The Method of Understanding the Meaning of Religious Texts

      • The Method of Understanding
        the Meaning of
        Religious Texts
      • Edited by Dr. H.C. Bharill

Lesson 2

Pandit Todarmal –The root of the tree of this world is wrong faith. Complete liberation of the soul can only be attained with the complete annihilation of this wrong faith.

Today we have to study why wrong faith persists in the Jains also and in those who obey the commandments of Jainism, because even an iota of wrong faith is harmful and subtleties of wrong faith are also worth renouncing.

Deewan Ratanchand – How does wrong faith persist in those who are Jains and obey the commandments of Jainism ? There is nothing in support of wrong faith in the Jain scriptures.

Pandit Todarmal – Whatever you say is correct. There is nothing in the Jain scriptures which supports wrong faith, but those who do not know the method of understanding the meaning of religious texts, cannot go to the heart of the scriptures. They understand something otherwise from their imagination and their wrong faith does not leave them.

Deewan Ratanchand – Is there some method of understanding the meaning of religious texts ?

Pandit Todarmal – Yes, there is a method of doing and understanding things. Till we understand that method, we cannot do anything in the proper way and can also not understand things in their right perspective.

Deewan Ratanchand – What is the method of understanding the meaning of the teachings of Jinendradeo ?

Pandit Todarmal – Principles of religion have been explained in the religious texts from real and conventional aspects. Ordinary humans do not understand the real meaning of the texts for they do not understand the nature of real and conventional aspects. The scriptures have been divided in four broad heads. Each head has got a different method of exposition. If we do not understand that method, we cannot understand the intrinsic meaning of the texts.

Deewan Ratanchand – Please explain the nature of real and conventional aspects and the method of exposition of the religious texts.

Pandit Todarmal – I have already dealt with real and conventional aspects some days back and have also elaborately explained the four divisions of the religious books.

Deewan Ratanchand – Yes, we have got a general knowledge of these subjects. We, however, want to understand them in the context of the methods of understanding the meanings of religious texts.

Pandit Todarmal – If you know the nature of real and conventional aspects, let me know what are real and conventional aspects?

Deewan Ratanchand – Real aspect means the intrinsic exposition and the conventional aspect means imposed exposition of things and principles. We can also say that exposition of the nature of one substance as that only is the real aspect and to describe it is the nature of some other substance is the conventional aspect.

Pandit Todarmal – Then you must be knowing that the conventional aspect mixes self and non-self, their modifications and activities and then exposes them, while real aspect places them as they are, without mixing one with the other.

Deewan Ratanchand – yes, we know this also.

Pandit Todarmal – Well, then, tell me who are men and animals ?

Deewan Ratanchand – Living beings.

Pandit Todarmal – Living beings?

Deewan Ratanchand – They have also been described as such in religious books

Pandit Todarmal –Yes, they have been described as Living beings, human and hellish life being their modifications in the scriptures, but we should not accept the modifications as living beings. The modifications are a mixed state of the animate and inanimate entities, but in reality soul substance is quite different and that should be treated as such. In the context of its association with the soul, bodies etc., are also called living entities, but that is so in words alone. From the religious point of view bodies etc., are never living entities.

Likewise, the indivisible soul has been divided into consciousness, perception and other attributes, but these divisions are just to explain the substances, which should be accepted as indivisible only. From the real aspect, the soul is indivisible. That alone should be treated as a living substance. The divisions are from the name and number points of view and as such are for explanation only, they are not different from their intrinsic nature.

Deewan Ratanchand – I think rules of conduct and abstinence have been described as the path of liberation from the conventional aspect only.

Pandit Todarmal – Conduct and abstinence etc., have been called path of liberation for purposes of dissociation with the non-self entities, but they should not be accepted as such, for if the soul can possess or abandon other substances, it will become the creator and destroyer of these. No substance is, however, dependent on others. The soul detaches itself from the attachments and becomes perfectly detached. In fact, such detachment is the real way to perfection of the soul.

It was for this reason that it was explained that till we recognise which statement is real and which conventional in the scriptures, we remain in darkness and understand both as the same.

Deewan Ratanchand –Then why did the exponents of philosophy take recourse to conventional aspect also ?

Pandit Todarmal –Without conventional exposition, the spirit of the religious texts cannot be clarified. Therefore, though not real, the conventional aspect has been made use of.

Deewan Ratanchand –Why cannot the real aspect be exposed without the conventional one ?

Pandit Todarrnal – The soul, from the real aspect, is different from all non-self substances, and one with its intrinsic nature alone and independent. If we go on telling people like that, they would understand nothing. Therefore, it was explained in relation to other substances like body etc., and by division into human, animal and other phases. Likewise, indivisible substances were explained in parts thereof e.g., soul was divided into attributes like sentience, perception etc., and thus clarified.

Just as a barbarian cannot understand things except in his own language, in the same way conventional man cannot understand the real intrinsic soul or other substances except with the help of conventional exposition.

Deewan Ratanchand –What should be our correct understanding ?

Pandit Todarmal –When things have been described from the real point of view, they should be accepted as they really are and when they are illustrated from the conventional aspect, we should treat them as not like that, but described as such from the point of view of their associations or other instrumental causes.

Deewan Ratanchand – Is the conventional aspect only helpful in teaching others ? Has it its own purposefulness also ?

Pandit Todarmal- Till we recognise the real intrinsic nature of substances, we should understand them from the conventional aspect. Thus, in lower stages conventional aspect is also helpful. However, it is helpful only if we treat conventional aspect as imposition and then we try to understand things; but, if we regard conventional aspect as truthful as the real one and treat things as ‘thus only’, then our belief will remain perverse and we shall be treading wrong paths.

Likewise, we do not understand the real nature of substances, having not understood the four broad divisions of Jain scriptures. Therefore, we should have a clear picture of these divisions.

Deewan Ratanchand – Kindly explain the real purpose of exposition of the nature of things in Prathmanuyog.

Pandit Todarmal – In Prathmanuyog, persons are induced to lead a religious life, by describing the diversities of this world, the results of merits and demerits and the activities of the great men of history. Original stories are just as they were, but expositions in the different contexts sometimes are exactly similar, at others, they are according to the thinking of the writer, but the purpose is never otherwise, for example, gods participated in the five auspicious events of the life of the Tirthankaras, but the words of adoration used by the gods and their lords were not exactly similar to those that were originally used. Likewise in dialogues the language used by the writer is quite different from that which was used by the speakers, but they serve the same purpose.

Sometimes reference stories written by writers are according to their own conceptions e.g., there are stories of fools in Dharam Pariksha, but it is not necessary that the same story was narrated by Manoveg. However, it surely was supporting foolishness.

Sometimes in Prathmanuyog, people doing improper acts, but with a religious sense and purpose, have been praised e.g., Vishnukumarji, out of sheer love of piety, saved the seven hundred monks from torture, but this action on his part was improper, for he had to leave monkhood; but he has been adored for this due to his love for piety. Taking advantage of this example, we should not give up the higher status and indulge in less important tasks.

It is evil to worship or pray God for being blessed with sons or curing oneself of diseases, these being including in Nidan Artdhyan and devoid of selflessness in pursuing the path of religion, but even these have been praised, considering that the devotee did not indulge in the worship of gods, who are personifications of wrong faith themselves and spread the same amongst their followers. One should not in this manner perform religious rituals to achieve worldly aims, which only satisfy pleasures of the senses.

Deewan Ratanchand – What is the subject matter dealt with in Karnanuyoug?

Pandit Todermal – Karnanuyog explains things seen by the omniscient beings. Omniscience covers all the worlds and the non-world, but Karnanuyog illustrates things useful for us, beings who are in the lower stage of sentience e.g. scales of spiritual growth, but manifestations of living beings are countless in number; they cannot be described in words. As such similar modifications have been included in the different fourteen scales of spiritual progress.

In Karnanuyog things have been described from the point of view of educating persons in a particular direction, but is should not be treated exactly like that e.g. attempts at violence etc., are called wrong consciousness; but in reality all the consciousness of the person with wrong faith is bad consciousness and that of the person with right faith is good consciousness.

Deewan Ratanchand – What is the style of narration in Charnanuyog?

Pandit Todarmal – Charnanuyog teaches conduct of religion as can be guided by the wit of persons. Conventional aspect is predominant here, because in real aspect of religion, there is nothing to be accepted and nothing to be abandoned. Two ways of giving religious instructions have been adopted here, one only conventional and the other conventional with real. Outward activities are important in conventional teaching, but inner thoughts and feelings are more important in the real cum conventional aspect.

Deewan Ratanchand – For whom is conventional teaching alone given and for whom conventional mixed with the real?

Pandit Todarmal – Only conventional teaching is meant for those who have no knowledge of the real perspective and in whose case it appears that even attempts to inculcate the real aspect will fail. Those who have the knowledge of both the real and the conventional aspects, or in whose case it can be taught usefully; are taught using conventional aspect mixed with the real one. In Charnanuyog, sometimes, new passions are aroused in order to persuade persons to stop their sinful activities e.g., by creating fear passion with the hellish phase of life as a result of evil and by creating greed passions with heavenly phase of life to lead people to follow the path of religion. Likewise, hatred with the human frame is created by describing it as very impure; and sense of aversion with sons and daughters is generated by showing them as extremely eager to get the accumulated wealth of the parents. Greed of having wealth and issues by indulging in worship, charity or adorations is generated to induce people to become religious minded. The real purpose of such expositions in Charnanuyog should be kept in mind to have right faith.

Deewan Ratanchand – What is the method of narration in Dravyanuyog?

Pandit Todarmal – The purpose in Dravyanuyog is to develop right faith by examples, reasons and various interpretations. Influx and other elements are described in a manner that would lead to feelings of detachments, discrimination between the self and the non-self and the living and the non-living entities. Spiritual experience is hailed and conventionalities are discarded. Important of Rules of Conduct etc., is sometimes minimised to create indifferent towards these in the minds of those, who are very much drawn towards those, in order to encourage the emergence of spiritual experience. Merits are decried not for pursuing demerits, but for pursuing detachments.

Thus, the methods of exposition in the four Anuyogs are different, but the chief purpose of all these is the propagation of detachment. Sometimes soft attachments are recommended in order to do away with stronger ones, at others all attachments have been decried, but nowhere attachments have been proclaimed as merits. Real perfect faith is in eliminating attachments as far as possible. Real consciousness is to know how these can be eliminated and the Real Conduct is to follow the path of the elimination of attachments. We should, therefore, understand the real intention of religious truths by following the styles of all the four Anuyogs .

Deewan Ratanchand – What to do if sometimes mutually opposed tenets have been placed before us in the religious texts?

Pandit Todarmal – The message of Jinendra Deo does not have mutually contradictory commandments or assertions. We feel that the contradictions are there, because we have not understood the style of the Anuyogs and the real and the conventional aspects of religious teachings. There is no contradiction if we comprehend these methods of understanding the religious texts. It is, therefore, necessary that we should keep studying the scriptures, which is the first and foremost preparation for the pursuit of the path of liberation. You are, therefore, ordained to study religious texts with proper understanding. You will surely obtain perfect bliss.