Hema Pokharna, Ph.D. ,
Researcher - University of Chicago. , Director - Journeys of Life
One of the important aspects of Jainism is the concept of Anekantwad, or the principle of plurality of viewpoints. It is central to the idea of tolerance and mutual respect. Each person has a perception of the world which is a mix of both truth and ignorance. These perceptions are valid but are incomplete views of reality. This concept is usually explained with the aid of the parable of seven blind men and an elephant. The story demonstrates that truth can be visualized from seven angles and these views of truth are mere additions to the human knowledge. When viewed together, they present the picture of universal reality. I recently read that Mahatma Gandhi agreed with this, saying, "It has been my experience that I am always true from my point of view, and often wrong from the point of view of my honest critics. I know we are both right from our respective points of view."
Our present challenge is that we live in a world of difference. Yet, as we are interdependent we have to live together. Anekantwad has a lot to offer us and help us learn to live with our differences in peace and harmony. I would like us Jains to use Anekantwad as an instrument to facilitate our conversations and dialogues respectfully in a nonviolent manner when we run into the blind men (represented in the story), who seem to appear in our lives and promote division and injustice, betraying the very ideals and teachings that lie at the heart of Ahimsa. Can Jains take this challenge of shaping the lives of billions in wise and wonderful ways Anekantwad offers? There is hope that the world can be transformed through dialogues and relationships can be nurtured among people of differences by working towards a just, peaceful and sustainable future. The well-being of the Earth and all life depends on this collaboration.
As we begin to chart our course of existence on the basis of Anekantwad, we must master the art of choosing. We make choices and decisions from the most day to day mundane to those forks-in-the-road choices which have great consequences. If we can be guided by the principle "Mitti me savva bhuveshu” (Universal friendliness) the process of making a choice can be made easier. Practice of this principle requires learning to recognize that SPIRIT (atman/soul) is an invisible force also made visible in the blind men we encounter in our daily lives who make choices and live in ways that are very different than what Jains would do and is in conflict with our values of Ahimsa. At such junctures Jains can stop and ask themselves if their reactions and responses to these blind men are guided by friendship and nonviolence?Can we apply the principle of Anekantwad and explore what choices do we have in our responses? For example how do we relate to people who eat meat or to people who express their views (however unreasonable or opportunistic they may be) by damaging Jain Murtis? Or how do we stand by our Buddhist brothers who break down in the face of violence and cruelty? How can we use Anekantwad to motivate people to renounce violence and take responsibility for their actions without furthering violence by blaming them, or punishing them in anyway? To include understanding of Anekantwad in our thinking requires us to consciously learn how to express our selves in a larger context of expansion and with an intention to empower all concerned. It is the conscious decision to live our lives with joy and friendliness. It is a chosen approach to life, a chosen attitude and a constant awareness. Practice of friendship is a necessary beginning to recognize and practice nonviolence and develop the quality of wholesome life prescribed to us by the Jinas.
Jainism is a way of life, experimented and perfected by humans and shared by those who have attained perfect knowledge, omniscience and self-control by their own personal efforts and have been liberated from the bonds of worldly existence, the cycle of births and deaths; although the supreme ideal of Jain religion is nonviolence (Ahimsa), equal kindness, and reverence for all forms of life in speech, thought, and action. The practice comes from the supreme tool of Anekantwad. Anekantwad is the tool for transformation of human passions like desire, hatred, anger and greed to love and compassion for all living beings. Literally, Jina does mean one who has transformed oneself and acquired a special quality of response from within which one is devoid of reaction based on hormones or external circumstances but a response from one’s innate ability and generative, infinite and abundant source of compassion.
Like research, Anekantwad is a perspective. It is the original mind asking a question and setting an experiment to answer in a bigger and bolder way that benefits all involved. It is not about pebble picking but about building magnificent castles.
The path of universal friendliness and love is the process of increasing access to the unlimited potential we have and moving with anticipation of its enfoldment by being open, alert, guided, transformed, fulfilled and healed to wholeness.Anekantwad is the ability to not only count the seeds in an apple but to develop a skill and ability to make visible the apples in a seed and develop the art of possibility. This becomes an art and can be engaged only through alert experiences and moving forward with trust and patience to wait for wholesome possibilities to unfold. This is the human search. This search although partially predetermined in the karmic sense definitely does not run through predetermined paths. If the paths were predetermined or in control of an external force the realm of possibility would not exist and the whole beauty of aliveness would be lost. And as Victor Hugo says "Its nothing to die; its frightful not to live”, Jains have to sharpen their Anekantwad "saw” to face and embody the moral code of "Live and Let Live” using the principle of Ahimsa We have to learn to choose to be strong when we have a default option of being miserable and knowing that the effort and work is the same. as the directing idea and evolving force of the living.
Ahimsa is the conscious decision to live our lives. In the midst of turmoil, pain and adversity, in bad times, Jains have been encouraged to maintain samatabhav (equanimity) or connection with the divine self and manifest peace and bliss.It also means to keep one’s mind unagitated and calm in situations of misery and happiness, gain and loss, victory and defeat etc. without losing one’s balance or evenness. To practice and maintain samtabhav, it requires a decision on our part - it is a chosen approach to life, a chosen attitude and a chosen awareness. Living with such awareness means finding ways to overcome inappropriate demands, injustice, and even abuse, and not engaging in fights in which everyone loses. It is to examine things we do regardless of our current life situation and realize that we have a power within us to do things with more love and respect. Anekantwad is not only about us improving ourselves but learning to let go of what blocks our heart. In the infinity of life all is perfect, whole and complete. Anekantwad is about keeping our selves centered and connected with the purpose and potential of our lives as we unfold the sources of unhappiness and disconnection from our vitality. The awareness and moment to moment practice of Ahimsa generates the compassion within us, thus perfecting the art of Anekantwad. This awareness becomes the vehicle to spread this bliss to the world around us. In modern world when countless opinions can be twittered, a need arises for a virtuoso to channel the different vectors of opinions in a unified direction of peace and harmony, instead of letting them fly to destruct each other.It is for us to use our Jain heritage to change ourselves and the world around us for the best.