Change is Life : Life is Change

 

 

By Acharya Chandanaji

 

Nothing remains static in the whole of creation. What appears so unchanging, or what we call 'still', is not really stillness at all. Everything is prone to change. In fact change is nature and nature is change. All living and non-living things are changing all the time. Neither man nor nature remains static. Though the dust under our feet appears inert and lifeless, were we to study it closely under a microscope, we would find a great deal of activity in each tiny speck. Even the Himalayas, which appear so immutable, are actually growing, changing and moving every second of the day. In the last 15 million years the Himalayas have grown by 3,000 meters. Geologist John Holden claims that 200 million years ago Japan was near the North Pole and India near the South Pole. Earth itself, the mountains and the oceans, the sun and the moon, are all changing. Change and evolution come through movement and flow. Scientists tell us that the moon moves around the earth, and earth moves around the sun. The sun is moving too. Our sun and its solar family moves around in a galaxy, which itself also moves spirally ad infinitum.

A dry plain at Haridwar marks the spot where seven sacred streams of the Ganges once flowed. The sand dunes of Rajasthan were once submerged under a mighty ocean. Orissa's Konark Sun temple, once built on the seashore, has now moved inland. Such changes are the law of nature, a law that brooks no exception.

Man himself is an intrinsic part of this change and he, in turn, is evolving. Philosophers have called man a 'death­inhabited being.' Every moment we are moving towards death. The human body is perishable and its existence is momentary. On the surface it seems so unchanging. Look inside and what do you find? Every moment the body changes as hundreds of thousands of old cells die and are replaced. At every moment our bodies are engaged in the process of life and death. They are nothing but a mighty crematorium and a massive birthing place where millions of cells die and are born every day.

Does the blood that flows through our veins stop even for a second? Unclean blood returns to be refreshed, ready to be used again. The heart pumps continuously. Imagine what would happen if it stopped even for a moment. Physicians say that all the organs of the body have to be active all the time. The old wears out and the new is born. In this ceaseless round of creation and destruction, however, something remains immutable; that 'something' can change its form, but does not change within itself. We can see the forms of the substance, and these forms mean change. To reject this concept of constant change is to reject nature itself.

Change and flux are unavoidable aspects of creation. Body and mind, the inner and the outer worlds, nothing is untouched by this principle. The new-born baby changes daily before our eyes. Soon his youth will turn to old age and death will finally claim him.

In the same way that the condition of the body changes, so too does that of the mind. The mind is as playful as a breeze, as active as a monkey, as swift as a horse. The reason for all these analogies is that our inner world undergoes a continuous change as well. Our feelings change, cultures change, beliefs and observances change. We ourselves are changing. Society is changing. The world is changing. So why is there such a yearning for eternity? Why is there this excessive zeal and futile struggle towards permanency? It is true that man has been searching for immortality since time immemorial, and this has led to the discovery of much that is useful. The very existence of death has created the search for the means of its conquest. Immortality is a sweet dream that attracts man with her seductive beauty and that's why he keeps on searching for her. However, the great sages who, conquering all of life's passions, achieved immortality of the soul, have themselves testified that they could not have done so without first entering the realm of change.

Change pervades everything. Even in the attainment of spiritual perfection, infinitesimal changes take place. It is an inner process in which both progression and retrogression occur. One goes up and down the 'spiritual ladder'. Moment by moment, the stream of consciousness changes in its course. Why then is man clinging so obstinately to his old beliefs and observances? In reality our beliefs and observances are changing and are changing imperceptibly. Unaware as we are of the motion of the earth rotating on its axis, so we are unaware of the changes occurring in our own beliefs. But we hold on to certain beliefs in the same way that a female monkey continues to cradle her dead baby long after every last vestige of life has been extinguished from its body.

Man too sometimes clings to the' corpse' of his beliefs. By doing so, he goes against creation's principle of change and development. He interferes with the very function of the universe. Traditions laid down hundreds of years ago were right at that time, but much water has flown under the bridge since then. Circumstances have changed now; can it be right to cling to these old systems and make a fuss about it?

The cells of the skin die and are replaced. The tree's bark renews itself from time to time. The old peels off to reveal the new. Snakes shed their skin; trees and shrubs shed their leaves and sprout tender new ones. How then can man be the exception and hold out against change and renewal? To deny change, to oppose evolution, is futile. The reactionary endangers his own being. If a river ceased to flow, if trees stopped changing their leaves, if the body refused to cleanse the old blood in its veins, could they still exist? True wisdom comes from man co­ordinating the old and the new. It lies in sacrificing the urge to preserve the status quo, and in embracing the path of change and evolution. The truth is not in inertia; it is in motion. Real discernment is in waking up to the reality of things as they are. The meaning of life is movement, integration.We find death where there is inactivity, inertia and resistance to change. A poet has said:

He who is alive can bend
He who will not bend is like a corpse.

A living body is never stiff and unmoving. It is supple. A living mind is never prejudiced; it is not closed up in itself or absorbed in outmoded struggles. It is ever open to new ideas and thoughts.

The truly learned and wise are not bound by any particular way of thinking. They continue tranquilly on life's journey, by bridging the gap between the old and the new. Millions of years of human history have shown us that by nature man is evolving and progressing. For example, in the Yugaliya-yuga (the era of enjoyment), customs and rites were different because circumstances were different, but when men learned how to work in karma-bhumi-yuga (the action-era), the customs changed. The first emperor of this new action era, Rishabhdev, was instrumental in changing hundreds of old rituals. In that era brothers and sisters of the same family could marry, but he changed it and introduced a new system of marriage. As time goes by, countless new rites and observances come into being and the old ones fall into disuse. Change is necessary. It is a perfectly natural evolution and we should accept it.

In every age man adjusts and lives according to what nature dictates. Old customs are changed and new ones created. Old ways become obsolete, and new choices come to the fore. There is nothing wrong in this, it is not unnatural. Ideas, principles, and observances that have become outdated have to be replaced with new ideas, principles, and observances that meet present-day requirements. Tirthankar Parshvanath's disciples wore orange robes. They observed only four vows of renunciation, whereas Tirthankar Mahavir, mindful of the spirit of the age, changed this by stipulating white as the proper colour for the 'renouncer' and introduced the fifth vow - one of celibacy. Why did he make these changes? They were necessary at that time. Attachment to old customs is like some people's attachment to their tattered old clothes. Every new order grows up out of the old one. It is possible that even Tirthankar Mahavir's reforms were opposed at the time because it is a well-known fact that man finds it hard to accept new ways.

We like to cling to the old and familiar. This is because we fear change. The mind remains suspicious of anything new. We don't have confidence in new ideas and systems at first; we are not sure whether they will prove successful or even convenient, but gradually they prove their usefulness. Only then do we give up clinging to the old beliefs. Similarly, just as new skin is formed underneath the flaking scales of the old, once a new idea or observance establishes itself, the old can be peeled away without any difficulty.

History shows that whenever great Acharyas of the past have felt the need to change the observances of the times, they have done so without any hesitation. In this manner, new principles, beliefs, and types of behaviour have been promulgated in accordance with the needs of the age. Those attached to the old ways may have aired their suspicions or accused the Acharyas of laxity in their conduct, but the new ideas, proving their worth, silenced their opposition.

Like the movement of time, change too is inevitable. Nobody can stop it. It is unavoidable. To resist it is to resist the most fundamental principle of creation. If you study the principle of the development of human evolution, you will find not a trace remains of those who would not change with the times, whereas those who go with the flow survive and prosper.

About two hundred years after Tirthankar Mahavir's nirvana, circumstances in society changed and with that people's customs and practices also changed. One of the things that was affected was the timing of bhiksha (the giving of food to ascetics). The ascetics asked their Acharya, "What should we do? If we ask for alms in the old way, we are unable to get food at the right time. If we don't follow the rules, we will be accused of
defying tradition!" Shrutadhar Acharya Shayyambhav, an ascetic of great wisdom, replied, 'khittam kalam ca vinnaya, tahappanam niumjae - 'O ascetics, along with the injunction to follow certain rituals and customs, the Tirthankars have also told you to try to understand the needs of the times.' The correct behaviour for the ascetic is to perform his religious observances and other actions in accordance with the requirements of the times. He needs to look carefully at the situation and decide how he should act. This is the proper code of conduct for a shraman. If you get stuck in your old ways and can't perceive the truth of the situation, then people will not admire you; you will bring dishonour to your sangh or bring your entire community into disrepute.

The great dialectician, Acharya Samantbhadra writes, 'The Tirthankars propound the teachings of religion according to the needs of the time.' 56 It is written in the Acharang Sutra, 'The striver who is perceptive and wise knows how to walk the different paths of life. He uses his discrimination in trying to understand the situation as a whole and behaves accordingly.' 57

Do you find any opposition to change in all of these teachings? Does it seem that there is an excessive attachment to the status quo? No. There is wisdom and intelligence here. Where wisdom and intelligence exist, so too do awareness and awakening, and then only can one find the truth.

We often equate ancient customs with propriety. But mere antiquity cannot suffice to sanctify a particular practice or observance. It is the appropriateness of the practice alone that matters. Simply because a tradition has been followed for a long time does not necessarily mean that it is always appropriate. The ability to properly discriminate is necessary at all times. Whether a particular observance is ancient or modern is utterly unimportant. What counts is whether it is appropriate or not. As Acharya Siddhasen, one of the great scholars of the Jain logic, said: 'Acharyas through the ages have laid down certain customs and beliefs, but do they stand the test of time? Are they appropriate or fit to be used in present day circumstances? If a particular observance passes the test, then we can accept and respect it. We must not, however, subscribe to something simply because it is old and established. It is said that we should maintain the honour and prestige of our dead heroes, but I was not born simply to be a 'yes-man' - to keep up the good name of those long gone. Even if anyone became offended by what I have said or opposed to my views in any way, I would still not be swayed from my path.' 58

The Jain religion has a multidimensional view of everything. It does not just look at things from one point of view. The expression of truth is relative to time, place, and circumstance. There are some truths which are eternal, and some observances and principles that are relevant only to a particular time. The eternal truths are: practice ahimsa, don't be possessive, and speak the truth. However, even in the practice of eternal truths, one should refer to the needs of the times. Sometimes circumstances are such that one would not just follow the eternal truths without thinking first. One has to tap into one's inner wisdom and rely on one's power of discrimination to decide what is appropriate at a particular moment in time.

Keep what is good and useful in the society's tradition, in religion and its orders. No-one objects to that. Their eternal truth endows them with beauty and their beauty makes them live. They never lose their beauty or usefulness. It is up to us to discriminate between what is outmoded and what is useful. In this way we must evaluate religion and tradition on the basis of rationality and intelligence.

Today we need vision; we shouldn't become obsessed with tradition or fearful of change. We should accept change as the basis of all creation. Change has taken place, change is taking place, and change will take place; change is essential. To welcome change with discernment shows intelligence. To pawn your intelligence by following ancient traditions without question is as bad as indiscriminately welcoming all change, be it good or bad. Sometimes we become so infatuated with these changes that we don't know how to choose between right and wrong. We should accept that change is an inevitable process of nature. Only then can we do it justice.

 

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Source : "The Jains Through Time"
Veerayatan's Silver Jubilee A Commemoration-An English Translation of' Samay Ki Parto Mein' published to celebrate the Twenty-sixth Centenary of the birth of Tirthankara Mahavira, English Translation by Sadhvi Shilapiji.

Published By : Veerayatan U. K. The Wentworth, Pinewood Close, Oxhey Drive South, Northwood, Middlesex HA63ET

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Mail to : Ahimsa Foundation
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