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What is possessiveness ?
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Non - possessiveness - a universal framework.

Detachment to one's possessions is an art to be mastered. Such an art has no pre-requisite
of philosophical knowledge or religious rituals. It only requires willingness.

The sādhanā, which emerges from within and becomes an integral part of being gives strength and enhances life. But the sādhanā, which has been imposed externally, is burdensome and hinders one's progress. Keeping this in mind, when an aspirant sets forth on the spiritual path, he must be ready from within. Only then must he tread this path.

For the aspirant who can effortlessly carry the responsibility of sādhanā, there is no question of doing it partially. He treads the path of complete sādhanā and is known as a sādhu. The aspirant who is caught in his worldly web and therefore cannot manage the circumstances effortlessly, treads the path of partial sādhanā and is known as a śrāvaka.

Even though the śrāvaka treads the path partially, his goal is the same as that of the sādhu's. He gradually moves towards complete sādhanā. Today we will reflect on the vow of limiting one's desires in the context of śrāvaka Ānanda's life.

We must reflect upon the question of what is possessiveness in itself. Is possessiveness restricted to only those objects that are obtainable, or can an unobtainable object also fall under the realm of possessiveness? Is a man's possessiveness to be gauged only by what he has already acquired or should we include all the objects of luxury in this world, which he might someday possess?

This question has been answered in Jainism and also in other schools of thought in a similar vein. Not just acquired objects, but even the desire for objects that are not in one's possession is considered as possessiveness. Thus objects possessed by a person as well as the desire for unacquired objects fall under the realm of possessiveness.
You may wonder how this is so. It is logical to categorize acquired objects under man's possessiveness. There is no contradiction in this. But how can the objects, which are not in possession fall under the realm of one's possessiveness? If the yearning for an unacquired object is considered possessiveness, is there any point in renouncing acquired objects?

I have reiterated time and again that Jainism is a religion that stresses on willingness. An aspirant is free to adopt the vows as much as he wishes, as much as his mind wills him to do. Lord Mahāvīra said:

Oh favourite of the Gods! Do not delay in accomplishing that which brings you joy.

If your mind is ready to spread its wings in flight and the time is ripe, then there must be no cause for delay. If you procrastinate, then it is possible that you might face a setback and change your mind. Therefore when inspired to perform a good deed, it is better to do it right away. This is the ideal.

Let us take the example of Ānanda. Although he had enormous wealth, Lord Mahāvīra did not ask him to relinquish any of it. The great seer knew that religious sentiment stems simply from willingness and not from coercion.

I find that coercion is not necessary in religion. The levels of penance and the quantum of charity performed by an individual must be guided by his own will. And he will be blessed with such spiritual powers, as he is ready for. If you have the inner strength, you may be able to transform his mind and help him grow, but you can do this only by motivating him, not by coercion. Coercion is violence.

In recent times coercion has become a part of religion, thereby causing a loss of faith in the hearts of people. Because of this, man has started perceiving religion as a burden. It has lost its glow and is no more a pillar of strength and comfort.

When religion is followed because of external pressure rather than an inner calling, it will not bring any light or joy. This is why all religions, traditions and cults prevalent today have lost their lustre. The suspicion with which they are scrutinized is due to coercive methods used by them. Religion cannot reside in unwillingness.

Lord Mahāvīra did not put any pressure on Ānanda to reduce his possessions. Ānanda only relinquished what was not his by curbing his greed for them. The question before us now is - how can those objects which are not in one’s possession be relinquished? And if such a possibility exists, then will such an act qualify as a worthy sacrifice? Ānanda's actions are quoted as an example of such a sacrifice. And more importantly, it was none other than Lord Mahāvīra himself who affirmed Ānanda's vow as a mighty one and listed him among the ten main śrāvakas. This confirms that his was not a sacrifice to be brushed aside as a mere whim nor an act of ego or deceit. Therefore we must reconsider and reframe our definition and understanding of possessiveness.

Is possessiveness the object or the desire for the object? The scriptures proclaim:

A limit must be set on desires.

Here the limit is not on objects, but on the desire of objects. First and foremost desire rises in the mind of man. This is followed by a resolve to acquire that which is desired. This is the sequence of possessiveness. If there is no desire, then there is no endeavour to acquire possessions. If there is desire, then all objects, acquired or unacquired, come under the purview of possessiveness.

For one whose life is dictated by desire, every act committed is one of possessiveness. On the other hand, he who is free of attachments and desires, will never be considered possessive even if he rules the entire world! Wherever desire exists, possessiveness exists.

Therefore, although Ānanda has not relinquished a single object from his possessions, he has nevertheless taken the vow of non-possessiveness as a śrāvaka. And this means that he has given up desire and attachment. Verily, desire is attachment.

During one of my discourses, a pertinent question was raised. A monk owns books to acquire knowledge, clothing to cover himself and utensils in which he accepts alms. He further admits disciples as part of his spiritual family. Among these, some are necessary for human existence and some for religious growth. The question posed to me was - if such possessions are permitted, then should not a monk also be considered possessive? In response, I again ask you the same question– is it the object or the desire for the object that gives rise to possessiveness? All religious and philosophical systems tell us that the monk who has a few material objects in his life cannot be considered possessive. This, of course, applies only to those monks who are true to their religious values, and not those who merely call themselves monks.

To reiterate my point, let me say this: If you have a son, it is possessiveness, but if the monk has a disciple, it is not possessiveness. Lord Mahāvīra had a family of 14,000 male and 36,000 female disciples, but that large family was not considered possessiveness. Yet, a man having just two sons is considered possessive. If you maintain a family name, then you are considered possessive as against the monk who has renounced his personal family to become part of a larger religious group. It is defi nitely a point to ponder upon.

So, it is noteworthy that it is not the object but the desire for the object that determines possessiveness. One may not yet have acquired a certain object, but if he is yearning for the object and constantly thinking of ways and means to acquire it, then he is caught in the web of possessiveness. He may have renounced the world, but if desire has not left his heart, he cannot be considered non-possessive, even if his external appearance may be that of a monk.

Once during our wanderings, we arrived at a village which had no followers of our religious sect. Therefore, fi nding someone to host our stay was impossible. With great diffi culty, we came upon the ruins of an old Shiva temple which was already inhabited by four other travellers.

Two out of these four travellers were companions and had been travelling together. They were not present when we reached there. A short while after we had settled down, when one of them returned, he discovered that he and his companion had been robbed of their belongings. He became extremely agitated and started cursing the villagers.

When his friend returned, he sobbed uncontrollably and said, Look at the misfortune this village has brought us. Some sinner has stolen all our belongings! Oh what will happen now?

His friend remembered a man sitting in a corner of the temple and felt quite certain that the theft was committed by him. But he also realized that they would never be able to trace him as he was a wanderer too. He gently turned to his agitated friend and consoled him saying, “It is alright my dear friend. He has taken our belongings, but not our destiny.”

When I heard this conversation, I fell into deep thought. What struck me was the extremely opposite reactions of the two individuals who had suffered the same loss. One was so attached to his possessions and the other so completely detached.

At another time during our sojourn at Mahendragadh, we came in contact with a renowned Vedāntist from that village. Although he was not in the habit of visiting monks, over time he began to enjoy discussing Jaina and Vedānta philosophies with us. This Vedāntist who also happened to be the village headman, had just one son. Once when his son fell very ill, he took him to big cities like Bombay and Calcutta and spared no expense in the hope of fi nding a cure for his son. The villagers asked, Is this what is taught in the Vedānta? I replied as gently as I could, As long as one is in this world, responsibilities have to be fulfi lled. How can a father be expected to allow his son to simply die? This is the way of the world.

Well, as fate had it, the boy did not survive his illness. On hearing the news of his demise the villagers thronged before the headman to offer their condolences. They cried saying, Oh Panditji! What a tragedy! You had just one son and how unfairly fate has snatched him away from you! And do you know what the wise one's reaction to their wailing was? With utmost dignity and tranquility he said to them, What can anyone do my brothers? As long as God willed my son to be a part of my life, he remained in that relationship. Now it was time for him to move on and so he has left. Therefore, dear people, I urge you not to cry for me. For what else can man do but try his best and leave the rest to the Almighty?

And, people were astounded to see that not a tear fell from his eyes. This is detachment of the highest order.

First and foremost, and most diffi cult of all, is arriving at a feeling of detachment to one's possessions. As attachment diminishes, so also does possessiveness. Detachment to one's possessions is an art to be mastered. Such an art has no prerequisite of philosophical knowledge or religious rituals. It only requires willingness to modify one's mindset and lifestyle. One who has mastered this art will have a fi rm grip on his emotions even in the most trying of situations. Birth and death, gain and loss, ups and downs, none of these will tear him apart. He will always remain detached. Neither can sorrow break such a man nor happiness overwhelm him.

A well known aquaintance of mine, Ratanlalji of Agra had to face a terrible tragedy. One day his son went for a swim in the Yamuna. Despite being a good swimmer he was unable to battle the strong currents and began to drown in the river. Somehow he was rescued and brought home, but his pulse was extremely feeble. Despite the best of medical care, he could not be saved. Ratanlalji was neither very old then nor a great philosopher. But when people went to pay their homage, they returned astounded. They had never seen a person who did not shed a tear on the demise of a son for whose future he had so many grand plans! He told them with equanimity, All who take birth in this world have to pass away from it too. In this life, we meet only to part. One of us had to depart fi rst and my son was the chosen one. After all, these matters are not in our hands!

We are mortal beings, made up of the elements, belonging to the earth, dependent on our steadily ticking heartbeats. So, what sense does it make to feel attachment to the material objects of this world when our very lives are so fragile that they can be snuffed out without a moments notice? What are these desires that we nurture for objects that are so transient? He who will smile at their arrival will weep at their departure. Therefore, he who does not welcome them eagerly nor let go of them sorrowfully is the one who has truly mastered the art of living. Such a person has no attachment and no greed. Impartiality is his armour; he is unaffected by any circumstance.

On the other hand, he who is controlled by desire and attachment can never find peace and straightforwardness. Such a person is consumed by petty misgivings. Moreover, he becomes bereft of any discrimination in matters of justice and injustice. Without any hesitation, he will use unlawful means to suit his end.

Listen to this incident from days gone by. A prince embraced monkhood and renounced all his luxuries and powers. When his subjects praised him for his great sacrifi ce, he simply said,Brothers, why are you praising me so much? What have I relinquished? Nothing at all!

His subjects remarked, “In a world where people hold on to every penny that they own, you have given up all. You are indeed noble-hearted that inspite of sacrifi cing all your material comforts you say you have relinquished nothing!

Do you know what the young prince replied? He said, There is no greatness in this. It is merely a matter of realization. One man has a small packet of poison and another has a sack full of poison. Both of them do not know that what they possess is poison and therefore they guard and protect it. But the day they realize that it is poison, will they delay in throwing it away? Now, if people say that the person with the sack has done a great sacrifi ce, is that true? I have also done the same thing. What I have given up is poison, and I have given it up for immortality. Therefore, what is so noble or great about what I have done?

On refl ection, this simple truth is obvious. But those who are proud of their sacrifices do not wait to refl ect. Instead they pass judgment based on material quantities. A man who has amassed great wealth is praised endlessly when he gives up a portion of it. But the poor man who relinquishes his meagre possessions goes unnoticed. Think about this. Do you not agree with me that the loss of one drop of blood is more signifi cant for an ant than the loss of hundred drops of blood for an elephant?

We must refl ect on this principle, for herein lies the truth of life which we must abide by. By passing judgment based on quantum of possessions, we are in fact aiding and abetting gross falsehood as a way of life. This is no way to fi nd solutions.

Once Lord Buddha visited the town of Vaiśālī. The people of the town thronged him for his blessings and in keeping with the tradition of those times, they offered him platters of pearls, diamonds and other riches. If one placed one's palm over a gift, it was considered a sign of acceptance.

When Buddha placed his palm over all the treasure, the people were happy indeed. Shortly, an old woman came by. She was the wife of a poor gardener. With much diffi culty, she had saved half a pomegranate. When she placed it before Buddha as a gift, he immediately placed both his palms over it.

Can you imagine the shock of the rich people present there? Feeling proud over the gifts they had just given, they asked each other, What is this? Our sacrifi ce of so much wealth was accepted with one palm where as this old woman's bit of pomegranate is greeted with both palms?

Finally one of them asked Buddha, Lord! Why have you given so much importance to this old woman’s meagre gift? The Buddha said with a smile, After giving up as much as you have done, you would still have a lot left to enjoy. But this old woman has given away all she had in that bit of fruit! Her sacrifi ce is greater than the relinquishing of an entire nation. Therefore, I placed both my palms on it.

And therefore I reiterate, it is not the object, which is important, it is the feeling and intention behind it, which is important. The basis of possessiveness is desire and not the object. An object has no value in itself.

It is common knowledge that all religions and cults of the world permit their monks to possess a few basic worldly objects. It is possible that some keep less and some a bit more. But no one can operate in the complete absence of these basic essentials. In the mind of the monk, these objects are treated with detachment. And this is the key. Absence of attachment is non-possessiveness. In fact, not just detachment towards objects, but even detachment towards disciples is necessary in this framework.

Once during his wanderings, Gaṇadhara Sudharmā Svāmī met an old woodcutter. All his hair had turned grey and his frail body barely seemed able to lift the bundle of wood on his head as he panted with its weight. Sudharmā Svāmī was touched by his piteous state. With compassion, he asked, Sir, may I ask you who you live with? How large is your family?” And thus the conversation began.

I am alone, there is nobody else in my life, the old man replied. What is your livelihood? asked the Svāmī. I chop wood and sell it to earn my living, he answered.

Do you have a house to stay in?

The old man smiled sadly, It could be called a house! It is nothing but a dilapidated shelter. Everytime it rains, the house is ruined and I set it right each time with some grass. This is my life and this is my work. So saying, the old woodcutter heaved a heavy sigh.

Sudharmā Svāmī asked him, Brother, will you live your entire life like this without earning any merit for your life after this one? You need some good deeds in your bag for your next life. Otherwise your condition there will be piteous indeed!

To this he responded, My entire life has been spent in providing food for myself. If I know no better, how can I do anything for my afterlife? Who will pave the path and provide shelter for a poor old man like me?

Listening to the pathetic story of the old man, Sudharmā Svāmī was deeply moved. He said, Oh good man! If you wish, the saṅgha (congregation) will give you shelter. You can become a monk and thereby perform deeds that will keep you in good stead for your afterlife. This was like a divine boon for the old man. With great happiness, he set off along with Sudharmā Svāmī as his disciple.

The question before us is whether this act of compassion by Sudharmā Svāmī is to be considered as possessiveness or greed to obtain one more disciple? No, his intention was not to obtain a disciple who would serve him and attend to his needs. Compassion for the old man was his impulse. His sole aim was to help the man to improve the quality of his life by offering him shelter and brotherhood in the congregation.

Once, Lord Mahāvīra was asked a question, “Can having a disciple be considered as possessiveness or not?”

He replied, “The answer lies in the intention rather than in the object, which in this case is the disciple. If a monk admits a disciple in the hope that the disciple will take care of his needs, will get him alms, will serve him well, then the presence of that disciple is a result of the monk’s possessiveness. But if the intention in admitting a disciple is to enrich the disciple’s life and ensure the smooth functioning of the congregation and other religious matters related to it, then the presence of such a disciple is not born from possessiveness.”

Good and evil have always co-existed like two sides of a coin from time immemorial. Whether it is the Golden age (satayuga) or the Corrupt age (kaliyuga), in every era, good and evil, both fi nd their roots. Rāma and Rāvana both were born in the same era. If it was the period of Rāma, it was also the period of Rāvana. The period of Krsnā was the period of Kamsa. The period of Dharmarāja was also the period of Duryodhana.

If one thinks about the injustices and tortures that have been committed in the past eras, one wonders why only the present era is called the corrupt age. In the Court of Duryodhana, before the noble leaders of the country and before Dharmarāja himself, an attempt was made to undress a royal lady as respectable as Draupadī. All these eras are but imaginary boundaries of time created by man for practical purposes. In reality, our very own life is a blend of the golden age and the corrupt age. If truth exists in our life, the golden age is prevalent even today; and if evil exists, it is the corrupt age. To justify our wrong actions, we may blame it on the era, but no man can escape the nemesis of his own deeds. Just because it is the corrupt age, will you be forgiven your wrong doings? It is not as if a different sun and moon existed in the golden age and a different one in this corrupt age. The sun and the moon are the same, and so is the wind. The laws of nature are the same. Mankind is the same.

Often it is seen that a person who falls prey to a bad habit, justifi es it by saying, “This habit exists in others as well!” He may think that in doing so, he can escape the repercussions of it, but a negative act will always yield negative results. We are always tolerant of our weaknesses and use others as a justifi cation for our actions, but if a bad habit exists in many, it still remains bad, does it not?

We all have double standards. But we must be watchful of that. If you cannot tolerate a particular trait in your neighbour, don’t tolerate it in yourself as well. It is not criticism of others, but self-criticism that will benefi t you in the long run. When you see your neighbour who, despite being wealthy, is caught in the web of desire, you begin to emulate him. Desire becomes your mistress too and you get trapped in the web of accumulation. You justify your desire by comparing it to his. But this is not the ideal of life. It is not in imitating others, but in refl ecting on your own actions that spiritual heights can be attained.

The maze of desires is so complex that one can never get out of it unless one adopts the path of non-possessiveness. If you understand that there is no peace to be found in this maze, that not just one lifetime but an endless cycle of rebirths cannot fulfi l all your desires, then you will have no need to emulate those ignorant souls who, like moths to a fl ame, are attracted to the objects of their desires. Therefore, always follow the path of introspection rather than that paved by others. Do not imitate blindly, but be watchful of your own self. For that will be the true enlightened path that others will want to emulate as well.

Peer pressure is the main cause of greed and possessiveness in today’s world. Each person is striving to be wealthier than the other. It is this desire that has made the universe a playground for confl icts. It has spread its ugly tentacles of unrest not just amongst individuals, but into entire nations. And the consequences stand clearly before us. There is no peace or joy at any level.

Of course, there are those who say that contentment is the escape route for impotent persons. They claim that contentment makes man dull, lazy and inactive, thereby creating an obstacle to life’s progress.

But all I say is that the supporters of materialism are unaware of the art of living. They have not recognized the true essence of life. Obsessed with material gain and progress, they have ignored the importance of peace and contentment in life.

Permit me to explain my view. With the passage of infi nite years in time, man’s struggles will only weigh him down further. As competitiveness and peer pressure increase, levels of stress are only bound to be heightened. So, where contentment has no place, how can rest abide? To run and to continue running will become one’s destiny and man will not fi nd even a moment’s respite to assess what the results of his actions are?

To think of contentment as the quality of cowards is a mark of extreme ignorance. To draw a line of control across one’s desires is never easy because, for that, one has to control one’s innermost self. To control the inner self is no child’s play. It is not a task that cowards can undertake. It requires great courage. The religious scholars have stated:

A person can conquer any number of warriors in a battlefield, but a true warrior is he who can conquer the inner self. It is the greatest of victories, a victory true in spirit. What better example than the mighty Rāvana. Many great warriors in this world have admitted that he was an extraordinary warrior of his time. But even he could not control his inner being, nor his desires. As a result of this weakness he had to face death. He led his family and nation to great shame and destroyed himself because of his discontentment.

Rāvana’s story is pre-historic; leave it aside for the time being. Look at the life of Hitler, a great warrior of modern times. Hitler and his nation had no real need to establish their sovereignity over the whole of Europe. Still he led a campaign for victory and won over many smaller nations. But as he acquired more and more, his greed kept increasing.5 Finally his discontentment led him to Russia which turned out to be his last journey. A journey of absolute failure and loss.

If a person as powerful as Hitler could not exercise control over his desires, can you imagine how difficult this conquest is? Therefore, is it justified to classify contentment as a mark of cowardice? On the contrary, it is a distinguishing mark of the true warrior. It is the quality that makes life worthwhile at a personal as well as a universal level.

Contentment emerges when a person wants to conquer his desires and the fi rst step in this journey is to move with confidence towards limiting one’s desires. If you wish to lead a life of contentment, if you wish to live peacefully, then there is only one path – the path of limiting desires (icchā parimāna). Those who have tread upon this path have made their own lives glorious as well as the lives of others in their vicinity. This is the path of Lord Mahāvīra. This is the path of renunciation. This is the path of sādhanā.
Published By " Sugal & Damani Family "