Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
David Christopher LaneDavid Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).

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The Monk: Sushil Kumar

David Lane

When I first learned that renowned Jain monk Acharya Sushil Kumar was involved in the Nuclear Disarmament Rally in New York I was a bit apprehensive. Though the movement's aims are unquestionably worthwhile, they have only scratched the surface of a much larger problem. All too often we are besieged with platitudes that only accentuate humankind's troubles rather than alleviate them. It is noble to want to stop destructive weapons, but what about the mechanism which causes anger, hatred, jealousy, and violence in all of us? Rather than attacking the fundamental situation head-on, the peace movement expends a tremendous amount of energy on elliptical and secondary issues. The real culprit--that which is prompting inhumane actions in the first place--remains untackled.

When I met with Sushil Kumar at his center in Long Beach, California, all of my preliminary doubts immediately vanished. For although Sushil Kumar is a strong advocate for nuclear disarmament, the elderly monk is quick to point out that restricting protests just to the crafts of war is shortsighted idealism. Sushil Kumar instead argues for finding the source from which all violent tendencies spring forth. If that area becomes our focus, he contends, then the question of a third world war would not even arise--much less the weapons in preparation for it.

But what is it that drives us towards aggression? Is it biologically pre-programmed? Does environment, via our social structures, breed it? I had planned to pose these very questions to Sushil Kumar, but within five minutes from our initial meeting he had already answered them in a brilliant fashion. His response, which is echoed in the ancient Upanishads, is perhaps simpler than one might expect:

"Wherever there is an other, fear arises." It is the emergence of the separate self--the "I"- ness, the egoic structure--which is at the heart of man's cruelty," Sushil Kumar stated. With the advent of self-awareness there also comes the presumption of what is "not self," and all of that (the environment, the world, "them") generates fear. This fear drives human beings to protect the self from all that threatens its separate existence. But such a strategy can only end in failure and a life-long narcissism, a denial of the universe and what it offers. Paradoxically, the more one tries to retain the self, the more one eventually loses it in the fight against the "not self" (the world). A tragic double bind indeed!

What is the solution? There's only one, Sushil Kumar postulates. Give up the false idea of an independent self and begin to see the creation as one indivisible whole. Unless the individual surrenders its infantile posture towards life--one which is reflected in the obsessive fear of death--then the end of wars, nuclear or conventional, will never be secured. As Sushil Kumar elaborated, it is easy to wage battle with "others" who have "not seen the light or true path" but it is very difficult to conduct the real war, which must take place within ourselves.

As our conversation moved from the volatile issue of nuclear proliferation to the ancient Indian philosophy of Jainism, which traces back to at least 600 B.C., it became quite apparent to me that Sushil Kumar's whole message was based upon the principle of ahimsa, non-injury and respect toward all living things. Indeed, it is this ideal which has served as the guiding light to his spiritual practice and political ideology. To show loving kindness in all directions, without recoil, to every creature, great or small, ugly or beautiful--this, Sushil Kumar stressed, was the ultimate message of Jainism. However, he emphasized that ahimsa was not the property of any particular faith but is the spiritual inheritance of all men and women.

Throughout history there have been various degrees of non-violence which has been practiced, ranging from simple non-injury to human beings alone to the extreme of not hurting insects or vegetation whenever possible. Jainism's uniqueness has been in its rigorous adherence to the doctrine of ahimsa in all forms. Followers of Jainism are strict vegetarians, abstaining from meat, fish and eggs. They also do not drink alcohol or take mind altering drugs. Though there is no "God," as such, in Jainism, devotees do hold that the true reality of the universe is spiritual in nature. It is the goal of all devout Jains to extricate their souls from the realm of matter in order to achieve absolute freedom or liberation. To achieve this enlightened state, the disciple must work very hard on herself, circumventing the tendency of the mind to focus outward on the world and its pleasures. Instead of allowing more karmas to accumulate, which only keeps the soul imprisoned, the devotee must give up his evil tendencies and transcend the realm of prakrita (maya or illusion).

Obviously, therefore, Jainism advocates a path of extreme asceticism. Since the obligations are so severe, Jainism has two levels of adherents: the holy man (monk) and the layman. Both divisions, though, have strict injunctions in common. Elaborates David G. Bradley in his book A Guide To The World's Religions:

"... All Jains must take five vows: not to harm any living creature (ahimsa); to be absolutely truthful; not to steal; to be chaste in thought and deed; and to practice non-attachment to the world by strict limitation of possessions. For the holy man, the last two require celibacy and poverty. Perhaps the main Jain contribution to Indian life is the teaching of ahimsa, a principle followed later by many Hindus, and made world-famous when advocated by Gandhi. Jains follow it to the extreme. Thus a monk will sweep a path, or a chair, with a soft brush before treading or sitting upon it to avoid even the tiniest insect; and hospitals for maimed and sick rats have been maintained. In addition to these five vows, the monk has thousands of detailed rules to follow, mostly extensions of the ideal behavior enjoined by the vows. The 'three jewels' of right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct are stressed for all. The layman must avoid agriculture, since ploughing, for example, kills worms, hence most Jains engage in merchandising and banking."*

Sushil Kumar, though a highly respected leader of Jainism in India, represents a radical departure from the typical Jain monk. He does not wear a face mask (a characteristic of most Jain leaders), nor does he refrain from traveling by plane or motorcar. Rather, his approach is that of a spiritual scientist trying to display the self-evident truths inherent in all religions. It was for this very purpose that he founded the World Conference of Religions in 1957 in Delhi. Sushil Kumar believes that all religions have some truth but that no religion has a monopoly on reality.

He teaches what is known as Arhum yoga, a meditative discipline which is founded upon Matrika Vidya, the Science of Sound. In order to practice Arhum yoga, though, it is advised to seek the guidance of a competent master. The Jain Meditation Center explains why:

"Guru is a Sanskrit word meaning dispeller of darkness. The authentic Guru is that being who takes us from darkness to light; from ignorance to enlightenment. Shaktipat is the ancient formal ceremony whereby the Guru and disciple accept each other. They inwardly exchange promises and the teacher accepts responsibility for the disciple's spiritual progress. The Guru-disciple relationship transcends time and space, life and death, it is the spiritual Guru who greets and encourages the newly departed soul. If we think of the Guru or even speak of him with love, we feel his peace."

With the preponderance of gurus in the East and West, and the ostentatiousness of many of them (Bhagwan Rajneesh and his fleet of Rolls Royces, for example) it was refreshing to see the genuine humility and friendliness of Sushil Kumar. He expresses the very thing which millions of protesters around the world are praying for: peace. We can talk forever about Nuclear Disarmament, the approaching "New Age", or the "Aquarian Conspiracy," but how many of us can simply be peaceful, happy and loving? The Peace movement must begin in our own hearts. Then, and only then, can it spread and have a lasting effect.


For further reading refer to Padmanabh S. Jaini's The Jaina Path of Purification (University of California Press, 1979) and the booklet, Why I Don't Eat Faces: A Neuro-emotional Argument for Vegetarianism (Walnut: Mount San Antonio College Philosophy Group, 1995).

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