So also, karmas are considered as possessions because
they are acquired by the soul at all times, in every moment. There is
never a moment in worldly life when fresh karmas are not integrated
into the soul. Even in the thirteenth,2 most sublime stage of spiritual
development, the soul is not truly free of karmas, because although
there is complete purity of thought, karmas do arise even if just to
be destroyed in the very next instant.
The total absence of body and karmas happens only
in the liberated condition, not in the worldly one. So, in this worldly
sojourn, the soul admits the body, and also the karmas at all times.
As Mahatma Gandhi has said:
If you reflect on the body in the context of truth
and the soul, then you will realize that it is also a possession.
Apart from the body and karmas, wealth, property and
other means of enjoyment including relationships are, indubitably, possessions.
In such a framework, no one can be said to be free
of possessions. Not even the naked monk. He also accepts his bed of
wooden slab and grass, a pot for his daily routines, a peacock feather
for protecting the creatures that may come in his way, texts to enhance
his knowledge and of course, disciples. Hence, if acquiring of objects
is defined as possessiveness, then there is no one in this world who
can practice the vow of non-possessiveness.
As long as one is in this world, one is hounded by necessities. A person
engrossed in spiritual practices also needs to keep his body healthy
and active. It is not possible for the body to exist without its necessities.
Of course, most of the times, we do not discriminate or stop to think
about whether a certain need is really a need or a desire.
It is true that Jainism is idealistic and stresses
on renunciation. It inspires the aspirant to move towards liberation.
This Jaina ideal also has a consistent strand of realism running through
it. It is not merely a flight of vacant idealism. For such flight, even
at jet speed, serves no purpose. It is better to walk on solid ground,
slowly and steadily, as then, the path is at least traversed.
Thus, Jainism integrates realism into its ideal. Although
it propounds denial, it accepts reality as well. It permits the aspirant
to fulfil his needs, without labeling that as possessiveness. It teaches
to be free, not of necessities, but of desires. Even the ascetic who
aspires to be liberated from this world cannot be free of necessities.
This is why the agamas say that it is not objects, but attachment and
desire for objects that lead to possessiveness.3 The Tattvartha Sutra
Attachment is possessiveness.4
When an ascetic cannot be free of his needs, how can a householder
be? He is connected with his family, society and nation. He cannot remain
aloof from these. It is his duty to perform his responsibilities and
provide for himself and his family. Therefore, though he must attend
to his needs, he must definitely learn to put a brake on desires. This
is why householders cannot adopt the vow of limiting necessities (avasyakata
parima?a), but only of limiting desires (iccha parima?a). It is thus
obvious that acquiring an object does not qualify as possessiveness.
Possessiveness does not reside in the object, but in desires, ambitions
and attachments. Therefore, desire, ambition, avarice and attachment
are considered as synonyms of possessiveness. A sage of ancient times
has aptly stated in Sanskrit literature:
3 muccha pariggaho vutto nayaputte?a tai?a -- Dasavaikalika Sutra
4 murcha parigraha? -- Tattvartha Sutra
Those who are enslaved by their own desires are enslaved by the whole
When a wave of desire rises in the mind, they are drowned in its current.
Those who do not exercise their will to arrest the waves of desire cannot
become the leaders of this world. The body and the senses are dependent
on the mind for their actions. If the mind is enslaved by these waves
of desire, then the flow of life is reversed - it moves backwards. This
slavery of the mind is not just limited to this birth. It carries on
endlessly, life after life, causing stagnation and even regression at
It often appears as though the spiritual seeker has relinquished his
desires and his attachment for his wealth and family. But in truth,
his attachments which were visible earlier are now blanketed by his
sadhana. They have not died, but rather have lodged themselves deep
within him. Let me explain myself. Those who donate lakhs of rupees
in this life, dream of gaining multifold in their afterlife. Whatever
they have sacrifi ced here does not give them peace of mind since they
are obsessed with expectations of rewards in their lives to come. Such
is the strange nature of sacrifice! Here, they are willing to abstain
even from water while fasting, thereby believing that they have conquered
their thirst, but deep within they long to drink the celestial wine.
An aspirant vows to abstain from other women, and sometimes even renounces
his marital pleasures with his own wife, but his mind is constantly
hankering after heavenly damsels. This seems as though the aim of adopting
the vow of celibacy in the present is to enjoy the rewards through sensual
gratification in the future. Obviously, such renunciation is not a genuine
one. It is but a gamble - renunciation in exchange for future enjoyment,
abstinence from indulgence for eternal rewards. It seems as if the only
difference is that some people are enslaved by the enjoyment of present
life while others are enslaved by promises of bliss beyond. But whether
we are tied to the pole of this world or the next, the soul is always
in bondage. The purpose of renunciation is freedom from bondage. But
where is the freedom in such renunciation? In fact, it is easier to
untie the knot of this world than that of what lies beyond.
5 asaya ye dasa? te dasa? sarva-lokasya,
asa dasi ye?a?, te?a? dasayate Loka
Who is the master of his own mind? Unlike those who are enslaved by
their desires, there are some who have truly overcome desires. These
great souls are not sucked into the currents of desire, rather they
dictate where and how the mind should travel. They have the power to
enslave desires and steer their minds in any direction they deem
fit. They are the true masters of the mind and are referred to as ‘Jagannātha’
in Indian philosophy, which means the master of the universe. As Śankarācārya
Who has conquered the universe? He who has conquered
Verily, he who is defeated by his mind is defeated by the
world. The mind is considered the centre of resolves - the
commander of the body and the senses. If the mind is restless or
sorrowful, then even a healthy body loses its energy. But if the
mind is charged with enthusiasm and hope, then even a lean
and bony body can cross the mountainous range of life.
Now the question before us - how can we prioritize our desires? Which
desires are useful and which are meaningless? When we make such a classification
of desires, we can organize our life, bring happiness into it without
allowing the burden of desires to weigh us down. So, what we need to
do is to remove from the mind those desires which are useless and harmful
and then prioritize the remaining desires – those that need immediate
attention and those that can be attended to later. If we are hungry,
food is an immediate priority, but sweets and savouries are not a must.
These are simply a temptation of the mind. Therefore, even without these,
one should be able to enjoy the simple food which will help in the sustenance
of life. Thus, if one can prioritize wisely, then contentment and simple
joys will be in abundance. This is in perfect tune with what was stated
by Lord Mahāvīra that we eat to sustain our life, not live
for the sake of food. The great seer has stated:
6 jitam jagat kema mano hi yena
One must eat food to sustain life. 7
The problem arises when sustenance is not given as much importance
as enjoyment and indulgence. Food is necessary for life, but not spices.
They do not satiate hunger in any way, they only satisfy the palette.
Likewise, ornamental vessels of brass, gold and silver, expensive furniture
do not serve the purpose of hunger. These external decorations are only
to please the ego. If we examine the things we desire, we will find
that very few of them are actual necessities. In fact, our needs are
so minimal that fulfilling them does not require much effort on our
part. Most of the trouble we take is for exhibitionism and ego-satisfaction.
I ask you - should wealth be worshipped or the individual? Once, a
well-known and wealthy person came to meet me. We had a discussion on
various issues out of which there is one I would like to share with
you. In the course of our discussion, a question arose whether in today’s
world a person is not respected as much as his wealth is. He said, “When
I was a poor ordinary man, nobody ever greeted me nor responded to my
greetings. But today when I have wealth and extravagance, everybody
greets me. In fact, I sometimes answer by saying, “Alright, I
will pass on your greetings.” One day someone asked me, “Whom
will you communicate my greetings to?” I answered, “You
greet not me, but my wealth. If it was me you greeted, it should have
happened when I was not as wealthy. Therefore, I will pass it on to
Goddess Laksmī who resides in my life in the form of my money.”
One who has the potential to rise above this platform created
by society and make a true evaluation of personal qualities is a truly
humble person. His wisdom remains unaffected by his success.
Let me tell you another incident. Once, a rich man and his
cousin were invited for a meal to a poor man’s house. When
the cousin saw the crumbling house of the host, he questioned,“What kind of a hell have we come to?” The rich man answered,“Instead of looking at the external appearance and residence of
a person, try to focus on his pure emotion of hospitality. This is
not an invitation by the crumbling house, rather it is a loving
invitation of a simple and pure person.”
7 javanattāe bhunjijjā
How lofty and profound are the thoughts of this wealthy
man! Today people lead their lives without having any clue
about how to live. They neither know how to follow the ideals
of life nor know how to make an honest living. The paradox is
that we expound theories of how we can tread the narrow path
of the after-world without even understanding how to walk on
the broad road of this present life.
So, returning to my story, the poor man served some rotīs and mango pickle in an old, cracked brass plate to his guests.
He served water in the same utensil he had used for cooking his meagre
meal. The rich man enjoyed and relished his meal, but his cousin remained
perplexed by the rotīs, plate and the
water container. I put this question to you – was there any difference
in the food placed before the two guests? Not at all. Nevertheless,
one satisfi ed his hunger with joy and contentment, while the other
expressed irritation and agitation and fi nally wound up not eating
anything. Therefore, we have to conclude that he wanted to eat not because
he was hungry, but to satisfy his desire and temptation.
What do these two people represent? While one represents contentment
and equanimity, the other represents dissatisfaction and exhibitionism.
For the cousin, just the food had no attraction, it had to be presented
in an ostentatious manner. But the rich man was willing to look at life
with wisdom and make a distinction between needs and desires. He could
control his desires by his reflection and discrimination.
Take the example of a woman who needs a saree. Instead of
simply buying one, if she makes a fuss that the saree should be
an expensive one, it should be made of silk with gold embroidery
on it, then is this saree a necessity or a desire to satiate her ego
or her whim?
Once, I went to a house for receiving alms. After giving the gocharī, the man of the house requested me to see his guest room.
The room was full of decorative items, so much so that there was hardly any comfortable space to walk around. So I asked
him, “Seth, have you made this room for yourself or for all these
artifacts? He answered, “Mahārāj, obviously for myself!” To this I
replied, “Seth, this room is stuffed with so many artifacts that the
entrance is cramped. Moreover, it must be quite a source of worry
to you that any of these expensive articles might break or get lost!
If a child accidentally drops something, I am sure he would get
a thrashing. Now you decide – is this room really for you or is it
only for these possessions?” The man had no answer.
More often than not, people start out to build a home for
themselves, but before they realize it, they fi nd their home
cluttered with objects that their minds and egos have desired.
Soon all their energies are wasted on the upkeep of those lifeless
articles which like unwanted guests neither give joy nor have
any value in terms of utility.
A house is a necessity, but it is also essential that it is kept
clean and airy. No religion asks a householder to relinquish his
house and live on the footpath with his family. Neither does
any religion deny you the choice to work hard, earn well and
live well. It does not expect you to live off the discards of others.
This is not proper religious conduct, it is only a pretense. The
purpose of religious conduct is to make a wise discrimination
between needs and desires. Without accepting the reality of life
and its needs, no religion can be true.
Therefore, the best course of action is to adopt icchā parimāna vrata, the vow of limiting desires as
propounded by Lord Mahāvīra if one wants to find peace and
joy. When we learn to prioritize and distinguish between actual needs
and whimsical desires, then we will start constructing a wholesome and
We all know that needs and desires are two sides of the coin of life.
But to remain aware of their distinction at every step is a daunting
task. This is the path of sādhanā. Until the last breath of life, a person cannot be free of necessities.
But it is for him to control the quantum of his necessities. If not,
his necessities flamed by his desires become endless, bringing about
his downfall. A person who exerts control on his desires arranges his
life with economy and precision. As soon as the flow of desires cease,
his life becomes controlled and limited. He is then unaffected by the
craving for objects of luxury and remains content with the objects of
Unnecessary accumulation is a sin, a wrong-doing not just in a religious
context, but in a social and national context as well. The conflicts
prevalent in society and nation are largely due to the tendency to accumulate.
As the wealthy begin to hoard more and more, resources are depleted,
thereby causing inflation. The ordinary man on the street cannot afford
even his basic requirements due to the rise in prices. Thus the country
is divided into two sects – the rich and the poor, or the capitalists
and the communists. Communism hasn’t sprung out of nowhere. The
extreme situation of haves and have-nots has given birth to communism.
Just like the natural elements, even food, water and clothing should
be equally available to all. No thinker is divided on this issue. Jainism
states that the root cause of sin, irreligion and conflict is excessive
accumulation. He who accumulates objects of luxury and uses them just
for himself, not distributing them evenly, cannot ever fi nd peace.
According to Lord Mahāvīra: One who does not distribute wisely
cannot attain liberation.8
Peace lies not in self-satiation but in self sacrifi ce; not in
receiving, but in giving; not in accumulation, but in relinquishing.
He who is caught in the maze of accumulation cannot ever knock
on the gates of liberation.
All great thinkers have categorized the tendency of
possessiveness as an undesirable quality. The great poet and
dramatist Shakespeare states unequivocally, “Gold is worse
poison to a man’s soul than any mortal drug.” Christ taught in
his sermons, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a
needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
8 asamvibhāgī na hu tassa mukkho – Daśvaikālika Sūtra
This proves beyond doubt that possessiveness is worthless on all counts.
It brings about discord at a personal level and destroys the peace of
societies and nations. The lesser the accumulation, the lesser are one’s
worries - less coin, less care. He who has few possessions has peace
in abundance. He is the richest who is content with the least since
he has found the rare treasure of never-ending peace. There is nothing
more precious than peace in this world.
Who does not long for peace? But for this, it is essential that man
relinquishes the need to accumulate. Also, he must strive for simplicity
and economy in his life. It is important for an aspirant not to allow
his desires to soar beyond control. He must remain vigilant and exercise
discrimination while acquiring objects such as gold, silver, gems, fields,
property, vehicles, and animals and ensure that he never acquires what
he may not need.
Wealth is inert in itself, neither a virtue nor a sin. In itself, it
is not even a possession. If being wealthy is equalled to being possessive,
then the scriptural texts have to
redefine possessiveness. The āgama pronounces
that having wealth is not possessiveness, attachment is. If a person
has neither cloth to cover himself, nor food to eat, nor even a roof
to call his own, yet if his mind is constantly battling with countless
desires, if he is obsessed with power and wealth, then he is considered
possessive. But if he is free of desire, delusion and attachments, then
all the wealth in the world will not make him possessive.
Those whose minds are full of delusion think they own the whole world.
Those who have crossed the boundaries of delusions know that nothing
belongs to them. 9
Verily, it is not wealth and property that make one possessive, but
the desire and attachment in the mind. To acquire anything which is
not needed by him or his family is the root cause of disharmony. Therefore,
it is the primary duty of every aspirant to measure his desires, control
his ambitions, strive to rise above attachments and affections and work
towards reducing his necessities. The watchfulness over one’s
desires and the resulting action there-in, is non-possessiveness, which
is the pathway to liberation.
9 mūrchā-chnna-dhiyām sarva-jagadeva parigrahah mūcrchayā rahitānām
In the context of possessiveness, the venerable Mahāvīra
says of Ānanda, the householder:
He limits his own desires.10
Here, the reference is not to the extent of wealth or objects. Ānanda learns to limit his own desires which are endless. When
desires are limited, objects are automatically limited; this is the
first step to non-possessiveness.
Just as a ship cannot sail without water, human beings cannot live without
a certain amount of wealth and luxuries. As countless drops of water
float beneath the ship, causing it no harm, so also those who stay afloat
their possessions sail smoothly through life. All the wealth in the
world may lie at a person’s feet, but if his mind is free of desires,
then he is free of fear and danger. Even a whirlpool of wealth cannot
stop his spiritual journey. But just as a little water entering the
ship can cause it to sink, so also a few waves of attachment can rock
the boat of life. Money and wealth are not possessiveness or sin, but
can be the medium for possessiveness and sin. Truly, attachment is possessiveness,
attachment is sin and attachment is the cause of this worldly sojourn.
This attachment towards wealth, material, country, political leanings,
communal views, or even towards one’s disciples is nothing but
sheer burden – a dead weight that can cause a ship to sink.
The pursuit of detachment is the pursuit of nonpossessiveness. The foremost
condition on the path of nonpossessiveness is not the relinquishing
of wealth and objects, but of attachment. Only he who can overcome his
desires and ambitions can tread the path of non-possessiveness. He is
not forbidden the use of objects, but must always remain vigilant and
detached from those objects. If two sets of clothing are enough for
a year, then an accumulation of many more clothes stemming from a yearning
for design and colour is not justifi ed. It is considered possessiveness.
Clothes, utensils and other objects are essential for living. But one
must be vigilant not to cross the boundary of necessity. Some of you
have so many possessions that they rust in your trunks, yet others die
of hunger and cold. Some of you overeat and suffer from indigestion
and related diseases, while many others die of hunger and scarcity.
A nonpossessive person is aware of this disparity. He never does anything,
which causes differences and conflicts within family, state or country.
It is when a person is blinded by his desires that he cannot
see beyond his selfi shness. Here, he sows the seeds of conflict
which aggravate the feelings of insecurity and jealousy, thus
leading to disharmony. The only way to destroy these negative
feelings is to forfeit desires and unnecessary accumulation.
Non-possessiveness lies at the core of world-peace. It
is the life-breath of sādhanā as opposed to possessiveness,
which is death. Non-possessiveness nurtures detachment
and kills attachment. Detachment is virtue and attachment
vice. Detachment is the gateway of heaven and liberation and
attachment that of worldly sojourn.