Q25. How can we ensure that there is no gap between the purpose of Jainism and the way we practice it in our day-to-day life? And how can we bridge this gap if it occurs?
This is a very insightful and a useful question. The question itself challenges us to reflect on “being” vs. “doing” and be mindful of who we are becoming in process of all the “doing”. This kind of consciousness helps us in being aware of our internal bhaav (thoughts and intentions) and enables to us to incorporate spirituality in all aspects of life.
Any activity which takes us closer to realizing our own true self is a religious activity and realizing our own true self is our religion.
When we understand the purpose of the religion, the core principles of the religion and then practice religion through our activities, rituals, and traditions, then there is no gap. And we also end up attaining the spiritual benefits from the religion. However, the gap occurs when religion is practiced without proper understanding or reflection.
We will first look at the purpose of Jainism, core principles and then talk about the gap.
At a fundamental level, the core purpose of Jainism is to:
§ Eliminate mithyatva which means ignorance about reality and faith in wrong knowledge. I am a pure soul, and not a non-living substance which is this body. My qualities are Infinite Knowledge (Anant Jnan), Infinite Perception (Anant Darshan), Infinite Bliss (Anant Sukha), and Infinite Energy (Anant Virya).
§ Eliminate or reduce kashaya which are my anger, ego, deceit, and greed
§ Strengthen spirituality to develop inner peace, calm, and stillness
§ Maintain equanimity, joy, and bliss within
§ Live a purposeful and meaningful life with constant awareness
The Karma philosophy is one of the core tenets of Jainism and it underscores the importance of our thoughts (bhaav). The vibration caused by our thoughts attaches the karma particles to our soul regardless of whether any action is carried out or not. This is why our internal being is of utmost importance when we are conducting any action. And the ultimate goal for us is to achieve the "no-mind" state, where there are no thoughts, we are living in the present moment and is the true nature of our soul. Whether we truly experience this state, or just understand is intellectually, we alone can answer that question. Hence, in Jainism practices like meditation, reflection and introspection are required and critical for spiritual growth and inner transformation.
In Jainism, there are no "thou shalt" like commandments. On the contrary, Jainism is an introspective religion guided by principles and value that create a moral compass for us. And not a religion of dogmatic blind faith and fixed rules.
Along with reflecting on the purpose of religion, we will contemplate on the core Jain principles that help us constantly reflect on our spiritual growth and inner transformation:
§ Ahimsa: Non-violence and compassion towards self, all living beings and environment through our thoughts, words, and actions. At the core, we should follow path of minimum violence for healthy survival (please review the Five senses and their role in Jainism article for more details).
§ Anekantvad: Acceptance of all positive views, no judgement and respect towards all living beings. Anekantvad reminds us that there is no absolute truth and helps us understand diversity in views, physical attributes, thinking, abilities etc.
§ Aparigraha: Non-possessive mindset towards worldly possessions; we should not consume or accumulate more than our needs.
§ Satya: Speak and support truth, while ensuring it doesn’t cause harm to others.
§ Asteya: Not steal or take anything that does not belong to us or is properly given to us.
Now let’s look into how the religion is commonly practiced and what causes the gap.
Religious Practices and the Gap
Religion, as a community, is generally practiced through rituals and traditions. Rituals and traditions play a significant role to build a culture, strengthen the religious values, and to create a sense of community. Rituals also important to instill values and build up religious interest in children, youth, and future generations.
When the rituals and activities are performed with proper understanding, awareness, and reflection then there is alignment with the true purpose of the religion, its values, and there is no gap.
However, when the rituals are performed without proper understanding and/or are not aligned with the principles then we start experiencing the gap, for example:
§ If rituals or activities are performed mechanically, without proper understanding or out of obligation, fear or show, instead of reflecting and experiencing the spiritual benefits, then there is gap.
§ If practicing religion or performing rituals is boosting our ego, instead of making us humble within, then there is a gap.
§ If while carrying out religious activities, there is anger and animosity amongst people, instead of maitri bhaav (friendship), then there is a gap.
§ If the rituals are performed as a token act of metaphorical cleansing but continuing to treat others unjustly in family, social, and business relationships, then there is a gap.
§ If we continue to remain ignorant and practice past traditions that involve cruelty towards moveable living beings, instead of avoiding violence to the environment and other living beings, then there is a gap. Some examples of this gap are:
o Use dairy products like milk, ghee in our religious rituals. (see the article on dairy products for more details)
o Wear silk clothes while doing puja, use woolen katasanu, charavolo, use peacock feather for broom, varakh etc. (see the on himsak product used in the rituals for more details)
o Use products like styrofoam, plastic at the religious centers. (see the article on climate crisis for more details)
o Dispose religious materials in the rivers, oceans, dry well or bury them in the ground which pollutes the ground and oceans and it is not legal.
So, the gap occurs when there is misalignment between our religious practices and the purpose and principles of the religion. And it appears that the primary reasons for the gap are ignorance, blind faith, following past traditions that are now obsolete, or performing rituals out of fear, ego, or greed.
As laypeople, we need social connections and activities. But somehow, we got to so focused on “doing” that we lost the sight of spiritual significance, why we are doing it, and who we are becoming in the process.
Many of our activities are carried out for generations and we stopped questioning them either out of fear, under the pretense of faith in religion, suppression or to not disturb the status quo. In addition, our societies recognize the activities that can be easily seen by others, like external penances and book knowledge. And that also makes it little more challenging to bridge the gap.
Why is it important to bridge the gap?
We need to bridge the gap so that we achieve the intended spiritual benefits from the religious practices and rituals, and subsequently achieve the inner transformation we wish to see within ourselves. Rituals are external stimulants, and its purpose is to create the right environment for us, the laypeople, to make spiritual progress.
It is also important to bridge the gap for the youth and future generations. The current age provides youth with much diversified cultural exposure, which makes them very aware and vocal about the lack of integrity between the values and actions. And this kind of disparity, when not addressed, drives them away from religion.
How do we bridge the gap?
The one line in Jain Agam Das-vaikalik sutra provides the essence of how our Tirthankara envisioned the religion should be practiced.
“Padhamum Jnanm Tao Daya.“
First knowledge (Jnan) / understanding and then conduct or action.
Rituals or traditions should not be mistaken as a religion, but rather the spiritual benefit that we gain directly and indirectly by performing a ritual is the religion.
The core teaching by Bhagwan Mahavira urges us use our own logic, reasoning and learn from our own experiences.
To bridge the gap between the purpose of the religion and the way it is practiced, we need to approach it from society and individual level.
Some thoughts/ideas on how we can collectively bridge this kind of a gap at our Jain societies level:
§ Promote and establish practices such that all the rituals are performed with proper knowledge, understanding, awareness, and reflection. For example, performing Pratikraman with meaning.
§ Don’t make the rituals fear driven and ensure that the bhaav/intention remains in the forefront for all rituals.
§ Make information available and accessible in a manner that is easily understood by everyone - create more literature, YouTube videos, audios, articles, books.
§ Request monks/nuns, spiritual leaders, speaker to publicize the importance of bridging this gap.
§ Add more humanitarian, environmental, social cause activities at the centers. Use Bio-degradable paper products. Do not use plastic or foam products. Every center should have reuse/recycling centers.
§ Establish recycling centers for properly recycling religious material instead of following old practices that contributes towards climate crisis and are not legal.
§ Create a goal and work towards aligning of all the rituals and activities at the centers with the Jain principles and purpose. For example, take actions to mitigate climate crisis, avoid use of products (like milk, wool, silk, peacock feathers, saffron, varakh etc.) that involve cruelty towards moveable living beings.
These are things we need to know and understand and then pass them on to our future generations to set the right foundation at an early age. This enables in developing internal virtues like prayashchit, vinay, vayyavach, swadhyay and samadhi.
Some thoughts/ideas on how we can bridge this kind of a gap at an individual level.
§ For any ritual or activity, we need to consistently measure and reflect on our inner transformation goals:
§ Am I gaining humility?
§ Is my ego reduced?
§ Am I genuinely asking for forgiveness from anyone I might have hurt and committing to not doing it again?
§ Am I truly forgiving others who did wrong to me?
§ Am I performing activities for recognition, name, fame, power, or any other rewards?
§ Is my anger and other vices are reduced?
§ Can I live by myself happily and can I remain happy in my own company?
§ Vayavach – Look for opportunities to serve others
§ Understanding the purpose of external and internal penances
§ Meditate and reflect upon our own virtues
§ Cultivate the strength to find happiness within, instead of looking outside for happiness
§ Eliminate or reduce our Mithyatva - I’m the soul and not the body. Live each moment in that awareness
§ Eliminate or reduce our Kashaya (anger, ego, greed, deceit)
§ Become an advocate to bring about the change required to bridge the gap at our centers
Jainism is an introspective religion, and it is up to each one of us to ensure that we bridge the gap with proper knowledge, awareness, and conduct. The goal is to practice religion in such a way that it becomes a spiritual journey for us, and it enhances every aspect of our life.
“Religion is belief in someone else's experience.
Spirituality is having your own experience.” -
So, it is not about what we do, or what role or tile we have, but it is about who we are internally and who we are becoming the process of all the doing. Once that awareness is in place, “what we do and how we do” follows naturally and is driven by that context and our values. Regular reflections are also help us see our blind spots and growth areas.