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What is possessiveness ?
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When desires are limited, needs also get limited; when needs get limited, then confl icts,
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Moving beyond conflicts leads to peace, happiness and joy.

The root of all adversities lies in unrestrained and unharnessed desires. Desires give rise to the tendency of possessiveness which in turn entangles man in the web of passions. He is now helpless, and all the wisdom and logic of life disappears into thin air. Therefore, the primary aim of an aspirant is to exercise control and conquer desires.

The path prescribed for such an endeavour is the icchā parimāṇa vrata or the vow of limiting desires.

Great thinkers have compared the human mind to the sea. Just as innumerable waves rise and fall tirelessly, their rhythmic sound an affirmation of their ceaseless activity, so also thoughts and emotions splash against the shores of the mind making it a hub of activity. Currents of resolve and conflict clash endlessly here, creating gushing whirlpools of joy and sorrow.

Just as the sea is infinite, so also is the mind. There is no end to its thought-processes, to its desires and wishes. Therefore the Ācāryas have compared it to an ocean to explain its all - importance.

When we compare the mind to an ocean, the question rises – just as we can see the ocean and witness the strange phenomenon of rising waves joyfully playing on its chest, can we also see the mind and its ceaseless activities? Where is this mind? What is its form?

All these questions present themselves before us like mysteries which are difficult to fathom. For some understanding of these mysteries, let us look into the tendencies of the mind.

According to the school of Yogā, there is an eight-leaved lotus in the heart and this is where the mind resides. Science, however, does not accept the existence of this eight-leaved lotus. Others have likened the mind to an atom (paramāṇu), which resides in the heart.

The Jaina Ācāryas have stated that the mind is extremely subtle. It does not reside in any one bodily part, but is allpervasive. Just as butter resides in every drop of milk, as fragrance resides in every petal of a flower, so also the mind pervades the entire body.

When a thorn pricks us, we instantly cry out in pain, our eyes start watering and our thoughts get numbed for that moment. If the mind were located in one particular place, then the entire system would not vibrate with such a response. When one part of the body experiences pleasure or pain, heat or cold, the body responds in its totality.

This power to experience feelings as a whole proves that the mind resides in the entire body. It is stated in the scriptures:

Where there is air, the mind is there too.

But the question does not end here. What is the form of the mind? Is it inert matter or is it a conscious centre?

The Jaina studies have given a detailed analysis of the mind. The mind is considered to be gross as well as subtle. The former is known as the physical mind (dravya mana) and the latter as the psychical mind (bhāva mana). This is the two-fold classifi cation of the mind in Jaina philosophy.

The power to experience and to feel pertains to the psychical mind. Without the psychical mind, the physical mind has no basis. All experiences and thoughts emerging from desires and wants, resolves and conflicts, find their substratum in the psychical mind. While describing the form of the mind, the scriptures say that the mind is like a swing oscillating between hopes and desires. And no single object is ever the cause of these endless desires.3 The mind is in fact the birthplace of these wants, cravings and ambitions which take birth and fade away only to be replaced by newer wants.

The question is – will this cycle of desires and resolves that emerge in the mind keep on churning without a beginning or an end? Can the thought-waves of the mind be restrained by the barriers of detachment? Can the waves of strange and restless emotions ever reach a peaceful end? Is it possible to reach a state which is free of desires and resolves? The scriptures describe a state of complete cessation of desires, a state of absolute detachment, but they also state that attaining such a state cannot happen all at once. It is not possible to combat the mind so easily. In the Bhagavad Gītā, Arjuna says:

Oh Kṛṣṇā! The mind is fickle, turbulent and unyielding. To control it, I think, is as difficult as controlling the wind.

Truly, to control the mind is as enormous a challenge as climbing the Himalayas. Before scaling the lofty Himalayas, it is essential to practice scaling smaller mountains to gain confidence and strength. Similarly, one can only reach the state of detachment after the mind has learnt to resolve confl icts by analysis and clear thought. Before forsaking desires completely, we have to set a limit on desires. Then we can move on to the higher goal of complete renunciation.

Icchā parimāṇa is the segregation of desires and the marking of their boundaries. What is essential for an aspirant is to acrue the wisdom to know the difference between those wants that are necessities and those that are whims of the restless mind. There are many such hopes and wants which are in reality quite useless, which neither have a direct bearing on life, nor any utility for existence. These wants and the hope to acquire them are as tempting as the elusive golden deer of the Rāmāyana.

Primarily, we have to take stock of our desires. Once we have prioritized them, we have to forsake the ones that are unnecessary. This relinquishing of the unnecessary is described as the vow of icchā parimāṇa in the Jaina tradition. It clearly states that there are infinite desires in the mind which have to be limited, which have to be controlled. Desires are like an unbridled horse, like an elephant out of control. When you harness desires, they will remain within a well-defined periphery. It is desire that gives rise to possessiveness. Verily, desire is possessiveness. When desires get limited, possessions will get limited.

Jainism does not believe that objects are the cause for possessiveness. In the true sense, the desire to possess them is possessiveness. Lord Mahāvīra calls this as ‘mucchā pariggaho’– attachment is possessiveness. A similar vein can be seen in Ācārya Umāsvāti’s Sanskrit verse – ‘mūrcchā parigrahaḥ’. Mūrcchā means attachment, where ‘I’ and ‘mine’ dominate. The tendency to connect an object with the mind, and induce the feeling of‘mine’ in it is possessiveness. The Jaina philosophy describes desire as avirati (attachment), while virati means disinterest and detachment.

Attachment resides within the tumultous gushing sea of desires. The Ācāryas have explained attachment through a comparison made between a worm and an emperor.

The worm spends its life crawling in filth and darkness. On the other hand, an emperor rules over vast kingdoms and spends his life in the expansion of his territory. Ponder a while and answer this – which among the two is more possessive?

You might wonder at such a strange comparison. After all, what does the worm possess? Neither material objects nor a large body, not even longevity! To compare it with the enormous kingdom and wealth of an emperor seems ridiculous, does it not?

But herein lies the impartiality of Jainism. It places both of them on the same platform. If you reflect, you will understand that both are equals as far as their tendency of attachment goes. The wisdom to set a limit on one’s desire is not exercized by either of them. Let me explain this further.

Does a worm have the power to think? If it cannot think, how can it have desires? I am sure these are the questions in your mind. It is true that a worm has neither mind nor imagination. But what if it did? If it could think like a human being, if it had imagination and if you then asked it what it desires, what do you think its answer would be? Let me assure you that its desires would be no less than a king’s desires. But in its present form, it does not possess the adequate mental faculties to so desire. Therefore, its desires are dormant and inactive.

Would you call this sacrifice? Would you consider this as a victory over desires? It is obvious that this is not an expression of inner strength but a lack of power. Powerlessness to obtain or utilize something cannot be considered as sacrifi ce or abstinence. It is a state of dependence and helplessness.

Non-usage or non-possession of objects cannot be considered as sacrifice unless it is voluntary. How can helplessness be mistaken for abstinence?

Imagine that a person is sick, he has ulcers in his stomach and is suffering from indigestion. He cannot digest fatty foods like sweets, milk or dry fruits. The doctor has warned him that if he eats any of these things, his ailments will only increase and it would be all the more difficult to take care of his health. Therefore, he eats only simple food.

Tell me, would you call him a renouncer? Would it not be obvious to you that this is no sacrifice? If he has given up eating certain foods it is only because he is helpless due to his ill-health. Since he cannot digest certain foods, he cannot eat them. This is restraint born from fear of suffering. It is not renunciation. At the moment, he is helpless. Circumstances have forced him to give up whatever he desires. His desire to eat has not abated, but the desire for good health has made him give up rich food temporarily. He is not joyous about giving up rich food, in fact, it fi lls him with sorrow and craving.

Let us consider another example. A businessman goes abroad to earn money. He leaves behind his family, the love and affection of his wife, children, parents and relatives. In the new place far from home, he faces many problems. He finds almost no time to eat or drink, nor does he get proper accommodation. In this manner, he encounters innumerable difficulties, similar to those a monk would face or may be more.

So what is this? Is this penance? Is it a step towards spiritual development? Unfortunately it is nothing as lofty. All these difficulties are borne with the aim of achieving a reward of pleasure. Sacrificing something for material pleasure cannot be called renunciation.

Once, after spending the caturmāsa in Calcutta, we went to Orissa. After crossing a vast mountain range, we reached a small village at the base of the mountain. It was an area of dense forest inhabited by tribals far removed from civilization, who hunted their prey with bows and arrows.

Amidst such a scenario, we managed to unearth the address of a Rajasthani brother and found our way to his home. He was delighted to see us and welcomed us with much warmth. He said, “Mahārāj, how fortunate I am that you have come to my humble dwelling!” He gave us a place to stay and was very respectful and hospitable.

As conversation began, we asked him, “How is it that you have chosen to reside in such a strange place amidst forests and jungle folk?” We were truly perplexed.

He was from Alwar, Rajasthan. He said, “How does a place matter? What one needs is money. If I can earn in hell, I will start a shop there too.” All of us burst into laughter at his answer - it was a strange reply. He continued, “Mahārāj, the living conditions are pathetic here. But I have to earn my livelihood. It is to fill this stomach that I am staying away from home. Transport facilities are not good here, tribal colonies are so close that anything can happen any time. Life is quite unpredictable. Nevertheless, I earn well here. So I decided to live amidst these insecurities, with my life in my fist, so to speak.”

What a strange state of life! How many sacrifices man is willing to make for the sake of wealth! However, this sacrifice is not for renunciation, but for the reward of enjoyment. The platform of renunciation and sacrifice for a higher cause is not yet achieved.

Are you now beginning to comprehend why the platform of renunciation is such a high and lofty one and why the control of desires is considered such a profound thought? The message is clear. We must learn to overcome desires rather than be enslaved by them.

As long as desires are unrestrained, the state of the emperor and that of the worm are one and the same. Therefore, Lord Mahāvīra says that if you relinquish any object dear to you without expecting rewards for it, only then is your sacrifice a true one.

When one has the will and the power to acquire whatever one desires and yet exercises control over these desires, then such a person is considered a true renouncer. Otherwise, as an ancient proverb states: Helplessness creates many saints. Their sacrifices have no worth. Renunciation exists in the control of desires.

The primary question before us is the control of desires. Imagine that you are hungry. You eat a simple meal to satiate your hunger. Now you go to the market and see a sweet shop. An array of sweets and savouries are on display and your mouth begins to water. You wish to satisfy your craving, but find yourself helpless – either because of ill health or an empty pocket. Yet the desire remains and makes you restless.

This is the platform for the analysis of desires. What is a desire and what is a necessity? Without eating bread, life cannot be sustained. But what about sweets? While the desire for bread is a necessity, the desire for sweets is an indulgence. Therefore, the restlessness over sweets is unnecessary. We can protect ourselves from this sorrow by the control of desires. This is the path of austerity.

History repeatedly shows us how the greatest of emperors were not satisfied with all their possessions and spent their lives in the pursuit of desires. Rāvaṇa had such a big harem, so many queens, each one more beautiful than the other. Yet his mind was not satisfied and he craved for Sītā. What did he fi nd? Not Sītā, but his doom.

Another story that I like to recount from Jaina history is that of King Kūṇika. The son of King Śreṇika, the maternal grandson of King Ceṭaka of Vaiśālī, he was a devotee of Lord Mahāvīra. He employed many people and paid them well to bring news about Lord Mahāvīra’s well being. Unless he was assured that his Lord was well, he would not partake of water or food. Such was his ardent devotion. But he had many flaws in his character. He was extremely self-indulgent, headstrong and greedy.

King Kūṇika had a younger brother who owned two priceless possessions - an elephant and a necklace. Kūṇika’s queen, Padmāvatī, had an eye on the necklace and the elephant. For her, the entire kingdom was worthless without these two possessions. The king loved her and was so blinded by his love for her that he lost his sense of discrimination and duty. He asked his brother for the necklace and the elephant although it was an inappropriate demand.

How can anyone suddenly relinquish their rights over much-cherished objects? Through eons of time, only one such as Bhīṣma or Rāma is born, who can sacrifice their kingdomsand themselves for the happiness of others. The prince was stunned by such a demand on the part of his brother, the King. Realizing that the palace was unsafe for him after refusing such a demand, he stealthily left his brother’s kingdom and went to Vaiśālī which was under the rule of his maternal grandfather Cetaka.

Kūnika sent a messenger to king Cetaka, asking for the prince to be returned to him along with the elephant and the necklace. Ceṭaka responded fearlessly to such an unjust demand saying, “Is your greed not fulfilled even with such an enormous kingdom that you are now attempting to snatch away your brother’s rights? This is injustice of the highest order. The republic of Vaiśālī has always supported justice and protected those who have sought refuge within its walls.”

Well, the obvious outcome of this was war. Kūṇika plunged into the battlefield with his army. On the other side, Ceṭaka prepared for war with the eighteen democratic states of Kāśī Kauśala.

King Ceṭaka was a follower of non-violence, and abhorred bloodshed. But if the call of duty led him to battle, he was ready for that as well. He believed that to tolerate injustice is an injustice in itself. He adhered to the rules of right and lawful battle. He had vowed that he would attack only in defense or to vanquish injustice and never to wage war on the innocent. When such humane values are incorporated in war it makes it a religious battle, that which is done for the sake of duty.

The land of Vaiśālī became drenched in gory bloodshed. Within ten days Ceṭaka’s arrows became the death sentence of the ten princes. The battlefi eld became a burial ground.

Kūṇika began to lose heart. His friends from his previous incarnation, Śakrendra and Camarendra, gave him sound advice, “It is diffi cult for you to win this battle with Ceṭaka; particularly when right is not on your side. Please refrain from this stubborn attitude”, they implored.

But Kūṇika was not prepared to listen to anyone. When the mind has gone astray, the best of advice has only reverse effects. He said, “I don’t want advice, I want only help. Help me in this battle and victory will be mine.” Thus, he remained stubborn. It is a long and terrible story, but what we must reflect on is this - what did Kūṇika eventually gain after so much struggle? A defeated Vaiśālī and heaps of dead soldiers. A victory which is much more dreadful than defeat. You will not find another instance of human slaughter of such magnitude in the history of ancient times, apart from the battle of the Mahābhārata.

What was the root of such a tragedy? One unrestrained, uncontrolled desire! A thoughtless greed which had no necessity or importance in life. Just think, did Kūṇika’s kingdom lack in elephants? Or necklaces? So why was such a terrible battle waged? Just to satiate his blatant desires? The battle of desires was not won even after the bloodshed of lakhs of innocent people. The lust for wealth, woman and land has always sown the seed for battle.

The message that resonates loud and clear is that desires cannot nurture life, rather, they are the reason for destruction and sorrow. Therefore, it is necessary to exercise control over desires.

After the conquest of Vaiśālī, Kūṇika’s desires took greater flight. He now aspired to become an emperor of many kingdoms. When he expressed this desire to Lord Mahāvīra, the Lord explained to him, ‘Kūṇika, this ambition is mere hopelessness, an empty shell. There are already twelve cakravartīs. In this avasarpiṇī kāla, there cannot be any more cakravartīs. Kindly close your doors to such impractical dreams. Listen to me and accept that the outcome of negative deeds will always be negative.”

But Kūṇika did not heed the good advice. You will now ask me – if he was such an ardent devotee of the Lord, then why did he not listen? When an evil spirit comes between God and man, it steers man away from God. Kūṇika’s pride and ego became a demon. His desire to become a cakravartī did not subside even with Mahāvīra’s words of wisdom.

Kūṇika knew that Mahāvīra’s words held absolute truth. No power in this world could alter that truth. But look at his audacity – he refused to give up his negative resolve. The dark clouds of desire had blanketed his mind and heart so that he could no longer behold the rays of truth.

He resolved to make his dream of becoming a cakravartī come true. He could not acquire the precious gems required for the coronation of a cakravartī. So he duplicated fourteen gems. Along with his powerful troops and allies, he set out to gain victory over the six regions.

During this voyage of victory, he reached the entrance of the Tamittrā cave in Vaitāḍhya mountain. The deity of the cave questioned him, “Who are you and why have you come here?” Kūṇika replied, “I am a cakravartī. I am on my way to attain victory over the six regions. The deity laughed at Kūṇika’s foolishness and took pity on him, “Oh king! Go back. In a wave of false ambitions, you seem to have lost the discrimination between what is appropriate and what is not. This era has already seen twelve cakravartīs. Which cakravartī are you? To which period do you belong?”

Kūṇika’s pride rose even higher. He said, “I am going to become the next cakravartī. So what if there are already twelve, why can’t there be a thirteenth one? If one has strength in his arms, who can stop him? Look at me - I have the fourteen gems, a large army, great and powerful kings as my allies. Who says that I cannot become a cakravartī? I am already one. Step aside. Do not hinder my path.”

The deity realized what a stubborn and over-ambitious person Kūṇika was. He advised him yet again. But when a person is lost in the storm of ambition, he cannot be redeemed easily.

Kūṇika crossed his limit and challenged the deity and as a result, met his end. His soul left his body and found the path to hell. With his own hands, he destroyed himself. Pride and attachment – both are a hindrance in the path of self-purifi cation; they lead to total destruction.

Kūnika is no more with us. So also have Rāvaṇa, Jarāsandha and Duryodhana left this world. But what we need to examine is this - do their negative impulses of desires, wants and pride still reside within us?

A person works hard in life to gain pleasure and happiness. But when will one fi nd that happiness? Just as an object is not possessiveness, an object is not even happiness. Happiness resides neither in a kingdom nor in wealth. These are inert. But joy is a form of consciousness; it is dynamic. An Upaniṣadic sage has proclaimed: Joy is Brahman.

This joy is the central purpose of life. It is consciousness. This implies that it is not necessary to run after desires to attain happiness. It is necessary to exert control over desires.

Do not allow yourself to get entangled in the web of calculations wherein you will constantly be trapped in counting what you have attained and what is still pending. Lord Mahāvīra said:

This thing is with me and this is not with me.

He who is trapped in the whirlpool of this calculation will be drowned in its currents. The path of joy lies in contentment. You must try to find joy in whatever you have acquired until now and whatever you can acquire with your efforts and destiny. Let your desires be contained within this framework. Make a conscious attempt to stop desiring that which cannot be yours. Give up worrying about acquiring that which will be of little or no use to your life.

Lord Mahāvīra describes this principle of life as the vow of limiting desires. It demands setting a limit on endless desires. When desires are limited, needs also get limited; when needs get limited, then conflicts, tensions and contradictions in the journey of life also begin to reduce. Moving beyond confl icts leads to peace, happiness and joy. Finally, such pure joy is the ultimate truth of life.
Published By " Sugal & Damani Family "