|THE CANVAS OF LIFE IS LARGER
THAN THE ‘SELF’
Possessiveness resides not in objects, but in
thoughts. It is an impulse, an impure state of internal
When consciousness brands
external objects with the labels of desire
with the labels of yours and mine, they become
objects of possessiveness, not otherwise.
|In Lord Mahāvīra’s reflections, non-possessiveness
found as much importance as non-violence. Wherever he has spoken about
abstinence from violence, he has propogated abstinence from possessiveness
as well. Primarily violence is committed only for possessions, therefore,
non-possessiveness is the sādhanā that complements
What is possessiveness? Our instant response to this question is that
if wealth, clothes, property, family and our bodies are possessions,
then possessing all of these is possessiveness. The obvious question
that follows is: If all of these objects lead to possessiveness, then
how can one renounce them and still continue to live? For example, even
though our body is a possession, can we renounce it and continue to
live? So, in this context, the ideal of non-possessiveness becomes an
impossibility. Religious discourses that preach impractical ideals are
meaningless. They serve no purpose at all.
Lord Mahāvīra has answered every question with the vision
of many-pointedness (anekāntavāda). Regarding possessiveness,
he said that material objects, and also one’s body and family
fall under the category of possessiveness, and yet they do not. When
asked, “Is an object possessiveness?” he stated, “It
is and it is not.” Does family fall under the category of possessiveness?
It does and it does not. Is the body in the purview of possessiveness?
It is and it is not. These cannot be counted as possessiveness, because,
they are but objects. Possessiveness is an impulse, an impure state
of internal consciousness. It is when consciousness brands external
objects with the labels of desire and attachment, with the labels of
yours and mine, that they become objects of possessiveness, not otherwise.
|What this implies is that possessiveness resides not in objects, but
in thoughts. Here we see a clear distinction between graha and parigraha,
between possessions and possessiveness.‘Graha’ means to
acquire an object in measured quantity and to use it appropriately.
On the contrary, ‘parigraha’ means to acquire objects indiscreetly
without making any distinction between appropriate and inappropriate.
Even in the absence of an object, if an intense craving for the object
exists, then it is counted as possessiveness. Therefore, Lord Mahāvīra
proclaimed: Attachment is possessiveness. The aspirant who is free of
attachment, is non-possessive even if he is seated on heaps of gold
and silver. Non-possessiveness is detachment or indifference.
Desire is the greatest bondage of all, the utmost cause for suffering.
One who defeats desire attains liberation. Freedom from desire is freedom
from the world. Therefore, Mahāvīra spoke about restraint
on desires and ambitions as being the first and foremost goal. There
are many spiritual seekers who have such a focused consciousness that
they overcome all their desires, adopt the path of restraint and renunciation,
and tread the path of absolute non-possessiveness. But non-possessiveness
is not the sādhanā only for the monks. To give it a social
context, it has been structured in a manner that it is easy to adopt
by a householder as well. Thus, the Great Seer cast aside the narrow
and static definition of non-possessiveness and redefined it in a dynamic,
Mahāvīra stated that if it is not possible for a person to
forsake all his desires and attachments, he can still gradually reduce
his attachments with sādhanā. By limiting his desires, he
can become a seeker of non-possessiveness.
Desires are endless like the sky. If you allow them more space in your
life, they will invade your peace, thereby resulting in greater sorrow
and unrest. If desires are controlled, worries and unrest will also
reduce. To set a control on desires, Mahāvīra propounded the
vow of limiting desires. This vow is another way of shedding ownership.
When the householder Ānanda of Vaiśālī appeared
before Lord Mahāvīra to adopt the vow of limiting desires,
Mahāvīra explained to him, “Oh Ānanda! Limit your
wants. Distribute your excessive wealth and possessions at least in
part, if not completely. Beyond a stipulated limit, do not lay claim
on wealth and property. Similarly, free even your pets and domestic
helpers from the unlimited rights that you have claimed over them.”
This was the pure inspiration to shed ownership, which successfully
triumphed over many of the discrepancies prevalent in society due to
wealth. When a person relinquishes his rights over excess wealth and
property, then it is free to belong to society and nation. Thus automatically
begins an internal process of social evolution and progress.
I have reiterated in many of my discourses that socialization is an
important process in human evolution. A person who has a broad outlook
is social by nature. According to sociology, one who is not socially
sensitive is not considered a complete person. That man is a social
animal is a principle that is unanimously and universally accepted.
At the core of this principle lies the fact that a man cannot live without
society. Sociologists make a clear distinction between man’s status
as a social being and his behavioural patterns. They say that terming
man as a social animal does not necessarily mean that he is a cultured
and wellmannered at all times. Human beings are considered social because
they need and desire human contact and company. Owing to certain circumstances,
a person may stay in isolation for a short period, but he cannot live
without human contact for an extended period of time. This impulse or
need to be part of a group is man’s innate quality. A human being
is a part and parcel of society.
Working together, nurturing the feeling of collective responsibility
and working towards the welfare of others defines the purview of socialism.
Even if an individual begins life in a selfish and self-centered manner,
he learns social consciousness and develops a sense of responsibility.
According to the principles of sociology, in the formative years of
life, narrow, egoistic and selfish desires reign high. Some of these
even remain till the end of one’s life. In fact some of these
are so primary and internalized that man spends his entire life in controlling
and justifying them. Some thinkers say that socialization is an act
in society where an individual tries to make an impression on his fellow
companions, as a result of which different social behaviours gain acceptability
and are harmonized. We can look at socialization from two view points
– first, where society
influences the individual and second, where an individual reacts to
society. In the first instance, this is a process by which society imparts
culture over generations and by accepting and affirming the collective
social life, harmonizes the individual. It aims at developing those
qualities, talents and disciplines of an individual which are necessary
to him as a social being. These help to internalize and express specific
ambitions, values and lifestyle of the individual which are unique to
his particular society. Thus, individuals learn to perform certain social
activities which are necessary in order to be an integral part of their
specifi c societies. This is an infl uence not just on those children
and outsiders who enter society for the first time, but every member
of the society.
From the second point of view, i.e. where an individual reacts to society,
socialization happens when a person living in a society adopts the conduct,
behaviour and habits of that society in smaller or larger measures.
Every person begins to live according to the rules of society from childhood.
A person who lives outside tries to adopt the ways of his new society.
This is a life-long process. Wherever he goes and wherever he stays,
he adopts the values of that society. Whatever good or bad we see in
a person’s life is not just his own, but largely adopted from
the environment in which he lives. The manner in which he understands
his present from his past experiences and faces his future is an expression
of his socialization.
This does not mean that he does not learn anything personally. He does.
But most of what he learns are direct or indirect influences of his
social interactions. This process of socialization is very rarely a
generalized one. Discrepancies in attitudes and behaviour are always
there. For example, a person may be able to socialize well with certain
groups but not with some others. He may be a compassionate father and
husband, but antisocial towards his servants and subordinates. On the
other hand there are others who are selfi sh and unjust towards family
and neighbours, but kind and generous towards their customers and clients.
In a certain sense, socialization means involving oneself in social
activities. The aim of socialization is to establish unity in diversity.
The pillar of society is built with the bricks of independent beings.
To cement them together for the overall welfare of both society and
the individual is the true purpose of socialization.
Those who study sociology are well aware of the benefits of socialization.
In my own view, one who cannot socialize leads a burdensome life. Happiness
lies in the merging of one’s personality for the collective life
of society. The process of socialization can differ between societies
because of differences in time or circumstances. However, it has and
will always play a vital role in the evolution of mankind. Until the
emotion of social benefit does not rise in the individual, he cannot
be an integral part of society. A person of healthy social mentality
will not undertake any work which will not benefi t society. He gives
greater importance to social good rather than to personal gain.
The question is, what are the tools of socialization? A social outlook
and social feelings. Each and every interaction between individuals
is a step towards socialization. For example, for a new born baby, this
process occurs within the family. As he grows and develops, his life
gets connected with many groups. A child’s initial contact is
with the mother, then father, siblings and relatives. The same child
grows up and socializes within towns, cities and then with the nation.
When another nation attacks us and we find our country in danger, our
social and patriotic impulses are stirred and we are ready to sacrifi
ce our all for the nation. This is the highest form of the individual’s
socialization. Even though our country has many castes, communities
and classes, yet in the process of larger socialization, we have established
unity in diversity because our common welfare lies in the protection
and order of the nation. When danger strikes we forget our differences
and become one. How does this happen? It happens because of socialization.
the process of socialization develops in the individual, his life moves
from personal to collective.
Just as there are tools that facilitate socialization, there are obstacles
that hinder socialization. When this happens, the social growth of the
individual gets arrested. However clever, intelligent and resourceful
a person may be, if he cannot socialize and imbibe the qualities of
his society and culture, he will be unable to specialize in any field
of society. And when a person cannot specialize, how can he become successful?
Specialization in any particular field is essential for socialization.
It is a power which affirms and enhances a person’s personality.
However, specialization must be devoid of pride and ego. Pride is the
most universal obstacle in the path of an individual’s socialization.
Whether a person is in the family, community or nation, he must think
that his life is not just for himself, but for a larger structure. Just
as sugar dissolves in a cup of milk, a droplet does not ask for an independent
existence within the ocean. So also an individual who understands the
larger framework of society will not demand an autonomous existence,
rather he will realize that it is in the welfare of society at large
that his personal welfare lies too.
Some thinkers argue that society exists for the welfare of the individual,
but an individual does not exist for the welfare of society. What this
means is that when an individual hands over the reigns of his life to
society, then society will in turn provide ample happiness to him. In
my view, the happiest society is that where individuals believe in and
respect the welfare of all. Always remember that in the welfare of society
lies your own welfare and likewise, in the destruction of society lies
your own downfall. To work for the welfare of society is every individual’s
duty. Until social feelings do not evolve in an individual, he cannot
become strong. What is the existence and identity of a mere drop of
water? But when that same drop merges into the ocean, it is transformed
from small to mighty. The personality of a person develops in socialization.
In today’s age, socialism is an important issue. The very mention
of it is irksome to those who fear that with the advent of socialistic
ideals in their society they would have to forfeit their personal wealth;
for the ideal of socialism does not believe in individual property.
Despite these misgivings, strangely enough, we see the influence of
socialism, democracy and equality in the world today. There are so many
different views regarding socialism that it is difficult to define its
boundary. The socialists are divided amongst themselves – infact,
it is difficult to say who is a socialist and who is not. In my view,
socialism is a principle which has expressed itself as a political movement.
It is however an economic movement as well. The political and economic
principles of socialism are integrated in such a manner that a clear
division cannot be made between them.
Socialism is like a hat which has lost its shape because it has been
worn by all. Regarding socialism, Ācārya Narendra Dev says,
“Socialism desires to establish a society free of exploitation,
rid it of the prevalent slavery, class differences and the resulting
intolerances thereof. It aims to establish equality, equanimity and
brotherhood.” But remember that brotherhood is born and develops
in a place where collective and social impulses have developed in individuals.
A scholar once said, “Socialism works in two places – in
beehives and anthills.” What this means is that honeybees and
ants have strong collective social structures. Karl Marx has said that
socialism aims to take man from helplessness to the world of independence.
Thus we see differing views on socialism. But still we have to think
about what socialism offers to society and the inherent need for every
society to adopt it in today’s world.
So what is socialism? This question is answered by calling it an ideal,
a perspective and a way of life. In the present era, particularly in
politics, socialism is a belief, a vibrant human revolution. If its
political structure, as conceived by its believers and followers can
be established in its true form in society, it will be a great blessing,
never a curse. What does socialism require? This question is answered
by saying that the basic requirement of socialism is to create a system
whereby there is equal and fair distribution of land and property. It
desires that society as a collective whole shares equal responsibility
and power. The aim of socialism is the establishment of a classless
society. It aims to organize society in a manner that will end the exploitation
of one class by another, so that society will become a congregation
of individuals based on co-operation and coexistence, where the progress
of one individual will naturally mean the progress of another –
where all will live together as a collective group. Socialism always
prioritizes the collective rather than the individual. It ends exploitation
of all kinds and ensures advancement of all.
I do not want you to think that I am justifying socialism as a political
policy to you. Today’s age is the age of politics. Therefore,
it has become a common practice to look at every principle from a political
perspective. This does not mean that socialism did not exist before
this era. The kings in the times of Mahāvīra and Buddha were
democratic in their approach to governance. Republicanism is an ancient
form of socialism. In the present era, Mahatma Gandhi established sarvodaya
and Ācārya Vinoba Bhave gave it a detailed and refined definition.
Again, this does not mean that sarvodaya did not exist earlier. Much
before Gandhi, the great Ācārya Samantbhadra of Jaina culture
used this term to explain Mahāvīra’s social and religious
systems of tīrtha and saṅgha. What the Ācārya meant
is that in Mahāvīra’s tīrtha and saṅgha lies
the welfare, growth and evolution of all. Sarvodaya can never happen
just for one society, one community or one caste. Where everyone’s
enhancement occurs, sarvodaya resides. In my own view, where the doctrines
of non-violence and non-absolutism exist, there lies true socialism,
true democracy and true sarvodaya. Today’s socialism which rests
on economy cannot provide a holistic answer because issues of existence
and life cannot be solved by economic issues alone. For that, religion
and spirituality are also needed. Food is not the only primary question.
There is an issue larger than food, which is that an individual must
recognize himself and understand his boundaries. If a person cannot
know himself and his limits, then the concepts of socialization, socialism
and sarvodaya are meaningless and futile for him. Society can prosper
only when individuals know their limits.
So how do we reduce the excesses in our lives, how can we limit our
boundaries? As long as we have a living body, how can we be free of
pleasures? Mahāvīra never spoke about man’s liberation
from necessities. He propitiated liberation only from unnecessary luxuries.
Therefore, he propounded the vow of limiting resources, not of relinquishing
all resources necessary for living.
Enjoyment is the root of possessiveness. As soon as enjoyment gets limited
within a boundary, possessiveness also gets limited. Thus, the vow of
limiting the objects for one’s use automatically leads to the
vow of non-possessiveness.
Mahāvīra established the vow of limiting directions and geographical
boundaries (diśā parimāṇa) as well. He also laid
emphasis on the vow of imposing further restrictions only for a limited
period of time. This included denying concessions in other vows (deśāvakāsika
vrata). Thus vows were arranged to facilitate following them in holistic
manner. These vows were aimed at bringing about reformation and thereby
a reduction in political and commercial exploitation between neighbouring
villages, towns and even states, thus nurturing human society at large.
Mahāvīra was opposed to the ideology of striving more than
required to fulfil one’s desires. Such excessive effort, he believed,
was bound to overstep on another’s boundaries, expectations and
circumstances. Mahāvīra’s vision was to create a society
free of exploitation.
How can we overcome possessiveness? Mahāvīra observed that
most people in exchange for charity, desire fame, popularity, power
and heaven too. But charity should not be contaminated with an expectation
to be rewarded. Such charity does nothing to eradicate poverty in society
and in fact, increases the pride and arrogance of people. Mahāvīra
regarded this mentality of charity as negative. Simply giving something
to someone does not qualify as charity. Giving without expectations,
distributing wealth for social upliftment, to give away with the feeling
of brotherhood is true charity. He pronounced: Both beget a noble birth:
a householder who gives alms selflessly and a monk who is detached.
When a benefactor gives out of compassion and caring, without feeling
trapped by greed or worldly gain, then his charity is indeed true charity.
The actual intention of charity is distribution. Lord Mahāvīra
There is no liberation for one who does not distribute his wealth wisely.
Can we also become non-possessive in our thoughts? Lord Mahāvīra
also closely examined the primary concept of nonpossessiveness as pertaining
to the mind. He said that every thought emerging from one’s ego
and every expression of attachment is nothing but possessiveness. All
mental compulsions and false beliefs, such as one caste being superior
to another, any 1 muhādāī muhājīvī, do
vigacchanti soggaiṁ --- Daśvaikālika Sūtra 2 asamvibhāgī
na hu tassa mokkho -- Daśvaikālika Sūtra particular language
being purer than another, differentiation in the status of men and women
based on their physicality and forced traditional rituals were labeled
by Mahāvīra as deepseated possessiveness. He encouraged freedom
from them. He clearly stated that humanity is one. It has no distinctions
and disparities such as caste, society or nation. No single language
can be considered as pure and eternal. Man and woman are the same; no
one is superior to the other. Thus, all societal and caste distinctions
were described by Mahāvīra as conditional and unnatural.
Lord Mahāvīra’s reflections on non-possessiveness can
be summed up in five major conclusions:
1. regulation of desires.
2. shedding ownership of resources that are beneficial to society.
3. establishment of a society free of exploitation.
4. detached distribution of one’s resources for humane causes.
5. spiritual purification.
Thus we see that Lord Mahāvīra helped raise the human consciousness
from the platform of personal attachment to social altruism, and thereby,
a purer state of detachment and non-possessiveness.