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