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There have been twenty-four Tirthankaras or prophets of the Jain religion. The first one was Lord Rishabh and the twenty-fourth one was Lord Mahavir. Contemporary Jainism has Lord Mahavir’s pronouncements as the basis. They include some of the principles enunciated by the twenty-third Tirthankara Lord Parsva also.

Lord Mahavir preached his doctrine after attaining omniscience. He propounded Religion by giving central importance to the soul. For him, caste, creed and colour were not significant. Religion or Religion came to acquire a comprehensive scope by upholding the principle that casteism is not real.

Treating Religion and sect as two separate things reinforced the basic unity of Religion. There can be a plurality of sects but there can be no plurality of Religion. True Religion consists in subduing attachment and hatred. It is the same for everyone and for all times and all places.

Lord Mahavir gives us the anekanta Philosophy (non-absolutism) to look at the world. It is a widely used metaphysical concept and is an important method in the quest for truth. According to this theory, you cannot arrive at the entire truth with the help of sense perceptions because senses have their limitations- they can at best arrive at partial truth. Besides, there are as many facets of truth as there are ideas. Therefore, before declaring that a particular idea is false, one must try to discover its latent fragment of truth. This humble but comprehensive viewpoint of the Jain Religion regarding the quest for truth is enough to give it the status of a world religion.

Once Acharya Tulsi was camping in Hissar (Haryana). It was a summer afternoon. Suddenly Kaka Kalelkar emerged as if from nowhere. The Acharya wondered how Kaka had come without any prior information. The latter said I was sitting in my office in Delhi thinking about anekanta. While doing so I felt very unhappy about the inactivity of the followers of the Jain Religion. People of all religions are trying to turn their religions into world religions. But the Jains are totally inactive on this front. They have a great philosophy like the anekanta, which qualifies as a world religion, and yet they are least bothered about it. I was distressed by it. I could not contain my grief and it explains why I have come here in this scorching heat.

Kaka Kalelkar’s complaint did not merely have a tinge of grief; it also had a lot of truth. The Jain Religion is a fit candidate for being a world religion. For it supports human unity, explains religion from a non-sectarian angle and concedes partial truth in the doctrines of all other sects.

Three Stages of Soul

Jain Religion postulates three stages of the soul: (1) the external soul. (2) The internal soul and (3) the omniscient or liberated or supreme soul. The external soul is characterized by an aversion to the quest for truth. The internal soul is fully dedicated to the quest for truth. One who attains self-realization is a liberated soul. Supreme soul or paramatman. Lord Mahavira was a supreme soul. All those who are fully devoted to spirituality have the right to become supreme souls. Anyone who follows the spiritual practice that Mahavir preached and followed can like him become a liberated soul. This principle of attaining the status of a liberated soul transcends time, space and individuality. It is a universal principle.

Truth can be ascertained in two ways: scientific appraisal and popular estimate.

To know the ultimate nature of the reality of subtle truths. We use scientific appraisal. Popular estimate is used to know empirical truth. The form of religion exclusively based on scientific appraisal cannot take the place of a world religion. On the other hand a religious code of conduct based on empirical truths has the potentiality of becoming a world religion. The code of conduct comprising the vows enunciated by Mahavir is universal. That code can command wide acceptance from human beings living in any society.

Jain Religion as a World Religion

The universality of a religion can be assessed on the basis of the following six points:

1. God, man the world

2. Intuitional perceptions or direct experience

3. Ethics and path of spiritual practice

4. Rituals and regular observances

5. Mythology

6. Ultimate goal.

The picture of Jain religion, which emerges on the basis of the above six, points automatically reveals its universal acceptability.

1(a). God: God is not the controller of the world. God is pure unattached consciousness, eternal, unborn, desire less and not subject to reincarnation. All souls, which attain the above characteristics, belong to the category of a God. There have been countless souls of this kind and there will be countless of the kind in future.

(b) The World: The world is real. The constant natural and causal changes of the modes of conscious beings, matter and other substances constitute the sentient and non-sentient world. This perfectly tallies with the concepts of modern science.

(c) Man: Man is a living being endowed with special abilities. By birth there is no difference between one man and another man. By awakening his discriminating faculty. Man can make his present individual, as well as collective life, happy and peaceful. For this what is needed is not the worship of a God. But heroic self-effort. Any man can attain the highest good through his valorous effort. Irrespective of caste, nationality, creed or sex.

2. Intuitional perception or direct experience: Everyone can have the kind of direct experience that the Tirthankaras had. It is possible through dedicated spiritual practice. One who methodically practices meditation? Yoga etc. Can attain direct experience. The maxim appannaa sachchamensanjjaa (discover the truth yourself) gives the same direction. The knowledge gathered through mere intellectualism will be superficial and indirect in nature. Knowledge born of one’s own experience is not possible and in the absence of such knowledge no progress in the direction of self-emancipation can take place.

3. Ethics and the path of spiritual practice: The ethical code needed for the practice of religion is much stricter than ordinary moral values. It is not in the form of sectarian ethical directions, but aims at intensifying spiritual practice and eliminating the impurities of inner passions. The practice of self-restraint, control of the sense organs and mental restraint etc. Constitute its basis. Its universality is axiomatic. Social and group moral values have limited value in a large context since they are contingent upon contemporary factors. The code of conduct prescribed by the Jain Religion can fully satisfy the above criterion and the needs of the times as well.

4. Rituals and regular observance: Such practice and props, which could be easily resorted to. Heap in the progressive development of introspection and are essential for those who are incapable of intense spiritual practice. They (simple religious performances) are, on the one hand, easily accepted and on the other hand. Help the aspirant to attain spiritual heights through prolonged practice. Other religions lay greater stress on devotion worship prayer rituals, etc. Where Jain Religion, being grounded in one’s valorous self-efforts, lays emphasis on those activities, which strengthen one’s faith in the spiritual ideal. The famous formula of five-fold salutation given by the Jain Religion in the form of navakaar mantra is unique. Besides it there are directions regarding good conduct. Worship of saints, treating guests properly, etc. Laying emphasis on the ways of worship can be meaningful only if they are free from violence. Possessiveness and inequality and the Jain Religion regards only such worship as valid. Such worship is easy for all to follow.

5. Mythology: Mythological literature is a storehouse of religious traditions and historical events. It appeals specially to those who are devotional in temperament rather than to those who are rational. Children, women and villagers find it easier to reinforce their faith in religious ceremonies through mythological tales and illustrations. Mythological legends, descriptions and discussions may smack of exaggeration and eulogies, but taken on relative terms, it is not difficult to understand their real intent. Any statement expressed metaphorically can be properly understood in its right context. The special feature of the Jain mythological literature is that most of its characterizations are based on human behaviour. The accounts relating t deities, hell etc. is also consonant with the intentions of the original agama literature. Nothing has been included in them, which may be said to be an expression of mere imagination and false notions.

7. Ultimate Goal: Only that religion can command universal acceptance, which has as its final foal the elevation of the soul to the status of the supreme soul or fully liberated soul. The sublimity, purity and exaltedness of a religion gets destroyed if it regards its final goal of life as the selfish pursuit of mundane goals of life and if it is reduced to one of the means of solving day-to-day problems. The Jain Religion regards only liberation (moksha) as the goal of life. A person who behaves religiously with a view to obtaining worldly happiness and satisfying selfish desires neither progresses towards the final goal nor does he grasp the essence of Religion.

It is not important when one attains the final goal. What is important is that the spiritual aspirant marches towards it uninterruptedly and constantly. Even partial progress marks an attainment of the goal. Complete liberation is its final fulfillment. The above view urges the Individual constantly to revel in his real inner sell. Such an individual leans the art of leading a happy and tension-free even while living in the mundane world. Passing joys and sorrows do not deflect him from the enjoyment of inner bliss. The life style developed by the Jain Religion on the above basis gives man the means to lead a peaceful, happy and healthy life. On these founds. It is obvious that the Jain Religion can claim to be a universal religion.

Jain Religion is not to follow

There is a common misunderstanding about Jain Religion that it is too rigorous to be acceptable to all. The average man is attracted more towards a religion, which can be easily practiced. Therefore, how can a religion in which harsh penance etc, are obligatory become a world religion? It can be only for a few individuals.

It is important to dispel the above misunderstanding. Nowhere does the Jain Religion lay down harsh penance as a compulsory practice. One who goes on practicing spirituality according to his own capacity and competence keeps marching ahead and scales greater and greater heights of spiritual practice. Statement like ‘self-mortification is religion’ or ‘starving is religion’ does not belong to the Jain Religion.

There are four constituents of the path to liberation (1) right knowledge (2) right faith. (3) Right conduct and (4) right penance. A spiritual practitioner can attain liberation by an integrated practice of the above four. He can steadily march forward according to his own competence by sincere self-effort. No one is bound by it. The possibility of gradation and amalgamation of self-restraint and penance is so vast that the above-dedicated practice can be under-taken in the simplest form possible. Faith is concerned with the mental attitude, which is free from the distinction between the simple and the difficult. Right knowledge consists of their basic understanding of the ultimate principle. No more knowledge is required.

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