Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mahavira's wisdom of anekanta

Lord Mahavir was the twenty fourth and the last Tirthankara of the Jain religion. He became a Siddha, living for ever in a state of complete bliss. I felt I should speak to him to clarify some doubts I have today.

Lord Mahavira, Your journey and experience are just amazing. I have some queries which I would like you to clarify. Could you answer them ?

Of course

Is it possible for people now to aim at enlightenment ?

Yes, of course. All Tirthankaras were born as human beings but they have attained a state of perfection or enlightenment through meditation and self realization.
This can be aimed for by anyone, anytime

The ultimate objective is to attain the total freedom from the cycle of birth, life, pain, misery, and death, and achieve the permanent blissful state of one's self. This is nirvana

What is the way to do this?

The first step is to recognize that it is necessary to destroy his inner enemies like anger, greed, passion, ego and so on
As human beings, we keep going in and out of these traps, and one must remain guarded.

What is the stumbling block that one may face?

From eternity, every living being (soul) is in bondage of karmic atoms, that are accumulated by its own good or bad deeds. Under the influence of karma, the soul is habituated to seek pleasures in materialistic belongings and possessions.
Karma goes beyond sinple cause and effect of action. Even one’s thoughts do accumulate karma.

Self-centered violent thoughts, deeds, anger, hatred, greed, and such negativities too need to be discarded.

I can only stress upon avoiding all situations and actions which may lead to violence.

Today, I would like to also stress intolerance too is a kind of himsic (violent) thought.

Here, I quote Acharya Kundkund who rightly stated “I am presenting a comprehensive knowledge of soul as differentiated from external objects based on my understanding and experience. Accept it if (in your estimation) it satisfies the condition of authenticity (PRAMAAN). But if I fail in my description, reject it.”

Such humility is what one needs to emulate.

Further, anekantavada, a principle I have spoken about also points out to diverse points of view being acceptable.

What is anekantavada?

Anekāntavāda refers to the principles of pluralism and multiplicity of viewpoints, the notion that truth and reality are perceived differently from diverse points of view, and that no single point of view is the complete truth.
This is to contrast attempts to proclaim absolute truth with adhgajanyāyah, In the story of the blind men and the elephant, each blind man felt a different part of an elephant (trunk, leg, ear, etc.). All the men claimed to understand and explain the true appearance of the elephant, but could only partly succeed, due to their limited perspectives. Since we cannot comprehend objects in all aspects and manifestations; no single, specific, human view can claim to represent absolute truth.

In practice, Anekāntavāda encourages its adherents to consider the views and beliefs of their rivals and opposing parties. Proponents of anekāntavāda apply this principle to religion and philosophy, reminding themselves that any religion or philosophy—even Jainism—which clings too dogmatically to its own tenets, is committing an error based on its limited point of view.

The principle of anekāntavāda actually influenced Gandhiji to adopt principles of religious tolerance, ahimsa and satyagraha. Even here, he was not dogmatic about vegetarianism, for instance, but only shared his own experience.The key is not to sit on a seat of judgement.

Can karma also be used in a negative manner? For instance, some people do not really get moved by the suffering of others, stating past karma as the cause.

Yes, of course. Unfortunately, sometimes people do not understand karma as dynamic.
We must remember that just as ego is thought, so is pride, self righteousness and intolerance.

As I thank and take leave of Mahavira, I understand the deep significance of acceptance as a way of life of true Jains and hope we all learn religious tolerance from the principle of Anekanta..


  1. What a contrast to what Gautama opined- Disposition and not Faith is needed.The issues of Soul, Re-incarnation, Birth, Death,Prana etc were ' avyaakrut-incomprehensible !'he said and advised that discussions about them did NOT LEAD one towards Holiness and Peace !The sudden upsurge of'spiritual ?' preachers and literature that'inspires'is creating havoc and chaos in a lot of 'seekers'Is there an end to 'reading and knowing ?'Doing - Experience- Knowledge - Belief/Faith is the sequence !

  2. I agree. Still, questioning and not getting misled is a useful exercise so that at least, religion is not misused

  3. I think you have given a sensible and persuasive interpretation of Anekanta or Syadvada in Jainism. And you have engaged in an unique conversation with Tirthankara Mahavira and doing so clarified the most fundamental principles of Jainism in a lucid and persuasive manner. Congratulations!

    As an activist for Jain constitutional minority right may I give a link to my Paper
    The Rise Decline and Renewals of Sramanic Religious Traditions within the Indic civiliztion with particular reference to the Evolution of Jain Sramanic Culture and Its Impact on the Indic Civillization: