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The Druid Way

The Triple A Doctrines of Jainism: Their Value to Druidry & The Wider World

April 29th, 2011

In the ‘About’ section of this blog, I explain its rationale: “I spend much of my days writing ‘serious’ material that must fit into particular structures: books, articles, and workshop programmes. So to balance this, I am using this blog as a play-space: a place to relax and have fun – to share some of the strange, sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious material that comes my way. And it’s also a place to share ideas…”

There have been plenty of ‘fun’ pieces in here recently, so now let me share a more serious piece with you. It’s written in rather a dry style perhaps, but I’m trying to focus on specific ideas that I have found of tremendous value. This won’t be to everyone’s taste in this fast-moving internet world, but here it is:

The most famous festival in Jainism occurs every 12 years in the town of Shravanabelagola in Karnataka. The 10th century statue of Bahubali, Lord Gommateshvara, is annointed with water, milk and turmeric amidst great celebration.

The Triple A Doctrines of Jainism:

 Their Value to Druidry & The Wider World

‘aparigraha parmo dharm’.

 (Non-Possessiveness is the supreme duty or highest religion.)

Acharya Mahapragya

At the heart of Jainism lies a trio of related doctrines known as Ahimsa, Aparigraha and Anekant, which – although of great antiquity – have much to offer to our contemporary world, and to the followers of other faiths or none. Since I help to lead a Druid group whose concerns are very much focused on the contemporary challenges we face, I am particularly interested in the way these doctrines can be shared within Druidry, which over the last century has expressed a generous eclecticism and universalism.

Jainism, with its extreme reverence for all life-forms, is today seen as a religion that can champion ecological issues. From its beginnings it has welcomed women into the ascetic community, and it sustains one of the most cultured communities in India. It is responsible for the oldest libraries in the country, a highly developed system of logic and metaphysics that includes the most detailed doctrine of karma, finely carved temples, the earliest representations of mandalas and yantras in India, and a set of doctrines which, although ancient, speak powerfully to present-day concerns.

In addition to the value of exploring the differences between Druidry and Jainism,  which by their very contrast can help to clarify one’s own views, I am convinced that a study of Jainism has much to offer the Druid – and in particular, the trio of doctrines mentioned at the beginning of this essay, of Ahimsa, Aparigraha and Anekant.

Ahimsa is the Doctrine of Harmlessness or Non-Violence, made famous by Gandhi, and espoused by the other Dharmic traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism, but arguably first developed amongst the Jains. Whether or not this is historically true, it is undoubtedly the case that in Jainism, the application of ahimsa is more radical than in any other religion. Aparigraha is the Doctrine of Non-Attachment or Non-Possessiveness or Non-Acquisition, which is also found in the other Dharmic traditions, and applied rigorously within the Jain ascetic community. Anekant is the Doctrine of Many-sidedness or of Multiple Viewpoints (also known as the Doctrine of Relative Pluralism, Non-Absolutism, or Non One-sidedness), that is unique to Jainism, and constitutes, in some scholars’ eyes one of the religion’s most significant contributions to humanity.

To avoid repetition of these three terms, let’s borrow a title from American baseball – Triple A – which means the highest level of play in the minor league.

Rather than seeing the Triple A as three unique doctrines, it can be useful to see them as three facets of one teaching. In some literature the image of a three-legged stool is offered to illustrate this idea. Each leg is a unique entity, but combined they provide a stable basis for something – a seat in the metaphor, but in relation to the concept, a basis for a sound approach to life that can result in ethical behaviour, and positive spiritual, psychological and philosophical attitudes.

Of these three doctrines, two are specifically mentioned in the five vows that every Jain takes: to refrain from doing harm, from stealing, from lying, from inappropriate sexual conduct, and from possessiveness. The first vow, of Ahimsa, is seen by many to be the fundamental principle of Jainism, from which the doctrine of Anekant, as a way of appreciating a multiplicity of viewpoints, flows as a form of intellectual Non-Violence. But not everyone agrees in this supremacy of Ahimsa. Sadhvi Vishrutvibha in The Basics of Jainism  (Jain Vishva Bharati 2010 p.37) writes: ‘ [Many people] consider non-violence as the fundamental principle of Jainism because it has been preached from time immemorial that ‘ahimsa paramo dharm’ i.e. non-violence is the highest form of religion.

When we read our scriptures, we find that non-possession is more important than non-violence. A person perpetrates violence due to their possessiveness. Possession is the basic requirement of life, and the need for more possessions leads people to indulge in violence. The main cause of violence therefore, is possession. Greed for money, land and acquiring more belongings causes violence. So it can be said, non-violence is secondary, whereas non-possession is the main principle of Jain philosophy. This is why, Acharya Mahapragya says ‘aparigraha parmo dharm’.’

Perhaps we can apply the doctrine of Multiple Viewpoints to the question of whether Ahimsa or Aparigraha are the main principles of Jain philosophy, saying that from certain perspectives both statements are true, and that from another perspective all of the Triple A doctrines are fundamental. Certainly this is the suggestion given in Natubhai Shah’s magisterial two volume Jainism: The World of the Conquerors (Motilal Banarsidass 2004 Vol I p.108) when he writes that the Triple A doctrines ‘are the distinctive principles of Jainism on which the conduct of a Jain is based.’

These ideals of causing no harm, being generously non-Absolutist in our understanding of life, and practicing a non-grasping approach to all that we encounter, are all self-explanatory and clearly laudable, and in their application in everyday life we can see them as answers to truly contemporary needs. We know that the world suffers now from too much conflict, too much fundamentalism, and too much consumption. This suffering can be alleviated by applying the Triple A doctrines: seeking non-violent solutions, respecting and learning from others’ opinions and beliefs, and reducing consumption to sustainable levels.

It is vital to ‘walk our talk’ and apply our beliefs in action, but it also important that these beliefs are intellectually appreciated, and are also grounded in our inner experience. Jainism offers an ancient practice that can help us to do exactly this, so that we can experience these key attitudes at both a rational and spiritual level. This practice is known as samayika (derived from the Prakrit word samaya – ‘time’ – and meaning ‘the practice of the attainment of equanimity.’) Ideally samayika is practiced every day for a period of 48 minutes (an ‘Indian hour’ based on sacred mathematics). During this time the practitioner enacts the five vows literally and ritualistically. Not stealing, lying or engaging in sexual misconduct for 48 minutes should not be hard for most of us (although if those commonly quoted statistics, probably produced by Cosmopolitan Magazine, that men think of sex every six minutes perhaps it is hard for many!) It is perhaps more likely that the enactment of ahimsa and in particular aparigraha, will form the central focus of this activity. In a ritualised way, with prayers, meditation and recitations the practitioner lets go of all attachments, in some instances casting aside all clothing to become, for this brief time each day, like their respected skyclad ascetics, entirely without possessions (See Padmanabh S.Jaini, The Jaina Path of Purification, Motilal Banarsidass 1979 pp.221-226 for a detailed description of Samayika).

Padmanabh S.Jaini in his essay ‘The Jaina Faith and Its History’ (In the Institute of Jainology’s edition of the Tattvartha Sutra, HarperCollins 1994 explains that samayika is ‘a fusion with the true self through increasing detachment from all external objects… a temporary renunciation of all possessions before sitting in meditation for up to one Indian hour.’ The outer act of forsaking attachments and sitting in meditation prepares the way for an inner process of attaining equanimity through the application of aparigraha by progressively releasing one’s inner emotional, intellectual and psychic attachments. Jaini writes: ‘Jaina lawbooks repeatedly commend this ritual as the highest form of spiritual discipline.’

The Triple A doctrines combined with the practice of samayika gives us a set of rational beliefs which provide an ethical framework that can inform the way we behave in the world, together with a daily spiritual practice that allows us to enact, ritually and in our awareness, our determination to inflict no harm, to free ourselves of possessiveness and of attachment to singular viewpoints. There is an elegance and simplicity, but great depth, in these doctrines and this practice that Druids could usefully emulate. For many Druids, sitting or standing each day, ‘naked before God’ in Christian terminology, attempting ‘naked awareness’ in Buddhist terminology, using whatever ritual felt appropriate but with the main emphasis being holding to nothing, attached to nothing, offers a powerful way of embodying his or her core beliefs, of reducing any tendency to violence, possessiveness or fundamentalism, and of walking the path of peace in the world.

Peace has always been a core value in Druidism, and a fundamental conviction of most, if not all, Druids today is that we must reduce our consumption to ease the strain on the Earth’s resources. Many will try to put this belief into practice through exercising restraint and making ethical buying choices. In addition, those Druids who are sympathetic to universalism will also naturally appreciate the value of a philosophy that advocates the appreciation of multiple viewpoints. These approaches and beliefs held by many Druids today, which are essentially those of Ahimsa, Aparigraha and Anekant, can be sustained and deepened by a study of these doctrines, and by ‘taking a leaf’ from the Jain tradition and developing a regular practice inspired by the idea of samayika.

Essentially, the practice of samayika involves letting go at the deepest level – opening to the experience of wanting nothing, needing nothing, expecting nothing. In doing this we are reversing the psyche’s trend to want more, get more, consume more – experiences, thoughts, desires, things. How peaceful it is to let the tide go out! If I can spend time every day not trying to grasp, pull in, hold on, consume, in this place of deep awareness, perhaps – so the theory and I believe the practice goes – I will act differently in a world that sorely needs less voraciousness.

23 Responses to “The Triple A Doctrines of Jainism: Their Value to Druidry & The Wider World”

  1. Wonderful piece Philip! As always, beautifully written! ‘The triple A’ is really appealing; I agree, such valuable ideas to explore at this current time. Out of the three, I think I find Aparigraha the most difficult; not in the sense of wanting or desiring ‘stuff’ or things, more in the way of feeling hungry for experiences. Hunger is a good word to describe my dilemma with this issue because hunger is natural and I believe desire is also. But of course, the trick is how we express our desires. I just can’t settle completely on the ideas of non-attachment. In many ways I am deeply drawn to it and yet in other ways, I feel so ill at ease with it – a western dilemma perhaps? Non-attachment can certainly make us feel more at peace with things but maybe peace needs a contrast sometimes -not necessarily advocating violence but being stirred up and unsettled as a expereince that brings with it growth? Just can’t decide…Hoorah for Anekant! Thanks for sharing P! Wonderful stuff!

    • Aha Maria! You’ve struck to the heart of the dilemma that faces us in being alive I think! The tide can go out, but it also needs to come in. Seeking only detachment can result in a sort of emotional isolation, living in denial…but if we can practice it sometimes, in certain ways, then I believe what happens is that the quality of our wanting changes. Perhaps we even access deeper, more existential desire. Rather than yearning for a fast car we yearn for union…now I want breakfast!

      • I’d like to find a place to show how some of the Kashmiri sutras discuss ‘detachment’ in the higher psycho-physiological states, as in the higher texts ‘detachment’ does not mean what it implies to the 21st century mind.

        • Greetings Gwernen!
          Perhaps you could do that in the way of writing an essay/text on this and then email it to me and w could find the best place – the OBOD online library, perhaps, together with a ‘guest post’ on the blog? Or perhaps you have another suggestion?

          • I’ll start doing that right after this tide, Philip. I’ve been meaning to do it for two years now, the Awen has finally crept up on me. Will send you something soon.

  2. I’ve been noodling around how the Yamas and Niyamas, the Quaker Testimonies, and my Wiccan Tradition’s Tenets of Faith map onto and around one another, so this article has enriched a thought process which I am finding engaging and nourishing. Thank you.

  3. Hi Karen – A while back disciplines were kept in neat boxes and theologians didn’t talk to mathematicians and so on, but nowadays the value of interdisciplinary studies is appreciated and more and more we are seeing connections and participating in a great weaving of ideas and influences. Perhaps too we are weaving together the lessons and inspirations of former lives having reached a certain stage in our evolution. So good luck with your particular weaving! 🙂

    • Thank you 🙂

      It seems many of the people from my old Pagan community (I lived in the US for many years) have gone on to explore how Buddhism, Vodou, Judaism, Santeria, and other traditions weave in with their Paganism. There was always an interest in interfaith work in that community, and I’m very excited to see so much interest in and support for more syncretic paths.

      Gosh, it’s almost like Paganism’s coming into its maturity!

  4. Ah, letting the tide go out. Always a tough one for me. I think many of us who have been marinated in Western culture have a hard time just letting go, period. I find that I am consistently participating in a paradox — “trying” to relax!

    Thanks for this article, Philip. I didn’t know anything about the AAA of Jainism, but I am a big fan of baseball so the analogy was easy to digest. (In fact, I attended a Triple A baseball game last week. Timely, huh?)

  5. Ha Twig! I like that image ‘being marinated in Western culture’! I too am constantly trying to relax! “Relax for god’s sake” I have been known to shout at excited family members!

  6. Why are westerners so disturbed when their ‘certainty’ turns out to be loose, inexact, enough to turn really angry, where the ‘certainty of uncertainty’ could bring us such joy; is it about ‘having to have’ goods, a country, an ‘I’?

  7. Exactly Hennie! This is just what I am writing about now, for an article…Here is how it opens:
    Are you ever surprised at how certain people can be – about their political, religious or philosophical views? Laurens Van der Post clearly was, writing: ‘Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.’
    Even though common sense and experience tell us that we can so easily be misinformed, that our viewpoints are partial, it is sometimes hard not to treat our own lack of certainty as a weakness, and to admire those who have the ‘courage of their convictions’.
    How heartening, then, it is to find a sophisticated, elaborated understanding of ancient provenance that supports an approach to life that is tentative. At the heart of one of the world’s oldest and least-known religions, Jainism, is a set of doctrines of relativity, that are sufficiently unique and potentially valuable that two books have recently been published with the aim of articulating these teachings to a wider, English-speaking audience.

  8. These concepts are all a bit “chicken-and-egg” to me…..when someone reaches a certain spiritual stage, related aspects of his/her personality come to the fore, or at least are revealed. Like polishing a very dirty mirror and slowly but surely freeing more and more of the nice, shiney bits. In this way I’m not convinced we can “practise” these things, as this may turn out to be like play-acting; I think maybe we can only “become” these qualities as part of our natural evolution. Another case of “being” rather than “doing” maybe? So what comes first – trying to be these things, or letting them show up when it’s time?

  9. Hi Amanda – A question that arose on reading your comment: if we should not ‘practise’ but just allow ‘becoming’ then is all effort of no use? Should I just wait for a ‘natural arising’ of certain qualities within me without making any effort? My feeling is that there is a place for effort, discipline, proactive ‘doing’ but as ever in balance with the apparently ‘opposite’ qualities of effortless non-doing. It may also be a matter of temperament: some people would find the idea of doing nothing to further their spiritual life too couch-potato-like, others would take fright even at the sight of a word like ‘discipline’!:)

    • Couch potatoes unite! enlightenment follows shortly! 🙂 I think what I was meaning was that our efforts are the manifestation of our intent and an outward showing of the direction we’d like our life to go in. Maybe from there we will feel the universe supporting this and we are more likely to notice the signs of progress. While on this earthly home it feels good to spend our time doing things that are productive for us. While we create our lives, we need not feel over-attached to the feeling of our own individual power over the outcome. I sometimes worry that we can be so busy trying to be something, that we lose sight of our own truth. There are so many influences to take into account…effort towards our goal, but not slave to it…. 🙂

  10. I know what you mean Amanda – the way in which wanting to achieve/succeed/gain illumination (say in meditation) can get in the way of experience, of ‘opening’ – and yet if one didn’t ‘want’ one wouldn’t bother to even try!

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