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THE PATH OF ARHAT

Justice T.U.Mehta

Author’s Note

It was during the months of August to November, 1990 when my wife and myself were enjoying the company of our children and grand children in America on the completion of our 50th wedding anniversary, that my long-cherished idea of writing something on Jainism for all my grand children, who are reared and brought up in America, took a concrete shape. During our short stay in America we found some thirst for knowledge about Jainism in the Jainas who have settled there. This gave further impetus to me to explain some basic principles of Jainism in simple English.

It is rather hard to understand and still harder to practice the ethical principles based on subtle philosophy and metaphysics of Jainism by one brought up in the materialistic atmosphere of the West. Even in India where the basic doctrines of the theories of souls, Karma, Re-birth, Ahimsa and Aparigraha come naturally to one born and brought up in Indian atmosphere, Jainism is much misunderstood by some Jainas themselves. The lay-belief is that Jainism consists only in not killing insects and other living creatures, in avoiding meat-eating and in performing hard religious penance; but Jainism is much more than this.

One reason for such superficial lay-belief is that even some ardent followers of Jainism do not take the trouble of understanding some very subtle ontological and metaphysical doctrines of Jaina philosophy. From whatever little knowledge of Jaina doctrines I have, I am convinced that what is known as Jainism is nothing but an openness which leads us, step by step, with the help of logic and reasoning, towards the highest level of spiritual enlightenment where the individual soul enters into the realm of pure knowledge, and the State of complete bliss. 'Jainism' is not an 'ism', It is a systematized line of thinking which, being perfectly rational, does not demand any allegiance to any individual or god. Nay, it puts emphasis on your own efforts and plainly tells you that even the Tirthankaras (the path-makers) like Mahavira cannot help you beyond pointing out the 'path' to be followed, because they themselves have obtained salvation by that path. They only show the path, but efforts must be your own; there is no favor in finding the gates of Heaven. To repeat what the great saint philosopher Samantabhadra has said: "Na pujayarthastvai vitarage, na nindaya natha vivanta vaire" means "Oh lord, you are the Vitaraga and vivantavaira - one who has shed all attachments and aversion and hence your worship or your criticism is totally irrelevant because your worship does not please you, nor your criticism displeases you." This is the crux of Jaina philosophy. The laity would surely find it hard to follow because an ordinary man likes to be lead, to be rewarded for his merits and to be punished for his faults by some super power, may be of totally unknown destination. He finds himself lonely and forlorn if he is left to his own efforts. He, therefore, easily takes to ceremonies and rituals which give him psychological satisfaction of having done something to please the ultimate power that be. For laity, therefore, the path of devotions (Bhakti) is more appropriate.

Jainism is principally the path of knowledge (Jnana) reinforced by devotion (Darsana) and action (Caritra). It is not for everyone to take up the path of knowledge because one has to cover that path alone by one's own efforts without expecting any favor from any other source. For many people, therefore, the path of devotion (Bhakti) is more appropriate. But devotion is fruitful only where there is complete self-surrender to the Divine. Both the paths, if properly pursued, are equally efficacious. But the trouble is that we do not pursue any of these paths fully. To pursue either of them fully we have got to understand their underlying philosophy. Writing of this thesis is a humble attempt in that direction.

I do not know how far I have succeeded in explaining the profound doctrines of Jainism in English, which, in the hands of a lesser person like myself, becomes a poor medium for conveying rich ideas expressed in Prakrta canons. I will consider my purpose well served if this thesis invokes some interest to know more about Jainism from more competent persons.

The first two chapters of the thesis contain historical background, the second chapter having special reference to the life of Lord Mahavira. The remaining chapters bear titles which do not immediately convey the idea of the contents. However, a detailed synopsis of the contents of every chapter is given in the beginning covering every topic which is discussed in each chapter.

The last chapter is intended to show how the doctrines of Jainism can be put to use with advantage in day to day life and how they are more relevant in modern age.

There is an appendix with a map showing political divisions of the country during the times of Mahavira. The appendix further contains short notes on contemporary schools of thought such as Ajivika doctrine of Gosala, Sankhya doctrine of Kapila and the doctrines of contemporary early Buddhism. This is done to enable the reader to have some comparative data of contemporary schools of thought.

I take this opportunity to express my thanks to Padma-bhusana Pt. Dalasukhabhai Malavania and Prof. Sagarmal Jaina, the two learned luminaries of Sramana tradition, for encouraging me to publish this thesis. I feel grateful to Authorities of Pujya Sohanalala Smaraka Parsvanatha Sodhapitha, Varanasi, specially its Secretary Shri Bhupendra Nath Jaina, Faridabad, for undertaking the publication of this thesis, Dr. Jain rendered very valuable help in editing the same. Dr. Ashok Kumar Singh, Research Officer, has worked hard in editing the work and finding out the original sources of my quotations, so he also deserves my heartiest thanks and blessings.

I am also thankful to my friend Mr. Justice M. P. Thakkar Retired. Judge of the Supreme Court of India, as also to my wife Yasomati in encouraging me to write this thesis. But for the active assistance rendered by my wife, I would not have been able to complete single-handed many features of this work in the midst of my busy professional schedule.

 

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