IS THERE A TRADITION OF MEDITATION IN JAINISM?
"That monk is great who mortifies himself!"
And has subtle meditation no place in it all?
"The essence of Jainism is penance hard!"
A delusion this, which needs to be cleared.
Physical pain in sadhana,is incidental:
To bear it with equanimity is the real Jain teaching.
Mahavir's practice of austere.meditation,
Sanctioned by Ayaro, is for all to emulate.
Q.The effect and importance of meditation is unique. Through meditation, an
individual progresses from the common to an uncommon ground. Meditation is
practised in various religions. Even those who have no faith in conventional
religion, practise meditation. In Jainism no tradition relating to meditation
seems to have been laid down. Is there any place for meditation in this
religion, or does its excellence lie only in exalting selfmortification?
Ans. The question relating to the practice of meditation in Jainism does not
concem any one particular individual. In fact, the delusion in this context is
widespread, giving rise to an unimaginable concept, without any foundation
whatever. The learned are as much mistaken about it as the general public. In
1958, I happened to visit Nalanda during my trip to Calcutta. Some professors
came and said at the very outset, "Jain sadhana is very austere. There is in it
an open exhortation as follows Become a monk, observe fasts, do penance, torment
the body with utmost severity, squeeze it dry, suppress all desires, pay no need
to the body--ignore the demands of the body and the mind. Only by disciplining
them will you achieve salvation. Stand in the sun and expose the body to the
sweltering heat. Never do a thing with a view to physical comfort or
convenience. Is all this true?"
I listened to them with attention. They had commented on the Jain religion in
accordance with their preconceived notions and now they wanted to know my
opinion. I said, "Not only you but many other scholars have a similar conception
of Jainism. And they have presented it as such. But I should like to know where
in your reading you have come across such an exposition. Where did you hear it?
What is the basis of your conception? Have you discussed this matter with any
authorised jain muni or acharya? Have you deeply studied the Jain Agamas? If
not, on what basis do you say that jainism is a stem religion, and that
excepting the emphasis on the mortification of the body, there is nothing like a
tradition of meditation in it?"
A scholar may uphold any opinion on the basis of prejudice, preconception or
illusion, but the fact is that a more non-assertive and pliable system of
meditation as is found in jainism is not to be found elsewhere. Mild moderate,
intense---an appropriate system of meditation on each of these three levels has
been prescribed in jainism. All these techniques primarily refer to karma not to
the body. The system of Jain meditation is a process of demolishing the karma
and dissolving the past impressions.
It seems to me that some scholars having read a chapter on the austere living of
a jain muni formed an idea that the mortification of the body or the endurance
of endless pain constituted the Jain religion. In reality the penance is there
not to torture the body but to develop equanimity in the face of prevailing
Q.You just said that to mortify oneís flesh is no religion, but the capacity to
endure pain is. But is it not necessary to mortify the flesh, so as to develop
the capacity for enduring pain?
Ans. There are many forms of religion. Forbearance, straightforwardness
gentleness, and freedom from greed are forms where the accent is on the
disciplining of the mind, -and not on enduring pain. Therefore, the question of
deliberately punishing the body for the sake of religion does not arise. There
remains the question of favourable and unfavourable circumstances. Both kinds of
situations arise in life. To develop the capacity to face both favourable and
unfavourable circumstances with equanimity is religion. An illustration should
make this point clear.
A patient goes to the doctor for the treatment of his ailment. The doctor
advises him to undergo surgery. Surgery causes pain to the body. It is not the
doctorís intention to cause pain and the patients objective, too, is to find
freedom from pain, not to court it. Still there is pain and the patient endures
it. Just as an operation is not intended to cause pain to the body, similarly
the practice of control or meditation is not intended to cause any pain. The
operation is actually the treatment of the disease. Similarly, sadhana is the
treatment of passions. If to cause pain to the body be the objective of sadhana,
salvation in that case loses all meaning. Salvation means freedom from all kinds
of pain---that is the sole objective of religious practices. In view of this, it
is altogether illogical and inauthentic to say that the mortification of the
flesh constitutes religion in the Jain tradition.
Q.If causing physical pain is not the objective of jainism, is there any
tradition of meditation there? Lord Mahavir was the last Tirthankar in the Jain
tradition. Is there any mention of meditation in his life, or is any technique
of meditation available?
Ans. The entire sadhana of Lord Mahavir is connected with the practice of
meditation and relaxation (kayotsarg). As soon as he was initiated he took up
the practice of kayotsarg and meditation. Although he undertook many long fasts
during his sadhana and was consequently known as a devout practitioner of
austerities, but his pracitce of austerity is not devoid of meditation. Here a
great illusion has arisen. The illusion is that the devout asceticism of Lord
Mahavir's life has been seized upon whereas his practice of meditation has been
completely ignored. Unlike many other sadhaks who concentrated on meditation
alone or on fasting alone, Lord Mahavir chose a different path. He did not
accept a one-sided view in any field-from this point of view, his doctrine of
non absolutism, i.e. many-sided perception is invaluable.
Lord Mahavir felt that meditation was very important although fasting was no
less. For meditation it was essential for the body to be in a perfect condition.
Such perfection was possible only through fasting or controlled eating. Fasting
prepares the necessary background for meditation. The sadhak who cannot keep a
fast or observe control over his diet, is not fit for the practice of
meditation. To be able to practice meditation it is necessary for a sadhak to
purify his mental and physical background.
The discussion of twelve kinds of purification in the Jain tradition is very
important in the context of meditation. Fasting, control over diet, undertaking
of various pledges, and complete abstention from rich heavy foods ---all these
four elements are extremely important from the point of view of
body-purification. If a sadhak is not alive to their importance, he cannot make
much progress in his meditation. Then, the body is trained through the practice
of asanas. Until the asanas are perfected, one cannot practise long sittings.
After the asanas have been perfected, it is necessary to control the
licentiousness of the mind and the senses. After achieving control over the
senses and the passions, a method of purification of the mental flaws has been
laid down. At this level, it is necessary to effect the dissolution of the 'I'
and total surrender. Until the sense of the 'I' is dissolved, a sadhak cannot
give himself completely even to his sadhana. In order to develop his
knowledge-consciousness, the dedicated sadhak takes to studies. Then only is the
groundwork laid for the practice of meditation. The sadhak who takes to
meditation without first passing through the requisite stages, cannot continue
for long. The consummation of meditation is renunciation, complete detachment.
Thus, the sadhak adopting a systematic method of meditation naturally advances
towards his goal.
The answer to the rest of the question relating to the technique of meditation
is Ayaro. So many seeds of dhyana sadhana lie scattered in Ayaro by organising
and elaborating which a complete system of meditation can be perfected. This
would require a serious and extensive study of Acharang Sutra.