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Foreword
Contents
What is possessiveness ?
Individual and society
The path to spiritual enhancement.
The flame of avarice
Non-possessiveness and charity.
Attachment is bondage, detachment liberation.
Life of an aspirant
Conflict Resolution
Religion in everyday life
The canvas of life is larger than the self
Non - possessiveness - a universal framework.
NON-POSSESSIVENESS - A UNIVERSAL FRAMEWORK
 
The wise who have understood the essence of religion
do not have any attachment for material objects,
not even for their own bodies.
 

 
The lotus is a great source of inspiration in our lives. One who stays in this world like the lotus and worships its symbolisms knows no sorrow or fear. He becomes pure and pious like the lotus. Hence, it is not surprising that this beautiful flower holds an eminent position in Indian culture and tradition. Its analogy is given in every aspect of an individual’s personality– lotus-face, lotus-hands, lotus-feet and lotus-heart. Even the eyes are said to be lotus-like. The entire body is compared to a lotus. It is an integral part of our spiritual perceptions as well. In one of his discourses, Lord Mahāvīra stated that an aspirant must remain in this world as a lotus remains in the pond. One who is detached like the lotus may stay anywhere for he knows no fear. The same has been stated by Lord Krsna in the Bhagavad Gītā. He said:

Oh Arjuna! Remain detached in this world like a lotus in a pond.

A lotus blooms and blossoms in the slushy pond, but is not contaminated by the slush. Similarly, to remain unaffected by the trials and tribulations of this world is the greatest achievement of life. Just as a flower without fragrance, a life which has not the fragrance of compassion cannot reach out to other lives. That life which is full of beauty, fragrance and detachment like the lotus is blessed and praiseworthy.

Much has been already said about detachment, about non-possessiveness, what it entails and how the path of nonpossessiveness should be followed. Today let us refl ect on this in more detail.

The ideal of non-possessiveness is emphasized not just in Jaina thought, but by all spiritual masters and great social leaders as well. As far as values and principles are concerned, they may speak different words, but all their words point to the same value – of non-violence, of non-possessiveness, of peace, of contentment.
   
It is indeed heartening to see that even in these times when the focus of mankind is more on science and technology, experiments in spirituality also find a place. Otherwise there would be only one kind of experimentation - that of the material, the nuclear, the atomic. But here are two diverse streams of thought, if I may say so. While one is nuclear, the other propounds co-existence. Materialism on one hand and spiritualism on the other. Like life and death, poison and nectar, they co-exist in this large sea of humanity.

The slogan of the atomic experiment is: “I am the greatest power of the world, the undefined courage of the world. Either you bow before me or you die. He who does not have me, has no right to live in the world. Because in my absence he is not secure.”

The slogan of co-existence is: “Comelet us all walk together, sit together, live together and even die together. Our views are different, but not conflicting. Our bodies may be different but our minds are one. We have to live together and if need be, die together. As human beings, we can only live in co-existence; not in disintegration and separation, nor in isolation and conflict. Those who adopt the nuclear policy are seekers of power. Those who adopt the policy of co-existence seek universal brotherhood. The former are ruled by their bodies and the latter by their souls.

There is a lot of disagreement, unhappiness and confusion in today’s political policies. This is because the ideal of ‘policy’ has been corrupted for selfish gains. A ‘policy’ is pure in itself, whether it is the policy of the rulers or the ruled. It aims to work for the overall good of mankind and not at destruction. Any new policy will have to stand the test of time, the test of life, the test of truth. It has to enhance a virtuous life, where confusion and protest have no recess, where selfishness and unrestrained desires undergo a sublime transformation.

Thinking along the same lines, let us refl ect on religion. What is the aim of religion? It teaches us to live in harmony with each other. It teaches us to share in people’s tragedies and sorrows as much as in their happiness. This feeling of togetherness is the true aim of religion. Religion and virtue are two sides of a coin and both are equally important to make progress in life.

All of us know that it is practically impossible to combine religious values with politics, especially in today’s political scenario where selfishness and unrestrained desires are openly expressed. This echoes the death of humanism.

Buddha and Mahāvīra spread the message of religion to the whole world. They were born to inherit great thrones and lead nations, but they became spiritual leaders instead. Gandhiji spread the message of a virtuous life and was able to infuse religion into politics. In Gandhiji’s words, good political policies are those that follow religion. Those policies that are not motivated by the virtues of religion are unfavourable policies.

A leader should be virtuous and religious. According to Indian culture, a king is the epitome of justice. Where there is justice, there is religion. Virtue without justice is against religion.

Today India is a free democracy and the political policy of this democracy is the pañcaśīla. The main architect of pañcaśīla is India’s fi rst Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. India, China and Russia – the three great powers of the world are allies today on the basis of pañcaśīla. This is the Gāndhīan or Nehruvian era’s greatest gift to mankind. More than half the population of the world not only believes in pañcaśīla but also follows its principles. The rest of the world is now recognizing the importance of the pañcaśīla and it is fast spreading to other countries, especially Europe.

What I would like to talk about today is the common vision of all religious, political and social principles. The political pañcaśīla is based on the principles of indivisibility, sovereignty, noninterference, co-existence and co-operation. These principles have a common echo of mutual interest in each other’s development. Everybody develops when the nation develops.

Lord Buddha propounded five principles, which were known as pañcaśīla. Śīla means conduct or behaviour. These five principles are non-violence, truth, non-stealing, celibacy and non-intoxication.

In the 23rd chapter of the Uttarādhyayana Sūtra, Keśi Gautama discusses the five teachings of Lord Mahāvīra. There is no difference between pañcaśīla and these five teachings. Both are similar and share the same thoughts. Like śīla, the word ‘śikṣā’ is treated as principles of conduct. Four vows were advocated in a heretic’s penance. The five teachings are non-violence, truth,non-stealing, celibacy and non-possessiveness.

The five teachings of Vedic religion are similar to the fi ve Jaina teachings, both in thought and in words. Yama means control, discipline. Pañcha-yama has been described in the Yoga Sūtra as the fi ve principles of non-violence, truth, celibacy, nonstealing and non-possessiveness.

Indian politics today is trying to work towards the pañcaśīla. This is not new to India as its religious systems have been following pañcaśīla for thousands of years. The political pañcaśīla is a lot similar to the Buddhist, Jaina and Vedic pañcaśīla.

Whether the progress of humanity is in the hands of kings or monks, it is possible only through co-existence and not through atomic experiments – this is the ultimate truth.

Mahāvīra stated that disputes and wars between nations can be resolved by non-violence. His goal was to spread the ideal of non-possessiveness thereby creating contentment in the ‘self’. To be attracted to that which is not part of the ‘self’ is to be tempted to obtain the objects of luxuries in others’ lives, he said.

The important thing is to set a limit. Of course, your boundary must be realistic. If a rich man who has millions sets a limit for trillions, it is hardly in keeping with the principle behind the vow. In doing so, he is merely taking a name-sake vow of icchā parimāṇa but not actually adhering to the primary aim of the vow. The point is to set a limit on need, desire and greed.

The implication is that where there is desire, greed and attachment, there is possessiveness, whether the objects of possessiveness exist or not. Where there is no attachment, even if objects are as many as possessed by an emperor, there is no possessiveness. Therefore the Ācāryas say that even if monks possess objects, they are not ‘possessive of’ them. As stated by Lord Mahāvīra, “Attachment is possessiveness.”

Possessiveness, accumulation, avarice, desire, greed, attachment and delusion - all these are synonyms. Just as fat added to fire infl ames it further, so also accumulation and possessiveness ignite the flames of avarice.

Which are the areas of life where we see maximum possessiveness? My wealth, my family, my position, my strength, my language – this notion of me and mine is born from possessiveness. Materialism is the primary target of possessiveness. Man accumulates objects and wealth to protect himself. But, do they really protect us? Mahāvīra has stated that wealth can never protect anyone. The desire for wealth and power causes delusion in man’s mind. Wealth gives birth to desire and power gives birth to pride; both these negative emotions create obstacles rather than enhance life.

What is the path that can enhance life and bring joy? Lord Mahāvīra said, “Relinquish all desires. This is the pathway of joy.” If you do not have the inner strength to relinquish all your desires, at least attempt to tread a partially developed path to happiness by limiting your desires. There are many objects of enjoyment in this world. Material wealth has always been a source of enjoyment, but has it brought about true happiness or peace? So, whether gradually or all at once, one must relinquish the desire for possessions if one wants to find contentment. For the worldly beings, there is no greater bondage than possessiveness.

I ask you a simple question – who has greater possessiveness, a man who lives in a hut or an emperor who lives in a palace of gold? If you think this question is ridiculous, let me tell you that possessiveness should be gauged not by the quantum of possessions owned but by the quantum of vows of nonpossession taken. Therefore, one cannot answer this question without knowing whether either of them had adopted vows of non-possessiveness. The poor man may possess just a hut, but if he has not vowed to restrict the number of objects he would like to possess, he is considered possessive. On the other hand, an emperor as rich as king Ceṭaka was considered non-possessive because he had adopted the vow to restrict the extent of his wealth. So among the two, though the poor man had fewer possessions compared to the king, it is he who is considered as having greater possessiveness.

In the world today, there is a great need for such people who follow this vow of non-possessiveness as prescribed by Lord Mahāvīra. The rich must refl ect on the greed that drives them to earn so much for themselves and their families. Embracing the whole of humanity in your fold will make you a wiser and nobler person. It will empower you to stake your life for your country rather than make the fabled snake out of you, who in the need to guard its treasure gets glued to it.

He who takes the vow of non-possessiveness must be steadfast in setting the boundary of his possessions. One can set as ambitious a limit as one wishes. For example, you may own one mansion, but you can take a vow to restrict your ownership of property in the years to come to five or ten or even twenty mansions – but not more. Imagine that there is a poor man who has not even bread to eat. While establishing his boundary, he has the foresight to think that although at present he has nothing, he may earn some wealth in the future. Thinking thus, he establishes a boundary of striving to earn rupees one lakh only. He vows not to acquire beyond that. He has now restricted his desire, and his desire is equivalent to a drop in the ocean. From the unlimited wealth in this world, he establishes a boundary and becomes detached towards the rest of the wealth in this world. Such a man is said to be non-possessive.

When one realizes that possessiveness is the cause of restlessness and discord, he then adopts the vow of nonpossessiveness so that he may never tread the path of unnecessary accumulation. One who continues to think of accumulation even after adopting the vow has adopted it only to earn fame and position in society.

Once a vow is taken, it must make a tangible difference in one’s life. The greed and restlessness that resides in the heart before adopting the vow must diminish after the vow is adopted. If not, the vow has failed to create any positive infl uence on his life. An Ācārya has said: Possessiveness is the cause of violence, which in turn leads to the cycle of birth and death. Man indulges in different kinds of sins only because of his possessiveness. Therefore, one who has become an aspirant and adopts the vow of icchā parimāṇa must gradually reduce his possessiveness.

If attachment to possessions has not diminished from the heart, then adopting the vow is just an external charade. It has no meaning and is futile.

What a clear vision! One who understands the negative consequences of possessiveness will naturally retreat from it. Even if he is caught in the framework of familial needs, he will always refrain from accumulating unnecessary possessions and will accept his wealth like a bitter pill or a necessary evil. One must always be watchful of whether the wealth which is still in the possession of the aspirant is riding on the aspirant or whether the aspirant is riding on it. Be it a horse or a vehicle, it is for you to ride upon, not the other way round.

There have been great emperors and kings in India, but when the impulse of renunciation arose in them, they did it instantly. Like a snake which sheds its skin without looking back, they renounced their wealth and adopted monkhood. When they became monks, they kept a few vessels and clothes, but without attachment to these objects. Where there is no attachment, there is no possessiveness.

An ascetic and a layperson, both have needs. It is not as though one wears clothes woven by the gods and the other by a weaver. A cloth is always woven by a weaver, whether it is adorned by an ascetic or a layperson. Then, how is it that the clothes of a layperson are considered objects of his possessiveness and the clothes that belong to an ascetic not so? Food when consumed by a householder is considered as greed and when it is put in a
monk’s vessel, simple alms?

An ascetic only keeps those objects which are required for his existence as subscribed by the scriptures. He renounces all his possessions through the three channels of body, mind and speech. Therefore, it cannot be said that he operates from a stance of possessiveness. By adopting the vow of non-possessiveness, he has vowed neither to acquire possessions by himself or through others nor to affirm those who indulge in such acts. Therefore, his meagre belongings are not considered as objects of possessiveness. As Mahāvīra said: Possessing an object is different from the tendency of possessiveness. The Ācāryas speak of objects as possessiveness so that one may also remain vigilant and not become attached. It is only the attachment to these possessions that one has to be wary of. A person can travel lightly only when he has shed off the impulse of possessiveness. Verily, attachment is possessiveness.

Our monks of bygone days used the example of flies as an analogy. A fl y that sits on a crystal of sugar, enjoying its sweetness flies away even when a soft breeze blows by. But a honeybee is not swayed even by strong winds. Come what may, it remains glued to the honey, even at the cost of its life. A seeker must remain detached amidst objects of enjoyment like the fly in the above analogy. He can then instantly break away all ties.

I remember an incident about a person known as Khetanji. In his days of extreme poverty, he opened a shop in Calcutta. Luck favoured him and he became very successful. At that time, the cows of his village had no shelter and were living in extremely piteous conditions. The villagers decided to construct a cowshed, but they needed funds for such a venture. So they approached wealthy people in bigger cities. This is how they met Khetanji and requested him to help in this noble venture.

Khetanji said, “Staying here, I find it difficult to take care of my own house. How can I help you in your cause?”

The villagers responded, “It is our faith in you that has brought us this far. Kindly do not disappoint us.”

He replied, “Alright, since you insist so much, I will give you some money, but I cannot be involved in any administrative activities. I also insist that you first get some donation from that other shop across the road and then come to me for my contribution.”

When the villagers approached the other shop, they got a similar response. “First let the other shops make a donation. That is a bigger shop,” they were told.

The distraught villagers went back and forth, but to no avail. Both did not budge from their respective positions. Finally, they said to Khetanji, “We are tired of going around in circles without any result. We have nothing more to say or ask.”

This brought about a sudden change in Khetanji mind. He began to reflect, “Oh! Why have I behaved like this? These people built their hopes depending on me. I was the son of a poor man once, today I am so rich. Money is ephemeral. Will I get such a noble opportunity ever again? I must not disappoint these villagers.”

On an impulse, Khetanji took one cloth, a small pot and a twine in his hand and stepped down from the shop. He said,“I am donating my entire shop to you. What did I have once? Nothing. Today I have earned so much money and respect as well. I can open another shop anywhere else and earn once again.” The villagers were astounded. Khetanji did not enter his shop again. He opened another shop elsewhere. This is not just charity, it is renunciation of the highest order. Man has amazing inner strength. When the impulse to renounce arises in him, it does not take him even a moment. It happens instantly. This is why Lord Mahāvīra never attached importance to possessions. His focus was always on the impulse of possessiveness.

The vow of non-possessiveness will yield positive results in lives to come, but for that, it must create an instant change in the present life style. Those who want a peaceful life and wish to spread joy must tread the path of non-possessiveness and nonviolence as stated in Jainism.

Non-possessiveness and non-violence are principles that compliment each other. Most religions in the world crown non-violence as the highest of all values and make an implicit reference to non-possessiveness, but Jainism recognizes it as an independent principle. Without adopting the vow of nonpossessiveness, other vows cannot be effectively adopted. It is the pathway of exercizing restraint and contentment, thereby giving rise to detachment and simplicity. Lord Mahāvīra said: One who accumulates for himself, directly or through others, or even approves of those who do so, cannot attain liberation. If you look at ancient Jaina literature, you will see the great efforts of Lord Mahāvīra in this direction. He taught every lay disciple to stay within his boundary by adopting the fifth great vow of non-possessiveness. In commerce and trade, he taught not to cross one’s justful rights. To step out of one’s justful rights is to enter into confl ict with one’s fellowmen.

The eternal ideal of Jaina tradition is that every person must strive to fulfil rightful needs through rightful means. To accumulate beyond one’s needs is considered as theft. Why do individuals, societies and nations fight? Because of this need to accumulate. Thus the seeds of non-violence can be found in non-possessiveness. From this viewpoint non-violence and nonpossessiveness can be considered synonymous terms. Ahimsā does not stand just for non-violence against another, it signifi es the great austerity of universal love, compassion and service. Not to commit violence is just one aspect of ahiṁsā - an incomplete austerity. In its fullest sense, it is compassion (friendliness) towards all of humanity; it stands for nurturing humanity, protecting it, freeing it of pain and other such proactive steps.

In the Praśna Vyākaraṇa Sūtra and other Jaina āgamas, the term‘ahiṁsā’ has sixty synonyms, in which kindness, compassion, protection are included as well. Ahiṁsā is considered the loftiest of all ideals in the Jaina philosophical texts, āgamas and in the roads of sādhanā. In fact, all the religions in the world propound ahiṁsā as the highest of ideals. The Buddhist texts call a non violent person an ‘ārya’, which means a noble person. This principle is based on the contemplation: All human beings fear punishment, and cherish their own life. Thus considering the joys and sorrows of others as one’s own, one must never indulge in harming others nor instigate others to do so. The Vedic religion has also propounded non-violence as the steadfast principle and the highest of all religions: “ahiṁsā paramo dharma”. Non-violence is the greatest and purest religion. Therefore a person should not indulge in violence at any place or time. 6 Wish not for others what you would not wish for yourself.

In this fleeting life, do not harm or hurt another, rather establish friendliness towards all creatures and move ahead on your journey. Do not remain in conflict with another.

The Koran begins with “Vismillaha Rahimanurrahima” which means God is considered as the deity of compassion, not of violence. Hazrat Ali has asked to extend compassion even to animals and birds, “Oh human beings! Do not make your stomach the burial ground of animals and birds.” The Koran has proclaimed that he who saves the life of another is like the saviour of all human beings.

In his sermon Jesus Christ has also stated, “Let the sword remain in its hilt, because those who slay with the sword will be slayed in turn.” Elsewhere also he has stated, “Love your enemies and seek God’s pardon for those who torture you as well. If you love just those who love you, is that to be considered an achievement?”

The prophet of the Persian religion Zarathrustra proclaims,“Those who hinder people from leading a good life and recommend the slaughter of animals are considered evil by Ahuramajda (God of the Persians).” The same sentiment of compassion and non-injury echoes in Lord Mahavira’s words: All creatures in this universe, whether small or mighty, human or otherwise, want to be free of sorrow and pain. All of them desire to live, none want life to end.

Lord Mahāvīra is the primary messenger of non-violence. To date, it is the echo of his eternal messages that resound through our country. Do you know that a period existed two thousand five hundred years ago, which was considered a dark period when animal slaughter, non-vegetarianism and alcohol consumption was on the rise? Even women were deprived of human rights. The dark clouds of violence loomed large on the horizon. Lord Mahāvīra’s discourses of peace and non-violence created a transformation in the minds of people and brought about holistic revolutions. Unfortunately those great ideals are forgotten in today’s world. Nuclear warfare looms large on the horizon of fear. There is a need for non-violence to be recaptured in its pristine form. For the eternal happiness of mankind, ahiṁsā is the only available tool. There is no other alternative. It is true that one who perceives the world in a non-violent manner obtains a glimpse of the Supreme Seer.

To collect or provide means for self-preservation does not breach the principles of Jainism. But to collect more than necessary or to create a power group defi nitely invites destruction. The policy of disarmament adopted by nations today, where every nation is expected to keep only limited weapons of warfare has been propounded by the Tīrthaṅkaras thousands of years ago. The rules and regulations regarding world peace that are laid down by nations today, were taught at religious discourses since time immemorial. Lord Mahāvīra initiated great kings and emperors into Jaina religion and asked them to vow not to collect unnecessary weapons. Excessive resources makes a person arrogant and he gains a tendency to fight for every small position of power. Thus the Jaina seers attempted to eradicate the primary reasons for violence from the roots. They never supported wars.

Nowadays there are many religious leaders who have become puppets in the hands of powerful leaders. They claim that heaven is the abode for those brave people who will die in battle. They teach that a king or a political leader is God and therefore one must submit everything before him. But the Jaina Tīrthaṅkaras have been steadfast in this regard. The Praśnavyākaraṇa sūtra and the Bhagavati sūtra explain a lot along the same lines. If you look into these scriptures, you will find a lot of literature that defies battle. You are aware that Kūṇika, the king of Magadha was such an ardent devotee of Lord Mahāvīra. The scriptures have exalted his devotion. Yet, Lord Mahāvīra did not support the battles initiated by Kūṇika, rather, he announced that Kūṇika would go to hell for his misdeeds. Even though Kūṇika was angry with him, Mahāvīra remained steadfast in propounding non-violence. How could the incarnation of non-violence and peace support human annihilation? He taught that as long as an aspirant stays content within his limits, there is no conflict. Peace is destroyed when man enforces his power outside his territory onto the possessions of others. Yes, until the river flows within its bounds, the world only benefits from it. It causes no harm. But as soon as it gushes beyond its banks, it takes the form of floods and causes havoc and destruction. Same is the state of man. To be obsessed with possessions, not to enjoy them nor let others enjoy them is a sign of delusion, of attachment. It is the root cause of this worldly sojourn, of slowing the journey to the abode of liberation.

Joy does not reside in external objects, but in man’s thoughts. Is the soul bound by the body or is the body bound by the soul? The materialist will say, “The body is everything.” But the spiritualist says, “The soul is the master. This body is just a medium of existence for the all-pervading soul.” As Jainism declares: The wise who have understood the essence of religion do not have any attachment for material objects, not even for their own bodies.

One who understands this distinction between the soul and the body will not spend his life in futile pursuits. He realizes that joy does not lie in acquiring any object or entity, but in relinquishing it. The Great Seer emphasized:

Joy is not object-bound, it is thought-bound.

This is the pathway of joy, known to us as the path of nonpossessiveness. When this contemplation transforms into action, then the heavens inhabit the earth, and the entire universe is fi lled with peace and joy.
 
 
       
 
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