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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.
Even if a man finds innumerable mountains of gold and silver as lofty as the
great Mount Kailāśa, his desire, his thirst does not meet its end.
Because desires are like the sky - unlimited ......infinite.


Life is limited, but our desires, wants and wishes are unlimited …infinite. One cannot count the waves that rise in the sea even if one attempts to. As one wave recedes, another rises. Similarly if one wants to measure the sky, it is impossible to do so, because the sky is infinite and has no boundaries. It stretches beyond this universe, beyond the reach of imagination. Likewise, one cannot reach the end of one's desires. As one desire is fulfilled, another rises and before it is satiated the next one rears its head. Lord Mahāvīra says:

Even if a man finds innumerable mountains of gold and silver as lofty as the great Mount Kailāśa, his desire, his thirst does not meet its end. Because desires are like the sky - unlimited......infinite.

Needs, however, are limited and therefore easier to satisfy. Man does not have to think or worry about them day and night.

Neither does he have to plan constantly on how to collect heaps of wealth to satisfy his needs. Therefore, one who is satisfied with his basic needs remains free - far from the clutches of possessions. Such a man may have fewer luxuries but he has the wealth of peace and contentment in abundance. Śankarācārya has praised such a person by saying that he who is content at all levels is a truly wealthy man. This is because he does not burn in the fire of dissatisfaction and discontentment. His mind is not obsessed with plotting and deceiving others for the purpose of filling his own coffers. Thus he leads a life full of peace.

Possessiveness is not just accumulation of unnecessary wealth and objects; it also includes the accumulation of insignificant thoughts. Gandhiji has remarked that one who crams his mind with insignificant knowledge is also possessive. Just as unnecessary objects cause clutter, so also useless and lowly thoughts clutter the mind and cause unrest. They give rise to perversions in life.

Since objects of necessity and noble thoughts are the true wealth of man, an aspirant should keep his mind free of conflict and lust, and remain content in the lap of true happiness. Let us now examine the definition of possessiveness. What is parigraha ? The meaning of the word 'parigraha' is: to accumulate. From this iewpoint, not just wealth and comforts, but other essentials of life, including our very bodies and karmas fall under the purview of possessiveness. If to ccumulate an object is possessiveness, a three-fold classification can be made regarding possessions:

1. body
2. karmas
3. upādhi (the means of enjoyment)

Now, let us examine the above classification. The body is a possession, which is acquired by the soul. There is not an instant when the soul is free of the living body. It is true that the physical body does not exist when the soul traverses from one form of existence to another, but the subtle bodies of fire and karmic particles always remain companions of the soul.

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.

Necessities can be fulfilled, but the fulfilment of wishes and desires is difficult. The maze of desires is so complex that before one is attended to, another springs forth. There is no end to it. As you reflect some more on the distinction between needs and desires, you will understand that all the disharmony and discord in this world can be traced to this problem of possessiveness.

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 proclaims:

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 world.5

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 every step.

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 states:

Who has conquered the universe? He who has conquered his mind.6

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 meaningful life.

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 bare necessity.

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
tu jagadevāparigrahah

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.

Published By " Sugal & Damani Family "