communicators. From sensuous poetry to voluptuous sculptures, tales that were both explicit and explorative, and even games, they emplyed a range of innovative techniques to explain d transmit their teachings. Sudhamabi Regunathan, a former Vice-Chancellor of the Jain Vishva Bharati University of their book as she writes this introduction to Jainism.
Using an array of stories and myths, she starts with a historical account ofithe first twenty-three Tirthankaras as narrated in the Jaina texts and goes on to delve into the philosophy of the religion. The discussio, s on the tenets that form the bedrock of Jainism. are illuminating—be it anekanta, the belief in the multi-dimensionality of truth; santhara, the controversial practice of voluntarily embracing death; or the interplay between desire and restraint, which is at the heart of the Jaina way of life.
Regunathan also highlights the contribution of the Jainas to building a common Indian ethos, and throws Sows light Jainism's many distinctions. It is a little-known fact, for instance, that the first nun was ini.4ed into the Jaina order long before the start of the Christian era.
Scholarly yet accessible, The Colours of Desire on the Canvas of Restraint hopes to upturn popular notion that Jainism is a 'dry' religion as it takes its readers into an austere yet colourful world.
Sudhamahi Regunathan is a former Vice-Chancellor of the Jain Vishva Bharati University in Ladnun, Rajasthan. An author and translator, her most recent book was Rishabhayan: The Story of the First King (2014), a translation of Acharya Mahapragya's original in Hindi. She lives in New Delhi.
Mythology is timeless. What often remains after a telling of it is its freshness, charm and relevance, sometimes even a willingness to believe. Simple stories pave the way for the development of complex philosophies and beliefs. In Jainism too, there is a treasure of mythology. This book begins with the tales of the heroes and heroines in Jaina mythology in order to be able to gradually enter the world of the philosophy that forms the warp and weft of its beliefs. If severity and austerity mark the Jaina way of life in some of its aspects, romance and symbolism, not to mention beauty and artistic expressions, make for the rest of its story.
Contrary to common perception, Jainism was not born with Mahavira in the sixth century BC. Mahavira was, in fact, the last or the twenty-fourth Tirthankara (`Realized One'). If one were to start with the first of his twenty-three predecessors, the story would begin 7,000 years ago or more. Jaina history, however, one finds, begins somewhat hazily with Mahavira's predecessor Parsvanatha and settles down to facts with Vardhamana Mahavira.
Jainism, Buddhism and Vedanta were born and flourished in the Indian subcontinent with lots of give and take. To get into a discussion about what one gave and what the other took would be futile. It is, however, worth understanding that the borders of intellectual excursions and beliefs were porous and accommodating. Many similar ideas found varied expressions. Some deities served all the religions without getting caught in isms, and some names overlap, as they would in a society of any time. Is the bull found in the Mohenjo-Daro excavations in modern-day Sindh, Pakistan, representative of Rishabha, the first Tirthankara, or of Shiva and his bull Nandi? Such and similar questions only Rishabha or Shiva would be able to answer.
Easier to answer are questions such as what is Jainism. Jainism is a philosophy for the mind—a philosophy towards developing an elegant, responsible and compassionate mind. It does not believe in the existence of a Creator, much less a divine agony aunt. It believes that the universe is without beginning or end, and our story is one of the play between the animate and the inanimate.
It understands and explains logically that everything inanimate and animate are interred into the earth upon death, and the same material rises up in different combinations to form something else or some other body. That which lives on, making for continuity, is the soul. The purpose of life, then, is to purify the soul. There are a fixed number of souls in this world, and they move from births which afford a better life to births in hell, depending on their purity. Jaffna cosmology divides space into four sections: hell, middle world, heaven and the uppermost world, where the realized souls reside.
Time, in Jaina conception, is a qualitative cycle: from the excellent, it deteriorates into the terrible and then starts building its quality again. This points towards the existence of three concomitant aspects: origination, destruction and permanence. That which originates is also being destroyed even while it is originating, and yet there are some aspects of it that remain its defining features. This principle is called anekanta.
Anekanta is an idea which says if origination and destruction, which make for impermanence, can coexist with permanence, then it means opposites can coexist. Do sun and shade not coexist? It also means that what one thinks is true and what one thinks is untrue, both exist. Nothing is totally untrue; it may be true under certain conditions and situations. Similarly, nothing is absolutely true; it may not hold water under some conditions or at a certain time. Everything is part of a multidimensional truth; truth itself is relative.
When Acharya Mahapragya, the tenth spiritual head of the Jaina Swetambara Terapanth community, said that we should try and understand all religions and learn from them `... because we may then be able to get closer to the truth ...' he was echoing the social aspect of anekanta, a thought which had been voiced by Mahavira himself. The following is a conversation Mahavira had with his disciple, Gautama:
Gautama: Sire, what is shashvat dharma? (`Shashvat' means that which is classic, always holds, and is eternal.)
Mahavira: Non-violence is shashvat dharma.
Gautama: Sire, some thinkers assert that their faith alone, and no other, represents dharma. Is that true?
Mahavira: Gautama, beware of those who say, 'Seek refuge in my teachings if you desire deliverance.' Such an attitude is indicative of religious dogmatism. Such people can at best teach fanaticism, not religion.
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