The Writings of Annie Besant
We shall find ourselves this morning in a very different atmosphere from that in which we were yesterday, and in which we shall be tomorrow. We shall not now have around us the atmosphere of romance, of chivalry, that we find both in the faith of Islam and in that of the Sikhs. On the contrary we shall be in a calm, philosophic, quiet atmosphere. We shall find ourselves considering the problems of human existence looked at with the eye of the philosopher, of the metaphysician, and on the other hand the question of conduct will take up a large part of our thought; how man should live: what is his relation to the lower creatures around him; how he should so guide his life, his actions, that he may not injure, that he may not destroy. One might almost sum up the atmosphere of Jainism in one phrase, that we find in the Sutra Kritănga, [iii, 20] that man by injuring no living creature reaches the Nirvana which is peace. That is a phrase that seems to carry with it the whole thought of the Jaina: peace - peace between man and man, peace between man and animal, peace everywhere and in all things, a perfect brotherhood of all that lives. Such is the ideal of the Jaina, such is the thought that he endeavors to realize upon earth.
Now the Jainas are comparatively a small body; they only number between one and two million men; a community powerful not by its numbers, but by its purity of life, and also by the wealth of its members — merchants and traders for the most part. The four castes of the Hindus are recognized by the Jainas, but you will how find few Brahmanas among them; few also of the Kshatriyas, which caste seems wholly incompatible with the present ideas of the Jainas, though, their Jinas are all Kshatriyas. The vast mass of them are Vaishyas — traders, merchants and manufacturers — and we find them mostly gathered in Rajputana, in Guzerat, in Kathiawar; scattered indeed also in other parts, but the great Jaina communities may be said to be confined to these regions of India. Truly it was not so in the past, for we shall find presently that they spread, especially at the time of the Christian Era, as well as before it and after it, through the whole of Southern India; but if we take them as they are today, the provinces that I mentioned may be said practically to include the mass of the Jainas.
There is one point with regard to the castes which separates them from Hinduism. The Sannyăsî of the Jaina may come from any caste. He is not restricted, as in ordinary orthodox Hinduism, to the Brahmana caste. The Yati may come from any of the castes, and of course as a rule comes from the Vaishya, that being the enormously predominating caste among the Jainas.
And now with regard to their way of looking at the world for a moment; and then we will consider the great Being, who is spoken of in western orientalism, not by themselves, as the Founder.
They have the
same enormous cycles of time that we are familiar with in Hinduism; and it must
be remembered that both the Jaina and the Buddhist
are fundamentally offshoots from ancient Hinduism; and it would have been
better had men not been so inclined to divide, and to lay stress on differences
rather than similarities — if both these great offshoots had remained as Darsanas of Hinduism, rather than have separated off into
different, and as it were rival, faiths. For a long time among the occidental
scholars, Jainism was looked on as derived from Buddhism. That is now admitted
to be a blunder and both alike derive from the more ancient Hindu faith; and in
truth there are great differences between the Jaina
and the Buddhist, although there be also similarities, likenesses of teaching.
There is however no doubt at all, if you will permit me to speak positively,
that Jainism in
Twenty-four of these appear in each great cycle, and, if you take the Kalpa Sutra of the Jainas, you will find in that the lives of these Jinas. The life of the only one which is given there at all fully — and the fullness is of a very limited description — is that of the twenty-fourth and last, He who was called Mahăvîra, the mighty Hero. He stands to the Jaina as the last representative of the Teachers of the world; as I said, He is contemporary with Săkhya Muni, and by some He is said to be His kinsman. His life was simple, with little incident apparently, but great teachings. Coming down from loftier regions to His latest incarnation, that in which He was to obtain illumination, He at first guided His course into a Brahmana family, where, it would seem from the account given, He had intended to take birth; but Indra, the King of the Devas, seeing the coming of the Jina, said that it was not right that He should be born among the Brahmanas, for ever the Jina was a Kshatriya and in a royal house must He be born. So Indra sent one of the Devas to guide the birth of the Jina to the family of King Siddhărtha, in which He was finally born. His birth was surrounded by those signs of joy and delight that ever herald the coming of one of the great Prophets of the race — the songs of the Devas, the music of Gandharvas, the scattering of flowers from heaven — these are ever the accompaniments of the birth of the one of Saviors of the world. And the Child is born amid these rejoicings, and since, after His conception in the family, the family had increased in wealth, in power, in prosperity, they named Him Vardhamăna — the Increaser of the prosperity of his family. He grew up as a boy, as a youth, loving and dutiful to His parents; but ever in His heart the vow that He had taken, long lives before, to renounce all, to reach illumination, to become a Savior of the world. He waits until father and mother are dead, so that He may not grieve their hearts by the leaving; and then, taking the permission of His elder brother and the royal councillors, He goes forth surrounded by crowds of people to adopt the ascetic life. He reaches the jungle; He pulls off his robes, the royal robes and royal ornaments; He tears out his hair; He puts on the garment of the ascetic; He sends away the royal procession that followed Him, and plunges alone into the jungle. There for twelve years He practices great austerities, striving to realize Himself and to realize the nothingness of all things but the Self; and in the thirteenth year illumination breaks upon Him, and the light of the Self shines forth upon Him, and the knowledge of the Supreme becomes His own. He shakes off the bonds of Avidyă and becomes the omniscient, the all-knowing; and then He comes forth as Teacher to the world, teaching for forty-two years of perfect life.
Of the teachings, we are here told practically nothing; the names of some disciples are given; but the life, the incidents, these are all omitted. It is as though the feeling that all this is illusion, it is nothing, it is naught, had passed into the records of the Teacher, so as to make the outer teaching as nothing, the Teacher Himself as nothing. And then He dies after forty-two years of labor, at Păpă 526 years before the birth of Christ. Not very much, you see, to say about the Lord Mahăvîra; but His life and work are shown in the philosophy that He left, in that which He gave to the world, though the personality is practically ignored.
Before him, 1,200 years, we are told, was the twenty-third of the Tirthamkaras, and then, 84,000 years before Him, the twenty-second and so on backwards and backwards in the long scroll of time, until at last we come to the first of These, Rishabhadeva, the father of King Bharata, who gave to India its name. There the two faiths, Jainism and Hinduism, join, and the Hindu and the Jaina together revere the Great One who, giving birth to a line of Kings, became the Rishi and the teacher.
When we come to
look at the teaching from the outside — I will take the inside presently — we
find certain canonical Scriptures, as we call them, analogous to the Pitakas of the Buddhists, forty-five in number; they are
the Siddhănta, and they were collected by Bhadrabăka, and reduced to writing, between the third and
fourth centuries before Christ. Before that, as was common in
Then outside the canonical Scriptures there is an enormous literature of Purănas and Itihăsas, resembling very much the Purănas and Itihăsas of the Hindus. They are said, I know not whether truly or not, to be more systematized than the Hindu versions; what is clear is that in many of the stories there are variations, and it would be an interesting task to compare these side by side, and to trace out these variations, and to try and find the reasons that have caused them.
So much for what we may call their special literature; but when we have run over that, we find that we are still faced by a vast mass of books, which, although originating in the Jaina community, have become the common property of all India — grammars, lexicons, books on rhetoric and on medicine — these are to be found in immense numbers and have been adopted wholesale in India. The well-known Amarakosha, for instance, is a Jaina work that every student of Sanskrit learns from beginning to end.
I said the Jainas came to
The same is true of the Canarese literature; and it is said that from the first century of the Christian Era to the twelfth, the whole literature of Canara is dominated by the Jainas. So great then were they in those days.
Then there came
a great movement throughout
In Rajputana, however, they remained, and so highly were they respected that Akbar, the magnanimous Musalmăn emperor, issued an edict that no animals, should be killed in the neighbourhood of Jaina temples.
The Jainas are divided, we may add, into two great sects — the Digambaras, known in the fourth century B.C., and mentioned in one of Asoka's edicts; the Svetambaras, apparently more modern. The latter are now by far the more numerous, but it is said that the Digambaras possess far vaster libraries of ancient literature than does the rival sect.
Leave that historical side; let us now turn to their philosophic teaching. They assert two fundamental existences, the root, the origin, of all that is, of Samsăra; these are uncreated, eternal. One is Jîva or Atma, pure consciousness, knowledge, the Knower, and when the Jîva has transcended Avidyă, ignorance, then he realizes himself as the pure knowledge that he is by nature, and is manifested as the Knower of all that is. On the other hand Dravya, substance, that which is knowable; the Knower and the Knowable opposed one to the other; Jîva and Dravya. But Dravya is to be thought of as always connected with Guna, quality. Familiar enough, of course, are all these ideas to you, but we must follow them one by one. With Dravya is not only Guna, quality, but Paryăya, modification.
â€ś Substance is the substrate of qualities; the qualities are inherent in one substance; but the characteristic of developments is that they inhere in either.
â€śDharma, Adharma, space, time, matter and souls (are the six kinds of substances), they make up this world, as has been taught by the Jinas who possess the best knowledge.â€ť [Uttaradhyayana, xxviii, 6, 7. Translated from the Prakrit, by Hermann Jacobi]
Here you have the basis of all Samsara; the Knower and the Knowable, Jîva and Dravya with its qualities and its modifications. This makes up all. Out of these principles many deductions, into which we have not the time to go; I may give you, perhaps, one, taken from a Gătha of Kundăcărya, which will show you a line of thought not unfamiliar to the Hindu. Of everything, they say, you can declare that it is, that it is not, that it is and is not. I take their own example, the familiar jar. If you think of the jar as Paryăya, modification, then before that jar is produced, you will say: “Syănnăsti” it is not. But if you think of it as substance, as Dravya, then it is always existing, and you will say of it: â€śSyădastiâ€ť, it is; but you can say of it as Dravya and Paryăya, it is not and it is, and sum up the whole of it in a single phrase: â€śSyădasti năstiâ€ť; it is and it is not.[Report of the Search for Sanskrit MSS BY Dr Bhandarkar, p 95] Familiar line of reasoning enough. We can find dozens, scores and hundreds of illustrations of this way of looking at the universe, wearisome, perhaps, to the ordinary man, but illuminative and necessary to the metaphysician and the philosopher.
Then we come to the growth, or rather the unfolding, of the Jîva. The Jîva evolves, it is taught, by Reincarnation and by Karma; still, as you see, we are on very familiar ground. â€śThe universe is peopled by manifold creatures who are in this Samsăra, born in different families and castes for having done various actions. Sometimes they go to the worlds of the Gods, sometimes to the hells, sometimes they become Asuras, in accordance with their actions. Thus living beings of sinful actions who are born again and again in ever-recurring births, are not disgusted with Samsăra.â€ť [Uttaradhyayana, iii, 2, 3, 5] And it teaches exactly as you read in the Bhagavad-Gîtă that the human being goes downwards by evil action; by mixed good and evil he will be born as a man; or, if purified, will be born as a Deva. Exactly on these lines the Jaina teaches. It is by many births, by innumerable experiences, the Jîva begins to liberate himself from the bonds of action. We are told that there are three jewels, like the three ratnas that we so often hear of among the Buddhists; and these are said to be right knowledge, right faith, right conduct, a fourth being added for ascetics: â€śLearn the true road leading to final deliverance, which the Jinas have taught; it depends on four causes, and is characterized by right knowledge and faith. I. Right knowledge; II. Faith; III. Conduct; IV. Austerities. This is the road taught by the Jinas who possess the best knowledge.â€ť [Ibid, xxviii, 1, 2] By right knowledge and right faith and right conduct the Jîva evolves, and in the later stages, to these are added austerities, by which he finally frees himself from the bonds of rebirth. Right knowledge is defined as being that which I have just said to you with regard to Samsăra; and the difference of Jîva and Dravya, and the six kinds of substances, Dharma, Adharma, space, time, matter, soul; he must also know the nine truths: Jiva, soul; Ajîva, the inanimate things; Bandha, the binding of the soul by karma; Punya, merit; Păpa, demerit; Âsrăva, that which causes the soul to be affected by sins; Samvara, the prevention of Âsrăva by watchfulness; the annihilation of Karma; final deliverance; these are the nine truths.[Uttaradhyayana, xxviii, 14]
Then we find a definition as to right conduct. Right conduct, which is Sarăga, with desire, leads to Svarga — or it leads to becoming a Deva, or it leads to the sovereignty of the Devas, Asuras and men, but not to liberation. But the right conduct which is Vîtarăga, free from desire, that, and that alone, will lead to final liberation. As we still follow the course of the Jîva, we find him throwing aside Moha, delusion, Răga, desire, Dvesha, hatred, and of course their opposites, for the one cannot be thrown off without the other; until at last he becomes the Jîva complete and perfect, purified from all evil, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, the whole universe reflected in himself as in a mirror, pure consciousness, â€świth the powers of the senses, though without the sensesâ€ť; pure consciousness, the knower, the Supreme.
Such then is a brief outline of the views, the philosophic views, of the Jainas, acceptable surely to every Hindu, for on almost every point you will find practically the same idea, though put sometimes in a somewhat different form.
Let us look more closely at right conduct, for here the Jaina practice becomes specially interesting; and wise are many of his ways, in dealing especially with the life of the layman. Jainas are divided into two great bodies: the layman, who is called a Srăvaka, and the ascetic, the Yati. These have different rules of conduct in this sense only, that the Yati carries to perfection that for which the layman is only preparing himself in future births. The five vows of the Yati which I will deal with in a moment, are also binding on the layman to a limited extent. To take a single instance: the vow of Brahmacarya, that on the Yati imposes of course absolute celibacy, in the layman means only temperance and proper chastity in the life of a Grhastha. In this way the vows, we may say, run side by side, of Ahimsa, harmlessness, Sűnriti, truthfulness, Asteya, not taking that which is not one's own, uprightness, honesty, Brahmacarya, and finally Aparigraha, not grasping at anything, absence of greed — in the case of the layman meaning that he is not to be covetous, or full of desire; in the case of the Yati meaning of course that he renounces everything and knows nothing as â€śmineâ€ť, â€śmy ownâ€ť. These five vows, then, rule the life of the Jaina. Very, very marked is his translation of the word Ahimsa, harmlessness: “thou shalt not killâ€ť. So far does he carry it in his life, to such an extreme, that it passes sometimes almost beyond the bounds of virtue; passes, a harsh critic might say, into absurdity; but I am not willing so to say, but rather to see in it the protest against the carelessness of animal life and animal suffering, which is but too widely spread among men; a protest, I admit, carried to excess, all sense of proportion being lost, the life of the insect, the gnat, sometimes being treated as though it were higher than the life of a human being. But still, perhaps, that may be pardoned, when we think of the extremes of the cruelty to which so many permit themselves to go; and although a smile may sometimes come when we hear of breathing only through a cloth, as the Yati does, as he breathes continually touching the lips that nothing living may go into the lungs; straining all water and most unscientifically boiling it — which really â€śkills creatures, which if water remained unboiled would remain alive — the smile will be a loving one, for the tenderness is beautiful. Listen for a moment to what was said by a Jina, and would to God that all men would take it as a rule of life: â€śThe venerable One has declared ... As is my pain when I am knocked or struck with a stick, bow, fist, clod, or potsherd; or menaced, beaten, burned, tormented, or deprived of life; and as I feel every, pain and agony, from death down to the pulling out of a hair; in the same way, be sure of this, all kinds of beings feel the same pain and agony, etc., as I, when living they are ill-treated in the same way. For this reason all sorts of living beings should not be beaten, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor deprived of life. I say the Arhats and Bhagavats of the past, present and future, all say thus, speak thus, declare thus, explain thus; all sorts of living beings should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away. This constant, permanent, eternal, true law has been taught by wise men who comprehend all things.â€ť [Uttaradhyayana, Bk II, i, 48, 49]
If that were the rule for every one, how different would India be; no beaten and abused animal; no struggling, suffering creature; and for my part, I can look almost with sympathy even on the Jaina exaggeration, that has a basis so noble, so compassionate; and I would that the feeling of love, though not the exaggeration, should rule in all Indian hearts of every faith today.
Then we have the strict rule that no intoxicating; drug or drink may be touched; nothing like bhang, opium, alcohol; of course nothing of this kind is allowed; even so far as honey and butter does the law of forbidden food go, because in the gaining of honey the lives of bees are too often sacrificed, and so on. Then we find in the daily life of the Jaina rules laid down for the layman as to how he is to begin and end every day:
â€śHe must rise very very early in the morning and then he must repeat silently his mantras, counting its repetition on his fingers; and then he has to say to himself, what am I, who is my Ishtadeva, who is my Gurudeva, what is my religion, what should I do, what should I not do? â€ť This is the beginning of each day, the reckoning up of life as it were; careful, self-conscious recognition of life. Then he is to think of the Tirthamkaras, and then he is to make certain vows. Now these vows are peculiar, as far as I know, peculiar to the Jainas, and they have an object which is praiseworthy and most useful. A man at his own discretion makes some small vow on a thing absolutely unimportant. He will say in the morning: â€śDuring this dayâ€ť — I will take an extreme case given to me by a Jaina — â€śduring this day I will not sit down more than a certain number of timesâ€ť; or he will say: â€śFor a week I will not eat such and such a vegetableâ€ť; or he will say: â€śFor a week, or ten days, or a month, I will keep an hour's silence during the dayâ€ť. You may say: Why? In order that the man may always be self-conscious, and never lose his control over the body. That is the reason that was given me by my Jaina friend, and I thought it an extremely sensible one. From young boyhood a boy is taught to make such promises, and the result is that it checks thoughtlessness, it checks excitement, it checks that continual carelessness, which is one of the great banes of human life. A boy thus educated is not careless. He always thinks before he speaks or acts; his body is taught to follow the mind and not to go before the mind, as it does too often. How often do people say: â€ś If I had thought, I would not have done it; if I had considered, I would never have acted thus; if I had thought for a moment that foolish word would not have been spoken, and that harsh speech would never have been uttered, that discourteous action would never have been done.â€ť If you train yourself from childhood never to speak without thinking, never to act without thinking, see how unconsciously the body would learn to follow the mind, and without struggle and effort, carelessness would be destroyed. Of course there are far more serious vows than these taken by the layman as to fasting, strict and severe, every detail carefully laid down in the rules, in the books. But I was telling you a point that you would not so readily find in the books, so far as I know and that seemed to me to be characteristic and useful. Let me add that when you meet Jainas you will find them, as a rule, what you might expect from this training — quiet, self-controlled, dignified, rather silent, rather reserved. [The details here given are mostly from the Jainatattvădarsha, by Muni Atmărămji, and were translated from the Prakrit for me by my friend Govinda Dasa]
Pass from the layman to the ascetic, the Yati. Their rules are very strict. Much of fasting, carried to an extraordinary extent, just like the fasting of the great ascetics of the Hindu. There are both men and women ascetics among the sect known as the Svetămbaras; among the Digambaras there are no female ascetics and their views of women are perhaps not on the whole very complimentary. Among the Svetămbaras, however, there are female ascetics as well as male, under the same strict rules of begging, of renouncing of property; but one very wise rule is that the ascetic must not renounce things without which progress cannot be made. Therefore he must not renounce the body; he must beg food enough to support it, because only in the human body can he gain liberation. He must not renounce the Guru, because without the teaching of the Guru he cannot tread the narrow razor path; nor discipline, for if he renounces that, progress would be impossible; nor the study of the Sűtras, for that also is needed for his evolution; but outside these four things — the body, the Guru, discipline, study — there must be nothing of which he can say: “it is mineâ€ť. Says a teacher: â€śHe should not speak unasked, and asked he should not tell a lie; he should not give way to his anger, and should bear with indifference, pleasant and unpleasant occurrences. Subdue your self, for the self is difficult to subdue; if your self is subdued, you will be happy in this world and in the next.â€ť[Uttaradhyayana, i, 14, 15]
The female ascetics, living under the same strict rule of conduct, have one duty which it seems to me is of the very wisest provision; it is the duty of female ascetics to visit all the Jaina households, and to see that the Jaina women, the wives and the daughters, are properly educated, properly instructed. They lay great stress on the education of the women, and one great work of the female ascetic is to give that education and to see that it is carried out. There is a point that I think the Hindu might well borrow from the Jaina, so that the Hindu women might be taught without the chance of losing their ancestral faith, or suffering interference with their own religion, taught by ascetics of their own creed. Surely no vocation can be nobler, surely it would be an advantage to Hinduism.
And then how is the ascetic to die? By starvation. He is not to wait until death touches him; but when he has reached that point where in that body he can make no further progress, when he has reached that limit of the body, he is to put it aside and pass out of the world by death by voluntary starvation.
Such is a brief
and most imperfect account of a noble religion, of a great faith which is
practically, we may say, on almost all points, at one with the Hindu; and so
much is this the case that in Northern India the Jaina
and the Hindu Vaishyas intermarry and interdine. They do not regard themselves as of different
religions, and in the Hindu college we have Jaina
students, Jaina boarders, who live with their Hindu
brothers, and are thus from the time of childhood helping to draw closer and
closer together the bonds of love and of brotherhood. I spoke to you yesterday
about nation-building, and reminded you that here in
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