Now, clearly such an attitude does not leave one at the
mercy of an outside agency, divine or semi-divine, and enables one to work with confidence and hope. The individual, however criminal under the stress of internal and external forces, need not despair because he is latently divine and a day will come when he will realize himself.
Jainism lays down certain ethical standards, which are duly graded, for the uplift of the individual as a social being. As long as he lives as a member of society. Besides what he owes to himself for his spiritual betterment, he owes a good deal to the society in which he is living; but if he relinquishes the world and leads the life of an ascetic, his ties with society and his responsibilities towards it are considerably reduced. In Jainism, the duties of a householder are in miniature those of a monk; and a householder, while duly carrying out his household duties, rises steadily to the status of a monk.
Ahimsa is the most important principle that permeates the Jaina outlook on life. In simple language, it means the greatest possible kindness towards the animate world. Jainism has prepared a graded series of living
beings; and a religious person has to strive his best to minimize harm to them.
Every living being has a sanctity and a dignity of its own, and one has to respect it as one expects one's own dignity to be respected. A man of kindly temperament sheds around him an atmosphere of kindness.
Jainism has firmly held that life is sacred irrespective of species, caste, colour, creed or nationality. A resident of Hiroshima or Nagasaki is as one in New York or London: what his colour is, what he eats, and how he dresses - these are external adjuncts.
Thus, the practice of ahimsa is both an individual and a collective virtue; and this kindly attitude, which requires that our hearts be free from baser impulses like anger, pride, hypocrisy, greed, envy and contempt, has a positive force and a universal appeal.
The second virtue which Jaina ethics lays stress on is good neighborliness; one should speak the truth and respect the right of property. It is thus that one becomes trustworthy in society, and at the same time creates and atmosphere of security for others.
One's thought, words and acts must be consistent with each other; and they must, further, create an atmosphere of confidence and safety round about. It is no use being untrue to one's immediate neighbor and pretending to be highly cosmopolitan and benevolent people living beyond the seas.
Individual kindliness, mutual confidence and a reciprocal sense of security must start with the immediate neighbor and then be gradually diffused in society at large, not only in theory but also in practice.
These virtues can go to constitute coherent social and political groups of worthy citizens who yearn for peaceful coexistence with the well being of the entire humanity in view.
The third virtue is a steady and progressive restraint on acquisitiveness which manifests itself either in the from of yearning for sensual or sex pleasure, or for acquisition of property. This virtue is to be practiced in different degrees at different stages of one's spiritual or religious progress.
An ideally religious man is entirely free from acquisitiveness in thought, word and deed; his last vestige or property is his body alone, and his wants are the minimum required to sustain it; and this too he voluntarily relinquishes in the end when he finds that it gives him no more aid in the practice of religion.
Pursuit of pleasure is an endless game; individual inclinations and passions must be duly trained and curbed; thus indeed does one get mental poise and spiritual balance. A voluntary limitation of property is a community virtue, which results in social justice and fair distribution of utility commodities.
The strong and the rich should not weed out the weak and the poor but such voluntary restriction on their instincts and possessions that the under-privileged too has a fair chance in life.
Any attempt to enforce these qualities by an external and legal authority, on either the individual or society, will lead to hypocrisy or secret criminal tendencies. It is for sensible individuals to practice these virtues, and thus set an example from which an enlightened society will gradually be developed.
There are many elements, which go to constitute the intellectual make-up of an individual: his inheritance, environment, upbringing, studies and experiences. It is this intellectual make up that shapes his convictions and opinions; if he lacks in intellectual honesty and integrity of expression, these latter may get perverted.
All these, moreover, get a different colouring according to the motives and ambitions of individuals, singly or collectively. This is why one finds that unanimity of opinion or agreement in views is very scarce. For most of us, even presuming that all of us are sincere, it is easier, any, almost natural, to differ rather than agree on any given topic.
To meet this situation, Jainism has presented to the world two significant instruments of
understanding and expression: one is the naya-vada and the other,
Syad-vada. The naya-vada enables one to analyse the various points of view and appraise their relative validity: it is a remarkable method for the analytical comprehension of a complex question. Naya is a particular approach. It reveals a partial or a particular view of the totality, and it should not be mistaken for the whole.
A synthesis of these different viewpoints is an imperative necessity; therein every viewpoint must retain its relative position; and this need id fulfilled by Syad-vada. One can say
'yes' or say 'no' or even express one's inability to state anything: these three basic statements, when combined, can give rise to seven predications which are qualified by the term syat or 'maybe', indicating the limits of understanding and expression. Syad-vada, in course of the process of assertion or denial, curbs down and harmonises the absolute viewpoints of individual nayas.
'Syad-vada,' says Professor A.B. Dhruva, 'is not a doctrine of speculative interest, one intended to solve a mere ontological problem, but has a bearing upon man's psychological and spiritual life.' It has supplied the philosopher with catholicity of thought, convincing him that Truth is not anybody's monopoly with tariff walls of denominational religion, while furnishing the religious aspirant with the virtue of intellectual toleration which is a part of that ahimsa is one of the fundamental tenets of Jainism.
Human beings have limited knowledge and inadequate expression. That is why different doctrines are inadequate; at the most, they are one-sided views of the Truth, which cannot be duly enclosed in words and concepts. Jainism has always held that it is wrong, if not dangerous to presume that one's own creed alone represents the truth.
Toleration is, therefore, the characteristic of Jaina ideology. Even the Jaina monarchs and generals have a clean and commendable record to there in this regard. The political history of India knows no cases of persecution by Jaina kings, even when Jaina monks and laymen have suffered at the hands of other religionists of fanatical temper.
Dr. Saletore has rightly observed, 'The principle of ahimsa was partly responsible for the greatest contribution of the Jainas to Hindu culture that relating to toleration. Whatever may be said concerning the rigidity with which they maintained their religious tenets and the tenacity and skill with which they met and defeated their opponents in religious disputations, yet it cannot be denied that the Jainas fostered the principle of toleration more sincerely and at the time more successfully than any other community in India.
Time was when man was at the mercy of nature; today, however, he has dived deep into the mysteries of nature and become her slave. There is such rapid progress in the various branches of science; and the scientist's achievements in nuclear physics and atomic weapons are so astounding that, if he so intends, he can destroy the entire human race and change the face of the earth. Thus, today, the human race is standing on the verge of catastrophe; its mind is getting befogged and bewildered; and it is rushing towards the very precipice, which it wants to avoid. Obviously, we are required to revalues.
The progress of science is the corollary of an attempt to achieve greater happiness for man. But, unfortunately, man as man is not properly understood; and there is, too, a great deal of international misuse of language.
If some parts of the world are apparently more civilized, very often it is at the cost of the other parts. Cooperative and collective amelioration of the entire humankind has to take the place of colonial exploitation. The sanctity and dignity of humankind have to be recognized in preference to our separate affluence and supremacy. Scientific skill must be accompanied by a saint's wisdom.
Thus, man has to understand man as man.
In this technically unified world, there is very little difference between oneself and others; if I wish well to myself that is practicable only if I wish well to others. The doctrine of ahimsa, if rightly understood and sincerely practiced, supplies the necessary basis for this humanitarian outlook of a world-citizen.
The organized atrocities of man need not make up despair. The doctrine of karma tells us that we are the architects of our own fortune. It is for us to look into ourselves, analyse our objectives, both individually and collectively, without slavishly prostrating ourselves before any power for fear or favour; and thus work on with confidence and hope that man must progress for his existence and betterment.
Every individual has the potentiality of the divine, and it is for him to realise this by following the path of religion. Physical science and technical skill have given us power, and it is for us now to choose whether we want to make forward progress for the betterment of man and his environment or just reduce ourselves to a heap of radio-active ashes.
Good neighborliness and restraint on the acquisitive instinct are a contagious virtue; what is true of an individual is also true of a group, social or political. The man who does not know himself and refuses to know another man as man can never live at peace with himself or, obviously, at peace with others. A clear understanding of oneself and of others can alone remove mutual suspicion and counter-balance the constant threat of war, thus leading us to a true condition of peaceful coexistence.