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Forgiveness in Jainism Alan Hunter, May 2003 Introduction The Jain faith is relatively small in terms of numbers. Yet it has made a disproportionate contribution to the practice of forgiveness and peace. Of all major world faiths, it is perhaps the most consistent in rejecting all forms of violence; and in promoting peaceful inter-personal relationships based on co- operation and forgiveness. Jainism may seem an abstract, unrealistic philosophy, but in fact it was a major source of inspiration for one of the great politicians of the twentieth century, Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi was brought up as a Vaishnavite Hindu, but in a part of Gujarat where Jainism was strong. He liked to frequent Jain teachers and temples. In the 1890s he came to know one of the great Jain saints of modern India, Shrimad Rajchandra. Rajchandra settled many of Gandhi‟s spiritual doubts and was a significant personal inspiration for him: local people referred to Rajchandra as “Gandhi‟s Guru”. So the ancient Jain ideals were transmitted to modern politics in India and beyond.1 The dating of early South Asian history is always contentious. Conventional scholarship suggests between 600 and 550 BCE as the birth date of Vardhamana Mahavira, who is regarded as the founder of the religion. Jains themselves regard Mahavira as the most recent in a long line of enlightened sages who lived in earlier times. These sages are known as Tirthankaras or Jinas. Tirthankara means „ford-maker‟: one who helps us cross the torrents of life to immortality; Jina means „spiritual victor‟; and the term Jain is one who follows a Jina. Mahavira appears to have led the life of an ascetic or rishi, a sage of Vedic times, in North India: he fasted, went naked, kept silence, meditated, and taught others. His early disciples included Hindu Brahmins, and his words are recorded in Buddhist sutras. Jains have by and large remained on good terms with Buddhists and Hindus: for example, they often participate in Hindu religious festivals and other observances, without feeling that their own faith is compromised. There is considerable overlap, friendship, and communication between the three faiths notwithstanding some important doctrinal differences. The original scriptures of Jainism are composed in Ardhamagadhi, an ancient north Indian language related to Sanskrit. By the fifth century CE, Jainism had spread to many parts of India, as one can see from the great Jain temples around Mysore in the south. In medieval times it suffered a numerical decline, although not to the extent of Buddhism, and by the twentieth century was for the most part confined to three states in west India, Gujarat, Mahrastra, and Rajasthan. The total number of Jains 1 See www.shrimad.org for further information. may now be around eight million. Their influence is significant though: they form a successful community, and one finds Jain businesses in most of India‟s major cities. Following emigration from Western India, Jain communities form an important part of the Indian diaspora, for example in the USA and UK. The Jain communities both in and out of India are active in presenting their faith in publications and now, particularly, on the Internet. A simple search will display dozens of Jain websites ranging from local community groups to specialist philosophy discussions.2 One can also find photographs of Jain pilgrimage sites; online devotional music and chanting; and even webcasts of important festivals.3 The doctrine of ahimsa, non-violence, is profoundly connected to the Jain faith. It is indeed an important concept to Hindus and Buddhists also, but to Jains it is almost the central or core teaching. In its pure Jain form, ahimsa means completely abstaining from causing injury to others. “Others” here includes all life forms, birds, plants, and even micro-organisms. At a deeper level, even the word “other” should not be used, since Mahavira preached complete identity with the beings around us: “You are that which you intend to hit, injure, insult, torment, persecute, torture, enslave or kill.” Lay followers of the Jain faith pursue this ideal as far as they can, although they are obliged to make compromises in their daily life. But Jain monks and nuns must rank among the most “non-violent” people in the world. They generally brush the ground clear of insects before they tread; wear a small mask to avoid taking in tiny insects; and eat food only when it has fallen like ripe fruits. Needless to add, Jainism promotes strict vegetarianism Key doctrines Non-violence Ahimsa Two characteristics of ahimsa as taught in the Jain faith are, first a kind of steadfastness or lack of equivocation; and second, explicit extension to all beings and the entire cosmos. The Jain scriptures state, for example: All the Arhats (Venerable Ones) of the past, present and future discourse, counsel, proclaim, propound and prescribe thus in unison: Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being. There is nothing so small and subtle as the atom nor any element so vast as space. Similarly, there is no quality of soul more subtle than non-violence and no virtue of 4 spirit greater than reverence for life. A modern Jain writer suggests: “The teaching of ahimsa refers not only to wars and visible physical acts of violence but also to the violence in the hearts 2 For example, www.atmadharma.com. 3 See www.jcnc.org among many others. 4 From The Jain Teachings (no author given), published by the Federation of Jain Associations in North America, 2003. www.jaina.org/jainaatglance.doc and minds of human beings, their lack of concern and compassion for their fellow humans and for the natural world.” A Jain scripture puts it succinctly: "Ahimsa parmo dharmah" (non-violence is the supreme religion). While other religions may and do promote peace or avoid violence under normal circumstances, non-violence is, one might say, the religion of the Jains. Nor should we understand the teaching of non- violence as a negative concept. It is intimately connected to the positive formulation of compassion: Ahimsa is an aspect of daya (compassion, empathy, and charity), described by a great Jain teacher as the "beneficent mother of all beings" and "the elixir for those who wander in suffering through the ocean of successive rebirths." Jiva-daya means caring for and sharing with all living beings, tending, protecting and serving them. It entails universal friendliness (maitri), universal forgiveness (kshama) and universal 5 fearlessness (abhaya). “Just War”? It seems that all, or almost all, religious and philosophical traditions preach an idealised form of universal peacefulness, often expressed in lyrical terms and with references to great peace-making saints and founders. And Jainism perhaps goes further than others in integrating this vision into daily life. However, the test always comes with the issue of “self-defence”. Can or should one, as an individual, react with violence against, say, an unprovoked attack? Can one defend one‟s family? By extension, should one defend one‟s community, faith, or country? It is here we find the widely divergent views of different religions, and also of different groups within the same religions. In a political sense, Jains are somewhat distanced from this question. They form only a minority group within modern India, and have not been the target for discrimination, harrassment, or persecution. They tend to avoid professions like policing, where violence may be a necessary part of the occupation. India does not have a conscript army, so they are not liable for military service. They do not have a national state to defend. It is thus relatively easy for Jains to take a moral position similar to, for example, that of Quakers, and unconditionally oppose warfare. However, I have also seen several discussions where Jains promote a form of argument similar to Hindus, i.e. that while unconditional pacifism is suitable for monks, it is not so for householders: As a layperson, being a citizen of a nation also has responsibilities. The Jain tradition has always recognized that one of those responsibilities is supporting law and order and the nation‟s defenses. One cannot live to serve and protect others, care for family and promote good virtues, or live to purify one‟s soul, if one is either dead or living in fear of death due to an outside assailant. For this reason, the Jain acharyas 5 Jain Teachings [teachers] of centuries ago listed military service as one of the acceptable careers for Jains. A nation‟s military actions should always be defensive, and not offensive in the 6 sense of seeking to wantonly hurt or steal things from other people. Interdependence Parasparopagraho jivanam Another ancient Jain doctrinal contribution with a contemporary tone to it is “interdependence”, or parasparopagraho jivanam: all lives are bound together by mutual support and interdependence. Mahavira himself is cited as saying: “One who neglects or disregards the existence of earth, air, fire, water and vegetation disregards his own existence which is entwined with them.”7 Jain sages view the universe not only as an environment for human beings to enjoy or exploit; not even as an arena for the human struggle towards prosperity or salvation. It is a vast web, home to countless life forms of all kinds like the elements, plants, micro-organisms, planets, and so on. Damage to one aspect is damage to the whole. This view explains why violence is so stupid: violence done apparently to others, is really done to oneself. A well-known illustration of this point is the image of a person sitting on a branch and sawing it off close to the tree-trunk. South Asian philosophy, though, usually attends to consciousness more than the physical realm. “Interdependence” in Jain thought is no exception. It is certainly admitted that we should protect the environment because of the web of physical connections But our environment also has a metaphysical dimension, the countless forms of thought, ideation, emotion, or other connections that exist between different beings and different kinds of beings. Inter-connectedness is interpreted as total and cosmic, not just as an early anti-pollution slogan. Violence disrupts our spiritual as well as our physical cosmos. Purification As with most Indian religious tradition, the ultimate goal of Jainism is to realise liberation, moksha, following the teachings of the great sages. As we shall see further in the next section, Jainism above all other religions preaches self- reliance and austerity, rather than faith in any external agency, even God. Compared to Hinduism, this is probably the major distinguishing feature. The path to moksha is determined by Jain cosmology and metaphysics which, while similar to Hindu teachings in many ways, have their own characteristics. 6 http://groups.yahoo.com/group/jain-friends/message/4653 7 ibid. Specifically, the Jain scriptures, like Vedic ones, teach that the Soul (jiva) is inherently perfect and ever-illumined. However, in our daily experiences it is as if clouded, or veiled, or non-manifest: the reason being that it has become associated with negative actions, karmas, due to our ignorance and carelessness in the past. The way to liberation is straightforward. We can purge our existing negative karmas from our souls; and refrain from adding new ones. The methods for doing this are quite similar to those enjoined on spiritual seekers in Buddhism and Hinduism, for example one list provided by a contemporary teacher is: Right belief; Observance of vows; Awareness; Passionlessness; Peacefulness; Carefulness; Control; Forgiveness; Humility; Truthfulness; Austerity; Universal Friendship and others. As one can see, this is not very different from the teachings of, for example, the Patanjali Yogasutras or indeed the Bhagavad Gita. Such a life of austerity, kindness, and truthfulness, according to these teachings will lead unerringly to profound meditation and thence to liberation. On this transition from the worldly to the spiritual dimension, a person will spontaneously become involved with good works of all kinds; and indeed the Jain community in India is renowned for its philanthropy. Self-reliance Jain teaching on God is rather unique. According at least to orthodox Jain teachings, there is indeed a supreme being, who might be called God. However, God did not create the material universe; nor does God “rule” or “govern” it as such; nor do they pray to Him or Her. As one modern teacher puts it: The bondage and deliverance of each individual belong to himself or herself. The experience of happiness or sorrow belongs to each individual and it is his own. Therefore, the Jain Dharma says: God surely reveals to us the real nature and form of the universe. Seeing with his divine eyes, he reveals the essential and real form of the universe. The Tirthankar has said: The world is without a beginning. It has no beginning. It has no end. This creation is boundless being devoid of a beginning and an end. But it is present in the flow and flux of time. The universe sometimes grows small. Creation and destruction; production and disposal are always going on. Behind this eternal process there does not exist anyone‟s planning or organization. The whole universe is a self-regulated one. But in this organization, Karma plays an important role. In this process the effect 8 of Karma is emphatically evident. To downplay the role of God in one‟s own religious or personal development is of course to place tremendous emphasis on individual responsibility. It is not possible for a practising Jain to shrug shoulders at the fate of the poor and say “God wanted them poor”; nor to shirk spiritual practice and say “Let God save me”. Devout Jains will feel obliged to make tremendous effort at self- improvement for their own well-being: nobody else will do it for them. On the other hand, and especially in India, nobody and no system can over- ride the human longing for worship, for a deity. Just as the Buddha in 8 http://www.jainworld.com/jainbooks/guideline/48.htm Mahayana Buddhism, Mahavira and some other figures became “virtual Gods” at least for some Jains. Thus one finds many – and splendid – temples, places of pilgrimage and worship that are an integral part of most Jains‟ religious life. Relativity Syadvada One of the glories of Jain philosophy is the theory of relativity. Not Einstein‟s of course, and predating Einstein by at least two thousand years: but a discovery that could lead to great inter-religious harmony if widely accepted. The concept of universal interdependence mentioned above leads to a theory of knowledge, known as anekantavada or the doctrine of manifold aspects. “Anekantavada describes the world as a multifaceted, ever-changing reality with an infinity of viewpoints depending on the time, place, nature and state of one who is the viewer and that which is viewed.”9 This is an idea with a surprisingly modern or even post-modern tone. Also, it seems to me, very difficult to challenge in any reasoned way. Unless one has a totally monistic view of consciousness, it is completely logical that any observation of any object is taken from a particular “time, place, nature, and state”; and neither the observer nor the object are stable. No observation is entirely repeatable. This perception leads to the doctrine of syadvada or relativity, which states that truth is relative to different viewpoints. What is true from one point of view is open to question from another. Absolute truth cannot be grasped from any particular viewpoint alone, because absolute truth is the sum total of all different viewpoints that make up the universe. Because it is rooted in these doctrines, Jainism cannot exclusively uphold the views of any individual, community, nation, or species. It recognises inherently that other views are valid for other peoples, and for other life-forms. Any universalising truth claim is a priori misleading. Teaching on forgiveness Why forgive? Jainism does stress the importance of forgiveness for community well-being. However, following the trend of Indian thought, most teachers would probably stress the importance of forgiveness from the perspective of the “forgiver”. The following is an edited extract from a discourse by a contemporary Jain teacher: 9 Jain Teachings The first line in our Kshamapna Sutra [see final section of this article] states: “I grant forgiveness to all living beings”. This powerful philosophy, somehow, got diluted in our practice. In my opinion, it is more important to forgive than to ask for forgiveness. We need to forgive others, not because they need our forgiveness. It is because we need to release ourselves from the rage, hostility and resentment we carry within us when we don‟t forgive. I have often heard people say, “I have no problem forgiving. If he/she asks, I will forgive him/her.” This is not true forgiveness. It just feeds our own ego and does more harm than good. Forgiveness is not a sense of false humility that makes us better than somebody else. It is an attitude that sets us free, so that we are not continually re-victimized by our wounds. The other excuse people use for not being willing to forgive someone is “If I forgive so easily, he/she will continue doing the same thing and will never learn a lesson”. Well, there is a penalty for not granting forgiveness. The penalty we experience is the hurt that remains trapped within us, which rots a portion of our body, mind and soul daily. In order to heal ourselves of the wounds inflicted upon us we must be willing to forgive those who hurt us, totally and unconditionally. It does not mean that we must go and tell them that they are forgiven. It doesn‟t mean, if we are the offending party, we must go to the other and beg for their forgiveness. Realization of our mistake and true repentance (Prayaschitta) can in itself set new direction for our life. Forgiveness not only makes us whole once again, it energizes us and makes our world more beautiful that ever. In my case, I have always been hurt a lot easier than I used to admit to and in the past, instead of healing my hurt, I would deny it. I believed I should not be hurt so easily. The problem with this denial is that it created secret resentments and I experienced depression so deep within me that it almost incapacitated me. Learning to forgive has made all the difference. As someone once said, “Forgiveness isn‟t about letting him or her off the hook… it‟s about taking the knife out of your soul”. When it comes to forgiveness, it is far better to have a small 10 amount of the real thing than massive quantities of the fake stuff." The forgiveness festival Jainism is perhaps unique among world faiths in having a festival, the Paryushana, in which “forgiveness” is the central component. It is in fact the most important event in the Jain calendar, and falls in August or September every year. The festival itself last for a week or ten days. August and September are the main monsoon months in western India. Monsoon was an important period for all Indian religious traditions, because monks and wandering teachers would tend to settle in one place for two or three months. For example, it is thought that the great discourses of the Buddha were mainly given at this period, following which the monks would disperse to their itinerant life. Naturally it is convenient to be out of the rains; typically, however, for Jains there is a deeper reason. Insects and other life-forms abound during the rainy season, and one is more likely to cause them accidental damage while walking around at this time of year. Monks therefore prefer to be as sedentary as possible. As well as monks, householders celebrate the festival as a time for spiritual reflection and regeneration. In some ways, the festival resembles those of other Indian traditions. Jain families visit temples to listen to discourses and readings; and they engage in 10 ww.anekant.org/let_us_learn_to_forgive____truly!.htm fasting and penance. The evening is often devoted to meditation, specifically the practice of pratikraman, a reflection on their spiritual life which includes introspection, prayers, detachment from the body, and resolutions for the coming year. Paryushana is marked by strict observance of the ten cardinal virtues, of which forgiveness is conventionally listed first: forgiveness, charity, simplicity, contentment, truthfulness, self-restraint, fasting, detachment, humility, and continence. Specifically to Jainism there is a unique custom, in which every Jain asks forgiveness from all individuals and from the community, for any offence they may have committed. All dissent and disagreement is supposed to be set aside, and individual and social relationships healed. They ask forgiveness by approaching the other person, joining hands and asking for "Micchamidukadam" or forgiveness. Literally, dukadam means bad deeds; and micchami means fruitless. The sense is, may any past problems between us cease here and now, with no repercussions. Jains, whether monks, nuns, or householders, therefore, affirm prayerfully and sincerely, that their heart is filled with forgiveness for all living beings and that they have sought and received the forgiveness of all beings, that they crave the friendship of all beings, that all beings give them their friendship and that there is not the slightest feeling of alienation or enmity in their heart for anyone or anything. They also pray that forgiveness and friendliness may reign throughout the world and that all 11 living beings may cherish each other. The mantras Apart from the forgiveness festival or other specific calendar events, Jains are likely to practise forgiveness as an integral part of their religious life. Again, the focus on forgiveness is explicit. For example, perhaps the most widely used Jain prayer mantras are those for forgiveness and universal friendship: Universal Forgiveness Prayer Khamemi Savve Jiva, Savve Jiva Khamantu Me, Metti Me Savve Bhuyesu, Veram Majham Na Kenai. I grant forgiveness to all living beings. May all living beings grant me forgiveness. My friendship is with all living beings. My enmity is totally nonexistent. Universal Peace and Friendship Prayer Shivmastu Sarva Jagatah, Par-hit-nirata bhavantu bhutaganah, Doshah Prayantu Nasham, Sarvatra Sukhi bhavantu lokah. May the whole Cosmos be blessed. May all beings engage in each other's well being. 11 Jain Teachings May all weakness, sickness and faults diminish and vanish. May everyone and everywhere be healthy, prosper, blissful, and peaceful.12 12 These and other prayers can be found at www.jaina.org
"Forgiveness in Jainism"