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Maneka Gandhi: “Let Us Celebrate Mahavir Jayanti on April 23”

Maneka Gandhi, Member of Indian Parliament.

Maneka Gandhi, Member of Indian Parliament.

Excerpted by Dr. Sulekh C. Jain of Houston, from an article by Maneka Gandhi, Member of Indian Parliament.

NEW DELHI: Although, I (Maneka Gandhi) was born a Sikh but have always felt a Jain. It takes a million rebirths, to be lucky enough to be born a Jain.

Bhagwan Mahavir’s 2,612th Janam Jayanti (599-527 BCE) will be celebrated on   April 23, 2013. It is a National Holiday in India. Mahavir is also called “a Tirthankar, a Jina and an Arihant”. Mahavir conquered inner emotions and passions, and achieved complete equanimity which is characterized by a complete absence of attachment and aversion.

Archeological evidence indicates that although Mahavir was a contemporary of the Buddha, Jainism predates Mahavir by several thousand years and, therefore, is one of the oldest religions in India and in the world.  .

Mahavir was a social revolutionary.  He rejected the caste system and the sexism that pervaded the society of his time and promoted a radical social justice movement based on complete equality and equal inherent value.  He did not limit this revolution to humans and was the first historical figure to regard all nonhuman animals as full members of the moral community.  He was also the first historical figure to articulate the view that the planet itself, including air, water, and earth, consists of living systems.  Mahavir was, indeed, the first ecologist.

The notion of revolution is often connected with violence, particularly in modern times.  The central feature of Mahavir’s revolution, however, was Ahimsa, or nonviolence.  Mahavir provided the most expansive concept of Ahimsa that the world has ever known not only by extending this notion to include all living beings, but by making clear that violence was not simply a matter of what we did, but what we thought and said.

Ahimsa means non-injury. Jains consider nonviolence to be the most essential duty for everyone (Ahimsa parmo dharmaḥ,). It is an indispensable condition for liberation from the cycle of reincarnation, the ultimate goal of Jainism. According to Jainism every act by which a person directly or indirectly supports killing or injury is violence (himsa), which creates harmful karma. The aim of ahimsa is to prevent the accumulation of such karma. Jains share this goal with Hindus and Buddhists, but their approach is particularly comprehensive. Their scrupulous and thorough way of applying nonviolence to everyday activities and food shapes their lives and is the most significant hallmark of Jain identity.

More than any other religion, Jainism believes implicitly in the laws of karma. As you do, so shall you be done by. The lack of knowledge about one’s actions – a child stamping on an ant, for instance does not absolve you.  Positive, beneficial actions reap their own benefits. Negative hurt and pain causing ones have their own reactions. One does not cancel out the other; each has an impact on what will happen to you. The worst karmic defilement of the soul takes place when one causes hurt to any other creature. Mahavir’s words—you are that which you intend to hit, injure, insult, torment, persecute, torture, enslave or kill.”

Jain Dharma sees the whole universe as a great cosmic mechanism and humans as part of that mechanism must conduct themselves in harmony and rhythm with it. Anything said or done in this world is echoed back with the same intensity.

Each being is a vital thread in another’s life tapestry and our lives are woven together for a reason to survive and be happy. Everything works according to its nature. But humans live out of sync with the mechanism when we go against our qualities of love, kindness and friendship for all living beings. When we forget how so many invisible lives have made our single day livable and comfortable then we imperil our own lives. The best way to see that negative actions are kept to a minimum is to think through your actions and see if they are necessary to your existence. To injure any living being in one’s thought, speech, or action constitutes violence, or Himsa

If we make the right choices we will get the right consequences. Lord Mahavir says: “One who neglects or disregards the existence of earth, water, fire, air, vegetation and all other lives Disregards his own existence Which is entwined with them.”

Jainism’s ethical principles are a matter of rational thought and careful consideration. Jainism takes Ahimsa very seriously. Abstinence from killing other animals must be observed by thought, word and deed – Mana, Vachana and Kaya. The discipline imposed is purity of thought, word and deed. It is not enough if one abstains from inflicting pain on other beings; If you approve of such conduct in others, that approval makes you responsible for the cruelty of killing practiced by others. Do not kill nor kill through an agent nor approve the evil deed.

Mahavir taught that “all breathing, existing, living, sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away.”  This is the only moral or spiritual principle that we need to know. If we live by this principle, we will be at peace with ourselves and the world will be at peace. Whatever our religious tradition may be, let us celebrate Mahavir Jayanti 2013 by recommitting ourselves to a simple but profound idea that all may embrace: Ahimsa.

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