Message of Jainism
By Prof. Count Arnold Keyserling
The general consensus about religion is that all religions in the world are fundamentally the same; that right knowledge, right belief arid right conduct are the signposts way to immortality or moksha; and that there is an universal agreement as to their meaning. Furthermore, that all people of good will all over the world have, since the beginning of history, always affirmed these same fundamental truth. If people today would follow these simple ways or essentially go back to their own, then all the problems of the world would easily be solved. Strangely enough, religious stance is preached everywhere, though it will find opposition.
All people fundamentally agree that it is silly to quarrel about the finer points of 'one's personal doctrine, and so they come to the final and re-comforting conclusion. That all those people struggling to ascertain and to affirm the right attitude towards death and God must really have been very silly indeed. And that we, today, have emerged out of the age of ignorance to the light of a new epoch, where in the end, only based on common consent, the people of goodwill are to achieve everlasting peace by the sheer force of historical momentum.
Now if we regard the actual world of today, it is obvious that a state of universal peace has not been achieved. On the contrary, the cruelties, [in terms of social, political and religious fundamentalism] witnessed over the last fifty years all over the world reflect a darker side of our known history. And although some parts of the globe have been spared, there is less to show that Men have developed a greater understanding of each other. The world of today is as divided as it has ever been [despite the fact there is a move toward globalization]. And those people, who do not take sides in the struggle between the conflicting opinions of today, have difficult time.
Thus we come to view the avowed religious tolerance of today in a different light: people are always tolerant to what they do not care about. Since the development of the scientific outlook all over the world, secular power has been separated from religious authority. And as the religious ideas, compared with the conflicting secular economic convictions that find little adherence even [now in parts] of the today's world, the economic factors are more decisive than to prevail religious tolerance. It shows only one thing that the whole bulk of religious ideas, as considered from the public sector, has become a private affair. For most of the political astute, these ideas do not really matter.
But as it should matter to us as all of us have gathered here to hear and to commemorate the first sermon of Lord Mahavira, we should refrain from that kind of intolerant attitude. On the one hand, we can be glad that the secular power is divorced from the religious life insofar as people will not be able for this moment to misuse religious ideas and convictions in order to attain their personal ends. We should take this tolerance as a golden opportunity; it gives us the freedom to study religions impartially in order to learn and understand the objective truth beyond different conflicting statements. Only truth, not loyalty to our traditional creed, should be our guidance. And once this truth will have been objectified, understood and affirmed, following this will become a matter of life and death, and this will become the only matter worth warranting our personal attention. Religion by definition is concerned solely about the questions of life and death, and this right attitude in life is to achieve right state of being after death.
Hence, we should not insist on what is equally important to all religions, as that can only be common plain truth. But we should concentrate on the differences. Instead of trying to find common ground, which is nothing else but the lowest common denominator, we should reach the highest peak which a certain religion will have it attained. Because the religion of humanity will consist not of the common ground from which people begin the laborious ascension, but the synthesis of peaks. It is only in this point that one that might say that all the religions worth of this name coincide in affirming that not everyone is going to attain that peak but only those who want it with all the force of their desire, and who really start the upward journey. If we, on the contrary, would affirm that religion is just a matter of opinion of good faith, right conduct and morality in everyday life, we would finally play into the hands of the secularists, who suppose that this is the only thing which really matters. Especially, if we were to say that right religious attitude is the basis of achieving the greatest prosperity and wealth in this world. Obviously, the success in daily affairs is best achieved if one will concentrate on nothing else. And whoever concentrates, his whole desires and force of striving for material welfare, be it also the welfare of the children and community, will have no energies to achieve the fulfil1ment of the spiritual life. As Jesus put it:, "one cannot serve two Masters."
The ascension to the peaks is laborious. The end of every life is death, and it is connected with suffering. The whole methods of religion are meant to ascertain which kind of discipline, which kind of labors one has to undertake in order to arrive at that peak? In other words, which kind of suffering one has to undergo? Of all the ascending people, perhaps Lord Mahavira has been the most uncommon leader. So, we will now concentrate on what his teaching has brought into the world; not on that what he has in common with other ways, but just on that point of metaphysical reason why Jainism as a religion has never been amalgamated to the other religions, to Hinduism, Buddhism or Christianity.
The first clue is given in the name of Jain, which means conqueror. Let me start by comparing it to the names of other religions.
The Christian is meant to follow the example of Christ, and is sure of redemption and salvation because of his faith.
As it is exemplified by the saying of Christ: 'I am the way, the truth and the life; nobody attains the father than through me.'
The Buddhist tries to achieve Bodhi, illumination. By illumination Man will be freed from the wheel of life, or the wheel of karma. Buddhism, as a religion, comprises the ways and methods of how to achieve this illumination.
The Mohammedan follows not so much the example of the prophet than the orders. He ascends the peak as a soldier of God.
The Hindu will follow one of the many possible ways and ascensions which his religion has developed. With him, the ascent is on the wealth of possible ways to achieve moksa.
But the Jain is meant to conquer his own personal life, whatever it might be. He venerates only the people who, as he knows, have achieved the ascension. He follows the Tirthankaras as his mountain-guides. But if he attains the peak, it will mean that his personal essence or soul has reached the peak; it will not be a state as nirvanna or moksa but his personal immortality.
All the other religions describe Man in a general term, The Jews and Christians emphasize the last judgment in which the saved will be separated from the damned. The Hindus and Buddhists describe the aim as a state of the mind. But the Jain starts from the premise, that there exist a great number of individual beings, and that all these beings could perhaps one day achieve the peak of immortality. And thus the right attitude for the Jain is to strive to attain his personal fulfillment, and also at the same time, to help others to achieve their individual accomplishment.
This now is the metaphysical kernel of the teaching of Mahavira, as I understand it, and where the unique message of Jainism is revealed. It is a message which is addressed not to a small and restricted community, but to the whole of Mankind. Salvation lies not only in attaining a state, or in following a moral precept, but in developing the individual being, whoever and whatever he might be, to its utmost fulfillment. Only in achieving this fulfillment, Man will serve as a link between heaven and earth, between striving nature and accomplished beings and only when this link is established, the earth will form an integral part of the spiritual cosmos.
From this emerges clearly the purpose of human existence. Man has an inner essence, a 'soul' The right attitude towards this soul is given in the doctrine of ahimsa. It is wrong to hinder the 'development of this soul. So, ahimsa means not only something negative as refraining from killing and doing injury but also something positive: It means to take the existing being, whatever and however it might be, as the starting point. Souls are not empty entities. They have certain characteristics, certain possibilities. Owing to individual achievement and. karma, each soul has a very definite personal way. And it is this personal way which should be accepted as the basis of Human society.
In this sense, not only the human being has a soul. Every animal being even every existing phenomenon of nature has as its ultimate cause, a divine spark, which one day may also be developed and pass through the Human form to attain its individual and creative immortality. Thus, Man stands not against nature, he is real pontifex maximus, linking, in his striving, the earth with the heaven, if he achieves the ascension to the peaks.
The first Human being who achieved this ascension, different from that of the avatars, was sent down from the heavens to help striving Humanity of its ways, the first Tirthankara. Rsabha, perhaps mythological, was the Founder of Human culture and civilization. And Lord Mahavira was conscious of not being the first, but of being the final prophetical Tirthankara, which means that there have been already 23 examples of different ways of how to achieve the ascension, of how to reach fulfillment. The first of them started civilization, and thus, it becomes clear that culture is the matter out of which the individual accomplishment is carved.
Now here we seem to have a contradiction. If culture is the way of the Human being, why then has Lord Mahavira and many of the earlier Tirthankaras started and continued their life and teachings as ascetics? The solution of the problem is simple. Man tends to confuse the means with the ends.
Man is perishable on Earth. If he identifies himself with his earthly possessions, he will lose himself. Thus the discipline of asceticism is a method and a means, it is not an end. He strives to liberate the human essentials from its attachment to animal influences and instincts. Only if he takes them as the matter of the way in fulfillment and not as an end in itself, then the inner wealth will be able to find its outer expression in human culture.
Today for most people, ahimsa is only understood as meaning to refrain doing harm to others. This is not only a very narrow understanding but it may also give rise to a very serious interpretation as it could be presupposed. What means harm and what means good? This black-and-white painting has been the great fallacy of the last two thousand years, which finds its expression in the struggle between East and West, where both sides believe that they are the only good ones and that enemy is evil incarnated. Furthermore, this attitude tends to identity the pleasant, as that which gives no pain, with the real good. We all know from experience that we learn and progress more in times of suffering than in times of pleasant easy going.
In existence, up to the moment, we have included the fight against inertia as part of our striving. The whole example of Lord Mahavira shows avoidance of the pleasant life. He was an ascetic. But asceticism means to accept suffering for one-self. Now if you accept suffering for yourself, you accept it also for others. The end of life is death, and death means anyway suffering. The only question is how suffering can be changed into striving, and therefore into joy. If you deny suffering to others, then you deny to them the mere possibility of striving! This may breed the most dangerous attitude of all: the Pharisean belief, only we, the elect, should strive, as we alone will reach heaven, which separates us from the ignorant masses which will anyway go to bell.
But another expression is still more common and dangerous, the emergence of the well-meaning 'Do-Gooder' American expression. These adherents of ahimsa, strive to abolish all suffering, they imagine a state where life becomes effortless and pleasant to all, just a state of mind to which the ideal of democracy. This tunes with Bantham's slogan, 'the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.'
Happiness is the equivalent of pleasant effortless leisure, whereas joy is born out of effort and striving. This is not the ideal of democracy, if we consider its religious meaning, as it was conceived by Walt Whitman and his friends at the end of last century.
Source : Jinamanjari Journal ( Editor : Mr. Bhuvanendra Kumar)
Volume 29 Number. 1 April 2004, A Bi-annual Published of
Bramhi Jain Society ( Est 1989 ), United State of America and Canada.