Thursday, March 11, 2010

Jainism And The Belief In God Or Supreme Self

Jainism And The Belief In God Or Supreme Self Cover One of the interesting features of Indian religious traditions is that one can be atheistic and yet religious a concept that is so alien to the western world that it is too difficult for many brought up in the traditional environment to accept such a notion as sensible. In Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism belief in God is not a prerequisite to practice religion. What is more important is personal salvation through righteous conduct and assiduous practice of the teachings left behind by enlightened masters. Hinduism is not an atheistic religion, but offers a wide range of choices to followers to test their beliefs. In Hinduism also, belief in God is not an essential prerequisite for achieving salvation, though a desirable one. God is a huge enigma which no one can truly fathom. Students of modern science know how difficult it is to understand the origin and nature of material universe. If we have that much difficulty with the material universe imagine, the extent of the problem we have with knowing the spiritual universe through the limitations of our senses and our minds. Religious aspiration begins with a person's inborn inclination, according to his or her previous karma, leading ultimately through self effort to an inner opening in which Truth is perceived or experienced beyond the barriers of conditioned mind and limitations of scriptural or temporal authority. Religion is therefore a means for self Exploration to arrive at Truth. It is not some authoritarian ecclesial dogma that suspends free enquiry and demands unconditional surrender to a scriptural injunction or messianic teaching under the weight of blasphemy or fear of persecution. In all the Indian religions, knowledge gained through personal experience is more valid than knowledge gained through some scripture or teaching.

Buddhism and Jainism deny the very existence of God as an absolute and eternal entity. They do not acknowledge a creator behind the world in which we live. In Buddhism, any discussion about God is regarded as futile because such a deliberation is of little value in the liberation of an individual. It would not lead to mitigation of human suffering or liberation of the individual. What matters most is personal effort and the sincerity with which the Eightfold path is practiced. The Buddha advised his disciples to remain in the here and now, mindful of their immediate perceptible world, to know the True Nature of their existence and find suitable remedies to the problem of their suffering. If Buddhism does not care to confirm or deny the existence of God, leaving the matter rather inconclusive and unanswered, Jainism makes its stand very clear by emphatically denying the existence of God as a universal and absolute Self responsible for creation, leaving no scope whatsoever for ambiguity on the subject.

Paradoxical as it may sound, although Jainism does not believe in the existence of universal Supreme Self, it may be wrong if we categorize as atheistic. Jainism may say God has not created the universe, but it does say that the souls are divine and eternal. It believes in the sanctity of the worlds by finding divine souls everywhere, having the potential to reach their highest state of freedom, through their individual effort. For Jains God and divinity are not synonymous. A world devoid of God can still be divine and eternal. They perceive divinity or God nature in the sanctity of entire existence and in the eternal, individual souls who are intrinsically divine, having the ability to be according to their choices and actions. The world and the soul are permanent realities which cannot be denied. According to the Akaranga Sutra, "He who denies the world (of fire-bodies), denies the self; and he who denies the self, denies the world (of fire-bodies)."

So in Jainism God is replaced by individual souls or jivas, who are eternal, uncreated and indestructible, who inhabit the universe which is also uncreated and indestructible, subject to the movement of repetitive time cycles stretching over millions of years in which the souls pass through alternating phases of moral decline followed by spiritual recovery, just as mechanically and repetitively the day is followed by night and the night by day. The God of Jainism is not a boon giver or a provider of grace, but an ideal state of eternal purity and blissful consciousness, to which humanity can aspire through renunciation, intense self effort and purification. Jains aim to achieve the state of divinity not for the love of God or to be with God or become God because He is higher and superior, but for the sake of virtue, purity and the need to escape from the existential suffering to regain the soul's lost freedom. In short in Jainism, there is no place for bhakti.

It is true that at some period in history the worship of Lord Krishna found its way into Jainism and Arishtanemi, the 22nd thirthankara, was linked to Lord Krishna. As a result, some Jains began worshipping Lord Krishna in a devotional way, leading to the formation of a community of Vaishnava Jains. However this Development was due to the influence of Hinduism and not a true Jain tradition. The Mahapurana declares that one should reject all notions of some God creating this world. It questions, " If God created this world, where was He before creation and where is He now and how can an immaterial God create a material world?" It goes on to conclude, "Know that the world is uncreated, as time itself is, without a beginning and without an end... Uncreated and indestructible, it endures under the compulsions of its own nature, divided into three sections- hell, earth and heaven."

Though the followers of Jainism do not acknowledge the presence of God, they acknowledge the existence of higher beings called arhats in heaven and also some gods who are embodied souls but with greater freedom and high degree of knowledge and intelligence. The arhats do not take any interest in the affairs of the world. They are completely indifferent to what goes on here. The followers of Jainism worship these arhats not because they want to gain some favors from them, but because the very act of worshipping them constitutes a good karma and leads to reduction in the inflow of karmic material. The gods on the other hand keep a watch on the activities of the world. They respond to our requests and sincere prayers and help us in our good deeds. Many of them have similar names as the gods of Hinduism but differ in respect of their status and potency. They are not aspects of Supreme Self but individual souls who have reached a higher state of existence through their good deeds.

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