Observations & Views:
According to Jainism, our physical and mental states result from our own abstract (BHAAV) and material (DRAVYA) karmas. In this regard, our pseudokarmas (NOKARMA) also play a major role. Nevertheless, good health and sickness are not consequences of pleasant-feeling-producing and unpleasant-feeling-producing karmas, respectively. Siddhantacharya Pandit Phool Chandra has written, (1) "Physical health and sickness may be auxiliary causes (NIMITTA) of fruition of auspicious (PUNYA) and inauspicious (PAAP) karmas but they are not consequences of our karmas." The scholarly thinker continues, "Just as external possessions result from external means (and not as consequences of karmas), similarly, health and sickness are caused by external means. Health or sickness result from a healthy or unhealthy diet, lifestyle and our animate and inanimate environment." Remember, all these constitute our pseudokarmas.
If karmas do not cause sickness, then what is the role of faith (religion) in such situations? As stated above, physical health and sickness may be auxiliary causes of fruition of karmas. When a person is sick, he/she may accept that health and sickness are parts of his/her worldly existence, and thus he/she may not feel miserable. On the other hand, if the individual allows feelings and thoughts of misery to arise in his/her mind, he/she undergoes considerable suffering. There is a saying that an individual with rational attitude accepts the malady with knowledge while a foolish individual suffers with indignation.(2) These thoughts and feelings are related to fruition of our karmas. In turn, our thoughts and feelings cause the influx of auspicious and inauspicious karmas. According to Jainism, each soul is independent and so only the individual self is responsible for the course of his/her life. Jainism believes that a religious exercise performed by one individual can not influence the karmic parcel associated with any other soul.
Other persons and things, such as a doctor, medicine and good wishes, fall in the category of pseudokarmas. Remember that prayers and good wishes offered by family and friends put us in a cheerful and optimistic frame of mind that may help us to recover from the illness. Mind/body connection can not be disregarded. However, we are not helped if we are not aware of prayers and worships offered by others.
Evidently, our thoughts and feelings depend on our religious beliefs and practices. According to Jain teachings, we are not expected to indulge in any religious activity with a desire for material goods and comforts. Our religious beliefs and practices are meant to bring contentment and happiness in our lives without any regard to material gains. Thus there is a close relationship between religion and our physical as well as mental health. Rational practice of religion is the key to a happy, peaceful and long life.
It is interesting that these ideas have been supported by recent research. Lynda H. Powell, an epidemiologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, observed,(3) ". . . while faith provides comfort in times of illness, it does not significantly slow cancer growth or recovery from acute illness." She continues, "People who regularly attend church have a 25 percent reduction in mortality - that is, they live longer - than people who are not churchgoers. . . ." While the data were culled mainly from Christian churchgoers, Powell says the findings should apply to any organized religion.
It is a well-known fact, established by brain scans, that meditation influences brain activity and improves immune response. Meditation can lower heart rate and blood pressure, both of which reduce stress on the body.
In the same article, researcher Powell writes: Even intangibles, such as the impact of forgiveness, may boost health as well. In a survey of 1,500 people published earlier this year, Neal Krause, a researcher at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health, found that people who forgive easily tend to enjoy greater psychological well-being and have less depression than those who hold grudges. "There's a physiology of forgiveness," says Dr. Herbert Benson, head of Mind/Body Medical Institute, and a host of an upcoming Harvard Conference. "When you do not forgive, it will chew you up."
Regarding the effect of prayer performed remotely, Duke researcher Dr. Mitchell Krucoff, at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology last month, reported preliminary data on a national trial of 750 patients undergoing heart catheterization or angioplasty. A group of patients who were prayed for (by, among others, Roman Catholics and Sufi Muslims in the United States, Buddhist monks in Nepal and Jews at the Western Wall) did no better than a second group that received standard care or a third, which was given a special program of music, therapeutic touch and guided imagery.(4) This observation agrees with the Jain concept of independence of each individual soul.
Warning about a dangerous pitfall in depending upon faith for recovery from illness, Lynda H. Powell points out, "Interpreting disease as retribution for sin has its roots in the Bible - Miriam and King Uzziah were struck with leprosy after offending their God - and it continues to haunt many patients today." She continues, "(Some may believe that) God really is the ultimate decision maker." In her review of the literature, Powell found several studies suggesting that praying with a sick person can sometimes impede recovery; one study concluded that the risk of a bad health outcome doubled, perhaps because patients believed God would protect them or that illness was some kind of divine punishment.
Some Jains may consider that their sickness or poor health is a consequence of their karmas, and suffering such consequences is the means to get rid of those karmas. We should avoid such pitfalls. - D. C. J.
1. TATTVAARTH SUTRA, Commentary by Siddhantacharya Phool Chandra, published by Varni Granthmala, Varanasi, 1949, page 385.
2. JNAANI BHUGATE JNAAN SE, MOORAKH BHUGATE ROYE.
3. Article by Lynda H. Powell in Newsweek, November 10, 2003.
4. Article by Lynda H. Powell in Newsweek, November 10, 2003.
Many Jains wonder about the locations of heaven and hell as described in some Jain literature. The following excerpts from a feature written by Professor Arvind Sharma of McGill University may provide some insight into astronomical concepts prevalent in ancient India:(1)
"First of all, when the HIndus wanted to be exact and precise in their observations, they were just that - exact and precise, and from very early on.
There is a text called AITAREYA BRAHMANA which is a part of the Vedas and may be assigned to 800-600 B.C. The text declarers (III.14):
"This ADITYA (the sun) never sets and never rises. When one thinks him to have set, actually he creates night in that part and day in the other part (of the globe) at that time. When in the morning one regards the sun to have risen, in reality he terminates the night and creates day in that part; the other part being enveloped in night at that time. Sun never sets.
"Another text of the same period, the SATAPATHA BRAHMANA (VII.I.I.37) declares that the earth is a sphere. Thus already, centuries in advance of the modern West and perhaps even the Greeks, the Hindus knew of the spherical shape of the earth and of its movement in relation to the sun. Then what about the descriptions in PURANAs and of various oceans of milk, etc.? This is a mythology, not to be confused with geography. Because Hinduism is a tolerant and inclusive religion, it accepts the faith and beliefs of people who embrace it with as little violence to them as possible. It may be that its spirit of charity sometimes led to lack of geographical clarity - but this is the price one has to pay for its hospitality to other faiths and beliefs. To illustrate: if Christianity had been absorbed by Hinduism over time then the Biblical view of a flat earth and a three-decker universe would also have found its way into it."
1. 'Macaulayan Misconceptions about Hindu Astronomy - Chips From An Indic Workshop' published in MLBD Newsletter, Vol XXV, No. 10, October 2003.
A periodical from India, published by a popular Jain institution, arrived at my desk. It is a fancy production, printed in color on art paper. The main focus of the periodical are the activities of the institution rather than the scriptural concepts of Jainism. The material is of little permanent value.
Thus it is a perfect example of our disregard for the vow of limiting needless activities (ANARTHADAND VRAT), which is meant to avoid waste and conserve our natural resources.
One article describes the celebration of Republic Day of India. It is quite appropriate for the public, including Jains, to celebrate such occasions. However, much of the celebration was focused on an elaborate 'worship' of a Jain ascetic (ACHARYA). The article contains the names of prominent individuals who lit the auspicious lamp (DEEP), those who performed AARTI (waving of the lamp) and commendation of the ACHARYA, those who washed his feet, those who performed the MAHA AARTI, and those who received the auspicious MANGAL KALASH (water pot). During the ceremony, the grandiose AARTI of the Acharya was performed with one thousand eight auspicious lamps. Speaking on the occasion, referring to Pakistan and Indian Muslims, the Jain Acharya said, among other things, "Today, some incorrigible sons of Mother India are challenging and questioning us. Our neighboring country, Pakistan, should not have any kind of delusion. Even these days there are hundreds of millions of sons of Mother India who are willing to sacrifice even their lives for the prestige of our nation. We will never let the glory of India suffer any kind of blemish."
Another article describes the visit of the Acharya with ten thousand members of a fundamentalist organization. He praised the authoritarian and dogmatic discipline of the organization. Among other things, he proclaimed that there are no intransigent conservatives in society. Under compulsion, we have to resort to intransigent means to combat the situation at hand. In inflammatory rhetoric, the Acharya made a call to fight for one's rights.
I wonder, where are the Jain principles, the major vows (MAHAVRAT), the supremacy of nonviolence and multiplicity of viewpoints? What about the supreme virtues of respect for others' viewpoint, tolerance, reconciliation and self-sacrifice? - D. C. J.
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