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Part 10: Jain Reform Movement


Nature of the Jaina Reform Movement

Unlike the study of Reform movements in Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism, there has been no study of the Jaina reform movement. Therefore the scope of the present thesis was to undertake the historical account of the Jaina reform movement of the last five centuries and the valuable contributions of the reformers of this tradition. Highlighting the causes of the deteriorating condition of Jaina religion, the thesis argued for the need to reform, revive and revitalize the true spirit of religion.

It was perhaps thought that the Jaina religion does not require reform because it is pure, or because when it degenerates, the next batch of tirthankaras will revive the religion. Additionally, the saravgna, who knows everything, has predicted the future.

To understand the scope of the Jaina reform movement, it was necessary to discuss the Christian reform movement which gained momentum from the new scientific discoveries, inventions and the Renaissance. The Renaissance gave back to Europe the free inquisitiveness of the Greek mind, its eager search for first values, and the Roman’s large practicality and sense of ordering of life in harmony with social utility. These were pursued with passion, seriousness, and almost religious zeal, which Europe acquired during the long centuries of medieval religious discipline. The influence of the Renaissance aided the breaking of the power of Papacy, establishment of Protestantism, and promoting the right of free inquiry. The Reformation insists on the right of the individual reason to determine the meaning of the inspired scripture.

The development in science and education invention of the printing press gave impetus to the reformers. But the reformation was, in its true sense, a religious reform. The main aim of the reformers was to live a life according to the call of ‘God’ as they understood it, interpreting the Bible to bring out the true essence of this ‘calling’. The word ‘calling’ means to live according to the divine call of God and as proclaimed by the Prophets as written in the Bible. It also suggests that there cannot be any mediator between God and oneself. The reformers lived out their beliefs and brought about reforms based on their interpretation of the Bible and response to the calling.

However, the reforms led to a series of events which brought violent situations. An important aspect was the Counter Reformation initiated by the popes themselves. The adverse effect of the reform movement was that the state at times supported the reformers which led to wars amongst them. Even among the protestant sects there are many sub-sects within them; each following a different set of rules.

On the other hand, Hindu reform movement was sparked by the advent of the Europeans. The reformers in the Hindu tradition analyzed the clash between the two civilizations: (1) east versus the west and also (2) between science and religion. The reformers of the Hindu tradition sincerely learnt from the westerners who came with their progressive ideas of equality and brotherhood, science and secular, formal modern education; against untouchability, inequality, etc. This led to the establishment of social institutions like Brahmo Samaj, Prarthana Samaj, Satya Sodhaka Samaj, Arya Samaj. An important feature was that revolutionaries like Savarkar went to the extent of regarding Vedas as historical statements. The influence of these reforms, on the other hand, gave momentum for freedom fighters to unite for the cause of Indian Independence.

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the father of Indian constitution, visualized that in spite of the reforms in Hinduism problems of inequality, untouchability and other worldliness still remained. He examined various other religions which would give equal status to them and found Buddhism an ideal religion and reinterpreted it to suit modern times. The bhiksu according to him is a social servant who has to serve the society.

Meanwhile, Jainism, as a sramana religion, underwent changes throughout history. The Jaina reform movement was a discrete movement because the reformers were at different time periods and catered to different doctrines. In its true sense, the Jaina reform movement was religious in nature. The reformers

worked without taking a political stand, unlike the Protestant movement. In contrast to the Christian Reform movement, the Jaina reform movement remained free from violence and wars. But the Jaina reformers on the whole seemed to be working within the tradition unaffected by external influences like new education, development in various sciences, the socio-political and economic conditions. Reforms introduced by the Jaina reformers chiefly owe its derivation to the Jaina scriptures. Each of these reformers highlighted particular aspects to a certain extent rather than providing a holistic approach to religion. The reforms introduced by the reformers brought about new sects with their own sets of rituals. Consequently we see various contrasts in the reforms suggested by them.

Contributions of the Reformers

The most important aim of the reformers was to reform the then contemporary scenario of the Jaina religion which according to them was not contributing to the real Jaina spirit. Hence each of them worked in their dravya, ksetra, kala and bhava.

To improve upon the state of religion, Lonka denied idol worship as a means of following religion because it involved violence. He also questioned those portions of commentary literature, especially exceptions on mahavratas and the use of magical powers which he found were violating the original true spirit of religion. He was right in questioning the use of magical practice by the monks to show their power and control over laity. For them spirituality took a backseat, while name, fame and glory through such powers became the forefront. Lonka’s crucial point was that violence became a necessary part of religion. Lonka’s refutation of image worship was based on his scriptural study. His emphasis on samyaktva as a precondition for leading a nonviolent life revives the call of the scriptures. His question about the validity of the interpretations of the scriptures was an important feature taken into account. Even today, a thorough reinterpretation of scriptures is required to emphasize the eternal over the temporal. According to Lonka, image-worship was an unhealthy practice inconsistent with scriptural teachings. The exceptions made to the five vratas in the later commentaries on the scriptures provided the Sramanas a way to justify their lax practices.

Bhiksu’s views, based on agamic exposition, were different from the systematized logical treatise “Tattvartha sutra”. He took his understanding of the karma theory to the logical extreme by asserting that every human being suffers or experiences pleasure because of his own past karmas; therefore, how can one be responsible for doing or undoing another’s karma? He therefore urges people to bear their own karma, follow the path of nirjara, and asserts that only through self-effort can one attain nirvana. Acarya Bhiksu’s interpretation on daya, dana and ahimsa in the light of agamic understanding, along with emphasis on the karma theory, leads one to review the place of karma and its effects. The importance of right intention, the right instrument and the right object; all three make the effect on action of an individual worthy of nirjara. Hence, even in day to day life, at every moment one has to be constantly vigilant of one’s own actions.

The reforms of Rajacandra brought about a novel and alien concept in Jainism. Apart from self effort, Rajacandra brought to the forefront a need for sadguru. A guru who is spiritual, not necessarily a muni, a celibate, but an atmajanani who lives on such an elevated level; by whose grace the knot of the seeker is opened. The seeker then completely devotes himself to the guru who does not demand any such submission, yet such a Bhakti becomes a cause for the spiritual growth of the seeker.

Rajacandra’s emphasis on devotion to the enlightened guru can help one in realizing their own self by following the path laid out by Sadguru. The aspirant must be a sincere devotee of a sadguru who is equivalent to god and whose grace can be invoked for the advancement of spiritual progress. He who is egoless alone can be a proper preceptor, and under whose guidance the aspirant can lead a proper life. In some Hindu traditions, guru is regarded as god and his grace has been given utmost importance. Mere human efforts are not sufficient to reach a higher spiritual state. He introduced the theory of “grace” from the spiritually enlightened teacher, who, through devotion, assists individuals in attaining spiritual heights. He tried to fill in the gap by introducing the concept of grace and devotion, which was an alien concept in Jainism.

Kanji Swami, who was an ardent devotee of Kundakunda, theoretically expounded the spiritual doctrine of vyavahara and niscaya through KramaBaddhaParyaya. On the basis of such a theory he converted himself from a muni to a Sarvaka. The parallelism of vyavahara and niscaya, made him discard dietary codes and ritualism for which Jainas are well known. Though propounding niscaya, he never discarded vyavahara. He renounced karta bhava and even propounded to build temples, publish books and give lectures. He went on to extreme saying, such actions are a product of their own potential cause.

Sant Bala, the most controversial figure in Jaina reform movement, highlighted a completely revolutionary path of social service in Jaina asceticism. The path he advocated and followed ranged from complete withdrawal from the world to complete engagement in it through social service, while facing day-to-day challenges with an equanimous state of mind. He, thus, highlighted the necessity of action by the sramanas to uplift the various sections of society through modern education, duty towards brethren, for communal harmony and sarva dharma sambhavana. Sant Bala internalized the concept of action, and it is seen in his interpretation of Acaranga sutra; to live a completely detached life and to serve society.

He propounded the view that such a path is never a hindrance to spiritual upliftment. The task is to modify one’s thoughts, to make actions more relevant for the present times.

Thus, from Lonka to Sant Bala one sees that complete renunciation (even physical) of weapons (as in Acaranga) to complete engagement of munis in worldly life through social service as a expressed by Sant Bala (through this interpretation of Acaranga) raises the issues of those paths highlighted by the reformers.

The modern reformers are different from the earlier ones. Instead of renovating and revitalizing the agamic tradition and retaining a pure form of religion, they have adopted the task of offering suitable combinations of Jaina principles, principles of other religions, modern education and the value system emerging in contemporary situations.

The modern age, which marked new development in science and technology, changed the lifestyle of the people. On one hand, extreme aparigraha, and on the other hand, all the modern gadgets, amenities have made man’s life comfortable. To reconcile both these, modern reformers like Upadhyaya Amar Muni, and Candanaji, Acarya Tulsi and Mahapragnaji, and Citrabhanu and Sushil Muni, came forward to make an appeal to masses both in India and as well as abroad.

Contradictory Reforms

If we take an overview of the reform movement, then we find that the various reforms envisaged by the reformers come in conflict with each other. These conflicts may be grouped under the following headings:

  1. Idol Worship v/s its Rejection

The image worship grew out of a natural need of society. From an external instrument of worship, the idol becomes itself an end. The violence involved in idol-worship drew Lonka’s attention to revolt on the basis of agamas, however, the latter day reformers like Kanji Swami and Vijayavallabha, initiated the building of idols and temples.

The question therefore arises, “is idol worship or its rejection a requirement for progressive steps in religion. Lonka could have raised the issue of the concept and need for worship.”

  1. Exception to mahavratas v/s Sant Bala’s Pravrtti Marg

The complete renunciation of any physical action as mentioned in early agamas and the reception of them in later commentary literature raises a crucial question on the concept of action in Jainism. If mere physical action is binding then a person can never get free. The complete retrieval from the world, and complete engagement in the world with a sense of detachment as suggested by Sant Bala, the 2oth century reformer, challenges the position of asceticism in Jainism.

Acarya Bhiksu’s concern was also for the laxity in the code of conduct of the monks for which he left his sect. He denounced and heavily criticized the means of charityas a way of earning merit. According to him, pure religion is living a life of complete self-restraint and even to induce others to religion not by force but by proper way of preaching which changes the heart of the person. This is in sharp contradiction with Sant bala who denounced the way of nivritti, and like Ambedkar emphasized the active participation of the Sramanas in the social reconstruction on ethical grounds.

  1. Social Service v/s its Rejection

The theory of karma, especially the vedaniya, mohaniya and ayusya karmas, which were Bhiksu’s grounds for rejecting daya and dana as spiritual path, is in sharp contradiction with Sant Bala’s path of social service.

According to Bhiksu and Tulsi (Bhiksu’s modern day forerunner) atma dharma and loka dharma are separate, but according to Sant Bala they are not. On the contrary, Sant Bala suggests that providing proper moral grounds to humans requires first satisfying their basic needs and solving their day-to-day problems. Furthermore, he suggests that atma dharma and loka dharma are one and the same.

  1. Grace v/s KramaBaddhaParyaya

Rajacandra’s concept of bhakti and grace as cause of knowledge stands in sharp contradiction with mere self-effort to become self – realization as propounded by Kanji Swami and Pandit Banarsidasa.

Bhakti or devotion as propounded by Srimad, entails a complete contrast to knowledge as means of knowing oneself without relying solely on external help or grace of a sadguru. The necessity of sadguru to evoke the inner push stands in opposition to Kanji swami’s theory of KarmaBaddhaParyaya which shows that there is no effect of one dravya on another and also there is no karta bhava.

Limitations of the Reformers

Majority of the reformers have, to a certain extent, failed to give a holistic approach in conformity with the continuous development and changes in life. Life is encompassed by the legal, political, social and economic systems, as well as by religion and spirituality. The last two have to be the guiding force in the life of an individual. Religion cannot be practiced emphasizing only one aspect, rather it has to be raised from mere conventional rules to higher levels of morality and ethics, and finally to spirituality. This will affect the whole life of an individual and not merely entangle them in issues of worshipping idols or not worshipping idols..

Some traditional outdated forms are followed, for example, nudity, which does not coexist with the civilized world, and yet it is strictly adhered to by digambara monks.

Gender bias is still prevalent in religion as reformers may not have fully recognized the strength of women. With the exception of modern reformers like Candanaji, who are held in high esteem by lay followers but not by traditional acaryas, as the sangha is always headed by a male.

Some modern reformers, in their efforts to popularize religion, are again falling into the trap of externally following religion. These reformers, who have traveled abroad, also persuade people who have stopped using silk, milk, etc. as better Jainas than their Indian counterparts. Sanctioning only external conformity to become a religious person, rather than embodying true religiosity by universalizing principles of friendship and compassion, can indeed be dangerous. These principles, not only encompasses one’s own positive approach towards oneself, but extend to the whole universe, as exemplified by Mahavira and Buddha and all religious founders.

A truly enlightened person is an authority in character, virtues and not in matters of science and technology. Sarvagna, therefore in religion means Dharmagna. Therefore scientific developments must be left to scientists. If these spheres are not separated, there is a conflict between them. These reformers have not distinguished explicitly between the two as it happened in Christianity. It is even necessary to emphasize the fact that the traditional acaryas and even many educated lay followers are trying to interpret Jaina ethico-religious views as scientific. It is very unfortunate that they fail to realize the fundamental difference between the two is that the aim of religion is liberation from passions which is not so in the case of science.

Thus, there are conflicts between various discoveries of science and religious data, like cosmology, structure of universe, traditional historical accounts and modern understanding of society, which the traditional reformers have not taken into consideration. Also, modern reformers, in the task of universalizing religious principles have not paid proper attention to clearly demarcate the spheres of science and religion. It was taken for granted by them, but was not communicated to the masses as well as ascetics with the help of forceful arguments and examples. This is the major limit of the reform movement.

As we have seen, the main foundation of these reformers was the scriptures as handed down by the tirthankaras, the sarvagnas; considered all knowing. Hence, none of them have questioned the notion of sarvagna, except Sant Bala who in the light of Kundakunda raises the question of proper understanding of the word sarvagna.

Task Ahead

The nature of four-fold Jaina sangha has changed. Today, Jaina religion is followed by a small community. The followers of Jaina religion have spread to almost all continents where the ways of living, environment and culture are vastly different from the Indian sub-continent. Consequently, the ways of practicing religion are not similar everywhere.

As discussed in chapter three, just as some aspects of life are permanent while others are subject to change, it is essential to evaluate these changes for better living; whether in religious or secular context. In the modern age, the task of spiritual teachers and intelligentsia is to review and revive the concepts of Jaina sangha in contemporary living on a global level. Not only unity of various sub-sects within Jainism but also dialogue with other religious groups is the need of the hour. The reformers should be aware of and compassionate about this need.

The Jaina sangha which consists of sadhu, sadhavi should first review the nature of diksa appropriately in modern times, since there is a requirement for the real spiritual gurus in and outside India. The real initiation would encompass the individual’s holistic approach towards one’s own self and the world by understanding its utility and futility. Proper initiation would really mean a person who understands the value of a higher spiritual living. When desires related to this world are completely eradicated, it propels one’s journey towards further exploration, liberating the individual from aversion and attachment, ultimately leading to attainment of spiritual bliss. Such liberation has no limitation of any geographical location, begging rules, clothes or travel. Compassion and friendliness will prevail in this individual every moment.

As in Christianity, some groups of monks have adapted modern style of dress, understand the need of modern scientific and secular knowledge and pursue it and yet lead a highly spiritual life. A life lived without merely adhering to an age-old traditional style of living, but one that comprehends and lives according to the permanent aspect of religion by rationally understanding the nine tattvas and the five spiritual precepts, would truly signify an initiated individual. Only then will the person shed unnecessary attachment towards diets and aversions to the permanent aspect religion expressed through changes. Such a person would really be considered a diksit.

This would really further presuppose that such individuals would be equanimous and steadfast in all activities with pure intention. Thus, the three criteria of progress where act is as pure as intention, where a person lives a moderate balanced life and encounters a global world from an anekantic viewpoint will be really a Jeevan mukta, the Arihant, here and now.

Respect for other religions, by not evaluating the other religions on the basis of one’s own religion and not saying it as mithyatva is also an important aspect which a real religious person should realize. It is therefore the task of new intelligentsia and new reformers to delete such baseless notions from religion.

The reforms of these reformers are rooted in agamas. All the reformers have great faith in the scriptural authority. Scriptures have always emphasized on the inner positive essence of religion, and so these reformers have attempted to revitalize the spirit of religion, i.e. to internalize the pure and the true aspects of religion though emphasizing on different values.

Even by critically examining the problems, being themselves firm, they emphasized on the proper code of conduct and not on the difficult austerities which otherwise form an important part of Jaina religion.

By giving it a universal appeal, the reformers have extended their own scope by not limiting their activities only to a particular sect or Jaina religion, like Sant Bala who emphasized that the good of every other religion should be a part of one’s own religion. Citrabhanu, Sushil Muni and Acarya Tulsi’s approach extended beyond Jaina religion.

The reformers have always emphasized on proper moral and ethical code of conduct which is necessary for liberation. Their approach likely did not emphasize traditional metaphysics, as they might not have found it necessary. This is because religion deals with one’s own advancement in following values and virtues, which extend beyond metaphysics.

The primary aim of these reformers is to unite the spiritual life with the day-to-day activities of each moment of awareness. It does not require go to temples or upasrayas for it would otherwise mean, leading a life like split personality, or like a hypocrite – one’s thoughts being good and pure in temples and once outside they turn inauspicious and full of passions. Their works and views conform to the three criteria of reforms discussed in chapter 3. Hence, on the basis of this, it can be concluded that their reforms were progressive and not regressive.

Here, one can raise questions on the future of religion, especially in the background of the Jaina reform movement. Is the agamic Jainism found today in its pure form? Will its aspects remain intact even after 2500 years? Demanding to find Jainism in its pure form may not be wise, as change in an inevitable phenomenon in life, including within religions. This evolution has occurred in every religion worldwide. Religion, like other aspects of life, is also bound to change over time.

However, on the other hand, there is a very strong argument that distinguishes between principles and practices of religion, highlighting the permanence of principles and mutability of the practices. This argument may be questioned in the context of the Jaina reform movement. Having discussed reforms put forward by various people over the past five centuries, can it be said that Jainism has been able to keep intact its original form at the level of principles? If it were true, then principles such as grace, compassion and love would have never entered in Jaina tradition at all.

Reformers felt the need to incorporate these principles along with the eternal values of social, religious and spiritual needs. The nature of Jaina religion in the 20th century is a combination of old and new values and this is the future of religion.

In the sway of time, people may lose sight of the original form of religion, presenting a dilemma. If they resist change, the religion risks becoming stagnant and irrelevant. However, if they embrace change, it may lose its original sramanic identity. The decision to accept or reject change will ultimately determine the future of Jaina religion.

The task for change is to twofold:

  1. Theoretically distinctions should be made between fields of science and technology on one hand, and morality and religion on the other. It is also important to see that the religious doctrines do not come in conflict with the scientific truths.
  2. Practically to emphasize those practices which are independent of different geographical and environmental conditions and to lay sufficient emphasis on the inner spirit of morality and religion.

Jain Reform Movement

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