Paul Marett


On Being a Jain in the Modern World

In these chapters we have looked at Jainism in various aspects. The aim has been to present Jainism to the Jain and non-Jain alike, as a sensible rational way of explaining life and the universe, with a course of behaviour and action which can lead the individual ultimately, in the long term, to the highest goal, and which, in the short term, provides a guide to living a moral and satisfying life in modern society. This has been set within the general context of Jain history and the Jain way of life. In this short conclusion we shall look at the way in which the Jain will draw together the sometimes conflicting demands of religion and his or her daily life in the modern world.

There are five great moral precepts. The first of these, and by far the most important, is non-violence, ahimsa. Perhaps 'harmlessness' would be a better translation. We cannot avoid harm to other living creatures in the course of daily life, but it is possible to keep one's mind alert to the possibility of harm so that it can be avoided whenever possible. Should we use antibiotics which destroy tiny forms of life, or insecticides? Can we morally take part in, or support, war? Any individual will find himself or herself faced by many problems of this nature to which there is not always a clear answer. These problems may, and should, give rise to deep thought and, when harm seems unavoidable, true regret. For ahimsa is expressed not only in outward action but also in inward attitudes of mind. A lay person cannot avoid all harm but can act with caution to minimize it, and with true sorrow and regret.

Truthfulness, the second precept, should be seen not just as a concern for accuracy but as avoidance of all those forms of untruth, such as slander or cheating, which harm others. Avoidance of stealing seems perhaps the easiest virtue for we all like to feel that we are not thieves. But here again modern society offers us so many possibilities on the fringe of theft, tax evasion, fiddling expenses, keeping lost property.

Sexual restraint is a deeply personal matter and we shall not add to the great volume of advice and exhortation from different quarters available today. However we should link this with the last of the five moral precepts, non- acquisitiveness. It will be very clear that, next to violence, the passions of desire for the things of this world, of whatever kind, form the greatest obstacle to peace of mind and spiritual progress. Modern society is an acquisitive society. Modern economics depend on creating the desire for more and more possessions in all of us. Once again the individual is faced with many and deep problems over the extent to which he or she should give in. Restraint is a force for harmony in family and society. A Jain should leave some of his income over to give to worthy causes, writers have suggested 25% from the most generous but realize that 10% or even 6% may be the average. For some this may mean real hardship but we should consider seriously whether some of the 'necessities' of modern life are really all that necessary after all. Charity performed, not for the sake of glory but out of true concern for the cause to which it is devoted, is most meritorious. If other people wish to praise the donor, he or she should accept the praise with all humility and with a feeling of gratitude that it has been possible to perform an act of merit.

Some people would hold that any person who follows a way of life based on these principles can be regarded as a Jain. However religion is not just about good behaviour: Right Conduct in the Jain sense cannot be achieved without Right Knowledge and Right Faith. It may seem that knowledge is easier to acquire nowadays than ever before in the history of Jainism. Books and journals are available nowadays to the layman or woman, not as easily as they should be but certainly more readily than at any time in the past. There are many Jain associations in India, and some overseas (including Jain Samaj Europe), which are concerned with the dissemination of knowledge about Jainism to Jains and non- Jains. Formal study is one way of acquiring knowledge (and certainly helps with the question which most Jains hear at some time 'You're a Jain aren't you? What exactly does that mean?') but for many people conversation between friends on the serious matters of religion is almost equally important. There is now a fairly general revival of interest in religion and in many countries this is being spearheaded by young people. It is hoped that quite a lot of young people will read this book and that it may provide help in bringing Jainism into focus in the modern world.

Right faith is the most difficult. Knowledge can be acquired, conduct can be adapted, but nobody can force true inner belief on you. The Jain in the modern world should try to spend some time in meditation, that is quiet undisturbed thought. He or she should think deeply about the actual meaning behind the rituals and practices of religion, to see that they are not just archaic play-acting but permanent and abiding means of helping the individual, of explaining to the individual in the nature and importance of the Jain religion.

Nobody is going to make a fortune out of religion: few people could even make a living out of it. We all have our worldly affairs to look after, career, ambition, family, entertainment, home, social life. Religion can easily get crowded out. The modern Jain, however, has something which gives an assurance of his or her place in the world, in time, in the whole scheme of things. It gives a guide to the way to live, and it can give the greatest benefit of all, inner happiness and peace of mind.