A few things yesterday made me think about life. First I saw a video of a man giving a baby donkey a massage. It was pretty funny, but not entirely. The man also stepped on the poor animal’s face, making me feel sorry for the korreh khar. Then a friend forwarded humorous artwork by someone bored at work. They were dead flies in different poses: lining up to jump into a pool, sun-bathing, horseback riding… wickedly funny. But the act of killing living things to make a joke bugged me. And then late at night came the awful news: two men executed for their alleged role in election disturbances. Innocents robbed of sweet life. Just like that.
There is an image that has stayed with me for years. I don’t remember the source. Was it a story, a film? It is of a man in India walking. He steps to one side, moves forward and gets back on his original course and continues walking. There’s no obvious reason why. Upon closer look, he was trying to avoid stepping on an insect. He is a Jain, follower of a religion that respects all living things. I was touched but never made any attempt to learn about Jainism. Until yesterday.
In the summer of 1979, I was a 17-year-old empty vessel swimming in a sea of ideas unleashed by the revolution, from revolutionary Shiism to Marxism. I went to a meeting of leftist Iranians at the University of California, Los Angeles. A bearded young man sat in front of a group of curious Iranians discussing philosophical ideas from ancient Greece. I was so intrigued, I asked to borrow a book he was reading from. It was a summary of the ideas of all the great philosophers published in Persian by the University of Tehran. Each chapter was about a different philosopher and at the end of every one, I’d say to myself, “this one is the greatest of all, it explains everything.”
I had a flashback to those days when I looked up Jainism in Wikipedia. I’m almost 48; I’m no longer an empty vessel. But I must admit I have not seen a school of thought so beautiful.
Here are some of Jainism’s main points:
* Every living being has a soul.
* Every soul is potentially divine, with innate qualities of infinite knowledge, perception, power, and bliss (masked by its karmas).
* Therefore, regard every living being as yourself, harming no one and be kind to all living beings.
* Every soul is born as a celestial, human, sub-human or hellish being according to its own karmas.
* Every soul is the architect of its own life, here or hereafter.
* When a soul is freed from karmas, it becomes free and attain divine consciousness, experiencing infinite knowledge, perception, power, and bliss.
* Right View, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct (triple gems of Jainism) provide the way to this realization. There is no supreme divine creator, owner, preserver or destroyer. The universe is self-regulated and every soul has the potential to achieve divine consciousness (siddha) through its own efforts.
* To be in soul consciousness rather than body consciousness is the foundation of right view, the condition of right Knowledge and the kernel of right Conduct. It leads to a state of being unattached to worldly things and being nonjudgmental and non-violent; this includes compassion and forgiveness in thoughts, words and actions toward all living beings and respecting views of others (non-absolutism).
* Jainism stresses on the importance of controlling the senses, as they can drag you far away true nature of the soul into being increasingly addicted to the material world leading into the tunnel of darkness, ignorance, love, hate and violence (led by the fear of losing what we are attached to).
* Limit possessions and lead a pure life that is useful to yourself and others. Owning an object by itself is not possessiveness; however attachment to an object is. Non-possessiveness is the balancing of needs and desires while staying detached from our possessions.
* Enjoy the company of the holy and better qualified, be merciful to those afflicted and tolerate the perversely inclined.
* Four things are difficult for a soul to attain: 1. human birth, 2. knowledge of the law, 3. faith in the law, and 4. practicing the right path.
* It is important not to waste human life in evil ways. Rather, strive to rise on the ladder of spiritual evolution.
* The goal of Jainism is liberation of the soul from the negative effects of unenlightened thoughts, speech and action. This goal is achieved through clearance of karmic obstructions by following the triple gems of Jainism.