Yesterday was my 29th birthday (thanks to everyone who sent me your well-wishes!). I was supposed to kick back and relax, take it easy for the day, but for me there’s no such thing as absolute zero. There is no standing still.
Jains have a system of meditation which focuses on 12 areas called Bhavanas or contemplations. These Bhavanas help liberate the soul by leading it through Ratnatraya, otherwise known as the Triple Jewels: right perception, right knowledge, right conduct.
So even on my birthday I tried to reflect on these subjects. Let’s go over them within the context of my “special day.”
Impermanence: Everything is subject to change. In Jain philosophy, the only refuge and source of stability is the Jain Dharma (teachings toward moksha). As I considered this bhavana, I looked back on my spiritual/philosophical journey through the years. I am not the same person I was before this journey and I won’t be the same after its conclusion. The only solace many folks have is their philosophy or religious teaching. In a world of constant flux, what is your “northern star?”
Protection: This one is a little misleading. Here we think about the fact that nothing and no one can protect you from death and decay. I am by no means old (despite the insistence of some that I’m an “old soul”), however with each birthday I see myself as less and less invincible as I once had.
Worldly Existence: According to Jain thought, the soul transmigrates from body to body within several planes until they liberate themselves with the Jain path of ahimsa. No relationships are permanent. You will not carry these into the next life, so attachment to them (that does not mean non-caring) is futile. I thought about a life without my wife and kids, without my close friends, even without my Congregation. It’s hard to imagine an existence devoid of that presence, and yet death and impermanence knocks on our door.
Solitude of the Soul: YOU are your only refuge. No savior, no intermediary, not priest to help you out. Your fate is written by you and only you can free yourself from the bondage of worldly existence and ascend to the pure state of a siddha (bodiless state of pure bliss and equanimity of the soul). There’s a heavy burden of responsibility here, one that many might not feel comfortable with. This is where one realizes that the only way is way of self-discipline.
Separateness of the Soul: The soul and the body–along with everything else–is separate. The soul owns nothing and so attachment to anything is futile. Your soul is the only tool needed for liberation and bliss. I didn’t get much for my birthday (because I never want anything), but even the cards with money, the pumpkin pie my grandmother makes every year, and the new tea pot are not truly mine. The money with change hands, the pie will turn to energy that soon radiates from action, and the tea pot will eventually corrode. All that is really mine is my soul.
Impurity of the Body: Pure and simple, you have a body due to karma. The soul in its pure state has no karmic attachment to any form of matter, including a body. Once we meditate on the body in this way, we detach ourselves emotionally from its grip on the soul. It’s tough to do this because my body is the medium through which I experience all the joys of life. On the other hand, it is also the medium of sorrow and pain…
Influx of Karma: Any attachment or aversion to joy and suffering via the medium of the five senses creates an influx of karma which then bond with the soul. This reflection helps us become more careful with our interactions with daily life. I try and think of this every time my kids do something that drives me crazy or my wife walks by in a particular pair of jeans.
Stoppage of Karma: This reflection helps us see the danger in our actions and reactions. With the influx of karma in mind, we understand that the only way to stop new karma is to become more careful about our daily interactions and thoughts.
Karma Shedding: Here’s where the outer and inner austerities come in. Karma can either naturally mature (return to us on its own) or we can actively work to remove its bondage. Service, fasting, taking the monastic vows, meditation…these are put a few ways one can expedite the shedding on one’s karma.
The Universe: Is huge and infinitely fun to think about. According to Jain philosophy, the universe exists in the following forms: Soul, matter, medium of motion, medium of rest, space and time. When we understand the dynamic relationship of each of these constituent parts with the other, we can more maturely and healthily proceed with life.
Difficulties of the Jain Triple Gems: Basically, it’s tough going Jain. The Triple Gems are Right Perception (belief), Right Knowledge, and Right Conduct. One naturally leads to the other through observance of the Jain teachings. It is a life-long process that is only developed through great focus and intent. Just as every college degree is earned (well, most), so are the Triple Gems via constant learning and practice. I won’t achieve moksha this month by hanging with the Jain way for 30 days, but I am learning practices that I’ll carry for the rest of my life.
Difficulties of Practicing Jain Dharma: Another reminded that this path isn’t a walk in the park. It requires discipline and the cultivation of a specific lifestyle which centers around ahimsa (non-injury). The Dharma is characterized by the following attributes:
- Forbearance and Forgiveness
- External Penance
- No attachment or aversion
- Friendship toward all
You may start at any time.
I admit, yesterday was nice because I got to let my hair down for a change, but even so it brought these contemplations into stark contrast with my “normal” life. Eating pumpkin pie, playing with my tea pot, and watching a Spongebob Squarepants marathon with my oldest daughter presented a conflict, one which pitted the pleasures of everyday life with the hardcore practice of the Jain Dharma. This doesn’t mean Jains don’t have fun, but it is a way of seeing the bigger picture.
Speaking of impermanence, I think I might shed the robs for a while and take my wife and daughters out to breakfast with my birthday money. Peace and blessings to you all.