"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Ancient Wisdom with Universal Significance for Humanity

I have been away for 10 days on holiday, in that beautiful part of France known as the Dordogne, named after the river that flows through the region. We took time to explore and I will write more about our discoveries in the coming weeks. But I also found the time to read a few books and finish a few others that I could simply find no time for before we went away. One was recommended to me by a friend. Many Sided Wisdom; A New Politics of the Spirit, is by Aidan Rankin. And I found it hard to put down.

I spoke briefly of this book a month or so ago. It is based on the ancient Jain idea of Anekant, or Many-Sided Wisdom, otherwise known as Multiple Viewpoints or Non-Absolutism. In the so- called “developed” West we tend to see all things as right or wrong, black or white. We are switched into this binary thinking, which we equate with progress, which in turn requires increasing consumption, the need for expansion, and dominion over the natural world. And we are attached to too many possessions. Rankin tells us that this attachment, rather than religion per se, is the cause of many wars that are blamed on religion. We see our power over others as a strength; we lack humility, which is seen as weakness. Nowhere is there a greater need for the practice of this many-sided wisdom than in our divisive politics, and polarized religions. Our problem is that we all think we hold the only path to truth; and we are in a mess because of this. The Shinto masters say that “my truth does not need to be the same as your truth.” And this is also the Jain way. We can all be right, in different ways. We can respect the other point of view totally, and find common factors, connecting strands, between otherwise conflicting arguments. This is Anekant, or non-violence of the mind. It requires us to recondition our minds; to change the way we look at ideas. And it could transform individuals and society, and the world in which we live, offering the path to a safer better world for all humanity.

The author explains in some depth the three main principles of Jain understanding, which lead to Anekant. Firstly, Jains have a fundamental respect and sympathy with all creatures. All life is interconnected, and our intelligence confers responsibility, not entitlement. Then he writes of cosmic law, Karma and reincarnation. Thirdly, he explores and explains why he believes that Jainism is so relevant today, not only in the Western world but also in the emerging global community that is influenced largely by Western ideas.

Whilst the book is based on Jainism the author is at pains to explain that the ideas have full relevance for us all, of any religious tradition or none. The concept is relevant within the practice of all religions and across all religious divides. The Jain understanding of each individual as a unit of consciousness in no way interferes with the essence of a message that is of relevance to us all. We are all on a spiritual journey; but we are restricted by our human consciousness that is not fully evolved spiritually, although an increasing number of people are sensing a shift in consciousness towards a greater spirituality. Even then, Rankin tells us to beware the New Age movement that is often tainted by commercialism, and the Green politicians who still believe they are the only ones who are right!

The book concludes with the Jain rule of “Careful Actions, Careful Thoughts,” followed by the Jain ascetics but a good guide for living for us all. Before taking any action we need to ask ourselves what effect that action will have on us, on others, on society, on the planet and on a generation or more from now. This type of thinking is instinctive in many indigenous cultures. It also links with the Seventh Generation Principle, from the political culture of the Iroquois people, and now adopted by Native American elders and activists. “What about the seventh generation? Where are you taking them? What will they have?”

This short review cannot possibly do full justice to such a fascinating idea. Anekant, Rankin tells us, is a gift from Jainism to the world, and if allowed to do so, it has the potential to heal not only our wounded planet but also the wounds within ourselves. It is a gift we would all do well to use gratefully and with humility and understanding.

This is an excellent book. It is well researched, and written in an easy and lucid style. I recommend that it should be read by anyone with a real concern for the future of this world.

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