The pursuit of selfishness is hell. The relinquishment of selfishness
is heaven. When a person insists on fulfilling his desires, he becomes
the cause of not just his own sufferings, but also of others who are linked
to him and influenced by him. Blinded by his desires, he forgets that
just like him, others too have their needs and desires, and attending
to them is his duty as well. So the wise proclaim that the self blindly
sinks into all its gratifications and yet never finds any contentment.
The only remedy is to go beyond the limitation of the self and reach out
to others. As the wise proclaim:
Learn to desire for others what you desire for yourself and never desire
for others what you do not desire for yourself. This is the essence of
The message of non-violence that was taught by Lord Mahāvīra
two thousand five hundred years ago stands untarnished even today. Even
more so, because in today’s democratic context, where the world
has become one unit, its importance has become more relevant. The Great
Seer realized that no person can retain an identity alienated from society.
He needs people around him to enjoy life and to experience the joys of
interaction. So, if man cannot live apart from society, it is essential
that he cultivate generosity and large-heartedness towards those who are
in his vicinity and in his workplace. As members of society, it is our
responsibility to inculcate within ourselves and others, a sense of togetherness
and belonging. Distrust among fellowmen is the greatest cause for the
downfall of societies. Thus this ideal of unity, of empathy among individuals
in a society has to be reiterated over and over again.
The ever nagging question is, who is more important - the individual or
the society? Is the individual the basis for society or is society the
basis for an individual? Some thinkers say that individual is the larger
issue because society is comprised of individuals. Others say that society
is larger because an individual cannot have an identity without society.
When the drop merges into the ocean, it is a drop no longer, it is only
the ocean. The same is the state of individual and society, of one and
many, of individual consciousness and collective consciousness. In my
view, neither individualism nor socialism can stand alone. In some aspects,
individual is important and in others, society. The individual is important
because he is the foundation of society and society is important because
it situates the individual. If we consider this seriously, we will realize
that both are important in their spheres. Neither is smaller or bigger
than the other. If an individual’s identity does not exist in the
universe, can family, society and nation have an existence at all?
The worth of a nation depends on the worth of the individuals
who make it. So also the worth of a society depends on the worth
of the individuals who make it. The same holds good for families
too. Even if an individual exists on his own, within the purview
of his family, he is many, despite being an individual.
So the question is, when individuals and socieities
are interdependant, how can the individual have a separate identity? How
is it possible? It is possible on the basis of his individuality. Every
individual has his own individuality, on the basis of which he is one,
despite being among many. Individuality is like the fragrance of a fl
ower. Fragrance is not visible, yet, it can be felt. In the same vein,
we can always sense the ‘individual’. Society must also learn
to respect, cherish and nurture his individuality. Only then can the individual
There is an intimate relation between the individual and society. There
are various contrary views regarding the relationship between the individual
and society, but all thinkers agree that to create differences and divisions
between the two is benefi cial to neither.
However, society is prior to the individual. Whenever we think of an individual,
we automatically assume that he must have an existence in a larger framework
or group. Individuals come and go, but the society remains. Society has
a longer existence than the individual. It is the society which imparts
culture and civilization to the individual. A child’s personality
is formed and framed by his social structure. All that he learns, whether
good or bad, is within the framework of the society to which he belongs.
Only the capacity to learn is his own. The development of his ‘I’
or ego which makes him an ‘individual’ happens within his
Society has its own system by which it controls the individual. It has
its own existence and form. Nevertheless, it is also true that in the
absence of ‘individuals’, society cannot have an existence.
Individuals influence the society. Although they seem to be two independent
‘realms’, neither can exist or develop without the other.
Neither can an individual leave the society nor can the society exist
without the individual.
Between the two it is easier to understand society as a whole rather than
a person’s ‘individuality’. To understand an individual’s
personality, we need to consider his psychological frame. Psychological
theories state that people are of two kinds– introverts and extroverts.
An introvert is one who arrives at conclusions by dwelling on his own
thoughts rather than seeking the views of others whereas an extrovert
is one who interacts and mingles with family and society as a cheerful
part of a larger group.
He finds solutions within an interactive framework.
Why do these differences exist? This is because of each
person’s individuality or personality. The personality is the foundation
for a person’s behaviour. If a person is an introvert, we see a
sense of isolation in his personality. An extrovert mingles with everyone
without remaining focussed within himself all the time but an introvert,
even in a social environment, remains aloof from all. That aspect of personality
which relates to social structures, which is important for social harmony,
is what we term as conduct. Good and noble character is a pre-requisite
if one is to lead a fruitful and happy social life. A person who is not
of good character cannot belong to any group. A person’s interactions
with others in harmony or disharmony reflects his character and personality.
Social environment is the litmus test of an individual’s personality.
Ācārya Sanghadāsa Ganī is a great religious commentator of
our culture. His delightful commentaries full of in-depth analysis
leave us spell bound. The commentaries have an abundance of
analogies on the day-to-day problems of man and on how he
should deal with life’s myriad situations. Let me narrate one
such interesting analogy.
There once ruled a great king who had three sons. As he
became old he began to ask himself which of his three sons
he would like to crown as heir-apparent to the throne. As a
general rule, either the eldest offspring or the king’s favourite
son is crowned successor to the throne. But the old king did not
approve of both these options. All three were equally dear to
him and he decided to put them to test to fi nd out who would
befi t the throne.
After consultation with his ministers, the king invited the three princes
to the palace for a banquet. When they were seated, three platters of
exotic food were placed before them. But just as they began to eat, they
saw three hunting dogs approaching each of them ferociously. The first
prince was terrified and thought, “Today this hungry dog is going
to make a meal out of me. Is this why we were called here?” So thinking,
he ran for his life, and the dog ate his meal. The second prince was courageous
and brave. He looked around and found a stick. He sprung forward and hit
at the second dog, aiming for its head. This caused the dog to step away
and the prince began to eat. But the dog did not give up. The prince kept
lashing at him as he ate his meal. Thus the fight between the prince and
the dog continued, while the prince continued to eat.
As the third dog hovered around the third prince, he was neither frightened
nor did he turn aggressive. He simply emptied a little food from his plate
in front of the dog. The dog started eating and the prince enjoyed his
meal as well. On and off the dog would bark and the prince would give
some more from his sumptuous platter. In this manner, the prince enjoyed
his meal and the dog was satisfied as well. In a short while, not only
did the dog calm down, he also became friendly and wagged his tail at
the prince to express his love and gratitude.
The test of the princes was over. The king and his ministers held a meeting
to discuss the outcome. The consensus was that the prince who had run
away was not fit to be a king. Life often brings forth challenges and
contrary situations that one cannot turn away from. Such a coward cannot
do his subjects and the nation any good. Making him a successor would
result in the disintegration of the empire.
Regarding the second prince, although they agreed that he was brave and
courageous, they knew that decisions in this world are not taken by brute
force alone. In him, they found a man who would protect himself and his
belongings but did not have the quality of extending his compassion to
others. He seemed ready to destroy anything on the strength of his sword
and might. They reasoned that although he may never run away from difficulties,
he would also not hesitate to resort to violence at the slightest provocation.
Therefore they decided that he would also not be fit to rule. Since he
did not possess the necessary compassion to be a good king, he would only
end up creating restlessness in the nation.
It was therefore decided that the third prince was the one
worthy of the throne. He had proved without doubt that he
had the wisdom to live and let live. By feeding the dog from
his plate he showed that it is always possible to look after one’s
own needs as well as those of others. In this manner he was able
to win the trust of his opponent, in this case, the dog. With his
extra resources, he would extend help to others. Such an attitude
is much needed in life. He who uses his wisdom in crisis takes
care of himself as well as others. Such a man can be trusted with
great responsibilities. Therefore the king appointed his third son
as his successor, and rightly so, don’t you think?
The idea behind Ācārya Sanghadāsa Ganī’s analogy
is that communities and nations can evolve with those leaders who establish
an ideal by their wise distribution of resources. The heart that has reached
complete selfl essness in its love for others has not only gained immense
joy, but has attained immortality You will find that the moments of utmost
happiness in your life have always been those in which you uttered a word
or performed an act of compassion or selfless love.
If you introspect, you will realize that the pain caused by
natural calamities in the world is much less than the pain caused
by fellow beings. Nature is bountiful and gives us happiness in
abundance. If only we would stop hurting our fellow human
beings by our ruthless and insensitive actions, this world which
seems like a living hell can indeed become a heaven on earth!
One who does not kill nor asks another to kill, one who does
not defeat another nor instigates others to do so, such a man
befriends all. None are in conflict with him.
The Taoist religious leader Laotse spreads the message of
peace thus stating, “Others will behave with you as you behave
Confucius propogated the ancient religion of China with
the message, “Do not do unto others what you dislike for
So, which is the religion that advocates killing, slaughter or
violence? None. All of them give the same message of universal
friendliness, tolerance towards all of humanity and protection
But it is disappointing that the world today has turned a blind eye towards
violence. Innocent people are massacred, some blinded, some amputated;
humanity seems to be in a shredding machine! News of people being burnt
alive or buried alive, scenes of tens and thousands of people rendered
homeless and inflicted with injury are mere stories in the news today.
The screams of suffering humanity pierce the very core of our being and
yet the violence continues! Rape, urder, terrorism in various forms -
death dances in its naked form. Man is not human any more. He has become
demoniac and sometimes even worse than a demon. Truly, shame has been
put to shame!
So, are we saying that culture and non-violence are lost forever? One
does not have to go far to see the demoniac crimes that are plaguing the
world today. Everyday we receive news of how the more powerful nations
wield brute force over less powerful nations. It seems as if there is
no humanism left any more. And all this happens in the name of patriotism,
culture and religion.
The need of the hour is a collective effort, an ethical approach. What
is needed is non co-operation. As long as those bent upon ruling others
gain military and financial help from the superpowers, this power game
will continue. It is unfortunate that most of the countries interact only
out of selfishness and not out of humanitarianism.
I have been explaining that an individual is important in
himself, but he cannot survive by rebelling against society. Yes,
individualists consider society as a group of individuals, but
they undermine the role of society and stress on the importance
of the individual. Among the principles of individualism the
main question is the autonomy of the individual. Freedom is the
most important and cherished gift which every individual must
treat with responsibility. Without freedom he cannot evolve, his
development is not possible. No nation can control that basic
freedom. According to political principles, societies and nations
are created to protect and nurture the freedom of individuals.
An individual’s freedom is curtailed by the nation only when
he interferes in the life and work of others. A nation can only be
protective of an individual’s freedom. No nation has the right
to interfere in the development of the individuality of a person.
Nor does any society. Every human being has a right to his own
individuality and personal growth.
I have been talking to you about the relationship between
the individual and society. Whether an individual is part of a
family, society or nation, his demand is the same - that of his
autonomy and freedom. But the question is whether he can be
allowed unconditional freedom. In my opinion, if a boundary is
not established on personal freedom, a person becomes asocial,
and sometimes antisocial as well. Then, how does one safeguard
one’s society and nation from tyranny and oppression? How can
peace and order prevail? This does not mean that I wish to curtail
a person’s individuality and personality. What I am trying to
assert is that freedom should not lead to recklessness. Neither
should it lead to the splintering of society. An individual’s life
has protection and order only if the nation functions in a smooth
and orderly way.
In this context it is crucial to understand the importance of society and the individual’s role in it. As members of society, we
cannot forfeit our duties for the sake of our freedom.
Indian tradition has always stressed upon the harmony
between an individual and society. The great Masters, Mahāvīra
and Buddha laid more emphasis on the sangha (congregation)
than on the individual. In the Jaina culture, even the venerable
Tīrthankaras bow to the congregation and the order. The greatest
of Ācāryas are also bound to obey the sangha. The Jaina sangha
has a four-fold order – monk, nun, layman and laywoman.
The sangha is affirmed by the unity of all four. From a spiritual
perspective, whatever rights are available to a monk are also
available to the nun. Whatever rights the layman has, the
laywoman also has.
According to Jainism, the sangha is created by one person, the Tīrthankara.
Yet, the primary reason why prestige and glory is bestowed upon the strong
pillars of the sangha and society is because an individual’s evolution
and development is strongly linked to these two pillars. The sangha is
above the individual. During the process of laying down the constitution
of the sangha, the layperson and the ascetic are accorded equal rights.
If we deeply reflect on the great tradition of the Jaina history and its
unique sangha formation, we will realize that the roots of Jaina culture
do not thrive in the individual but the collective, the social. Its socialism
however is not economic and political but a spiritual socialism. It is
a socialism based on sarvodaya (collective evolution), where the evolution
of all is equally accepted and nurtured. Here one’s progress does
not depend on the deterioration of another. Rather, in the development
of one lies the development of all, in the downfall of one lies the downfall
of all, in the extinction of one lies the extinction of all. This is the
spiritual socialism of Jaina culture.
Right now, ahimsā seems dormant, as if it has no role to play any
more. Collapsing from all sides, it stands on the threshold of extinction.
An ahimsā which is not pro-active does not have life-breath; it becomes
lifeless. It has simply reduced itself to nonindulgence in violence. This
narrow-minded approach to nonviolence makes it a facade, stripping it
of its richness and logic.
There are many spheres of life which appear to be based on
non-violence, but when you look at them closely, you will see
the cruel play of violence even there. Non-violence has taken
a backseat, helplessly looking on as violence wreaks havoc on
humanity. In the face of inhumane tortures, should we hide
behind a misinterpretation of ahiṁsā and call ourselves tolerant
The newspapers carry daily reports of national crimes,
offenses and misdemeanors. Hundreds and thousands of
people are being dislocated from their homes and countries only
to become refugees in alien soils. But do the power brokers do
anything about it?
It is unbelievable that beyond a feeble protest, the world
at large simply retreats into silence after every dastardly act of
violence. Where are our religious leaders who propogate nonviolence,
compassion and kindness in times like this? Where
is non-violence? Where is compassion? Where is the humanity
that every religion claims as its own? Does religion not have
an answer then? Is it impotent - watching helplessly while man
transforms into a monster?
As the world stands torn apart, the greatly debated issue is whether the
individual should come first or the society. According to me, an integration
is what is needed. Both individual and society must be interdependent
and of mutual help to each other. Neither can progress by negating the
other. This is the anekānta of Jainism, a multipronged view. If we
look at these two aspects from an anekānta point of view, we will
see them in a new light. The individual and the ollective will merge.
Manyin- one and one-in-many. Only then can mankind move ahead as a united
force to face the challenges of a changing world.