The Concept of Religious Freedom, Communal Harmony and Peace
Shri M. K. Dharma Raja
“Friendliness towards all” was the clarion call given by the Tirthankara Mahavira more than 2,500 years ago. It was a call for tolerance to appreciate the points of view other than one’s own. This attitude of tolerance and catholicity of outlook characterised the Jain doctrine from the earliest times Constant interac tion and dialogue with those professing other faith, had always been a salutary practice among Jain thinkers, the object, all the while, was an effort to understand various viewpoints.
A synthesis of different viewpoints is an imperative necessity according to the principles of Jain logic This method enabled the Jain philosopher with catholicity of thought convincing him that truth is not anybody’s monopoly with tariff walls of denominational religion.
Intellectual tolerance is the foundation of this doctrine acting as the motivation to promote interreligious dialogue. This approach was in fact seen as an antidote to the one-sided and absolute approach that had governed the study of reality which has as a result tended to impede a correct appraisal of its multi-faca- tcd nature. The cardinal principle of the Jain philosophical tradition is its mani- folded approach which emphasises “there is not only diversity but that the real is equally diversified”. It implies that Truth is many-sided, that it can be looked at from many and different points of view. It also negates dogmatism and respects the others’ standpoint. To look at reality from a particualar point of view only gives a partial view of reality and is fallacious. This composite Jain philosophy thus under- scores the virtue of reciprocity and the benefits of interreligious dialogue.
Interreligious dialogue has to be adopted in order to overcome the ills of present day society. The conditions of the twentieth century which have created a golobal village demand co-existence as the only alternative to co-destruction. The Jain concept of the spiritual seer, the tirthnkara, propagating the message of universal compassion, tolerance forgiveness and understanding an appropriate The Jain tradition is replete with accounts of people of different persuasions attending the audience hall at the Tirthankara or of taking part in the discourses of Jain sages The outcome was totally wholesome, bringing people of diverse faiths together in their efforts so alleviate the various afflictions that contemporary, society had to contend with.
We may at this stage also examine the other cardinal tenets of the Jain doctrines which would help in gaining an insight to its synoptic characteristics Non-killing or non-violence that requires one to respect the life in every creature is an important principle permeating the Jain outlook on life. A Jain looks upon non-violence not as a negative concept of merely refraining from killing but as a positive conduct that enjoins one not to harbour even the thought of injuring any being, or of uttering try word his Intention to injure or kill the being.
The image of a Jain as a person of peace and goodwill is strongly imprinted in Indian society and indeed in several other societies where followers of the Jain religion have migrated. We may recall in this context the role of Mahatma Gandhi perhaps the greatest champion of non-violence in our age. His upbringing in Jain Society and study of Jain religion was among the seminal influences which lifted him above the narrow limits of his community and helped him touch the hearts of men and women everywhere. Non-violent resistance to evil has now come to be accepted as a potent force in all societies.
The second virtue stressed in Jain ethics is good neighbourliness Individual kindness, mutual confidence and a reciprocal sense of security progressively diffused in society at large can help a great deal in achieving peaceful co-existence together with the well-being of the entire humanity.
The third virtue is a steady and progressive restraint on acquisitiveness which manifasts itself either in the form of yearning for sensual pleasure or for acquisition of property. This virtue is to be practsed in different degrees at different stages of one’s spiritual or religious progress. A voluntary limitation of property with its corollary of the concept of holding property in trust for the larger good of society results in social justice and a fair distribution of wealth and resources among individuals as well as among nations. What a desirable way of bringing about a new international economic and social order!
The other virtues of refraining from untruth, remaining celibate or in the case of a married man or weman, of limiting oneself to a single spouse are am the principles propagated more or less by all religions. The Jain religion, however lays down certain distinctive ethical standards, which are duly graded for the uplift of the individual as a social being. The rules and regulations governing an ascetic’s life are separately codified with the emphasis in the maximum abstinence. The duties of a householder are in miniature those of a monk and the householder. while pursuing his vocation with due observance of his duties, rises steadily to the status of a monk.
It is not as if the Jain doctrines contain all the prescriptions for the world’s ills Jainism itself refutes such a “Holier than thou attitude”. On the other hand, it would welcome a scientific and rational consideration of all points of view. This empirical standpoint under scores the universality of all the world’s great religions, After all, each of these world religions should be seen as an answer to the needs of the time. The mode of emphasis on one aspect or the other of human life may, and does, indeed, differ from religion to religion. But the common denominators in their principles are many The religious injunctions not the rituals, serve one paramount purpose and, that is, to make human life happy for one and all, to wipe the tear from every eye and, above all, to realise as nearly as possible the image of God in Man.
As the nations of the world have been coming in closer contact, particularly since the eighties of the last contury, there has been an increasing awareness of the need to foster the comparative study of the great religions of the world. Nothing but immense good has resulted from the convening of interreligious conferences at different centres. Man of religion drawn from different faiths have all acknowledged the common points in the various systems of spiritual endeavour prevailing in the countries of the world.
All great religions of the world have laid down principles to leading to peace. Peaceful existence among nations subserves the purpose of helping mankind to overcome distress across geographical boundaries. Service and peace can thus be merged into a harmonious blend to make human life more worthwhile. Man, after all, is not born only to love the small platoon into which he is born. Neither is he born only to breed, fight and die. That would only be a repetition of the animal round of existence.
Interaction among the followers of diverse faiths have by and large resulted in a wholesome exchange of ideas and a discovery of the common heritage of mankind. For over half a century, the idea of bringing together the various religions of the world for a joint action towards peace and service has led to several initiatives. The experience gained from such meetings held so far should enable future efforts a cover a wider ground. One immediate objective should of course be the laying of foundations for a secure and enduring peace among nations. What better means can be devised to achieve this objective than to mobilise public opinion in favour of peace and again the building of tension among nations? Leaders of the var religious traditions can undoubtedly play a crucial role in building the touts of peace and an influencing the beligerents to desist from their bellicose and war-like postures
People everywhere are conscious of the extreme gravity of the present international situation pregnant with the possibilities of nuclear annihilation. The followers of all religions and all people of good will around the world can be galvanised into rousing public opinion and creating unity and universality of conscience to halt the drift of nations towards conflicts plunging the world in total disaster.
People of all living faiths of the world can be encouraged to delve deep into their own religious traditions and experience in order to foster a climate of tolerance and respect for one another’s beliefs and points of view. Such intimate and earnest dialogue can help in bringing to surface those treasures of thought and power and also dedication to service capable of contributing to an awareness of spiritual kinship. The strain of tolerance thus generated can make the relation- ships of men and nations more just and free, more humane and more fraternal Participation in even a few such conferences and discussions has encouraged the hope that brothers and sisters who have been born into other faiths in other nations share with us the conviction that Truth and Righteousness mean the same to all wherever they may belong by virtue of their birth. The future of humanity lies in a better understanding of common values.