Jun 20, 2024

Making Jain Values Accessible - Right Foundation with Meditation


Q32. What role do meditation and mindfulness practices play in making Jain values/principles more accessible, practical and meaningful in the context of our current world?

The first article in the series of making Jainism more accessible focused on Mindset. We explored how being clear on our purpose for practicing Jainism can provide direction and become the driving force for our choices. We also investigated the importance of being open, curious and using our own logic, reasoning and learning from our own experiences and not follow blindly by faith alone. When we build trust in knowledge through our own experience then we develop unwavering confidence and gain valuable insights to transform our life. And finally, we reflected that gaining knowledge is not enough, we must also be diligent and mindful in our practices. 

To continue this journey, in this article we will focus on the importance of meditation practices and how living mindfully is so fundamental and foundational in our spiritual journey. We will share some simple ideas to start or continue our practices. These practices enables us to live with more awareness, so we can more consistently embody and integrate Jain values and principles in our everyday life.

Jainism and Meditation

Meditation has been a core spiritual practice in Jainism since the time of Lord Rishabha. All the twenty-four Tirthankaras practiced meditation for deeper introspection and to gain insights.

When we look at Lord Mahavir’s life, we can categorize his life into three major phases. He lived as a householder for 30 years. As a householder, we know that he lived his life aligned with core Jain values such as non-violence, compassion, service, gratitude, honesty.

Then he renounced his worldly life and meditated for 12.5 years. He realized kevalgyan at the age of 42.  For practical purposes, it appears that what Mahavir Swami attained after 12.5 years of meditation was the ability to be fully present in the current moment and attain the state where no negative mental afflictions such as anger, ego, greed, jealousy, attachment, aversion, craving arose within him. His thoughts, words and actions were always in alignment with the soul's natural qualities such as peace, compassion, joy, love, and equanimity, no matter what the external situations or stimulants were. 

After that, he formed a fourfold sangha with monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen to build a community. The remaining 30 years of Lord Mahavir’s life were in service to humanity. He shared the insights he gained not only with his community but also traveled across India delivering sermons. His direct teachings are documented in our sacred scriptures.

His teachings are essential for us. They are focused on Jain philosophy, meditation practices, values/principles, ethics, conduct, and rituals to live a simple spiritual life. It is unfortunate that overtime the meditation practices didn’t remain as prevalent as outward facing rites and rituals. Without meditation practices, we can’t truly build the capacity within to understand, integrate, and deeply experience Mahavir’s insights and consistently live in alignment with Jain values and principles. 

One can see from Mahavir Swami’s journey that those 12.5 years were the most transformative years of his life.

Meditation Practices

Like Mahavir Swami, we have to go through our own transformative journey through our meditation practices to generate the energy of mindfulness. The energy of mindfulness enables us to be more aware and look deeply. Like other skills, meditation is a skill that we can learn, practice and grow. 

Interest in meditation and mindfulness has grown significantly worldwide. This increased interest might reflect our need for improving quality of life through spirituality in our current times.

In this article, we’d like to share some simple practices to start or continue our meditation journey to live more mindfully. For more thorough information on meditation, yoga and various meditation practices in Jainism, please refer to our detailed article on meditation.

We can think of meditation as essentially a set of practices to help us:

  • Become more aware
  • Know ourselves
  • Clear our mind of mental affliction (kashayas)
  • Silence the mind
  • Cultivate Stillness
  • Experience inner happiness

This might sound like a lot, but it starts with training our attention and generating the energy that allows us to be more aware of what’s going on in the here and now. Be more aware of:

  • What's going on in our body
  • What's going on in our feelings
  • What's going on in our mind with our thoughts and perceptions
  • What's going on around us

The practice can be in the form of concentrating on a sound, particular object or our breath and trying to keep our attention on that anchor, recognizing if the attention shifts then bringing it back to that anchor to build the attention muscle. Keeping our attention where we want requires training and practice.

A study by the National Science Foundation suggests that we humans have 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. With these many thoughts, our mind could feel like a shaken snow globe with dust particles floating around. And only when we rest the snow globe, the dust settles, it gradually becomes calm and clear, and we can see what’s inside better. 

Similarly, by collecting our attention and letting it rest on an anchor, we can experience calmness and stability in the mind which enables us to see more clearly within, gain insights and inevitably experience a natural sense of happiness.

We can also practice building the capacity to notice and become more aware of what’s going on in our body, especially when navigating painful feelings to recognize them and care for them with compassion.

To strengthen the Jain values within us and build our capacity to use them in everyday life situations, we can practice in the form of contemplation of our soul’s natural qualities and visualize that our thoughts, words and behavior are in alignment with them. We can also meditate on 12 Bhavanas as outlined in the meditation article. These contemplation are so powerful and help us in forming and shifting to more supportive perspectives. They empowers us to let go of things that obstruct our peace, happiness, joy, freedom.  

Meditation is a cornerstone of Jain practice. The Jain rituals article provides information on key daily essential meditative practices including Samayik, Chauvisattho, Vandana, Pratikraman, Kayotsarga and Pratyakhyana.

In Summary

While we can set aside time each day for dedicated practice, it is also important that we identify ways to integrate small mindfulness practices as we move through our daily routine so we can touch peace and stillness throughout our day. We live in a world where we are always over-stimulated and each one of us has to determine what stillness and peace would look like for us in the day. We benefit from making time for little points of stillness throughout our day.

These practices may sound simple, but they are so profound in establishing the right foundation. They give us the path to take spiritual knowledge beyond intellectual exercise and bring knowledge into our experience and way of being, making it our wisdom. Wisdom positions us to respond mindfully in alignment with our values. 

We also need to be mindful that we are not meditating to attain something, though we might see benefits or fruits in our life as we practice. We may achieve fruits such as the ability to create happiness, handle and calm our difficult emotions, enjoy the present moment, and be in touch with life as it is. However, there is more as mentioned in a previous article, meditation practices lead to numerous benefits in all aspects of our life, spiritual, mental, emotional and physical. 

At the core, these practices provide us with much needed mindful pauses. Too often, when we face undesirable external situations or stimulants, we react/respond without pausing. 

It was Victor Frankl who said – “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

If we are more aware, then we are able to find the space between stimulus and response. With practice we can increase that space to respond more mindfully in our everyday life situations and not feel compelled to react based on our emotions that lead to suffering in self and others. In the next article we will focus on some real-life situations where being aware can guide us in navigating challenging life situations more skillfully. 

 

 

Apr 7, 2024

Making Jain Values Accessible - Mindset

Q31. How to make Jain values more accessible, practical and meaningful in the context of our current world?

This is a question that the parents, Jain pathshala teachers and Jain communities across the globe are holding and contemplating. In service to this question, we would like to offer a series of few short articles with an invitation to our readers to share thoughts and insights in the comments section.

We are living in an era of information overload, distractions abound and the environment is more volatile, uncertain and complex than ever before. For our current and next generation, one of the ways we can be of service is to equip them with right set of spiritual knowledge and practical tools to navigate life skillfully, remain grounded and thrive.

Our intention with these articles is to make ancient wisdom and core values/principles of Jainism more understandable, relevant, applicable, and use the language that resonates with this generation.

The first article in this series will focus on Mindset.

 

Mindset

First of all, what is a mindset? We see mindset as assumptions, beliefs, mental attitude or inclination that influence our thoughts, words and action. Mindset is formed by the information we take in and our experiences.

Our mindset and our world have a symbiotic relation, i.e., mindset shapes the world and the world shapes our mindset. However, many a times mindset is still in its infancy, it might be incomplete and/or limiting for our own growth. We want to be aware of such mindsets so we can shift them.

The concept of exploring and shifting mindset is very well rooted in the key principles of Jainism, which are anekantavada (the multiple attributes of reality) and syadavada (the conditional description of a certain attribute). These principles give Jainism a way to inject a breath of fresh life and self-adjusting approach to varying contexts, and guard itself from dogmas setting in. It allows current and future generations to interpret and practice Jainism within the context of the environment, society, culture and times that they are living in.

In this article, we will explore three foundational mindsets that help shape our relation to Jainism:

  • Purpose of Practicing Jainism and how intent and clarity can become a guiding force for our practice.
  • Confidence from Openness and Our Own Experience can build a strong foundation for insights and transformation.
  • Integrating and Embodying Jain Values in our everyday life. Recognizing the importance of practices and integrating those practice into our routine activities as a life long journey.

Purpose of Practicing Jainism

Let’s pause and think about what our mindset about the purpose is when it comes to practicing religion. Why do we practice Jainism? 

Victor Frankl, in his magnum opus "Man's Search for Meaning" wrote this "He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how".

At the most fundamental level, the purpose of practicing religion is to realize and experience the original qualities of our soul such as peace, joy, love, compassion, equanimity, happiness in everyday moments of our daily life.

It is frequently referenced in our scriptures that two major barriers to getting closer to our original nature are: Mithyatva and Kashayas. And these are often the root cause of all of our suffering as well.

  • Mithyatva or ignorance is absence of wisdom, wrong understanding, wrong belief or wrong views of reality. And we might end up holding wrong beliefs with such absolute conviction and it is not changeable even by compelling counter argument or proof to the contrary. Ignorance and wrong beliefs gives rise to kashayas and leads to suffering in us and others around us.
  • Kashayas are unwholesome states of mind like anger, ego, deceit, greed, aversion, resentment, hatred, which if not taken care of, can result in unskillful thoughts, speech and action, which causes all kinds of suffering for others and ourselves.

So, as stated in scriptures the purpose of practicing Jainism is to remove mithyatva and kashayas by being mindful of all activities of mind, speech and body.

Once we gain clarity about this purpose, it can help guide our life choices, our way of being and result in sense of joy and meaning. It can also provide direction in times of high stress and difficulties.

Next, we need to think about how does this purpose manifest in our daily life and what are some conditioning that might help guide us in our everyday choices. Few examples below:

  • Choose compassion and love in our thoughts, speech and behavior, in all situations.
  • Choose to eliminate negative energy.
  • Cultivate deeper understanding of our-self and our experiences. 
  • Use our suffering as an opportunity for growth and inner transformation. 
  • Respond from a place of strength, instead of reacting to a situation.

To summarize, when we are intentional about purpose of what we are doing and why, then it provides clarity and it anchors us in the direction we want to go. We can integrate that purpose in all aspects of our life and it gives us inner strength.

Confidence from Openness and Own Experience

What is our mindset about religious information/knowledge? Do we believe that one must not question anything? Is it considered mere ignorance if we disagree/don't believe in what religious authorities say? How much we do trust in our own experience?

There is a sutra in Jain Agam Das-vaikalik: Padhamum Jnanm Tao Daya“. This sutra means first knowledge/understanding and then conduct or action. It emphasizes that knowledge is the cornerstone and a means to empower us.

There another quote by Bhagwan Mahavira that urges us use our own logic, reasoning and learn from our own experiences and not follow blindly by faith alone.

Information and knowledge are important but it is our experience that makes that knowledge our own and gives us the confidence in that knowledge. There is nothing like experience, it is our experience with the knowledge leads to insights and those insights transforms our suffering. If we keep practicing on the surface then they are mechanical activities without giving us desirable results.

When we put teaching of Mahavir Swami into practice and if we can see for ourselves that it results into more peace, joy, happiness, patience, better relationships and bliss, then a sustainable confidence is born. Such confidence can build our capacity to transform, heal and realize true nature of our soul. When faith comes from our own experience and we are not relying on someone or something outside of ourselves then that can bring a lot of happiness and strength.

These teachings are urging us to not become dogmatic in our thinking or behavior. They are guiding us to be more curious, open, ask questions to learn, and be mindfully aware of our experiences.

Integrating and Embodying Jain Values

For the last foundational mindset in this article, let’s reflect on the way we approach practicing Jainism. For example, in case of a physical health problem, if we address the problem on the surface and if it keeps coming back, then our natural inclination would be to get to the root cause to fix it. And that could mean adopting a new way of life. Similarly, when it comes to practicing Jainism, is our intention to make it our path, integrate into our everyday routine activities or are we looking for quick fixes only in times of suffering?

When we choose the Jain values, principles and teachings as our path then it must be deeply integrated in our daily activities and become our way of life regardless of what we are doing, where we are or who we are with. Our way of being, thoughts, speech, actions must be consistently driven from same set of values.

Diligence in our daily practices is the key to be on the path and bring about inner transformation. There are concrete and essential practices/rituals recommended for laypeople in Jainism. However, we do need to be mindful of our practices and its outcome.

  • If our rituals/practices are such that it strengthens our values of compassion, non-judgment, love, non-discrimination, forgiveness, honesty then they are the right kind.
  • If for some reason our rituals/activities are giving rise to ego, violence, judgment, craving, anger and discrimination, then it is not right kind, no matter how we try to justify it.

We often seek refuge in religion during times of suffering and pain, which is wonderful. But when that suffering ends or reduces, do we go back to our old habits until the next suffering occurs?

The best time to practice and contemplate is when things are going well in life. It is during that time we have more capacity within in us to cultivate our inner strength and gain insights.

For many of us, our lives are so busy and full of distractions that it becomes difficult for us to be on this path. In our current times so many of us are experiencing anxiety, fear, conflict, and loneliness, it is more important than ever to find ways to cultivate practices to walk this path, no matter the outside circumstances. We see in our religion there are monks/nuns/laypeople who devote their entire life on this journey.

Adopting these practices on a daily basis as a life time companion, it gets infused in every nook and corner of our life and becomes a way of life rather than a “thing” that we do. And as we walk on this path, it is equally important to reflect on whether we are on the right path, whether it is working or not and what markers can be seen as sign of encouragement to continue the path.

We can think about some personal aspirations or set goals for self-assessment. Something that we want to see improved for ourselves. We don’t necessarily want to assess against ultimate goals like nirvana or eliminating cycles of birth and death but instead think about small and big situations in our everyday life. For example:

  • Is our speech more loving and compassionate?
  • Are we able to listen to others without judgement?
  • Are we becoming less reactive to other people’s behavior or situations?
  • Are our relationships with our immediate family members and community harmonious?
  • Are we able to notice kashayas arising within us? Are we able to take care of it without being hijacked by them?
  • Are we able to cultivate joy within us, without external stimulant?
  • Are we able to navigate life challenges/suffering skillfully and grow from them?
  • Are we confident on our knowledge and practices to withstand external pressures?

The ancient wisdom and practical tools in our current times can help cultivate our way of being such that we see fruits of our practices on daily basis. Fruits such as lasting happiness within and around, unwavering peace, compassion, acceptance for all, inner strength. And in challenging life situations, we have the resources readily available to help us be calm, stable, strong and respond from a place of strength and compassion.

The way we are living today is the building block for tomorrow. Integrating spiritual and mindfulness practices in our everyday routine and ordinary activities, can positively influence all aspects of our life as a layperson. An aspiration to make Jainism a lifelong path, instead of quick fix, can be start of a beautiful journey to generate peace and happiness in everyday life.

To summarize, a clarity of purpose can become the driving force for our choices and when we trust in the knowledge acquired through our own experience then we develop an unwavering confidence and valuable insights to transform our life. We need to agree that just understanding it intellectually is not enough. We need to put it onto practice. Stay tuned for the next article which will focus on practices for cultivating this mindset in everyday life.