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 practiced in various religions. Even those who have no faith in conventional religion, practice 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 self mortification?

Ans. The question relating to the practice of meditation in Jainism does not concern 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 authorized 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 hardships.

Q.You just said that to mortify one’s 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 favorable and unfavorable circumstances. Both kinds of situations arise in life. To develop the capacity to face both favorable and unfavorable 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 doctor’s 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 practice 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 practice 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 organizing and elaborating which a complete system of meditation can be perfected. This would require a serious and extensive study of Acharang Sutra.