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Political Ideas of a Religious Minority

And the title is a clickbait :) By religious minority, I don’t mean the votebank “minorities” of “secular” parties, I mean the real religious minority of India – the Jains.

I first heard about a Somadeva Suri in Dr.K.S.Narayanacharya’s lecture on Chanakya Niti. Somadeva was a 10th century Jain famous for authoring Yaṡastilaka. He also wrote a book in Sanskrit on statecraft, governance and politics called “Nīti-vākyāmṛtaṃ”. He parallels Chanakya in many aspects.

In this article, I share interesting insight into Jain ideas of government and politics. Even though he was a Jain, he rejects the concept of Gandhian Ahimsa. He also professes the idea of equality, liberty and fraternity as the foundation of the state.

What is the Purpose of the Government?

dharmārtha-kāma-mōkṣa-svarūpa-sarva-puruṣārtha-phalam-idaṃ rājyam /1.1/

A rājya (government) is that which bears fruit to all the efforts of its citizens: dharma, artha, kāma and mōkṣa.

Note the emphasis on both worldly happiness (artha = economic well-being, kāma = fulfilment of desires) and transcendental happiness (mōkṣa) – all the three being rooted in dharma.

What is Dharma?

yatō’bhyudaya-niḥṡrēyasa-siddhiḥ sa dharmaḥ /1.2/
adharmaḥ punar-ētad-viparīta-phalaḥ /1.3/

Dharma is that which leads to the accomplishment of worldly success (abhyudaya) and transcendental bliss (niḥṡrēyasa). That which yields fruit contrary to this is adharma.

The above statement /1.2/ is taken directly from Kaṇāda’s Vaiṡēṣika Sūtra 1.1.2.

This is a subtle hint that Somadeva favours Vaiṡēṣika philosophy over other five schools (Nyaya, Sankhya, Yoga, Purva-mimamsa, Vedanta).

What is the means to achieve dharma?

ātmavat paratra kuṡala-vṛtti-cintanaṃ ṡaktitas-tyāga-tapasī ca dharmāvigamōpāyāḥ /1.4/

Thinking about the means of welfare (kuṡala) of others as of oneself, selfless charity (tyāga) and self-discipline (tapas) according to one’s own ability (ṡaktitaḥ) are the three means to attain dharma.

Here, he speaks of the three fundamental duties of citizens:

  1. First is the famous “Golden Rule”, variants of which can be traced back to Īṡōpaniṣad (verses 6–7), Taittiriya Upanishad (1.11.2) and Mahabharata too.
  2. Tyāga not only means forsaking but also donation, gifting and charity according to one’s ability. Basically, self-less service and giving-up of ego.
  3. Tapas is self-discipline and austerity such as meditation. Tangentially, the Gita 17.14–16 describes the austerity of body, mind and speech.

Another interpretation is that these are the foundations of “fraternity” among the citizens.

Note that he speaks about duties, i.e., actions expected of citizens ahead of their rights.

More ideas about tyāga and dāna are given in /1.8/, /1.11–14/.

What is the best practice of governance?

sarva-sattvēṣu hi samatā sarvācaraṇānāṃ paramam-ācaraṇam /1.5/

A sense of equality (samatā) among all beings is the best practice among all types of practices.

It is interesting to note that he stresses “equality” as a fundamental principle, so early in the book.

Equality among all beings (sarva-sattva), not just citizens, is implied here. That is, equality of life among animals and humans must be acknowledged. Indirectly, animal rights are recognized.

What about liberty?

na khalu bhūta-drōhāṃ kāpi kriyā prasūtē ṡrēyāṃsi /1.6/

Certainly, no action of mischief (drōha) to others leads to one’s welfare (ṡrēyas).

In other words, don’t cheat or harm others. This is what is called today by Westerners as “negative liberty – freedom from interference by others in one’s own life.

The right to life

tad vratam-ācaritavyaṃ yatra na saṃṡaya-tulām-ārōhataḥ ṡarīra-manasī /1.10/

Only those duties shall be performed which do not drag the mind and body into the scale of risk/danger (saṃṡaya).

This is the first and the only “right” he seems to recognize – the right to life.

Should criminals be shown compassion?

ēkāntēna kāruṇya-paraḥ karatala-apy-arthaṃ rakṣituṃ na kṣamaḥ /1.36/

A person solely devoted to compassion (kāruṇya) or who is always in grief, is unable to protect even an object placed on the palm of his hand.

praṡamaikcittaṃ kō nāma na paribhavati /1.37/

Who indeed, does not overpower a man, who is always devoted solely to peacefulness (praṡama)?

aparādhiṣu praṡamaḥ yatīnāṃ bhūṣaṇaṃ na mahīpatīnām /1.38/

Compassion towards criminals is an attribute that adorns ascetics, not rulers.

dhik taṃ puruṣaṃ yasyātmaṡaktyā na staḥ kōpa-prasādau /1.39/

Fie upon that man, whose anger and grace are not possessed of self-prowess.

sa jīvann-api mṛta ēva yō na vikrāmati pratikūlēṣu /1.40/

He is considered dead even when alive, who does not hit back his adversaries hard.

From the above statements, it is quite clear that he advocates a Kṣatriya spirit of attacking one’s enemies and not preach “ahimsa” or “non-violence” when the country’s soverignty is in danger (which is what Gandhi preached).