Values of Jainism Inherent in Social Work

Values of Jainism Inherent in Social Work

The Jain Community and their Social Organisation

The Jain community is small in demographic size because of which they are a very closely knit group. Though there is no strong evidence of social service being done by this  community in the past, however in the recent years the Jain community have come forward and have established various types of social institutions for providing social services for the Jain community in particular and also to the general population. Charity among the Jains extends to the rest of the animal and plant kingdom also i.e., cows, birds, insects.

Institutions of Charity Promoted by the Jains

The Jain institutions can be broadly divided into two categories, namely, charitable institutions run for the general populace and those exclusively for the Jains. It is obvious that the Jains are in a position to maintain a large number of institutions because they are a relatively rich community. By running institutions of the first type they have secured the good-will of others and through the institutions of the second type they have tried to protect their religion and stabilise their community for all these years.

The Jains are inclined to start charitable institutions for the benefit of all people irrespective of religion, caste or creed because Jainism has enjoined upon its followers to show compassion to all living beings and especially to the needy. Further, it is one of the six daily duties of a Jaina layman to give something in the form of gift to others. The gifts have been classified into four kinds, namely, gifts of food (ahara-dana), protection (abhayadana), medicine (ausadha-dana), and learning (sastradana).

Institutions established for the general public are in the form of dharmasalas or rest houses, annachhatralayas or aIm-houses, at pilgrim and other centres for the benefit of poor people; educational institutions like schools and colleges, public libraries, vocational training centres for development of skills in specific trades, ausadhalayas Le. dispensaries and hospitals, mobile medical units for providing free medical services through camps in poverty stricken, rural and remote areas.

Other than these the Jains established and managed special institutions called Pinjarapola for the protection and care of helpless and decrepit animals and birds. It is evident that the practice of service was not limited only to the human beings that proves a point that Jainism has an ecological perspective. A strong belief in this concept will help in promoting and maintaining ecological balance and sustainable development.

Jain Associations and Charity Organisations

Though people belonging to various Jain Sects have established their own institutions as per secretarian affiliation some organizations were established that cut across the Jains of all sects and sub-sects and have made concerted efforts in a more organised manner.

Sucumbrella organisations have been carrying out various welfare activities in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka and other parts of Bihar. In the second category of Jain institutions, those of a religious nature get prominence over those of social or educational in character. Such institutions are basically involved in the preservation of canonical literature, books and manuscripts that are rich in traditional wisdom and have high intrinsic value. Institutions named as Grantha-Bhandaras are often housed in the Jain temples. Of late these institutions have initiated the editing, translation and publication of these works in both print and digital form. These literature which are mostly in Prakrit, are being produced in English and other prominent Indian languages so that the inherent richness can benefit the society at large, both at the national and international level, and help establish a peaceful and just order.

Composition of Jain Associations:

The Jains have started various institutions of a social character for the betterment of their community. In the first place, they have organised a large number of associations with a view to bring the members together and to solve several social problems. A majority of such associations areformed by a particular caste or gaccha. Sometimes the associations are confined to the particular caste or gaccha members hailing from a certain locality. While others are formed on a regional basis which is technically open to all Jains of that region but in reality they are dominated and run by the members of one sect. Further, both the sects (Digambar and Svetambara) and practically all the sub-sects have their associations of an all-India character.

All these small and big associations have tried and to a considerable extent succeeded in eradicating irreligious and bad practices of their members. Like members of other communities the Jains have recently launched some co-operative institutions for their benefit. The main form of cooperation is in the field of housing for providing affordable and cheap residential space.

A Culture of Giving

Where they could not start such institutions on their own accord, they help such projects and programmes run by NGOs and voluntary organisations which are secular and non profit in character. This is done either by constructing buildings for them or by making substantial donations to them. The Jains of late have developed a culture of giving by providing donations in cash and kind for projects and programmes pertaining to social service, social reform, epidemics, relief and rehabilitation work at the time of natural calamities and disasters like floods, famine, earthquake, or the recent incidents like the tsunami, etc. The Jains have contributed liberally and unsparingly to relieve mankind affected by such natural catastrophes.

Significance of Jainism from a Social Work Perspective

Apart from involvement in religious work the Jain Acharyas true to the spirit of Jain philosophy have made indelible contributions by working incessantly for the welfare of mankind – eradicating social evils, reforming social customs, building up national character and educating the masses about the principles of nonviolence, universal peace and brotherhood.

Establishment of Social and Economic Equality Jain egalitarianism rejects the Hindu division of society into higher and lower castes. It finds no basis for the idea that makes one caste superior to the other. On the contrary, it finds castism an evil based on hatred, pride, and deluded vision.

The most significant contribution of Jainism in the social field was the establishment of social equality among the four varnas i.e. classes prevalent in the society. Lord Mahavira succeeded in organising his large number of followers into a compact social order quite distinct from that of the Brahmanic social order of his time that was replete with inequality, discrimination and intercaste rivalry. His social order was such that provided for social mobility and did away with the criterion of birth for membership into any class.

Another major contribution of Jainism is the principle of aparigraha or non-possession or non-acquisitiveness which means that one should abstain from the greed and worldly possessions. The vow of parigraha-parimana vrata i.e. the vow to limit one’s worldly possessions, is very relevant in the present age of consumerism and is noteworthy because it indirectly aims at economic equalisation by peacefully preventing undue accumulation of capital in individual hands.

In addition to this the Jaina concept of chaturvidha-dana, i.e. fourfold  gifts (giving food to the hungry and the poor (relief), saving the lives of people in danger, distribution of medicines and spreading knowledge) can help in providing relief to people who are in dire states and cannot fend for themselves.

Religious Emancipation of Women

Another distinct contribution made by the Jain Acharyas in the field of social reform was in the direction of raising the status of women in India. In the latter part of the Vedic period women had practically been reduced to the status of Shudras. For example, they were debarred from the right of initiation and investment with the sacred thread. They were considered to have no business with the sacred religious texts.

Since the days of Rishab the low position of women was definitely changed in many ways. They removed various restrictions imposed on women especially in the practice of religion including the study of the sacred texts and adopting ascetic life.

Impetus to Female Education

The religious independence given to women had its repercussions in other fields also. Equality of opportunity was accorded to women in several social spheres of action. The importance of imparting education to females, along with males, was realised even in the ancient past by Rshabdev, the first Tirthankara, who had advised his two young daughters, Brahmi and Sundari, that “only when you would adorn yourself with education your life would be fruitful because just as a learned man is held in high esteem by educated persons, a learned lady also occupies the highest position in the female world.” According to Jain tradition women are expected to know 64 arts which include dancing, painting, music, aesthetics, medicine, domestic science, etc.

Inculcation of the Belief on Self-reliance

Tirtankara Mahavira and the Jain Acharyas launched an intensive attack on the attitude of complete submission to God by the people for attaining their final objective in life, viz. liberation. They clearly proclaimed that nothing here or elsewhere depends on the favours of God but everything depends on the actions of the people. Divine dispensation was thoroughly rejected.

This philosophical perspective of Jainism is co-terminus with the saying “Helping people to help themselves” that professional social work identifies with. Very recently Noble Laureate Amartya Sen’s ‘capability approach’ (Sen, 1990) that proposes for the building of capacities of individuals and communities infact advances the concept of liberation that Jainism promotes as said earlier.

Emphasis on Non-violence, Tolerance and Culture of Peace

The major contribution of Jain Philosophy is on the emphasis on the observance of Ahimsa i.e. non-violence  to all living beings to the maximum extent possible. In the present age that is replete with violence, terrorism, communal conflicts and war, the principles of nonviolence as propounded in Jainism would come handy.

A major cause of violence at the community, national and global level and among castes, classes, religions, regions, and nations is intolerance. The theory of Anekantvad or nonabsolutism i.e. belief in the others point of views is also significant or a respect to the view-points of the other as significant, will help in  removing intolerance and help in fostering an environment of dialogue for peaceful co-existence. This will ensure in setting the pace for a culture of peace and a just social order.

Development of Balanced and Integrated Personality Literally Jina means a conqueror, that is, one who has conquered the worldly passions like desire, hatred, anger, greed, pride, etc. by one’s own strenuous efforts and has been liberated himself from the bonds of worldly existence. This concept of the human being is close too the one that a professional social worker has to strive for, that is, in terms of the ‘professional self who has to practice self restraint in terms of professional fees that he charges, refraining from counter-transference, etc. Meditation has been given a very important place in Jainism.

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