When one talks of religion, the question may arise, ‘Why do we bother about religion? Could we not be happy in this life without worrying about religion?’ One may be healthy, have a lovable spouse and children that they love, may have enough earning from job or profession and possess all the amenities that one needs. What more is religion going to offer? These are legitimate questions. Let us therefore examine them. The concept underlying these questions revolves round our body. Its health, its relations, its well being, comforts and luxuries it can indulge into, are supposed to bring forth happiness. Accordingly, when such situations are to our liking, we happen to consider ourselves happy. Unfortunately however the body with which we identify ourselves and also everything around it happen to be transitory. All the situations are ephemeral. The happiness that we might be experiencing from such situations, can disappear at any time. We do not know what is going to happen the next moment. As such our so called happiness happens to be unstable and short-lived.
Even if situations conducive to our interest were likely to continue indefinitely, peace and happiness may not result there from. As poet Shelley put it in one of his poems, we are prone to ‘look before and after and pine for what is nought.’ Hardly any one feels satisfied with what he has. We have the tendency to desire what we don’t have. Our desires are endless and as long as desires remain unsatisfied, no one can ever feel happy and experience real peace that can lead to blissful pleasure. We may strive hard for achieving that pleasure but hardly any one attains it any time during the life. This is because we hardly try to explore who we are and what is our true nature. Nothing against our nature is going to give us lasting happiness or real satisfaction.
Jain scriptures therefore define religion as ‘Vatthu Sahavo Dhammo’. It means that religion is the nature or property of matter. Without knowing ourselves and without realizing our own nature, we have been trying to gain happiness. No wonder that it eludes us, because we have been trying to gain it from extraneous circumstances. In a way, we have been dwelling, all the time, in a state of delusion about ourselves. We can as well say that we have been pursuing a mirage. Herein comes the role of religion.
A generally accepted definition of religion is ‘Dharayati Iti Dharmah’ It means that what holds (from falling) is religion. Our remaining in the deluded state constitutes a fall and religion tends to protect us therefrom. It teaches us that the physical body with which we identify ourselves is live on account of the soul that abides within it. That soul is our real self. We are the consciousness pervading the body and our association with body terminates at the end of life. The true nature of consciousness is to know whatever happens without any sense of craving or aversion. It is therefore futile to be pleased or displeased with different situations. Thus by revealing our true nature, the religion helps in extricating ourselves from the deluded state in which we have been entangled since the time without beginning. Religion teaches us to know ourselves. He who knows the soul, knows every thing else. This is so because knowledge of true Self as pure, enlightened, unaging, immortal and ever blissful soul can lead to the state of desirelessness. This, of course, does not mean that we should not try to change an undesirable situation; nor does it endorse inaction. As long as the soul is embodied, it would stay active. There are different types of activities that a monk or a layman should undertake . Religion however prescribes that every one should undertake activities destined for him, vigorously but without any degree of attachment. This would mean facing any situation dispassionately without reacting in terms of craving or aversion. In Jain term inology this is called Jnata-Drashta approach which is similar to Nishkam Karmayoga of Geeta. The common objective is to enable one to view every situation, comfortable or uncomfortable, with equanimity and without any way getting agitated. That would amount to knowing oneself and abiding in one’s own blissful nature.
Source: Essense of Jainism - By Manubhai Doshi