India is an ancient land. Different philosophies and religions of the world have flourished here through centuries of human history. In this cradle of culture there grew a great and glorious tradition of compassion, friendship, sympathy. fearlessness and non-violence. That tradition goes back to thousands of years. That tradition did not commence with Lord Mahavira. Indeed, it culminated in an apotheosis in the saga of Lord Mahavira’s life. According to Jain history, the tradition arose with the first of the Tirthankara, Lord Rishabhadeva, who was the founding father of many-splendid arts and sciences of human civilisation He was also the father of the illustrious Bharata. The twenty fourth Tirthankara unfolded to the world, by precept and example, a profoundly humane, rational, scientific, spiritual and ethical outlook on life.
The glory of the Jain tradition is that its adherents, kings as well as commoners and monks as well as householders, strove to preserve the essence of its tenets. It is a rich legacy which lives on not as a legend in the pages of history but as a part of a cherished, vibrant and living tradition.
The Jain tradition is not in any real sense antithetical or antagonistic to the Vedic tradition. Jainism and Buddhism sprang from the soil of Indian thought. Indeed, Lord Mahavira placed a constructive and thoughtful emphasis on the essence and the real meaning of life. The Jain tradition, of takes a fearless and rational approach to life. Lord Mahavira put it in two words when he said: Truth is the God (Sachham Bhagavam).
In the quest for the truth, Jains were engaged in what was perhaps the most unparallelled and unsurpassed commitment to intellectual and ethical integrity. They endeavoured to reach their conclusions on the basis of scientific inquiry into the nature of physical phenomena, the human nature, the individual and the collective mind, the nature and purposes of life. They philosophised without any blinkers. Out of the depth of that soulful inquiry came the lotus of Anekanta and the ambrosia of Ahimsa.
Anekanta is fundamentally the principle of Relativity. It teaches rance and humility. It gives us a basis of establishing peace. friendship, co-ope- ration and reciprocity. In that sense, Anekanta is much more than a mere form of logic or a modality of reconciliation of different perceptions. It gives us a whole philosophy of life and becomes a catalyst for the pervasive and cosmic principle of Ahimsa The word non-violence in the English language hardly expresses the full splendour and the many facets of Ahimsa as a philosophy and a loadstar of life. It is a philosophy of harmony, a philosophy of compassion and empathy, a philo. sophy of duties and rights. us tole-
Jainism is obviously much more than a conglomeration of several sects which acknowledge their allegiance to Lord Mahavira as the twentyfourth Tirthankara. Its creed is Ahimsa which Lord Mahavira lived and taught. The allegiance of Jains to Ahimsa has to be a great deal more than a private ritual, or a visit to a temple or a matter of lip service. That allegiance and adherence means a concern for life, a concern for society, a concern for the world. It calls for a principled approach to life. It also asks for the continuous self-renewal and dedication in thought and in action by every atom in the society.
The world today stands at cross-roads. We have the option of creating a new and more humane world order. We have also the option of destroying our- selves and all that has been created on the face of the earth for many centuries. The Jain tradition of Ahimsa and Anekanta is like a beacon light for the embattled humanity which walks on a razor’s edge and is encircled by darkness and gloom. From that darkness and gloom the humanitarian and compassionate ideology of respect for life, relativity of thought and practice and the approach of Ahimsa enshrined in the Jain tradition offers a pathway to a truly brave new world.