Many great kings and emperors made efforts to establish peace, but did
not succeed. Man has reached great heights in the world of science, he
has built aeroplanes, rockets, even atom bombs, but peace has always deluded
him. When explosives were invented in Europe, people assumed that fear of mass
destruction would avert wars. Later, when tanks and jet planes were invented,
the same hope was rekindled. Subsequently, every destructive invention
was justified with the same empty reassurances of peace. But in reality,
today we are in the midst of wars that are bigger and far more destructive
than ever before.
Earlier battles were fair in as much as they involved only soldiers on
both sides, but now there is no value for civilian life too! Weapons in
the past had limited powers, today there is no limit. A small bomb is
activated and many lives meet their end. So, where is the end to war?
Newer endeavours are made to destroy the world at large. In many countries,
wars have become a way of life where, before one battle is resolved, the
dark clouds of another loom large on the horizon. Before one battle ends,
preparations for another begin. Violence perpetrates vengeance.
And so it is that today man has the power to destroy the whole of mankind.
And in his vanity, he believes that war and subjugation are the means
to achieving world peace. I ask you, is this the way to fi nd peace? No,
never! But such is the situation today the world over.
A cloth stained with blood cannot be cleaned with blood. It is common
knowledge that water and not blood washes away bloody stains. But this
knowledge has not seeped into man’s actions and therefore he continues
to try washing away blood with blood.
The vision of life is lost. Loot, conflict, agitation and war are the
order of the day. The cause of all this is the plague of possessiveness
which has afflicted both rich and poor countries alike. All wars today
are a result of restlessness born from the urge to possess more and more.
In earlier times, battles were fought for fame or marriage alliances.
But not anymore. Today wars are neither fought for prestige nor are they
the means to expand empires. The aim of modern day war is to create markets,
so that super powers of the world may exert total control over third world
nations thereby depriving them of their economic independence.
Caught in this web of possessiveness, a nation is not just bent upon taking
advantage of another, but even within itself, it sets the stage for rivalry
among different sections of society. Thus the endless conflict between
labourers and employers, between the haves and the have-nots is becoming
with each passing day.
What is the reason for such bitter class confl icts? It is the avarice
for possessions that makes one class fill up its coffers at the expense
of another, ignoring the needs of those less fortunate. Where is the end
to all this?
Until the tendency to possess is not diminished, the strife in today’s
world will not end. Unless every nation adopts the policy of parigraha
parimāṇa, this gory game will continue. Lord Mahāvīra
and many other great seers have rightly said that possessiveness is the
root cause of strife, and non- possessiveness the path of peace. The venerable
Anger spoils good relations, pride destroys humility, deceit destroys
amity and greed destroys everything. When anger enters, love exits, eliminating
all affection in a person. Such a person who is roused by pride loses
all sense of humility, modesty and respect for elders. A stone might melt,
but not such a person. Treachery and duplicity crushes the best of friendships.
As long as simplicity exists in a family, each member of that family understands
and nurtures the other. Their lives are like an open book. Bonds of friendship
are strong and there is joy in abundance. But when treachery and deceit
take over, friendships are splintered.
When avarice is roused, neither love remains, nor humility, nor modesty.
A greedy person will misuse another for every single rupee. Thus it is
man’s desire which shreds humanity into pieces, crushing all the
goodness of life. In the presence of avarice, the larger vision of life
never evolves. During one of his discourses on the topic of avarice, Lord
Greed destroys everything. While other negative qualities eliminate positive
qualities one by one, greed destroys all qualities.
The more lowly a man’s thoughts are, the sooner he moves towards
self-destruction. The loftier his thoughts, the nearer he is to peace
and harmony. It is in large-heartedness that happiness and contentment
Can joy and peace be found in the realm of greed and possessiveness? The
answer is again a big ‘No’. A greedy person can never experience
peace. Yet, man has done nothing to sedate this avarice within himself.
On the contrary, he has indulged his mind in further avarice. It is akin
to cleaning a blood stained cloth with blood. But can that ever succeed?
When a pot of milk is kept over a flame, it has to boil over. That is
its property. You may postpone the spilling of the milk by periodically
sprinkling water over it, but ultimately it will boil over. The only way
to avoid it is by putting off the flame.
In this context, I remember a story from Punjab. Once upon a time there
was a group of nomads. Like any other day, they loaded their camelbacks
with bundles of wares and set off. As evening fell, they pitched their
tents in an open field and unloaded the bundles from the camelbacks. Now,
among these nomads, one of them started thinking, “It is night time,
and dark. If we fall asleep, someone may take away our bundles.”
So he tied the bundles together with a rope and tied the rope to his legs
and fell asleep.
Truly enough, a band of thieves came at midnight and coincidentally reached
out for the bundles that he had tied to himself. As they started moving
the bundles, he woke up and asked, “Hey, who is that?” His
friends who were asleep beside him thought, as the popular belief goes,
that he was muttering in his sleep because he must have had his hand on
his chest. So with their eyes closed, they said to him, “Chant Rāma…Rāma…
Rāma.” In other words, remember God and you will sleep well.
To this he retorted, “If they stop dragging me, only then can I
think of God. If they don’t stop, how can I sleep in peace?”
The point is the same. Unless the fire is put out, how can the milk be
prevented from overflowing? Greed has to be curtailed for peace to prevail.
What is man doing today? The fire of greed burns his very existence out
of control. If you try to calm it by talks of renunciation and detachment,
it may subside for a while, but until it is not extinguished, how can
everlasting peace be found? Even the fulfilment of desires cannot lead
to lasting peace, because desires are endless.
The wealth in this world is limited, but man’s desires are unlimited.
Can unlimited desires be satisfied by limited wealth? Can you ever fill
a pond large enough to hold gallons of water with a few handfuls? Lord
Mahāvīra has explained this beautifully:
The more you get, the more you want; desire increases with every gain.
What starts as just two grams of gold has a tendency to end as millions
In this Sūtra, we find the essence of life. Herein lies the key to
success. Profit and greed fuel each other. The more the profit, the more
the greed for more profit. In such a scenario, where is peace, where is
Take the example of Maharsi Kapila. In his piteous state of poverty, even
two grams of gold was a lot. It was all he wished for. Let me tell you
Once there was a king who had announced to his subjects that whoever arrived
first at the palace gate every morning would receive two grams of gold.
So every morning there would be countless subjects trying to reach the
palace first, drawn by their greed for the grams of gold. The one who
got his name written first was lucky for that day. The rest had to return
Was this charity or a ridicule of charity? But let us not spend time on
this analysis. True charity is in giving up attachment, not in such pretentious
acts, which only kindle the fire of greed among people.
Coming back to the story, whenever Kapila went to the king’s court,
he returned empty handed. But it is a universal truth that hope is eternal.
Kapila struggled for months to get those two grams of gold.
One day his wife rebuked him for how lazy he was by saying, “If
you don’t wake up early, how will you reach in time to get that
gold? It is your laziness that keeps the gold out of your reach.”
Kapila agreed sheepishly, “You are right. Okay, wake me up early.
Let me reach before the others.”
Saying this he went to bed, determined to rise early. But his sleep was
a disturbed one. Somewhere around midnight, he awoke thinking it was daybreak
and set out towards the palace. Seeing him wandering at that unearthly
hour aroused the suspiscion of the guards and they arrested him.
Kapila pleaded repeatedly, “I am neither a thief, nor a dacoit.
I have just come for the two grams of gold!” But none heeded his
words. “Is this the time for gold?” they quizzed him with
suspicion and locked him in prison.
In the morning, Kapila was brought into the king’s court. His clothes
were tattered and his eyes were dark pools of despair. As soon as the
king saw him, he realized that here was a poor man who must have come
for the gold, but was caught inadvertently.
So the king asked Kapila, “Why were you wandering about in the night?”
Kapila answered, “Annadātā, I have been wandering for
months, but have not got the gold. So today I came early hoping to get
the gold, but these guards caught me. They have beaten me mercilessly.”
Saying this, Kapila broke down.
The king asked kindly, “Two grams of gold is not much at all. Tell
me brother, what do you actually need in life?”
This set Kapila thinking. “What shall I ask for? Two grams of gold.
But will that be enough? Why not ask for a kilogram or two? But that too
will get over soon enough! May be ten or twenty kilograms, so that I can
make enough jewellery for my wife. Then our life will be peaceful. But
does my hut befi t such wealth? Why not ask for a palace as well? But
what is a palace without estates? Better to ask for a village. But just
one village? If I have to ask, I’d might as well ask for a state!”
And thus we see how man’s desires are endless.
Kapila’s desires kept increasing. At last, when a state also seemed
less to him, he decided to ask the king for his kingdom. Look at the web
Suddenly he came to his senses. As soon as he thought about asking for
the kingdom, light dawned within him. The contemplation on gold turned
Kapila started thinking, “Oh, what has become of me! A great man
has shown kindness towards me and in return, I wish to possess his entire
wealth. How can I stoop so low? It is not appropriate to misuse someone’s
Thus, Kapila entered into a deep meditative contemplation. The delay in
his reply fi lled the king’s mind with suspicion. He thought, “This
man is thinking hard. I hope he is not considering asking for my throne!”
So he ordered, “State quickly whatever it is that you wish for.”
As Kapila opened his eyes, he saw the king’s anxiety and realized
that his greed had aroused suspiscion in the king’s heart. He was
consumed by repentance and began to think, “Once there was no greed
in me, and now that it has crept in, it fi lls every pore. All I wanted
were two grams of gold. But the king said, ‘ask for whatever you
desire’ and the desire became so strong that it was ready to take
the entire kingdom from the king. Shame on a mind which cannot contain
This desire is like a fire whose flames are fanned by the fuel of greed.
Fat does not put out fire, it ignites it. Likewise, the fi re of desire
can be extinguished not by greed, but only by contentment.
The wisdom that dawned to destroy this greed from its roots set the man
on the path of aparigraha. Today he is known to the world as Mahaṛṣi
One day Mahaṛṣi Kapila saw a band of five hundred bandits.
Their lives spoke of violence and bloodshed. They had never experienced
love, compassion and trust. The light of the Mahaṛṣi’s
words engulfed them and they became his disciples. And one day, that same
group of great saints started spreading the message of peace in the world.
Let me narrate an incident from China. Confucius, the wise one, was once
approached by the king with a problem. “There is a lot of thievery
in the kingdom. Kindly suggest a way to put an end to it”, the king
Confuciu s said, “If you really wish to put an end to theft in the
kingdom, then fi rst of all you must stop stealing yourself. Don’t
let your greed grow. Because of your greed you extract money out of your
people to fi ll your coffers. The day you set your mind free of deceit,
thievery and greed, from that very day these thefts will stop too.”
I believe that the root cause of all evillies within us. In this world,
wealth is limited and desires unlimited. Until we endeavour to rid ourselves
of the venom of greed, we cannot find peace. Lord Mahāvīra said:
If there were innumerable mountains of gold and silver as vast as Mount
Kailāśa, they would not satisfy an avaricious man; for avarice
is boundless like the sky.
Take the case of a greedy man who propitiates a deity by worship. The
deity is pleased and grants him a generous boon. He asks for wealth. So
God creates for him heaps of gold and silver on earth. High and vast as
the Himalayas and the Sumeru, not just one or two, but innumerable mountains
of wealth. He could keep counting them till the end of his life, but not
reach their end.
After creating so much wealth, if God were to ask him whether he was satisfi
ed, do you know what the greedy man would reply? He would say, “I
will be at peace if you can create one more mountain of gold in yet another
corner.” One who nurtures greed is never satisfied by these heaps
of gold and silver. Any amount of wealth is but miniscule for him. His
desires will increase further, because desires are infinite. So, how can
a pit of infinite desires be fi lled by limited wealth?
A saint during one of his wanderings met a man who was very greedy. He
later put his disciple to test by saying, “Today I have seen a lake
with neither a bank nor a shore. Tell me how that is possible.”
Immediately the devout disciple replied, “Master! What you have
seen is possible. It is certainly not impossible.”
Testing him further, the Master asked, “How can this not be an impossibility?
If there is a lake, there must be a shore. How can there be a lake without
The disciple answered, “Master! All lakes have shores, but the lake
of desire is such that it has no shore, no beginning. It is limitless.”
The Master smiled contentedly, “You have reached the right understanding.
You have grasped true knowledge.”
Verily, even on getting the wealth of the entire universe, the mind of
a greedy man will not find contentment. This is the truth of life. It
is the nature of desire that it can never be satisfi ed. One who attempts
to satisfy every desir does not tread the right path. Satisfaction of
desires is not the path of spirituality, it is the path of materialism
and never begets peace.
Jainism states that desires cannot be satisfi ed by gaining wealth and
objects. Possession of an object does not necessarily satisfy the desire
for that object. When the fire of desire starts to kindle, sprinkle the
waters of contentment on it. If your mind is content, even your desires
will fold and fit into a corner. This is the way to eradicate desires.
If you move ahead in your life with such a view, then you will understand
the vow of non-possessiveness. Imagine that a king or a millionaire voluntarily
embraces poverty. In the presence of all means of wealth and comfort,
he restrains his desires and adopts poverty and austerity as his way of
life. Such a man has truly understood the vow of non-possessiveness. If
poverty is not accepted voluntarily, but imposed by fate, it cannot bring
about peace. Poverty which is self-imposed gives birth to true and absolute
Look at Lord Mahāvīra himself. He was born in a royal family
and lived in the lap of luxury for thirty years of his life. Yet he found
no peace. Had he found peace, he would never have left his home.
On the contrary, those who think that Mahāvīra left because
of a sense of emptiness or śūnya, have not understood his inner
calling in its completeness.
In this world, we always see two extremes - abundance of wealth on one
side and empty pits on the other. While people fall sick due to gluttony,
others often die of starvation. Some have so many clothes that they cannot
bear their weight while others can barely afford to cover themselves.
In the same vein, some live in palaces of gold while many do not have
a roof over their heads.
One who enjoys the pleasures of material abundance is not justified to
preach contentment and non-possessiveness. If you reside in a palace of
gold and give lectures on
sacrifice and renunciation, it is nothing short of a joke. One who has
eaten well cannot sermonize about the significance of fasting to those
who have not seen food for days. It would only be a cruel joke and not
the way to establish peace. There will be peace in the minds of people
when they see their leader as one among them. It is then that the minds
of people will experience an awakening, a transformation, and the need
to follow in the footsteps of their leader.
This was Mahāvīra’s viewpoint. He renounced the palace
of his own free will, adorned the sādhu’s garb and adopted
the life of a mendicant. He did not even keep a thread to his name. Such
renunciation is self-willed and great.
Buddha did the same. He also did not find peace as long as he was in the
midst of luxuries. When he adorned the garb of a sādhu, he found
peace in his heart. His voice then reverberated into the hearts of the
masses and they followed his every footstep.
On the contrary, take the example of King Janaka of the Upaniṣadic
period. He did not have a long-lasting effect on the masses. The flames
of sacrifice and renunciation glow in his words in the Upaniṣads,
but they are short-lived. The lamp burns, but is soon snuffed out. The
reason for this is that he sat on the throne and spoke of non-dualism
and the supreme soul. He preached about renunciation while he himself
was seated on a luxurious throne of power.
Long before Mahāvīra uttered them, such pearls of wisdom have
been mentioned in the Vedānta, that this world is momentary, perishing;
but the Vedāntic preachers could not kindle the feelings of sacrifice
within themselves. They entered the courts of the kings and emperors and
left with thousands of golden-horned cows in exchange for their discourses.
No wonder then, that they could not instill this great message into the
hearts of those whom they taught. In this present corrupt age, the kaliyuga,
words of renunciation and sacrifice from those who are entangled in desires
seem ludicrous. One Ācārya of Vedānta has said:
In this kaliyuga, vedantins stand out conspicuously like cranes in the
month of phalguna.
In phālguna, the white crane stands out conspicuously against the
backdrop of dark clouds. In this month, the festival of holī is also
a strange sight where children and adults alike, in their frenzy of enjoyment,
do absurd things like riding a donkey and wearing bizarre clothes. Talks
of renunciation sound as absurd in today’s world.
What the Ācārya meant is that one who does not practice what
he preaches cannot reach out and touch the heart of the masses. As a learned
scholar, he can make a detailed analysis, he may render others speechless
with his powerful arguments, but he cannot bring about a transformation
if he does not have the wisdom and compassion to support his knowledge.
It is not knowledge alone that can bring about a spiritual revolution.
Such transformation can be initiated only by wisdom.
Lord Mahāvīra placed his own example before the masses. He who
lived in palaces, who was praised lavishly by the thousands who received
bountiful arms from him every morning, decided to embrace renunciation.
As he arrived at the decision, he gave away all his riches as charity,
and thus weightless, appeared before the people. When this prince, now
a mendicant, appeared amidst the crowds, thousands of people followed
him in one single voice of faith.
What this means is that one who believes he can solve the problems of
the world without giving up the desire for possessions is deluding himself.
In truth, he will meet only defeat and pessimism, for life without sacrifi
ce is śūnya, a void.
In saying so, I refer to both the ascetic and the householder. The ascetic
who wishes to be true to himself will adopt the vow of non-possessiveness
completely and not just at a superficial level. Having conquered his desire
for possessions, he will see no difference between a king and a beggar,
the rich and the poor. On the other hand, the one who feigns simplicity
but favours the rich and is enamoured by their wealth has obviously not
left behind his own possessive nature. For him, grass and gold are yet
not the same. One who is detached is not impressed by the display of wealth.
It is he who makes an impact on the world by his chaste actions and pure
Unlike the ascetic, a householder who dwells within the confi nes of society
cannot renounce all possessions. Yet, he must limit his desires, his actions
and his needs to the
bare minimum. He must also learn to limit his habits of eating, dressing,
owning property, even raising pets and such other worldly traits.
Complete renunciation is the framework of an ascetic’s existence
and to set a limit on desires is that of the layperson’s. To set
a limit means to give up excesses that cross the boundaries of necessities.
One who can give up possessions or even limit them is a true aspirant.