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What is possessiveness ?
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The path to spiritual enhancement.
The flame of avarice
Non-possessiveness and charity.
Attachment is bondage, detachment liberation.
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Religion in everyday life
The canvas of life is larger than the self
Non - possessiveness - a universal framework.
Merely reading books, endlessly battling with scriptures and memorizing a few thousand verses will
not get you anywhere. Until the right vision does not emerge in your heart, until you don’t become
steadfast in truthfulness, until your faith does not stop wavering, knowledge will not dawn.

In the Sthānānga sūtra, Lord Mahāvīra has described four kinds of flowers. The first is that which has form and beauty, but no fragrance like the flame of the forest, the second has fragrance but no form or beauty like the Vakula, the third is that which has extraordinary beauty and fragrance like the rose, and the fourth is that which has neither beauty nor fragrance like the flowers of the medicinal plant swallowwort.

In the same way, Lord Mahāvīra spoke of human beings. He said: There are four types of men – some give up the appearance of an aspirant but not righteousness, some abandon righteousness but not the appearance, some others forsake both while there are others who give up neither (and remain steadfast in religion).

This classification of human beings has a psychological foundation. What is noteworthy is that among human beings, he who has good appearance as well as righteousness is considered superior. That life which is lacking in either of these is not an ideal one. An ideal life is that which is rich in knowledge as well as character. It is in the integration of these two qualities that peace and joy are found. A life with knowledge but without character is like a flower which is beautiful but without fragrance. On the other hand a life of good conduct without knowledge is as incomplete. Life should not remain one-sided. A life which is multifaceted is an ideal life.

Indian culture considers knowledge as well as conduct to be integral aspects of a holistic life. Often a question is raised in philosophical circles - is religion more important for a progressive life or is philosophy. In the West, religion is a different stream from philosophy. But according to me, in Indian culture, there is no gap between religion and philosophy; here religion cannot be devoid of philosophy and philosophy cannot sustain without religion. Indian culture believes in a holistic and multi-pronged approach.
For the progress and evolution of mankind, faith and logic have to co-exist. Faith without logic and logic without faith have no place in Indian culture. Rather it believes that faith finds its culmination in logic and logic meets its goal in faith. Faith is the foundation for religion but logic is the primary basis for faith. So the heart and mind must function in unison together towards a holistic culmination of an ideal life. The light of intelligence illuminates every beat of the heart and the power of faith strengthens every logic of the mind. If these two aspects do not synchronize, human beings cannot rise above darkness. Speaking of an ideal life, let us look at how an aspirant can enrich every aspect of his life? What is the path of an ideal life for a householder and an ascetic? How can we lead a life of vigilance and wisdom?
As long as a man is a householder, he is bound by his family, by society, or by the nation. To live in harmony with his surroundings, to be able to live comfortably, he needs certain material objects and spends his time accumulating them.

The ascetic, on the other hand, is free of these constraints. Therefore, some people believe that the path of the ascetic is different from that of the layperson, but this is not true. Both are seekers on the spiritual path. They tread the same path from within, only the ascetic’s journey is faster while the layperson lags behind.

Having heard all along that they tread separate paths, you may wonder what I am saying. I would like you to reflect on this – if the path of the ascetic is that of non-violence and truth, then what is the path of the layperson? Is it that of violence and untruth? To become a householder, should one indulge in untruth, deceit or violence? Obviously the answer is – “No”. This is the point I am making - that the path of the ascetic is also the path of the layperson. The non-violence of the ascetic is not different from the non-violence of the layperson. Neither is the value of truth any different.

In fact, what is distinctly different is that the layman is bound by family responsibilities, therefore his steps are not as swift. But the monk is not bound by such responsibilities. He is answerable only to himself. So his life is lighter and less burdened. Thus, although the manner and pace of their steps may be different, the path is the same.

If the paths the monk and the layperson choose to travel are in fact different, then it is cause for concern. The goal of the monk’s path is liberation. So, if the layman’s path is different, then we have to ask ourselves, “Is there a path which is different from the path of liberation and yet a benefi cial one? For if it is not benefi cial, then why would the layman adopt it?” If the layman’s path is not that of liberation, is it merely that of accumulation of worldly wealth? Ultimately, what is the use of performing the duties of a householder? Will his sādhanā not benefi t his present life and his after-life? Is his way not the path of liberation?

There are only two ways – the direct path to liberation and the indirect worldly path. The worldly path is full of āśrava or karmic influx. The path of liberation is saṁvara or blockage of karmic influx. The road that leads to worldly wealth is also that which leads to the increase of karmic burden. The direct path to liberation is that which reduces karmic burden.

An ascetic in his life treads this path illuminated by the Three Jewels of right vision, right knowledge and right practice. And this is the path and the goal of the layperson as well. What is different is the levels at which they follow their vows of truth and non-violence. When Ācārya Umāsvāti was asked what was the path of liberation, he answered:

Right vision, right knowledge and right practice constitute the path to liberation.

The term ‘right’ refers to an enlightened state. Thus vision, knowledge and practice in their enlightened state are the Three Jewels which illumine the path of liberation. In other words, until the right vision does not dawn in your heart, until you don’t become steadfast in truthfulness, until your faith does not stop wavering, knowledge will not arise. Merely reading books, endlessly battling with scriptures and memorizing a few thousand verses will not get you anywhere. Right knowledge can arise only when one becomes steadfast in truth. Lord Mahāvīra has reiterated the same truth:

Without faith, there is no knowledge; without knowledge there is no virtuous conduct; without virtues there is no annihilation of karmas and without annihilation of karmas, there is no liberation.

The logical conclusion is that until the vision dawns, knowledge cannot arise. When knowledge arises, the flame of truth will shine before us. Only then can the difference between the worldly existence and the realm of liberation be understood.

Until vision and knowledge are not crystallized, what practice can one adopt? How can conduct ever be pure without knowledge? He who has not followed the right practice cannot attain liberation and everlasting peace. To attain liberation, one has to be steadfast in the path illuminated by these Three Jewels.

The rule is the same whether one is a layperson or an ascetic. The ascetic’s meditation may be absolute, while the layman may meditate just partially, but both meditate on these Three Jewels. It is said that though the layman treads the path of liberation, he gets entangled in the maze of worldly attachments. Therefore, he may reach heaven, but not beyond. 4 He does not reach the abode of liberation directly. This is because his sādhanā is incomplete. He needs to endeavour a lot more to reach the abode of liberation. The same holds true for the monk as well. In today’s world so full of sin, it is not assured that even a monk can achieve liberation in one lifetime. He has to go to heaven and then be reborn again. And in this manner he has to go through many such cycles of birth and death before his soul is free of its karmic bonds and ready for its
final journey to the abode of liberation which lies beyond the realms of heaven.

A householder cannot escape the responsibilities of his family and society. He cannot justify any act of irresponsibility by comparing himself to the monk who he believes does not serve the society and nation in a practical way. The monk severs his ties with society to enter a way of life with a very special focus, but the householder does not do that. And moreover, the monk does serve the society and nation, but in a very different manner.

The primary purpose of water whether in a pot or a river is to quench thirst. Similarly, be it an ascetic or a layperson, the primary goal of human life is to attain liberation by adopting the vows of non-violence and truthfulness, thereby blocking the fl ow of karmic influx.

Until a person is operating within a family and has a reciprocal interaction with the world, he cannot be absolutely free of possessiveness. He cannot live his life by begging for alms like the ascetic. Thus there is a framework within which a layperson must acquire his possessions. This framework keeps his possessiveness in check. A householder must learn to mark his limits and earn his livelihood accordingly. He must provide for himself as well as for his family and community.

Given that certain possessions are necessary in life, you may ask – is there any dictum for how these possessions must be acquired? Ācārya Hemacandra and other great seers speak of wealth acquired through righteous means.

The source of earning should be just and righteous.

A householder acquires wealth as well as luxuries, but he must not gain his wealth by unjust methods. His wealth must always reflect his honesty and hardwork. Such wealth will not be tarnished by sin. On the contrary, wealth that is acquired by injustice and exploitation is sinful and can never have everlasting benefi t. Wherever such wealth travels, it causes misery, hatred and jealousy.

How well our Ācāryas have explained this intangible difference! They were indeed great idealists with a realistic approach to life. They did not give impractical sermons that a person who stays in the framework of a family should not acquire necessary possessions. Jainism does not believe in such imaginary ideals. Those who live in the flights of imagination can never attain great heights in life.

The conflicts of life cannot be battled in the darkness of ignorance. The householder should exercise vigilance and always ask himself the question, “Have I earned my money from a legitimate and justified source or otherwise?” Even a monk needs food; life needs sustenance. Although the monk does not earn his livelihood, he must be vigilant while accepting alms from a householder. Before accepting anything, he must ask the question:

How was this food prepared? For whom was it prepared? How much quantity has been prepared? Have I in any manner contributed to this preparation? Has the householder made it as part of his daily routine, or has it been specially prepared for me?

If he is dissatisfied by the answers, he must not accept the food. Thus the monk should be vigilant about ‘production’ and ‘source’. Likewise, the householder should also remain vigilant in such matters, “Where has this food come from? In what form? Does it enrich my life? Does it harmonize well within my framework?”

Jaina culture advocates abstinence from activities that involve violence and trades and professions which breach the priniciple of non-violence. Jainism propounds vigilance and careful scrutiny in whatever one does, whether it is activities of domestic life which defy the principle of non-violence in small
ways or setting up of factories and industries which involve destruction of life-forms on a large scale. Although agriculture does infringe upon the principle of non-violence because of the destruction it causes to living organisms in the soil, it is not considered a sinfuldeed. Rather, it has been advocated as a positive activity for a vegetarian way of life.

Indian culture has always given a seat of honour to agriculture. India is primarily an agricultural country and even today, a majority of the Indian population constitutes the rural farmer. Agriculture is the fi rst step towards non-violence, since it can be a very influential medium to steer one away from nonvegetarianism and to establish vegetarianism. There cannot be a more domitable force than agricultural activity to counteract the rising preference for non-vegetarianism. It is on this basis that in India, agriculture is considered the divine spirit of non-violence.

In Vedic terminology, an agriculturist is known as the Son of the Earth. According to Jaina tradition, Lord Rsabhadeva was the person who first propagated agriculture as a way of life in India. He initiated the people of his time into the art of agriculture. In that bygone period agriculture was absolutely necessary for the development of the human race. The Jaina tradition refers to agricultural activity as “ārya karma” – the activity of the noble man.

The popular aspirants of Jaina tradition themselves indulged in agricultural activity, thus giving it an important place in Jaina history and culture. Of course there were those in the middle ages who labelled it as a violent activity, but the chief propogators of Jaina tradition referred to agriculture as “ārya karma”.

The middle ages were a time when moral values deteriorated and the very meaning of the vows of non-violence and nonpossessiveness changed, allowing man to commit acts that were hitherto considered sinful and violent. This also had an effect on the role of agriculture and soon it was demoted in the social context as the profession only meant for the lower strata of society.

Thus, somewhere along the way, the zeal with which our forefathers began this crusade against violence has become diluted with the long passage of time. Many people gave up agriculture considering it to be a sinful activity. To prove their point, they started looking for parallel reference in the āgamas, but nowhere in the āgamas was there a reference to agriculture being an activity of intense sin. It is stated in the āgamas that the result of a sinful activity is the passage to hell. Now just imagine, if agriculture is falsely propagated as a sinful activity, how can one expect anyone to follow it as a way of life? The masses were discouraged from considering it as a means of earning because what was the point of hardwork if it took one to hell, they reasoned. And so it came to be that such false arguments influenced the minds of the people and the Jains steered away from agriculture.

Actually, the reason for propounding the production of food grains through agriculture was a means to steer people away from non-violence and non-vegetarianism. The aim was to grow fruits and vegetables so that we could work towards a purer and more pious way of life. This is why Jaina culture advocates agricultural activity as an ārya karma, a noble activity which does not infringe severely on the vow of non-violence. Once, an aspirant posed a question that if the source of wealth is justified, why is wealth still considered undesirable?

I answered in keeping with our religious tradition that there are two sources of wealth. One acquires wealth, success and a good birth on account of auspiscious karmas. But based on one’s religious or irreligious impulses, this wealth will either lead to the path of virtue or the path of vice. If his religious practices are good, he will move from a good birth to a better one. On the contrary, if he indulges in irreligious activities, he will move from a good birth to a bad one.

In both the instances, the wealth is acquired from a meritorious source, but while one leads to the path of sublime happiness and success (puṇyānubandhī puṇya), the other leads to failure and frustration (pāpānubandhī puṇya). When wealth arises from the former source, it gives rise to positive impulses in the mind of the recipient. His feelings and thoughts become pure, he spends his money for the welfare of humanity, he looks for opportunities to make positive use of his wealth and when the opportunity arises, he feeds the hungry and clothes the naked. Such actions fill him with peace. Before giving, while giving and after giving he feels great joy throughout. Grudge, regret and repentance do not touch him ever.

Such wealth that has come from the right source will later give rise to further merits. This is that crop which will never fall short, for it has been sown in the fields of merit and will harvest further merit.

Such a fortunate puṇyānubandhī person moves from joy to joy, ecstasy to ecstasy, and thus traversing the journey of life in such a befi tting manner, reaches the abode of liberation.

Papanubandhi punya has the opposite effect.before he acquires wealth, the person makes many meritorious plans, but they vanish from his mind once the wealth is acquired. Such wealth fills his mind with darkness, erasing all positive thoughts. Experiencing pain and regret at the thought of charity, he recoils from any such intentions. And despite this, if he still performs charity due to unavoidable circumstances or societal pressures, he experiences a deep sense of regret and loss. Thus, he is full of negative emotions before as well as after undertaking the act of charity. The loss of his wealth pains him like a scorpion’s sting.

Keeping these two descriptions in mind, you can decide whether the wealth that you have acquired is from puṇyānubandhī puṇya or from pāpānubandhī punya.

I am sure that every follower of Jainism must be familiar with the story of Mammaṇ Seṭh. Let me state it in brief; it has a very interesting twist.

Mammaṇ Seṭh of Rajagruhi was an extremely wealthy man. It is said that he owned wealth amounting to ninety-nine crores. But he held on to his wealth and never enjoyed it. In fact, he did not allow his own sons to either wear decent clothes or even eat a sumptuous meal. Finally, insult added to injury and one day his sons decided to confront him.

They felt that they could not go on living without proper food or clothes despite their father being so wealthy. They reasoned with him that someday his wealth would be inherited by them. In the meanwhile, he could protect his wealth like a hen would her eggs, but that he should give away some of it to them so that they could invest it in business and live their lives as they chose.

The Seṭh said, “I am ready to give you some property, but I will take it back with interest.”

“But we are your sons!” they exclaimed.

To which he responded, “You may be my sons, but how can I let you squander away my hard-earned money? I do not ask you for your earnings, but I insist upon taking an interest on the principal amount that I give you.”

Finally, the sons agreed to his condition. They said, “Alright, we will go to a bigger city and earn there.” So saying, each one took his share and left. With his sons gone, the old Seṭh started sculpting a bullock using his gold, silver and precious stones. He put all his wealth into this venture. He then aspired to make another bull using more wealth. “Of what use is a solitary bullock?” he thought. Since he had no wealth left, he would go to the jungle much before daybreak each day, collect wood and sell it to acquire the wealth to waste in his venture. Such was his need to possess that it left him devoid of any wisdom or peace. What a strange phenomenon possessiveness can be!

When King Śrenika heard about Mammaṇ Seṭh, he was perplexed and approached Lord Mahāvīra. In response, Mahāvīra narrated an account of Mammaṇ Seṭh’s previous life.

“Mammaṇ Seṭh was very poor in his previous life. Once during a grand meal in the community, laḍḍūs were distributed to the poor. He did not eat his laḍḍū, but kept it away. He thought that he would eat it when he felt hungry. After a while, he sat at the bank of a lake on the outskirts of the village and was about to eat his laḍḍū when he saw a monk pass by. He thought, ‘What an auspiscious opportunity to offer alms to a pious person! Let me give āhāradāna (the charity of food).’

With this noble intention, he invited the monk and pleaded with him to partake of the laḍḍū. Finally, the monk relented and sat down to eat with him. The laḍḍū was delicious. It was so tasty that his charitable impulse was replaced with instant regret. He started thinking – ‘Oh! Why did this monk have to come just as I was about to eat? As a monk, his devotees must surely feed him tasty laḍḍūs every day. Where do I ever get anything as delicious? What a misfortune! I have never had any such visitor earlier. Then why today? And why did I become so impulsive? Oh, why did I waste my laddū?’

Thus, he began to regret his decision. His karmic baggage increased with pāpānubandhī puṇya. The consequences of this are so extensive that they are carried forward to this lifetime of his. So, although he has the blessings of Goddess Laksmī in abundance in this birth, he is not able to spend his wealth wisely.”

Lord Mahāvīra explained that when a meritorious deed is accompanied by a negative emotion, it is as though nectar has been poisoned. This is a matter for introspection. When a person looks within, it will become apparent that sometimes he is caught at the crossroad of contradictory emotions. A high and noble thought can be accompanied with a negative emotion. Thus, when merit and demerit interlock in our contemplations, then pāpānubandhī punya is generated.

A person who has gathered pāpānubandhī punya will later get trapped in wealth which can never be spent wisely.

The ancient Ācāryas have rendered prayers in this regard,“Oh Lord! May I acquire wealth, but along with it the wisdom to use it well. May I acquire property, but along with it the noble intention to put it to good use. May I use it in a manner that it will benefit me as well as the society at large. Oh Lord! Bless me with a good heart!”

We find many such references in Indian scriptures too. Their aim is always to initiate in a wealthy person the impulse of noble intentions and righteous actions. Acquiring wealth is meaningful for the person who can put it to good use, who can broaden and brighten his path, illuminate his journey and use that wealth to construct his life positively.

Such spiritual revolution, whenever it happens, is a cause for celebration. In fact, whenever such a revolution has occurred as a phenomenon, it has been celebrated by mankind in the form of festivals. Most festivals always have a deeper signifi cance than just the pomp and ceremonies. They enrich our lives by keeping great events in memory. They help us recapitulate our spiritual beliefs and value systems. As I was telling you, the agricultural revolution in the period of Lord Ṛṣabhadeva was a great milestone. When an aspirant stands at the verge of a revolution and moves on a brighter path by overcoming obstacles with his spiritual energy, then there is cause for happiness and celebration. During the agricultural revolution, celebration came to the masses in the form of the Holīkā festival. This comes year after year as a representation of our tradition and culture. On this auspiscious occasion, we greet each other and experience social happiness and well being. During this Holīkā festival, the Brāhmaṇas, Kṣatriyas, Vaiśyas and Śūdras shed their differences and celebrate with each other. No discrimination remains on this festive occasion. This is a pious symbol of our ancient culture. This festival teaches each and every person the lesson of love and merges the boundaries of high and low. In the present time, some corruptions have crept into this festival. Bad words and bad actions are being considered an important aspect of this festival. But this is not how it used to be. It is good that we laugh and make others laugh with us, but how can we laugh at the expense of others by ridiculing them and justify it as a tradition? There should be laughter in life, but not one that causes hurt. We celebrate festivals even today, but only as a celebration of the body. The soul is forgotten. The need of the hour is to understand the soul of any festival, not merely its materialistic pleasures. Only then joy and celebration will take a true form. The festival of Holī will be worthwhile if we find true happiness in togetherness.

The festival of Dīpāvalī is also a famous festival of India. Just like Holī, this is also a social and national festival celebrated by one and all with great splendour. This is a question I am often asked – what is the aim of this festival? Among those who celebrate Dīpāvalī, no distinctions of creed and caste are considered. This is the primary reason why we celebrate this festival. When we question the reasons for celebrating any festival, then its fundamental form appears before us. Similarly, to understand the background of this festival, let us examine its natural implications. During the monsoons the humidity in the atmosphere rises making it an ideal time for insects and poisonous creatures to breed. The sky is covered with dark clouds, and the whole atmosphere seems to be shrouded in darkness. Due to the heavy downpour of rain it becomes difficult for us to keep our homes clean and airy. Our homes become dreary and dark and our surroundings are slushy as well. Even the infi nite stars in the sky are not visible. The mind of man gets fatigued in such situations. After the rainy season, when the sky clears and the slush dries up, we clean up our homes thoroughly. When the countless stars bejewel the silvery white night sky of śarada pūrṇimā, man’s mind is again fi lled with joy. It is indeed time to celebrate. With great gusto we clean our homes. We revive our homes inside and out with fresh coats of paint. Then, with the advent of Dīpāvalī, we light our homes with rows and rows of lamps, dispelling the gloom of the monsoons. Our hearts dance once more with brightness and cheer. The light of love spreads its arms to embrace all. Therefore this is called the festival of lights. Dirt is the symbol of violence and cleanliness of non-violence. Discarding dust and gloom from our homes and surroundings is symbolic of discarding violence. Likewise, when we bring cleanliness and brightness into our homes and outside, we affi rm non-violence. Today we have forgotten these deeper implications of festivals and are caught up in shallow rituals and mindless celebrations. The celebration of this festival is the celebration of non-violence, of culture, of precious values.

The ethical values of every tradition are a consequence of their philosophy. It is not possible that thoughts and conduct do not infl uence each other. All Vedic and non-Vedic traditions have stressed the importance of conduct along with thoughts. Even the Cārvāka philosophy, which is materialistic and atheistic, has some rules of conduct. Afterlife or heaven are not considered as rewards of an ethical life, however, they are considered important for social order. This is the reason why in Indian culture, emphasis is placed on a harmony of thoughts and action, knowledge and conduct, logic and faith, philosophy and religion. No society can function without integration.

If we look beyond the the arguments and debates regarding violence and agriculture in the middle ages, the only conclusion we can draw is that the primary conduct of Jaina culture and Jaina tradition lies in non-violence and non-possessiveness. There is violence when we violate our ethical vows. We commit violence when we utter untruths, when we commit thefts, when we shun chastity and when we hoard excessive possessions. Therefore, these must be avoided at all cost. It is to do away with violence and to establish non-violence that so many vows of abstinence and restraints have been created. Non-violence in conduct and anekānta in thought, this is the orginal face of Jainism. Ahiṁsā is religion and anekānta is philosophy. Faith is religion and logic is philosophy. Action is religion and knowledge is philosophy. Buddhism also has two schools of thought – Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna. Hīnayāna primarily focusses on the realm of conduct and Mahāyāna that of knowledge. Even if we look into Sāṅkhya and Yoga, we arrive at the same conclusions that Sāṅkhya is its philosophical aspect and Yoga is its aspect of conduct. The same is true of Uttara Mīmānsā and Pūrva Mīmānsā. The former is based on philosophy and logic and the latter is based on action and conduct. What I am trying to explain is that every tradition has its own philosophical position and its own code of conduct. There is not a single tradition in this world whose knowledge does not have a base in its conduct and vice versa. Not just Indian culture, even foreign traditions will refl ect the same truth. Prophet Mohammad of Islamic religion has also propounded these two facets of life. Jesus Christ also stated the same in the Bible. The Taoist religious leader Laotse and the Chinese religious leader Confucius have given equal importance to knowledge and conduct.

I reiterate that human life is complete when knowledge is supported by conduct. One is meaningless without the other. Each one gives value to the other. If we want to tread the path of right conduct, we have to tread the path of non-violence and non-possessiveness. All religions have directly or indirectly propounded these ideals. They may be referred to differently. Whether termed as policy or love, service or brotherhood, an ethical way of life is what all religions propogate. It is the highest of all religions.
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