Jain Dharma & the Difficulty of Self Discipline in a Modern World

Stanford professor Michel Serres hikes the Dish on a regular basis.

Stanford professor Michel Serres hikes the Dish on a regular basis.

Slowly, I’ve been moving away from the word ‘Jainism’ because I’ve noticed some Jain scholars eschew the term as being an English construct. The ‘ism’ implies separateness, apartness, a religion unlike the others. The scholars believe that other religions can, and do, incorporate Jain ethics in their day to day behavior so, in essence, they can be Jain while also being Muslim or Christian. I suppose that’s true although I don’t see how a religion like Christianity or Islam, which believes in a creator/punisher god, can reconcile with one which doesn’t. Since a belief and acceptance of different points of view (Anēkāntavāda) is part of the Jain ethos, I suppose that makes the Dharma possible.

It’s hard being a Jain in the modern world. Every day I run into something that gets me pissed off, whether it’s people honking their horns for no reason or people shuffling past you without saying excuse me. I still look at shiny new cars and think, “Why isn’t that mine?” I see people with beautiful hair and wish my head was like that. Couples walking hand in hand make me jealous. People walking down the street with their pitbulls untethered gives me a stroke. I desperately want peace within myself. I don’t want to be angry. I don’t want to feel jealousy. Sometimes I think this is a war I’ll never win; I’ll go to my grave an angry man.

Jain Dharma believes there is happiness in owning and craving nothing and I believe that, too. I read about monks who are ostracized, maligned, spat upon, cursed, victimized and brutalized and still hoist no anger or ill will towards their tormenters. I’m nowhere near that. If I was crossing a bridge and someone spit on me my immediate reaction would be to throw them off the bridge after reading them the riot act. But I don’t want to be that guy. I want to be the forgiving one. I’ve actually already started forgiving my parents for me having had such a traumatic life. That’s something I thought I’d never do. Maybe I’m just getting old, I don’t know. I wrote a short story yesterday about a young man who tests his personal strength by placing himself in dangerous situations. If I had spoken to a wise man I’m sure he’d say something like, “Don’t put yourself in danger. Danger finds its host anyway.” I suppose it’s true what they say about facing your fears – it’s the best way to conquer them.

I do wish there were more Jains around here. I need strength. I need to be bolstered. I need them around me to show me the way, to give me hope, and to guide me where I need to go. I think without their support I could fall to the wayside. I can’t do this self-discipline bit by myself. I don’t think it’s gonna work. I need to push myself harder but am reluctant because, well, I can be lazy sometimes. My roommate and I have been doing a lot of walking lately, so that’s good. We average around 4 or 5 miles/day. This past Sunday we walked the entire circumference of Lake Union. We took a longer route around it so we ended up walking nearly 10 miles. It was a good walk because there were staircases and hills to navigate. I just walked to this Wallingford library I’m in from the Seattle Center. It’s only about 4 miles but it was in the hot sun so hopefully that counts for something.

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