Purisa! Tumansi nama schcheva jam hantawam ti mannasi." "Man whom thou intend to kill is none other than thyself." Eventually deceit leads to defeat, whereas simplicity leads to greatness.


Forgiveness is another important quality for a good, tension-free life. It is an antidote to anger. Anger is like fire and forgiveness is like the cool sandalwood or the water that puts it out. It is said that forty pounds of boiling oil can be cooled with just two pinches of sandalwood powder. Likewise, anger can be tamed by forgiveness. Discussing the consequences of anger, Acharya Somaprabha Suri says, "Anger increases anguish, eliminates humility, breaks friendships, generates anxiety, and provokes acrimonious speech. It destroys good will, clouds wisdom, and wipes out fortunes. That is why it is shunned by the wise."

Anger seems to come easily and naturally to all, but forgiveness is very difficult to adopt. True forgiveness requires a special effort. Therefore, it is said, "forgiveness is an ornament of brave." Cowards simply cannot forgive.

Spirituality (Dharma) is manifested in four different ways, one of them being forgiveness. Forgiveness nourishes and sweetens relations. It perpetually strengthens the bonds of a family.

A king once asked his old minister, "You have fifty members in your family. You live and eat together every day. How do you remain happy and peaceful when in all likelihood you have different temperaments and different preferences?" The minister replied, "Your Majesty! The secret of our happiness is tolerance and forgiveness. We have learned to live with one another by forgiving."

Forgiveness warms the heart and cools the sting. It gives one happiness not only in the present but also hope for happiness next life.


The fourth consideration is self-restraint. Every society and nation has, at some time or another, experienced the unfortunate consequences of rash or thoughtless actions, either through its own bad judgment or the perpetration of others. Most individuals have experienced and suffered the unpleasant outcome of loss of self-control. Excessive desires are the root of many problems. When desire crosses reasonable bounds, moral values deteriorate, spirituality gets marginalized, and peace of mind is lost. Man gets restless as he seeks more and more than that he already possesses.

There was a time when people were content with simple living. The availability of goods and services as well as the resources to procure them were limited. People were satisfied with whatever they had. In present-day life of unbridled consumption and self-indulgence, nothing is enough. With so much more being available and accessible, people have become overly materialistic. Restraint should be one's password to a happier life. It spells safety and shelter from the extremes and the excesses surrounding us. There is no other alternative to remedy it. Sadgati (fortunate life) is the desired happy outcome for a person who can control his mental, verbal and physical cravings.


The fifth criterion for Sadgati (fortunate life) is forbearance, or overcoming adversities and obstacles. Forbearance requires a strong mind and unwavering resolution. A soldier is trained to defend his country. A warrior entering the battie field with the determination to do or die earns the respect of his fellow soldiers and his countryman. Conversely, a soldier who trembles upon seeing the might of the opposite side is jeered at and dishonored by everyone. Such cowardly individuals can only serve their tyrant leaders to commit atrocities against ordinary citizens; they are rarely capable of defending their country against strong adversaries.

We once walked from Noida to Delhi, India during the Kargil war. A soldier came to see us and began talking. During the conversation he said, "We like war." When I asked why, he replied, "It is an occasion to test and demonstrate our courage. We don't care about our lives on the battlefield. It is a great moment for us when we die for our nation."

This warrior was no doubt fulfilling the requisite duties that his country had set out for him. However, his professional training had deluded his thinking. Dying for one's country is in itself not a noble act. An act of bravery is one by which one goes unwaveringly and without concern for his own life to help people and to benefit society.

Countries spend huge resources in preparing and training such professional armies. But wars or conflicts are not a solution to problems; at best they may temporarily subdue an unpleasant situation. Permanent solutions are attained on a negotiating table where both parties are made to see long-term benefits. If only countries could spend a small amount of their resources to prepare a non-violent army! Such an army would always look for a win-win result. Such an army would strive to prevent war, and work for the benefit of humanity. The training needed by this non-violent army is rigorous and only the most courageous, disciplined and committed can succeed.

An ascetic life is also a kind of war. The word "war" doesn't always indicate violence. It sometimes connotes courage and firm resolution when facing adversities. Bhagavan Mahavira said:

"Appanameva Jujjhahi, kin te jujjbena bajjhao.
Appanameva appanam jaitta suhamehae."

"Have war with your own self (deluded self). Why do you intend to fight with outer world? The person who conquers his inner self will achieve peace and happiness."

It is very difficult to conquer oneself. A monk endures every hardship during his life as a monk with a strong will and a solid purpose. He walks barefoot from village to village, city to city, in the summer and winter, meeting people from all walks of life belonging to different castes and creeds. He does not find comfort and convenience everywhere. He must endure extreme climate. Sometimes he cannot find a proper place to stay or enough food to eat. He faces all difficulties with composure. He stays cool and calm. A soldier is courageous for the sake of his country, a monk for his liberation. A layperson can also practice endurance and become a soldier of non­violence.

To lift oneself up self-evaluation and self-modification based on the five criteria of Sadgati (fortunate life) is a must. The next life can only be reshaped by the meaningful changes we make in the present.


Let Us Learn To Live

Jain Vishva Bharati, Ladnun With Best Wishes:
Buddhmal Chordia Charitable trust
Charwas - Kolkata 1. Edition: June 2011
2. Edition: November 2011

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharya
  2. Anger
  3. Bhikshachari
  4. Body
  5. Deceit
  6. Delhi
  7. Dharma
  8. Dhyana
  9. Fasting
  10. Gurudev
  11. Jain Philosophy
  12. Karmas
  13. Kayaklesha
  14. Mahavira
  15. Meditation
  16. Nama
  17. Noida
  18. Soul
  19. Swadhyaya
  20. Tolerance
  21. Tulsi
  22. Unodari
  23. Upavasa
  24. Vinay
  25. Violence
  26. Vyutsarga
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