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Cycle of Opposites and Anekantavada

    – Article Courtesy: The Times of India

    On the occasion of the Mahavir Jayanthi we would like to place before our visitors this special article that had appeared in the speaking tree (editorial) of The Times of India.

    Friday, April 2, 2004: Both violence and non- violence start by degrees. The beginnings are subtle and evolve quietly into grand acts of conflict or compassion. When Nelson Mandela was released, he was told by some to get even for the monumental wrong that was done to him — but he refused to be swayed by hatred. He said he had already been a physical prisoner of his opponents for long and did not wish to live the rest of his life as their emotional captive.

    Mr Mandela understood that to project anger outwards, one must burn internally and that to commit violence upon others, one must first turn violent upon the self. Burning the holder before its enemy, the fire of anger can consume the source before its adversary. Today, if we want to learn to conquer our baser emotions we need to learn from the examples of people like Nelson Mandela, Maha-tma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who forged their choices within the heat of life’s most tempestuous battles.

    The idea of ahimsa or non-violence is an emancipatory one. Yet it is not just a concept. It begins as a feeling and can grow into an all-encompassing life approach. The idea morphs into a feeling. It is this feeling that transforms others around us. Vardhman Mahavir’s life was an example of such self-realisation. He inspired others in an exemplary fashion, imparting wisdom without preaching.

    In this manner, true understanding becomes possible. It has been said that an angry person opens his mouth and closes his eyes. It is our mind that needs control. Wars, they say, begin in the minds of men. So it is there that peace must be won. Our sages understood this simple truth ages ago. Mahavira, one of the Tirthankaras, practised the truth of ahimsa, peace and non-violence without setting out to preach to the world.

    Mahavira understood the roots of violence in the human psyche. His warning therefore was against absolutism and dogmatism. His stress on Anekantvada was a plea for recognition of the multi-faceted nature of reality. The perception of reality depends on the time, place, nature and state of the viewer. Absolute truth cannot result from any one viewpoint alone. Absolutism for him was an act of mental violence. Relativise the absolute, he pleaded. He wanted respect for different belief systems.

    Anekantvada is a vision within which the paradox of all opposites are integrated. If we look at things with balance we will know that opposites are complemen-tary to each other. Without opposites there is no growth and awareness. When we are aware of the cycle of opposites we don’t see them as opposites. We see them as compatible for growth, allowing us to approach the world openly.

    Mahavira spoke against the mindless acquisitive impulse, and explained how this sets up the system of violence within our lives. He was not impractical or unrealistic. He wanted us to grow beyond the self- limiting principle of greed to enable us transcend our linearisation. It is only the transcendence of the ego, that makes for a larger sympathy, an identification with a larger principle.

    Mahavir’s compassion extended beyond humanity, to all forms of life. His standpoint makes him a kindred spirit to contemporary environmentalists and animal conservationists. Mahavira speaks to us in the present. It is not by balance of terror or air-dropped bombs that we can make the world a safer place. We can make it a safer place with a transformed consciousness. For that transformation we need to heed the gentle and healing message of Mahavir.

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