Overcoming Desires: Aparigraha

The word Aparigraha is not widely used among others as much as it is used in Jainism. It is due to the fact that in Jainism, Aparigraha is the fifth Mahavrat (great vow) for Sages. The dimension of Aparigraha is also recommended to the householders in the fifth Anuvrat (micro vow). Other religions of the world also emphasise austerity and simplicity. For instance, in Christianity, the vow of poverty is taken in the sense of simplicity. However, in Jainism, the vow of Aparigraha is practiced in the Padvidhar (vow of pedestrianism), and Gochari (vow of depending only on Alms for food) by Muni Maharaja is unprecedented. They live a natural yet civilised and spiritual life like the primitive man in the modern age.

The term Parigraha is made of two parts: “pari” means all-around or well, and “graha” means that which is grasped-attached. For Parigraha, it can be said that a person is greatly attached to wealth and property, or it can also be noted that wealth and property are greatly attached to a person. The attachment causes Parigraha we acquire with our possessions a sense of superiority, ownership, and individuality. Jainism says that if you want to be happy, keep yourself away from Parigraha. If you want to experience inner bliss and attain the joy of liberation, become Aparigrahi by  reducing both the physical and psychological attachments.

While the whole world is moving towards increasing the means of comfort, isn’t it unusual to recommend reducing the needs or not practicing Parigraha? Recreational facilities, most of the living standards and facilities for eating, bathing, moving around, school, colleges, hospitals, etc., are increasing day by day! Hence, it is natural that a question would arise what is wrong with this human instinct of Parigraha? The answer to this question must be considered from a different viewpoint.

Obviously, those who do not believe in the possibilities of existence before birth, rebirth, or the soul-like element firmly believe that they have only one life to live. It is also evident that they focus solely on worldly comforts and convenience and satiating sensual pleasures. The attitude of those who think of a comfortable life without physical hardship only from a social and worldly outlook would always vary from the spiritual seekers. At the same time, the outlook of those who think from a religious and moral perspective should also differ from others. For those who faithfully contemplate the goal of life and carefully differentiate between the numb and the conscious, the outlook of such seekers must be unique. The emphasis of Jain Dharma puts on Aparigraha and Parigraha-dimension is from this spiritual outlook. Needless to say, there are many advantages of practising Aparigraha at an individual as well as societal level.

From a societal point of view, if economic disparity arises due to the growth of Parigraha, then certain classes of people will continue to flourish. The other classes will continue to be crushed and exploited. The exploited class will inevitably react, and economic discrimination will undoubtedly lead to social discrimination. Such social discrimination may lead to social conflict. Society will be divided between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. The economic power of ‘haves’ will attract political power. The ‘haves’ will eventually acquire increasingly more power, which could ultimately lead to oppression, exploitation, and subjugation of others. Suppose an individual, a class of people, a society, or a nation is incredibly affluent. In that case, they usually try to dominate the economically weak section of society. Thus, there is no limit to the evil that Parigraha can manifest. The evils and apprehensions of Parigraha may not be apparent instantly. However, those who contemplate and introspect enough will notice that it is setting in.

That is why Jain Dharma has recommended the vow of Aparigraha by discerning the evil social factors of Parigraha and its characteristic of harming the human soul. The recommendation arrived at after deep introspection of self-realisation. Suppose Parigraha had all happiness; why the mighty Kshatriya rulers, the incarnation of Tirthankara Parmatma, would have left their thrones and taken the path of salvation. In the past and present, many wealthy people have left their homes and accepted the path of wisdom. People also get tired of material prosperity. And the one who understands the bliss of a spiritual experience instantly realises the impermanence and futility of Parigraha. Therefore, in Jainism, Parigraha has been considered from a very subtle and profound viewpoint. In Jain Dharma, “The gross and subtle forms of Parigraha are considered in detail.” The types of Parigraha, which are separated from different expectations, have been considered from a gross and subtle point of view. The two main types of Parigraha are stated: (1) External Parigraha or Gross Parigraha and (2) Transcendental Parigraha or Subtle Parigraha.

There are nine main subcategories of External Parigraha viz.: (1) Money and cash, (2) Grains, (3) Fields, land, farms, etc., (4) Houses, shops, objects etc., (5) Gold, (6) Silver – rupees, (7) Metals and objects other than gold and silver, utensils made from them, furniture, appliances, etc. (8) Two-legged birds, maids and servants, etc. (or two-wheeled vehicles) and (9) Four-legged domestic animals – cows, oxen, buffaloes, goats, etc., or four-wheeled vehicles. Thus, the External Parigraha is classified into these nine main types. This is the classification for simple understanding. According to the changing lifestyle, one or two types can be combined, and a few can be added. There are fourteen types of Transcendental or Subtle Parigraha. In all, there are fourteen types of Transcendental Parigraha as shown below: (1) Anger, (2) Pride, (3) Affection, (4) Greed, (5) Laughter, (6) Pleasure of sensual activities, (7) Aversion of sensual activities, (8) Fear, (9) Sorrow, (10) Disgust, (11) Striveda – cause of sexual desire in women, (12) Purushaveda – cause of sexual desire in women, (13) Impotent Veda and (14) Falsehood. It is harder to give up the Transcendental Parigraha than the External Parigraha. Even if the poor man has nothing, the desire to be rich and to enjoy the pleasures of things can be intense in him. Thus, the real Parigraha is not in the material things but in the desire to acquire and consume them in unconscious form. Of course, without long practice, it is impossible to live amidst all worldly pleasures and remain conscious at the same time. On the other hand, even if you have done all the external renunciation, if there is lust in your mind, there is an unconsciousness. Upadhyaya Shri Yashovijayaji has said that just taking off the corset does not make the snake non-toxic.

At present, several types of consumer goods are being produced continuously. Consumerism – making people start using multiple things – has become an essential part of the current way of life. But it is more desirable to realise that the people increasing Parigraha will have to give all the precious time of life to its maintenance and conservation. If you keep incredible new things in the house without using them, they will become old quickly. It breeds insects, locusts, and wasps in the house.  To keep things hygienic, one must spend a lot of time cleaning. If a new lovely home is built must and has not been opened for five or seven years, it will not be easy to live there. It be cleaned. There is micro-violence involved in every cleaning process as every cleaning involves the killing of germs and insects. When it comes to throwing away unused things, we feel bad, and the perseverance of the mind deteriorates. Suppose a sensible person keeps reviewing his household things from time to time and discharges them as much as possible or gives them away as Alms whenever possible, then he is saved from the sin. In that case, a bounty of virtue will be built. The precious time saved from life can be used for religious activities and meditation. We should actively dissolve our Parigraha and take inspiration from the devout monks who have ample time for themselves. We should remember that wealth accumulation is, a calamity that leads to the fall.

Aparigraha or non-possession involves consideration for others. It, therefore, requires one to limit one’s needs to the bare minimum. In Jainism, worldly wealth accumulation is considered as a potential source of rising greed, jealousy, selfishness, and desires. Giving up emotional attachments, sensual pleasures and material possession is a means of liberation, in Jain philosophy. Eating enough to survive is considered more noble than eating for indulgence. Similarly, all consumption is more appropriate if it is essential to one’s survival, and inappropriate if it is a form of hoarding, show off or for ego. Non-possession and non-attachment are a form of virtue, and these are recommended particularly in later stages of one’s life. After Ahiṃsā, Aparigraha is the second most important virtue in Jainism.

Dr. Sejal Shah (Ph.D)