Vast as is the legacy of the skilled and illustrious Jain scholars and artisans, equally extensive is the contribution of the humble and industrious aspirants whose dedication and perseverance is their bulwark. Both, irrespective of position or skill, draw inspiration and strength from three basic rules or jewels of wisdom: right faith, right knowledge, right conduct. Simple to say, but not so easy to follow in the fullness the Jains expect. They, like the raja-yogins, consider these three inseparable, and regard a one-sided development to be self-defeating and dangerous.
Thus, while it is essential to have faith or respect for the tirthankaras and for their teachings, such faith is worthless unless founded on understanding. On a threefold understanding: instinctive, so that one reacts automatically without thought or consideration; intellectual, the mind comprehending clearly intricacies of doctrine; and spiritual, with heart, higher mind and conscience satisfied and at peace. But even such perception is worthless unless translated into action that is positive and compassionate. For only in this way does one begin to know the world for what it is, and become an example and a teacher. Only in this way are superstitions, blind faith and ignorance destroyed. The Jains find it particularly galling that anybody should seek merit by bathing in a "sacred" river, walking on burning coals, sprinkling "holy" water or incense, or propitiating "man-made" deities.
These three jewels of wisdom are predicated on the principle of universal equality — of the identic and innate spirituality of all that exists. The Jain at a young age "regards small beings and large beings, the whole world as equal to himself; he comprehends the immense world, and being awakened he controls himself among the careless."' And he "confesses," or pledges himself, to three vows which he will follow with increasing dedication all through his life. The first vow is to do no harm, no violence, to any living thing; not to kill, or cause to be killed, or consent to others killing, any living thing, whether by deed, word, or thought. For thoughts of blame and dissension, almost more than acts, cause suffering.
Perhaps today there would be less questionable conduct if we placed such importance on motive, if we recognized the tremendous forces for good or for evil that are generated by thought and desire. The Jains understand this well, defining a murderer, for instance, as one who, although he finds no opportunity to execute his will, resolves in his mind to kill another. They also consider each individual responsible for crimes he commits unintentionally, for if one lives harmoniously he will not be in a place, at a time, or in a condition where he would, even unknowingly, do harm to any living thing. Thus they endeavor to be ever restrained and in control, avoiding and renouncing wrong beliefs, living with care, wisdom and kindliness.
The second vow is to speak no untruth; to utter no words in anger, greed or fear that might cause dismay; not to conceal or falsify truth by long-winded explanations, by clinging to one's own opinions, or by pronouncing vain benedictions or casting spells. But at all times to use moderate and controlled language, for truth which is not pleasant and wholesome is, for them, not truth.
He who is of a wrathful disposition and calls everything by its true name, who renews a composed quarrel, will, like a blind man groping his way with a stick, do harm to himself, being still subject to passion and possessing evil Karman. — Sutrakritanga, 1, 13 (5)
Rishabhadeva had brought the knowledge of omens as the last and least of his gifts, but later tirthankaras rejected it as "unworthy" of study or practice. This, despite the fact that in those days all varieties of magical spells were employed by "holy" shamans to effect miraculous physical and psychological benefits. Jain admonitions are clear: he who casts "spells for making somebody fall down, rise, yawn; for making him immovable, or cling to something; for making him sick, or sound; for making somebody go forth, disappear, (or come). . . . They practice a wrong science, the unworthy, the mistaken men." (Sutrakritanga, 1, 12, 18)
The third vow is to refuse to accept anything, whether given or found, that is not rightfully one's own. These vows "proclaimed by the first Tirthakara, according to the teaching of the last Tirthakara," Mahavira, apply to the laity. Two others are taken later when members become monks.
The Jain householder, fulfilling his vows and attending to the duties of family and society, is aware that during this period of his life such training is essential. In these small obligations and services for others one finds, he is told, unparalleled opportunity to develop the self-control, responsibility and compassion necessary for later advancement. In fact, even one who "still lives in the house" and faithfully fulfills his creed, will eventually free himself from ignorance, from the whirlpools of birth, and reach "the world of the gods."
However, knowing that the long process of evolution can be hastened, he undoubtedly looks forward to the time when he can directly begin his spiritual career. In the meantime he curbs impatience and prepares himself by periodic fasting, giving alms, mentally renouncing worldly possessions and attachments, and studying the more metaphysical teachings. Then, when children leave home and obligations become less demanding, both husband and wife are ready. They respond naturally, without hesitation, to the needs of the soul. No longer circumscribed by the immediacy of daily affairs, they now direct their full attention and concern to the wide field of study and training necessary to accelerate development of those higher faculties which will enable them to know the "constant, permanent, eternal, true Law," and so knowing, to help, teach and protect all that lives.
The unwise sleep, the sages always wake. . . . Not minding heat and cold, equanimous against pleasure and pain, the Nirgrantha (Jain) does not feel the austerity of penance. Waking and free from hostility, a wise man, thou liberatest (thyself and others) from the miseries. -- Akaranga Sutra, I, 3, 1 (1-2)
Following tradition, every Jain who becomes monk or nun, as token of this decision, obtains permission from family and authorities, distributes wealth, shaves his head and abandons jewels and clothing — exchanging them for the simple white garments of the Order. Those of the Digambara, "sky-clad," dramatically signify this total renunciation by abandoning clothes entirely, taking literally the verse: "Those are called naked, who in this world. . . (follow) my religion according to the commandment." (Akaranga Sutra, 1, 6, 2 (3)). They interpret text word for word, just as do those devotees who fasten gauze over their mouth, strain their water, and sweep their path lest unintentionally they harm even the smallest creature.
However, there are deeper implications to these concepts, far more philosophical than the benevolent "reverence for life" exemplified by Albert Schweitzer, Mahatma Gandhi or St. Francis. The teachings of Jainism explain comprehensively that nature is united in cosmic kinship, a brotherhood, a Oneness of man and sun, of gnat and burgeoning tree. Sweeping, straining and veiling are but outward proclamations of this intense inner awareness, and the realization that "the soul which suffers for its carelessness, is whirled about in the universe, through good and bad karma." (Uttaradbyayana, x 15). Their teachings regarding karma are intricate and profound.
Naked, "space-clad," suggests the purity of ancient Jainism when its followers were named Nirgranthas, "the unbound" — nir-grantha meaning "no knot," thus one untied from personal attachments. Nakedness also signifies the lucidity which Mahavira restored to Jain traditions, when "like a lamp he put the Law in a true light,"' discarding the obscuring lens of superstition and ceremonial ritual. And it encompasses the fourth and fifth vows taken now by the Nirgrantha. Chastity giving up all sexual pleasures, physically and mentally: renouncing attachment to possessions and enjoyment derived from the senses.
As the crane is produced from an egg, and the egg is produced from a crane, so they call desire the origin of delusion, and delusion the origin of desire. . . .
Misery ceases on the absence of delusion, delusion ceases on the absence of desire, desire ceases on the absence of greed, greed ceases on the absence of property. — Uttaradhyayana, xxx (6, 8)
More technically this casting off of the "illusion-garments" of our this-world thought and emotion and putting on the "wind as a girdle," the ethereal robes of the spirit, refers to the time when the Self (Atma),* temporarily or permanently, sheds its three lower bodies; and in the two higher "subtle ones," travels in consciousness to distant places, and to the world of the gods and there "develops into its natural form, obtains perfection, enlightenment, deliverance, and final beatitude." These translucent robes may also correspond to the three "vestures" of Buddhism, those consciousness-vehicles used by greatly advanced human beings, the bodhisattvas, when they wish either to undergo experience in some other sphere, or to work in the invisible realms of our earth to help mankind.
*The five vehicles of the Self (Atma) which Jainism enumerates are: (1) the audarika or physical body; (2) the karmana or carrier of karma, the body of cause and effect which brings about the conditions and experiences through which the reincarnating self evolves from life to life; (3) the taijasa or body composed of fire particles which cause digestion, or (in a fuller sense, this is the body of thought, which is composed of the radiant fire of intelligence; (4) the aharika or carrier of the soul when it journeys to places far away; and (5) the vaikriya, a subtle body of the soul which can be changed at will. (Jaina Sutras, translated by Hermann Jacobi, II, 406n.)
Warnings are repeatedly given in the sutras of Jainism not to identify the Self with any of its bodies, for the real Self transcends a millionfold the limitations of the personal, false self.
Body, house, wealth and wife, sons and friends and enemies
All are different from the soul, only the fool thinks them his own. . . .
Death is not for me, Why then should I fear? Disease is not for me. Why then should I despair?
I am not a child, nor a youth, nor an old man — all these states are only of my body. . . .
Time and again in my foolishness I have enjoyed all kinds of body and have discarded them.
Now I am wise! Why should I long for rubbish? . . .
The soul is one thing, matter another — that is the quintessence of truth.
Whatever else may be said, is merely its elaboration. — Ishtopadesa, 8, 29, 30, 50
As for the Jain mendicants who, having entered the sacred Way, now spend the remainder of their lives in selfless service either within a monastery or as a wanderer, it is said that —
as water does not adhere to a copper vessel, or collyrium to mother-of-pearl (so sins find no place in them); their course is unobstructed like that of Life; like the firmament they want nothing to support them; like the wind they know no obstacles; their heart is pure like the water (of rivers or tanks) in autumn; like the leaves of a lotus they cannot be soiled by anything. — Sutrakritanga, II, 2 (70)
Omniscient, wandering about without a home, crossing the flood (of the Samsara), wise, and of an unlimited perception, without an equal, he shines forth like the sun, and he illumines the darkness like a brilliant fire. — Ibid., I, 6 (6)
How descriptive this is of that mystical "union with God" experienced by the Great Ones of every age. Others — poets, artists and philosophers like William Blake, Fra Angelico, Plotinus and Jacob Boehme — have realized it in lesser degree, but sublimely. Even the humblest may know of its wonder, may catch for an instant this vision of truth. And usually for them, as for the Jain, one touch gives their life direction. Thereafter, each moment's thought, each mundane act, is hallowed by significance; for each, now consciously directed, affects potently not only their individual destiny but the whole of life.
(From Sunrise magazine, January 1976. Copyright © 1976 by Theosophical University Press)