The Essence of Jainism
By K.N. Upadhyaya
Publisher: Beas, India: Radha Soami Satsang Beas, 2018. ISBN: 978-93-86866-20-2
In this book the author presents “the essential aspects of Jainism from a practical spiritual perspective.” His focus is not on Jainism as a religion in the cultural, social, or historical sense, but on the essential spiritual teachings found in its ancient scriptures, the “core concepts of the soul.” He begins with a brief discussion of the origins of Jainism, its sacred texts, and the terms it uses for various levels of spiritual attainment. The roots of Jainism reach far back into prehistory, beginning with a series of twenty-four enlightened teachers, the first of whom was Rishabhadeva or Ādi Nāth, who was referenced in the Rig Veda, and the last of whom was Mahāvīra (599-527 BCE), a contemporary of the Buddha. These were teachers who “obtained liberation,” having “overcome all evils, including attachment, aversion, anger, pride, greed, and delusion,” and “attained ultimate peace.”
The book is organized thematically, taking up such topics as “The Soul, Bondage, and Liberation,” “Non-Violence,” “Human Life,” “The Guru,” and “Divine Sound.” The author seeks to elicit from the ancient sacred texts of Jainism their essential teachings on each of these topics. For example, discussing the soul’s reaching the state of oneness with God, he quotes Shubhachandrāchārya:
The state in which the soul is absorbed in God without any differentiation is the state of equanimity…. When the soul is absorbed in the meditation of God, it is said to be in the state of oneness… Then the soul is in its pure state and, its nature being the same as that of God, it is itself God. In this way, by meditating on God the soul becomes God.
Shubhachandrāchārya is believed to have lived in the eleventh century BCE. His teachings were passed down orally for centuries before taking written form in the scripture known as Jñānārṇava.
According to Jainism, it is only by recognizing oneself that one can be transformed into God. The renowned contemporary Jain thinker Hukumachand Bhārill said:
Not to recognize one’s self is the biggest mistake, and to understand one’s true nature is to rectify one’s mistake. God is not different from us. By striving in the right direction, every soul can become God. Know yourself, recognize yourself, and be absorbed in yourself; you will become God.
It is only the illusion of ‘I-ness’ that causes the soul’s bondage and all human misery. As the sacred text Anubhava Prakāsha explains:
By having the conceit of ‘I-ness’ and ‘mine-ness’ toward that which is different from yourself and which is not your own, you have become miserable. There is no one else causing you pain. It is your own attitude that has created the bondage of the world for you; it is your own mistaken notion that has caused the [birthless] soul to assume birth.
The practice of meditation is the only way to eliminate this ‘conceit of I-ness,’ as the great Jain rishi Rishibhāsita says:
Just as the head of the body and the root of the whole tree are of the highest importance, in the same way meditation is of supreme importance in the entire spiritual discipline of holy people, because without meditation, one cannot get rid of the conceit of I-ness and mine-ness; without getting rid of the conceit of I-ness and mine-ness, one cannot be free from the body, world, passions, and karmas.
Shubhachandrāchārya, in the Jñānārṇava, defines meditation as “holding one-pointed attention is called meditation by the wise. Meditation is that state in which the mind is established only in the object of its deliberation, and its fluctuations are stopped.”
The Jñānārṇava explains that the way to achieve this stillness is through listening intently to the unstruck Sound:
In order to make the mind absolutely motionless, after achieving concentration, one should contemplate successively upon increasingly subtler Sound, as if contemplating on the tip of a hair. One should contemplate from subtle to even more subtle sound and finally upon the most subtle unstruck Sound.
This divine Sound is praised in many of the Jain sacred texts. For example, in Amritanādopanishad it says:
This Melody (nāda), called praṇava, is not produced by external effort. It is not lettered sound made up either of consonants or vowels. It is also not pronounced through the throat, palate, lips, or nose. It is not brought forth by the cerebrum. It cannot be uttered through the dental space between two lips. It is that divine Sound which can never be destroyed, i.e., it remains ever-present in the form of unmanifested Melody. Therefore, [in order to still the mind] one should devote oneself to the practice of listening to praṇava with restraint and should keep the mind ever absorbed in the Melody.
Similarly, the Ādi Purāṇa describes:
Celestial drums were resounding in the sky with sweet melody. [From] all directions, a canopy of sound produced by a symphony of drums, tabors, conches, and trumpets was forming a mantle over the heavenly skies.
And the Mahāpurāṇa of Jainism speaks of “A great divine Sound endowed with exceeding excellence, resembling the thundering of clouds … dissolving the darkness of delusion from the minds of aspirants of liberation and … splendorous like the radiance of the sun.”
Liberation through meditation is, as the Jñānārṇava points out, dependent on purifying the mind:
A person who wishes to be truly liberated without purifying his mind is only drinking water from the river of a mirage. How can there be water in a mirage? Likewise, how can there be liberation without purity of the mind?
To purify the mind, non-violence is vitally important. The principle of non-violence applies to thoughts and words, as well as to deeds. It applies to non-violence toward all creatures but also towards oneself. The Jñānārṇava teaches:
Just as nothing in this universe is smaller than an atom or more expansive than the sky, so also there is no religious principle greater than the religious vow of non-violence. There is a world-famous saying that ‘non-violence is the greatest dharma (religious principle), and violence is condemned everywhere.’ Non-violence … offers happiness, welfare, and prosperity, which cannot be obtained through penance, the study of scriptures, and the observance of moral injunctions and prohibitions, because among all components of religion, non-violence alone is the foremost.
Therefore, expressing one of the core values of Jainism, the Jñānārṇava insists that it is essential to adopt an attitude of compassion and friendliness toward all, along with a desire to protect them:
O soul! Put aside your carelessness; and to have the purity of your thoughts, look upon the multitude of living beings with a brotherly attitude [considering them to be your brother, well-wisher, and friend]. In other words, have no animosity against any being; have a friendly attitude toward all, and be prepared to protect all with your thoughts, words and deeds.