A Peep into Jainism by Late Shri Khub Chand Jain

SELF-MORTIFICATION AND & ASCETICISM

Writing about the depth of self mortification undergone by Mahavira and citing a passage taken form a ballad in Acharanga sutta. Shri N.N. Ghosh in his book, “The Early History of Indian syas.”

“Peple struck him and mocked at him- unconcerned he contined in his meditation. In Ladha the inhabitants persecuted him and set the days on him. They beat him with sticks and their feet and threw fruits, clods of earth and pot-shreds on him. But like a hero in the fore-front of battle Mahavira withstood it all. Whether he was wounded or not he never sought medical aid. He took no medicaments, he never washed, did not breathe an never cleaned his teeth. In winter he meditated in the shade, in the heat of the summer he seated himself in the scorching sun. Often he drank no water for months some times he took only sixth, tenth or twelth meal and pursued his meditation without craving.”

Prof. Ishwari Prasad Ji in his “History of India” says.

“Mahavira himself lived a life of extreme asceticism and self torture and wanted his followers to do the same. Death by starvation was held to be an art of highest merit and no amount of auderity was considered enough.”

H.G. wells speaks in the same strain about Gautam Budha.

“The Indian mind has always been disposed to believe that power and knowledge may be obtained by extreme asceticism, by fasting, sleeplessness and self-torment and those ideas Gauta now out to the test. He betook himself upto fasting and terrible penaces. But it borught him no sense of truth achieved. One day he was walking up and down trying to think inspite of his mental state. Suddenly he fell unconscious. When he recovered the preposterousness of these semi magical ways to wisdom was plain to him.”

Comment on the above quotations:- There are two things essential for life in this world e.g. body and soul. For a house-holder the body comes first and he has to take care of it. It is necessary for him daily to clean his teeth, wash the face and rest of his person. The Jains, do not go to their temples or visit the munis without first taking proper baths.

For a house-holder, or even a yogi no such thing as deliberate injury or say mortification of self is ever prescribed. Had Jainism to attainment of power. Knowledge and salvation, it caould as well enjoin amputation of limbs one by one bit by bit and them promise Nirvana after such death. But this is perfectly mature; Mahavira lived upto the age of more than seventy. If death by starvation could get him salvation, he could have attained it by fasting unto death instead of having his meals after days and even after months. The fact is that he had his meals under certain principles which were considered absolutely essential for the maintenance of the health of spirit. He did not similarly stay in shade in biting winter, nor in sun when it was intensively warm, with the intention of torture to himself, but when engaged in meditation he would not leave the place and give it up whether it was then shade or sun, cool or warn. Concentration of mind is not possible if we are constantly brooding over hunger and thirst and watching the barometer for temperature, aimless fasting, sleeplessness, torture or tormenting one’s self tentamount to committal of suicide ad result in torments of hell and a new spell of births and deaths which Jainism definitely specially asks its followers to avoid, such useless practices admittedly cannot bring power, knowledge or any sense of truth.

What we and our critics lose sight of us the importance of the physical body which lies in the fact that is the vehicle of self and an instrument of liberation. Body, we should clearly understand, is the chariot in which the self is sitting to have a ride of the universe. Senses are horers of this chariot and mind the charioteer; conscience as its bridle. For a safe riding it is but essential that mind and body shold be kept in perfectly healthy condition, so far as eating is considered what Jainism prescribes is “Eat to live not live to eat”. Eating for the sake of eating just to satisfythe cravings of the palate, is what we are to guard against. Surely a man has a higher mission that merely to indulge in eating, drinking and merry-making.”

For a house holder it is allowed that he should earn his bread by just and honest means. Professions involving hinsa or injury to others like those of wine skin and hide merchand or that of a further are to be scrupulously avoided. Let money be earned and something may ever be saved against rainy season but there should be some limit to accumulation. While for a saint who seek moksha a good deal more of a restrictive conduct is needed. See what Jesus tells one, who come to seek his advice:

16. “Good Master” asked the man, “what good thing I shall do that I may have eternal life,”

17. “Keep the commandments” was the reply Jesus made.

18. Which?” enquired the man.
And Jesus prescribed the undernoted dos and don’ts:


“Then shalt do no murder, then shall not commit adultery, Then shalt not steal, Then shalt not bear false witness.”

19. “However thy father and thy mother, and Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thy self.”

The man was, however, not satisfied and informed the master.

20. “All those things have kept from my youth up: What back I yet?

And the teacher said unto him:

21. “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell thou has’t and give to the poor and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.”

22. “But when the young mand heard that saying, he went sorrowful: for he had possessions.”

23. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, “Verily I say unto you that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

24. And again I say unto you, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eyes of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

St. Mathew , Chap. XX, 16 to 24

And here is the crux of the problem unmindful of the meaning of such injunctions of the prophet as :

“Hell is veiled in delights and heaven in hardship and miscries ( Hadis)

25. “Who soever will save his life shall lose it and who soever will lose his life shall find it.”

26. “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man given in exchange for his soul.”

(St. Mathew XVI, 25-26)


Materialists of today speak of Jain penances as a persecution of one’s self. The fact is that in Jainism a stricter and a more riaorous course of self discipline than that for a layman and consideration of the body as secondary, nay an unnecessary encumbrance for the attainment of salvation is prescribed. The object is that while in mediation the yogi should be so absorbed in his self that he should lose contact with the world outside. But the question is can such absorption be possible?

Sir Issac Newton, once invited a friend to dinner. Since there were yet more than two hours at his disposal, the great Mathematician burned himself in solving he well-known Binomial Theorm. The friend came at the appointed time. He know of the obsorbing him silently becknoned the servant to bring the meals, took it and left. When the host came to himself, he felt sorry that the appointed time fixed had long passed but then saw the food crumbs lying on the plates nearby and realized that the gentleman must have attended at the time fixed, taken the meals and gone.

Imagine if lesser luminaries could so absorb themselves in the task assigned to themselves and forget about all else what about those who had made meditation the vary raisend’ etre of their lives.

Unfortunately the mind is so constituted that left to itself it will attend to anything but the inner self like sense it ever opens in the outside and makes the outside field of its activily. Even in the outside it is ever roaming from an object to object and from topic to topic of varied interest and even when deliberate efforts is made to bring it under control it is inclined to break loose on the slightest shadow of an excuse-bodily discomfort, sensual excitement and the like. For this reason it is absolutely essential that a yogi, a seer for truth, should first train his mind to an extent that it may apply itself with an undivided attention to a particular point at the call of self. This training like the training of lions and wild beasts reduces the curbing of passions and desires.


These penances involving a rigorous sort of mental and physical discipline is primarily meat for yogis who by their natural change of vision have begun to look on selves as the main stay of their lives and by their natural urge have devoted themselves to the unveiling of the treasures hidden within. This fact is lost sight of by entities, who own the assumption that yogic code is meant for all, begin to criticise its practibility, while the truth is that all are not yogis, r all are not so developed as to take to asceticism. Different people have different mental make up and so different code of conduct it prescribed for them, it varies in its scope and rigour according to the station and stage to which the devotee belongs.

The first lesson given to beginner concerns hygiene and civics for the elimination of all sorts of want on habits of impurity and the cruel tendencies of enjoyment at the cost of other’s life. Thereafter comes a lesson in sociology and economics for creating a sense of social justice, fellow- feeling, mutual help, charity and generosity , a sense of simple living and high thinking and last of all comes the lesson of asceticism.

Pleasure and pain arise only when the attention of the sol is directed to the physical body and the same becomes engrossed in its concerns. The soul enjoys pure bliss when its consciousness is purged of the idea of physical body with which it has eoorneously identified itself.

As regards torture or suffering inflicted by other or observance of foregiveness and calmness by the saints under extreme provocation it may be pointed out that it is a highly commendable virtue. A house-holder owes some duty to himself, his home and hearth, his community and the country, but for a mendicant who has no other pursuit then that of attainment of Moksha who has given up all sorts of attachments and aversions and abandoned all worldly relations and possessions, it is something different. Didn’t Jesus, when put on the cross, pray, “O Father! Forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Was this a sign of weakness in him? No, sane man will call it a sing of spiritual strength.

Cleaning of teeth or washing of body is and essential act for you and me, who several times in a day take our diet, vegetarian and non-vegetarian with strong spices and intoxicants hot and cold drinks alternately, which result in early decay of teeth and so many physical ailments and even heart failures, but for the saints, particularly Jain saints the case is altogether different, for they living away from the environment of temptations appetites, having reduced the physical needs to the barest minimum & observing celibacy keep a very strict course of self-discipline. Pray, who cleans the teeth of cow and buffaloes and other beasts? None and yet their teeth are seldom known to have decayed and fallen. Again we clean our persons daily but with what results, we become dirty the very next few hours. The fish remain all their lives in water and yet they exact a very obnoxious smell.

Q. What have you to say about receiving medical aid?
Ans: For laymen, you and I , it is a necessity. But in the case of great men, by which is meant great saints and not Tatas and Birlas, the case is different, the really great lead and are not led by others. Such people do sometimes, suffer from physical ailments, but they take care of themselves, if needed through will power, otherwise they simply ignore such troubles as something inevitable being the result of past Karmas, sooner the debt is repaid the better.

Will Power. Gandhiji sometimes kept fasts unto death to cure the Indian Society of its social and political ills. It was on one such occasion that he became very weak, so much so that after testing his blood, urine etc, the medical experts declared that his end was near. Those whose advice he could not lightly brush aside reminded him that his person was not really his; it was truly speaking that of the country to which he had dedicated his life, nay it belonged to the whole humanity or even the posterity which he was out to serve, Gandhi Ji agreed and said, “All right, you allow me one day more. Let Dr. Ansiri examine me tomorrow and if after examination he is satisfied that my life is in danger. I will give up the fast.” Gandhiji’s blood, urine etc were again subjected to a critical test the next day and lo! All such symptoms disappeared overnight. Did he take any medicine? Surely not, he cured himself by the simple method of Will Power

ss Will power, may it be known, can save people even from the clutches of death. Doctors in the case of a certain man who had some chronic trouble pronounced that he could not possible survive till the next day. The man who was then in a semi-conscious state happened to hear this. He got up from the bet and declared,” well, I will see how Death takes me away. I will not, any more, lie on the cot.” The doctors advised complete rest but the patient won’t agree, the result-he was completely cured of his illness.

We spend three quarters of our life in sleeping and attending to our physical needs without at all thinking of our soul and it needs rather the very existence of it is a matter of doubt for us, but for the saints Soul is the highest reality, nay the reality of the realities.

It is true Jainism lays stress on renunciation but this is also a necessity with nature from which none can hope to escape. All great religious readers Christ Mahavira, Budha and Gandhi believed in renunciation. The clinging to the object of sense is the creature of delusion; they have to be given sooner or later. It is for us to decide whether we give them up ourselves or let death tear us away from them. In the once case power and blessedness results for the soul, in the other there are only the lamentations and gnashing of teeth, born of important rage.

The path of Karma Yoga is no doubt commendable, but so far as the problem of eradication of the deep rooted passions, emotions and sentiments, or the stoppage of the influx or fresh Karmas is concerned, it cannot be solved without going through the rigorous practice of meditation and its necessary adjunct the asceticism.

Lastly it may be argued against asceticism that the price demanded for salvation in exorbitant, put to meet the argument it will suffice to say that either we must once for all pay the high price or simply go on suffering forever by allowing ourselves to lie prostrate before uncertain turns of fortune and the agonies of births and deaths.

Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.

(St.Mathew VI, 24)

We cannot eat a loaf and have it.