This is Part – VI of Dr. Kamath’s series on Heretics, Rebels and Revolutionaries. Read Part V here.
The sixth Samurai in our list of seven, who rejected and repudiated Brahmanism, and reacted against it in the post-Vedic period (1000-500 B. C.), was born as a prince in what is today Bihar, India, in the year 599 B. C. His name was Vardhamana. Like thousands of other disgusted Kshatriyas, when he grew up, he gave up his princely prerogatives and became an ascetic. He embraced Jainism, then an amorphous sect that had arisen several centuries earlier in response to the horror of animal sacrifices emblematic of decaying Brahmanism. Swami Vivekananda explained how Jain moral principles saved Indian society from further degradation:
“What could have saved Indian society from the ponderous burden of omniferous ritualistic ceremonialism, with its animal and other sacrifices, which all but crushed the very life of it, except the Jain revolution which took its strong stand exclusively on chaste morals and philosophical truths? Jains were the first great ascetics and they did some great work. ‘Don’t injure any and do good to all that you can, and that is all the morality and ethics, and that is all the work there is, and the rest is all nonsense-the Brahmins created that. Throw it all away.’ And then they went to work and elaborated this one principle all through, and it is most wonderful ideal: how all that we call ethics they simply bring out from that one great principle of non-injury and doing good.” (Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 3)
Not Knotted Great Hero
Vardhamana’s followers bestowed on him the title “Mahavira,” Great Hero, in recognition of his conquest of the six enemies of mankind (Shadvairies). These evils were Kama (lust), Krodha (rage), Mada (hubris), Moha (delusion), Matsarya (jealousy/envy) and Lobha (greed). Anti-Brahmanic Upanishadists declared that these six evils arose from the Brahmanism’s doctrine of the Gunas of Prakriti, and they tainted one’s deeds and promoted Samsara as per the Law of Karma. He was also known as Nirganta -the one who was “not knotted” (entangled) with sense objects such as wealth, power, people and heaven. As we read elsewhere, the primary preoccupation of Brahmanism was to gain these sense objects by means of desire-driven animal sacrifices. He has been credited with collecting the age-old disparate tenets of Jainism and systematically organizing them. Jainism as a distinct sect with its clear-cut set of principles began with Mahavira. Jains consider him as the last of their 24 Thirthankaras (“ford makers”).
Jainism was one of many lotuses, which blossomed in the cesspool of Brahmanism. The word Jain is cognate with Jina, to conquer. The conquest Jains referred to was that of their inner demons. By making this their main goal, Jains were merely setting themselves up as examples of rectitude for corrupt Brahmins and Kshatriyas to follow. It is not the purpose of this article to elaborate on Jainism, but to explain how its basic tenets developed in response to decadence of Brahmanism; and the role Mahavira played in making it a sect distinct from Brahmanism. By and by we will also examine the relevance of its ideals in the modern world.
Upanishadism And Jainism
Jainism has much in common with Upanishadism. They both arose around the same time (900-800 B. C.) in reaction to decadence of Brahmanism. Whereas Brahmanism swallowed up Upanishadism, Jainism managed to stay distinct from it. Jainism did not believe in Brahman or any other super-divinity, such as those of later Hinduism -Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. So it is essentially an atheistic or, at least, agnostic Dharma. Both Upanishadism and Jainism abhorred Samsara, the unending cycle of birth and death. They both made it their goal to break away from it as a rocket circling the earth would from its gravity. Their ultimate goal was to attain Nirvana (final exit). Both claimed that if one acted without Dwandwam (like and dislike, pleasure and pain, gain and loss), one would not gain any Karmaphalam in action.
Mahavira’s Approach To The Problem Of Brahmanism
Mahavira did not confront decadent Brahmanism head-on; nor did he attempt to reform Brahmanic Dharma. Instead he attempted to purify himself first and then reform Jainism. He recommended his followers to behave in such a way that one could see them as distinct from the corrupt Brahmins and Kshatriyas steeped in Kamya Karma. In other words, Jain reaction to the evil of decadent Brahmanism was mostly one of self-purification, withdrawal and noncooperation. This was in stark contrast to frontal attacks materialist Ajita Keshakambalin indulged in against Brahmanism. Gandhi, in our own times, applied Jain principles for both inner conquest and outer conquest. He dealt with his own inner demons, and those of Hinduism through acts of self-purification, and dealt with the evil of British rule through noncooperation and militant nonviolence.
In the course of time Hinduism, which arose from the ashes of Brahmanism, incorporated many Jain principles into the body of its literature. However, when Brahmanism infiltrated Hinduism like a virus, Hinduism paid only lip service to them. Today’s Hinduism is nothing but slightly disguised decadent Brahmanism.
Basic Tenets Of Jainism
The period during which Jainism evolved was such that intellectuals viewed the world as a miserable place and they could not wait till they got away from it. Jainism is a life-negating system, which preached renunciation of materials and activities to gain them. Jainism is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Lokayata, which is a life-affirming system, which believed in enjoying life to the fullest extent.
Development Of Basic Tenets
Three gems (Ratnatraya) on which Jainism rests are: Right faith (vision or perception), right knowledge and right conduct. Five pillars resting on this foundation are: Ahimsa (nonviolence), Satya (Truth), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmancharya (celibacy) and Aparigraha (non-attachment to sense objects).
1. Ahimsa (Nonviolence): The outstanding tenet of Jainism is Ahimsa -nonviolence. Jains adopted this principle in reaction to the horror of rampant animal sacrifices associated with Kamya Karma (desire-driven Yajnas). These corrupted Yajnas were based on abuse of the Law of Karma.
It should be noted here that the principle of Ahimsa not only opposed physical violence against living things, but it also forbade psychological violence against anyone, including people whose views Jainism strongly opposed. Instead Mahavira put forward principles, which were clearly opposed of those of decadent Brahmanism, but stated in a way as not to hurt Brahmanism’s sentiments. Because of this, Brahmanism did not perceive it as a serious threat. So, it is the only ancient Indian religion that has survived more or less intact to this day in India. As we read elsewhere, Brahmanism managed to overcome all other dissident Dharmas of ancient India by hook or by crook. It swallowed up Upanishadism, cloaked itself with Bhagavatism, ostracized and banished Buddhism, destroyed Lokayata, and hastened the death of Ajivika.
2. Satya (Truthfulness): Jain’s emphasis on the need for truthfulness must have arisen from the widespread perception among the intellectuals of the time that Brahmins were indulging in much deceit in deluding people with their theory of Kamya Karma. Brahmins kept making false promises to people that performing Kamya Karma would increase their prestige in this life, fulfill their desires for wealth and power in their next life, and open the door to heaven after death. Upanishads labeled these Brahmins as fools who merely perpetuated Samsara:
Mundaka Up: 1:2: 7-8: But frail, in truth, are those boats, the sacrifices, the eighteen (Brahmanas), in which this lower ceremonial has been told. Fools, who praise this as the highest good, are subject again and again to old age and death. Fools dwelling in darkness, wise in their own conceit, and puffed up with vain knowledge (of the Vedas and Brahmanas), go round and round staggering to and fro, like blind men led by the blind (also Katha Up: 2:1:5; BG: 2:42).
Mahavira never called Brahmins liars; instead he simply said one must always be truthful. Surprisingly, 2500 years later Brahmins are still inducing people to perform various rituals including Yajnas by making the same false promises.
3. Asteya (Non-stealing): This tenet of Jainism certainly arose from the fact that, Jains, like Upanishadists, considered performers of Kamya Karma as thieves who stole Karmaphalam from gods as explained in the Upanishadic Gita:
BG: 3:12-13: A thief verily is he who enjoys what is given by the gods without returning them anything. The good that eat the remains of Yajna are freed from all sins. But the sinful ones who cook food only for themselves, they verily eat sin.
Applied in everyday life, this meant one should not steal things, which one did not earn with the sweat of his brow.
4. Aparigraha (Non-possession): This tenet of Jainism was created to counter desire for sense objects such as wealth, land, power, and heaven characteristic of the upper classes of Brahmanism. Upanishadists condemned them in no uncertain terms in the Upanishadic Gita:
BG: 2:42-43: Delighting in the flowery words disputing about the Vedas, these ignorant and desire-ridden people say that there is nothing other than this (Kamya Karma). Holding the view that the purpose of birth and its activities is gaining pleasure and lordship here on earth and heaven hereafter, they speak of specific sacrificial rites.
5. Brahmancharya (celibacy): This was the ultimate expression of renunciation of all worldly pleasures.
The Concept Of Nirjara: Shedding Of Karma
Just as Upanishadists developed Yoga (Sanyasa and Tyaga) to amortize accumulated Karma, Jains developed the concept of Nirjara. Jains believed that one could overcome one’s Karma by shedding it in two ways: Passive (Savipaka) and Active (Avipaka). Passive way was to just suffer through life’s vicissitudes with stoic patience and equanimity (BG: 2:14). This approach takes a long time to amortize Karmaphalam. Active way was to practice meditation, internal and external austerities (Tapas) and perform activities for social good without Dwandwam (gain or loss) (BG: 2:15), which cancel-out the Karmaphalam faster.
Brahmins Corrupt Jainism
Mahavira preached his philosophy to the people of Bihar and went about gaining supporters for his sect. At the height of his fame, he had 400,000 committed followers. After his death, Brahmins infiltrated Jainism just as they did Buddhism, and thoroughly corrupted it by introducing idolatry, mindless rituals such a Poojas and Abhishekas (ritual baths) of idols, various divinities such as Yaksha and Yakshi, heavens and hells, lavish marble temples, Mantras, and other typically Brahmanic shenanigans into its corpus. In fact, some Hindu temples now have statues of Mahavira reflecting the fact that many Hindus see no distinction between these two creeds.
In the course of time disagreements (um!) ensued and Jainism divided into two major sub-sects: Shvetambara (white-clad) and Digambara (naked). Regardless Jainism has survived to this day as a minor, but very influential, Dharma of India, substantially distinct from Hinduism.
Brahmanism Responds By Creating Arjuna Vishada
About three hundred year after Mahavira’s death, when Kshatriyas were abandoning Brahmanism left, right and center to join Jainism and Buddhism, Brahmins created the Original Gita titled Arjuna Vishada to prevent further exodus of Kshatriyas. Using Ashoka the Great as the model of renegade Kshatriya who had allegedly fallen prey to his Ahamkara (egoism), they pleaded with Kshatriyas not to abandon their Dharma. At first, Brahmins tried to scare Kshatriyas that if they abandoned Brahmanism they would go to hell:
3:35: One’s own Dharma, though imperfect (due to its corrupt practices), is better than the Dharma of another (Jainism and Buddhism) well discharged. Better death in one’s own Dharma (because performing it you will go to heaven, 2:37). (Death in) the Dharma of another is full of fear (of going to hell).
Why would one go to hell if one died while practicing another’s Dharma? Well, that is because Brahmanism considered it a sin to abandon Varna Dharma (2:33). Besides, becoming a monk would lead to women of the family becoming unchaste. This could lead to admixture of Varna (Varnasankara) due to their bearing children from men of lower class. Children of such families would fail to practice ancient traditions and rituals to appease the souls of ancestors. Thus people who destroyed families went straight to hell (BG: 1:40-44).
Later on when even some Brahmins began to abandon it, Brahmins defended their corrupt practices by means of another perverted reasoning:
18:47-48: Better one’s own Dharma, though imperfect, than the Dharma of another well performed. He who does the duty (such as a Kshatriya killing his relative and friends, and Brahmins sacrificing animals at Yajna) ordained by his own nature (Guna) incurs no sin (bad Karmaphalam). One should not abandon the duty to which one is born though it is attended with evil (such as sacrificing animals); for, all undertakings are enveloped by evil, as fire by smoke.
Their argument was that a Brahmin need not worry about incurring sin for sacrificing animals at Yajna any more than a Kshatriya incurring sin for killing his relatives and friends on the battlefield. Both these actions are sanctioned by the Constitution (Brahmanism). Surprisingly, most Hindus take these statements on face value without critical analysis. All undertakings are not enveloped by evil.
In the Upanishadic Gita, which was created a few decades after Arjuna Vishada, Upanishadists criticized Jain and Buddhist monks while introducing Karmayoga (selfless Karma).
3:4: Man does not escape from gaining Karma(phalam) merely by abstaining from performing Karma (to gain sense objects); nor does he rise to perfection by mere renunciation (of sense objects).
Upanishadists told Kshatriyas to give up Kamya Karma, but not become inactive like the monks of Jainism and Buddhism:
2:47: Your entitlement is only to perform Yajna and never to its fruits (for they belong to the Devas). Never become the cause of Karmaphalam (in anything you do). But do not become inactive (like the monks of Jainism and Buddhism) either.
Furthermore, they advised Kshatriyas that after they gave up Kamya Karma, they must take up public service like king Janaka did (BG: 3:19-21). What they did not reveal to them was that the idea of Karmayoga was borrowed from the Buddha himself. The Buddha (5th century B. C.) told Kshatriyas that instead of wasting their energy on fruitless Yajnas, they should invest it for the welfare of people (Digha Nikaya 5: Kutadantha Sutta: 1: 134-36). Ashoka the Great (3rd century B. C.) who embraced Buddhism followed this advice to the fullest extent. Upanishadists introduced Karmayoga into the Original Gita to reform Kshatriyas several decades after Ashoka’s death. In the Gita, King Janaka was merely a surrogate for king Ashoka.
Nevertheless, Upanishadists recognized the merit in all Jain principles and endorsed without reservation:
13:7-9: Humility, modesty, nonviolence, tolerance, uprightness, service of the teacher, purity, steadfastness, self-control, dispassion toward the sense objects, absence of egoism, perception of evil in birth, sickness, pain, old age and death, detachment from people and materials, equanimity in the face of vicissitudes of life.
Bhagavatism Unreservedly Endorses Jain Principles
The goal of Bhagavatas was to completely overthrow the divisive Brahmanism and build a broad-based Dharma, centered on Krishna. Bhagavatism incorporated the principles of all heterodox Dharmas in the Bhagavata Gita with the exception of Lokayata. They exhorted people to abandon all Dharmas of the land and embrace Bhagavatism (18:66). They even declared that the Siddhas, Jainism’s liberated souls, sang praises of Krishna (11:21). With the view of incorporating Jain principles into Bhagavatism, Bhagavatas endorsed all their principles without reservation in the Bhagavata Gita:
16:2: Nonviolence, truth, absence of anger, renunciation, serenity, absence of calumny, compassion to beings, not coveting, gentleness, modesty, absence of fickleness, vigor, forgiveness, fortitude, purity, absence of hatred, absence of pride, these belong to one born for a divine state.
Gandhi And Jainism
Jains never attempted to wield their principles to reform Brahmanism or gain political clout. Historians tell us that Chandragupta Maurya (ruled 320-298 B. C.), grandfather of Ashoka the Great, became a Jain monk and starved himself to death at Sramana Belagola in Karnataka. Over the centuries, some petty kings all over India patronized them by building wonderful Jain temples. Through this all, the goal of Jainism remained inner conquest.
2500 years went by before Mohandas Gandhi actively applied Jain principles not only for inner conquest but also for outer conquest. Gandhi said that whenever one sees evil and injustice around him, one must not withdraw from it but to confront it. However, one must fight with purity of heart and nonviolent means. He said that the real battles are fought in the hearts of men and not on the battlefields. One must first conquer enemies within before attempting to conquer enemies without. By combining Jain’s ‘thou shall not kill’ principle with Jesus’ ‘show him the other cheek’ philosophy, Gandhi developed Satyagraha (Nonviolent insistence on Truth, a. k. a. militant nonviolence) to fight the evil of British rule of India. If Mahavira was the first historically known person to popularize the principles of nonviolence and truth in the sphere of one’s personal life, Gandhi was the first person to practice them in the social, religious and political spheres.
Gandhi Paid Lip Service To Hinduism
Even though Gandhi was born a Hindu, he paid only lip service to Hinduism. He claimed that the Gita was “my mother,” extolled “Rama Rajya” (rule of Rama) as the ideal, and had his followers sing “Vaishnava janato tene kahiye” in his public meetings. To be fair to all religions of India, he also read Koran, Bible and Granth Sahib in his public meetings. All these were political necessities. The reality is that Gandhi rejected just about every single practice of Hinduism: Worship of multiple gods, idolatry, blind faith, ostentatious Yajnas, mindless rituals such as Poojas, caste system, untouchability, astrology, superstitions, intolerance and hatred for non-Indian Faiths for real or imaginary past transgressions, violence against dissidents, and hoards of other stupid beliefs and practices Hindus cling to.
Gandhi Practiced Jainism
Gandhi seriously practiced almost all principles of Jainism in his everyday life: Nonviolence, truth (“the only god I know is Truth”), non-possession, celibacy, penance, prayer, meditation, selfless action, vegetarianism, respect for all Faiths, fasting for self-purification, wearing only white clothes (being a Shvetambara) but leaving half of his body naked (being a Digambara), observing silence (like a Jain Muni), frugality, being self-reliant by weaving his own clothes and cutting his own hair (like a Sramana), and the like. Even the song “Vaishnava janato” mainly enunciated Jain principles.
Gandhi Attempts To Reform Hindus
Gandhi applied the Jain principle of equality of all people to point out to Hindus the monumental stupidity of untouchability. In the face of severe criticism from Brahmanic lobby, he took the so-called untouchables into his Ashram. He renamed them Harijans, meaning children of god. He wrote innumerable articles in his newspaper titled Harijan deploring untouchability and other nonsense afflicting Hinduism. He tolerated his detractors with equanimity typical of Jainism. In his articles, he staunchly defended his views without being defensive.
Gandhi observed prolonged fasting several times to stop Hindu-Muslim riots and to awaken the conscience of both Hindus and Muslims. He claimed that he was not blackmailing them with fasting. His reasoning was that they both rejected his advice to co-exist peacefully because they must have seen some impurities in him. He was fasting only to get rid of those impurities within himself, and to assert his earnestness.
Satyagraha Against The British
In his struggle against the British rule, the weapon he used was known as Satyagraha (Nonviolent insistence on Truth). This method consisted of confronting the British with the Truth that their occupation and rule of India was inherently evil and immoral, and against the basic principles of their own Dharma. In other words he provoked them with militant nonviolence and challenged them to inflict violence on him for his defiance. He gladly suffered the punishment they gave him as the price he had to pay for insisting on his Truth. There was nothing passive about his brand of nonviolence. In the end the British could not face the shame of their occupation of India and hypocrisy of their noble intentions. So they left India with grace and without bitterness, and offered Indians a hand for lasting friendship.
Predictably, Gandhi’s death came not in the hands of the hypocritical British, but at the bloody hands of pusillanimous Brahmins. They murdered him in cold blood because their retarded minds mistook his tolerance and respect for Islam for hatred for Hinduism. They just could not comprehend his argument that in a democracy the moral concern of the majority should be to protect and promote the welfare of the minority.
Within two decades after Gandhi’s death, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the U. S. A. applied Gandhi’s principles of militant nonviolence and self-suffering to win equal civil rights for millions of African Americans. A narrow-minded conservative goon, perhaps hand in glove with other like-minded thugs, murdered him too. But his death was not in vain. Exactly forty years after his death, a black man became the president of the United States of America.
In the 90s Nelson Mandela liberated millions of his fellow citizens from the bane of apartheid through mostly nonviolent means and self-suffering. He served 27 years of imprisonment. In the end, he succeeded in incorporating the white minority into his government, which served the interest of all citizens on equal terms. Once again, Jain principles of nonviolence triumphed.
The question is whether Gandhi’s Satyagraha would have worked if his adversary were Adolph Hitler instead of Winston Churchill. I can say without any hesitation that Hitler would have obliged Gandhi with gas chamber without batting his eyelids. For Satyagraha to work, the adversary must have some decency, nobility and conscience in his heart.
Applying Jain Principles In Everyday Life In India
We must admit that in the modern India Jain principles of nonviolence, truth, non-possessiveness and the like are ideals few people could practice except in such superficial rituals as vegetarianism and weekly fasting. Many members of the Jain community are successful and very rich businessmen and entrepreneurs. In India where corruption is all-pervading (like the Upanishadic divinity Brahman!), it is mighty hard to conduct business honestly, amass wealth without cheating, and enjoy life without flagrantly violating most Jain principles. Principles of Jainism and the lifestyle of most Jains in the corrupt atmosphere of modern India must certainly be at odds with each other.
Application In Twenty First Century India
The question is whether Jain principles as applied by Gandhi in the mid-twentieth century are relevant to social action in the twenty first century. Properly applied they are, but with a few caveats. Two conditions need to be met: First, the activist must reform himself before attempting to reform others. This is easier said than done. Even for a well-motivated activist that might take many years of contemplation, introspection and practice. Second, Satyagraha works only when the adversary has a conscience and respect for human life and the Constitution. In a country ruled by unscrupulous politicians, corrupt bureaucrats, criminal-minded police and dishonest judges, the practice of Satyagraha could be very dangerous. The reality is that in India today these are the very people who perpetrate most social injustice by commission or omission. When threatened, they could inflict serious physical injury to the activist and even get away with murder. Let me share with the reader my own experience when I organized a consumer movement based on Satyagraha principles thirty years ago.
A Satyagraha Experiment In India
Thirty years ago, after studying the fundamental principles of Satyagraha for several years, and strictly practicing a set of codes of conduct in my personal life, I spent 18 months in India diligently applying these principles in my work as consumer advocate. I was surprised how effective these principles were in mobilizing public opinion and support against gross corruption in every single local government office. As the organization became popular and stronger, however, it created serious threat to bureaucrats and police. Soon a team of four police officials, without a grain of humanity or respect for human life and Law, descended on me and warned me that they could get rid of me “just like that,” and there was not a damn thing anyone could do about it. They told me that they were fully protected by their bosses and the government machinery. Regardless, I continued my work for another year knowing that if something happened to me my wife and two little children would be literally homeless. One of the lessons I learned from this experiment was: In fighting corruption in India, Satyagraha theory is valid, but it accomplishes little; its practice could accomplish a lot, but it could be darn dangerous!
(To be continued)
Read Dr. Kamath’s series on The Truth About The Bhagavad Gita here.
Dr. Prabhakar Kamath, is a psychiatrist currently practicing in the U.S. He is the author of Servants, Not Masters: A Guide for Consumer Activists in India (1987) and Is Your Balloon About Pop?: Owner’s Manual for the Stressed Mind.