Jain Religion Scholar Mr. Kamal Kant Jaswal
Mr Kamal Kant Jaswal served in the Indian Administrative Service for 36 years till 2004. His spiritual journey began in earnest when he spent a large part of his time from 1994 onwards in the company of his guru, a Dighambar Jain monk, Muni Kshamasagar. During this period, he undertook the translation of a book the Muni had written, from Hindi to English, titled
“In quest for self”. The book was a biography of the Muni’s own spiritual guru.
Mr Jaswal’s study of scriptures has become deeper over the years and he conducts a study circle on religious teachings for the youth at the Jain temple in Gurgaon.
Mr Jaswal holds a Master of Science in Geology, M. Phil in Economics and Management of Public Enterprises from University of Paris, and an LLB from the University of Delhi.
Mr Kamal Kant Jaswal conducts a study circle at the Shri 1008 Mallinath Dighamber Jain Temple in Gurgaon. This is my conversation with him.
What is one core principle that unites all the followers of your faith (either the faith as a whole or this particular sect of the faith)?
Mr Jaswal said, in Jainism there is no concept of God, basic tenets of Jainism is all souls are equal – an
animal, insect, plant have souls and they are all equal. There are beings with 6 senses : 5 – senses (touch, speech, smell, seeing, hearing). In human beings there are feelings, that is another sense. There are beings with one sense – these are 5 types of ekindriye – prithvi – Jainism believes that prithvi is also jeev (living); also vayu (that is also living)…similarily – jal, agni (In jainism one does not light a fire unnecessarily), Vanaspati – all plants. Then there are Tras – there are beings which have two indreyi like earthworms, three indriye, four indreyi ones are moths (they don’t have hearing), 5 indreyi ones are fish, birds, reptiles These are considered all equal. The soul in each of them is equal. Jainism is the religion that goes the farthest in conservation, it makes the least demands on all resources The basic concept in Jainism is of compassion towards all beings
How did you decide to begin your study on the Jain religion? And Why ?
Mr Jaswal said, his initiation was quite natural since he was born as a Jain. His mother was a practioner, father not as much. Even as a child of 8 or 9, he reminisced, his mother used to do Swadhyay, which means study of the scriptures. These were not profound religious texts but a compendium of interesting stories each of these had a message or a moral, also Jain epics. His earliest memory of something connected to religion was his mother reading to the children the Jain equivalent of Ramayan, this is called Padma purana, she did that for years. He said he imbibed the basic tenets and precipts through these stories. He then explained in detail, in Jain scriptures there are four parts – first is called Pratham-anuyog, for initiation, this is done with the help with these stories. He says this is how any person is initiated into the faith. As a child the dramatic element used to be something we used to look forward to in these stories, but as one heard them, they imbibed the principles of Jainism. He also added, from the age of eight years, he took to fasting. This is a method of self-restraint, eating only once a day, not snacking. He said, he used to do this once a year and he continues this till today. He summarized that he was inclined towards the study of religion.
What was your first experience (experience of a union with God)?
Mr Jaswal said in 1994, day of Ananta Chaturdashi, he came in contact with an exceptional personality a Jain monk, Muni Kshamasagar. Ananta Chaturdashi is a festival in September celebrated by Jains. The Muni was a very accomplished speaker, writer, poet, he had renounced the world, he was a Dighamber Muni, he did not wear any clothes. He had given up everything. The Muni was also MSc in Geology, that was another connect, Mr Jaswal had with him. Mr Jaswal said he got very closely associated with him and at his behest, he undertook the translation of a book the Muni had written in Hindi into English. The book was a biography of the Muni’s spiritual guru. He said, the title of the book a lyrical translation of the title in Hindi, it was a labour of love which he completed in 2006. “In quest of the self” is the English title(, the Hindi title was “Atmanveshi.” He said, that was the time he spent a lot of time with his guru, he was a very magnetic personality. He said he considered him to be a fine poet. In 2015, when he retired from most official engagements, his study of scriptures has become deeper. He said the most important thing is to live a life according to the teachings.
There have been mystical experiences, when one feels a surge of energy, connectedness with oneself. He says he had an experience in Tirupati Temple, which is not a Jain temple. There are some common markers like physical exertion, music, lamps which stimulate you, fragrant trees. Had a similar experience in Ranakpur. He has experienced God many times.
What objects are employed during religious ceremonies and what is the significance of each?
The Temples of Jains have statues of Tirthankars, these are revered. Offerings generally contain fruits, rice and flowers. The festival are generally periods of fasting, recitation of scriptures. Eight materials are used in Puja – Water, Sandal wood, Flowers, Incense, Oil lamp (candle), sweet, rice, fruit, these are all as per the Jain religion.
What is the purpose of life?
He said, In Jainism each soul reaches salvation. So each could has the capacity to reach salvation. There is no concept of God. Those souls which have liberated themselves are called “Siddha”. These souls have cast aside all the karmas. They are celebrated and revered. Lord Mahavir is called Tirthankar. He said, in our age there have been 24 Tirthankars. The English translation of Tirth is “Ford”, a shallow place in a river allowing one to cross. The cycle of birth and death is compared to a river, its compared to a flow. That is the river that has to be crossed to be liberated, Tirthankar is the one who points out where it can be crossed. What that means is that one should adopt a boat which carries the person across. Lord Mahavir was 36 years older than Gautam Buddha he is the 24 th Tirthankar, they were contemporaries. 22nd Tirthankar was a cousin of Krishna, before that its lost in pre-history. In the oldest of our scriptures, Rig Veda there is mention of several Jain Tirthankars. Sometimes other religions say that Jains are “Nastik” since they do not believe in the existence of God. He said the counter argument to that is that Jainism believes in seven elements –Jains have belief in seven elements –
1. Jeev (Believe that there are beings), distinguishing features as opposed to Ajeev – there are two
important ones – darshan (perspective – nazariya), chetana (gyan) even a plant has gyan. Self-
preservation is known to all plants, how to disseminate the seed that’s part of the DNA – that’s
2. Pudgal – inanimate things – cushion/ glass etc. – it has roop, sparsh, gandh etc. Jeev does not have that. He said the soul is Jeev, the body is Pudgal All the time we are taking care of the body and not the soul. The soul only needs liberation. This is also called “Bhedvigya”. Called “distinction” also.
3. One is always condemned to cycle to birth and death.
4. Bandh - The karmas saturate the soul, since these are tied to the soul
5. Samvara – by your endeavor you can put a stop to the influx
6. Shedding of karmas – debit of karmas – Nirjaraa
7. Moksh – Liberation
There is a metaphor of a journey, you are in a boat through the river of birth and death cycle, there is a hole in the bottom, water is coming in, this is Aasrav, the water gets accumulated like the Karmas in the boat – that is Bandh. You have to plug the hole – Samvara. But that will not be enough, drain the water – Nirjara, that’s how the boat reaches Moksha
What is your view on death and what comes after it?
Mr Jaswal said, like Hinduism, Jainism also believes in reincarnation. Jains believe that body dies but the soul does not. Infact it is a continuous flow of birth and death that each soul undergoes
What are some essential daily activities of practitioners of your religion?
The duty of compassion and equality of all souls is to be practiced in all forms. Your belief in the seven
elements and the basic tenets then needs to drive how you react and live in your daily life – your actions, your emotions, everything is governed by this. There are five vows that each practitioner of the Jain community has to take to ensure discipline in one’s life. The monks and nuns have to follow them to the full capacity (maha-vrata), and common people have to follow them to the degree where they have enough to live comfortably (anu-vrata). 1 Nonviolence, 2 Truth 3 No-stealing, 4 Chastity 5 Non-possessiveness
Do you think younger people are less religious? Can you comment on why this is so?
Mrs Jaswal said, younger people have less time since they are pre-occupied with gaining recognition, earning money. do not have the time to wade through large volumes of scriptures in Sanskrit and Prakrit. They get disconnected with their roots, it makes some of them uncomfortable. They have the desire but don’t have the time. He said the study circle conducted by him addresses the questions of the younger people, this is more like an open-ended conversation. He said he is like an anchor for these sessions, since he has the time and has the understanding of the religious texts