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Jain Perspective on Stress Management

Ever since we have known ourselves, every human being has experienced stress. If you observe closely, not only the human being, but every living being experiences stress. In this age of scientific discoveries, inventions and material pleasures, it has become a disease – acute as well as chronic. It is acute in the sense that it brings instant displeasure and discomfort while it is chronic in the sense that we never seem to find a permanent solution to it. Almost every major physical and psychological disease has stress as one of the important causative factor.

Everyone including doctors and elders experience “stress” and thus are always advised to refrain from it; yet, none of us seem to understand what stress is. We seem to understand and characterize physical diseases very well. For example, we know that “uncontrolled growth or division of cells is known as cancer”. Similarly, we have very clear definition and understanding of many diseases and problems.

However, have you ever heard a definition of “stress” with such clarity and thoroughness? What is stress?

Is it high blood pressure or hyper activity of endocrine system? Or is it fear, headache and harassment? Does it come from external circumstances or does it come from within us? According to American Institute of Stress, “Stress is not a useful term for scientists because it is such a highly subjective phenomenon that it defies definition. And if you can’t define stress, how can you possibly measure it?” Thus, if we can’t even understand the problem of stress, then how can we solve it permanently?

Regardless of the profession, every problem has four major aspects to it: (1) Problem definition (2) Consequences (3) Root Causes and (4) Solution. Jain fundamentals clearly explain this phenomenon of stress with immense clarity and enable us to understand its consequences, root causes and permanent solutions.

According to Jainism, the whole universe can be subdivided into 2 main categories: (1) Living Beings (2) Non Living Things. If we closely observe all the non-living things, we mainly find 5 major attributes associated with them: (1) Touch (2) Taste (3) Color (4) Smell (5) Motion. While these attributes are permanent and cannot be destroyed or created, the modes within these attributes continuously change. Such as color of mango (changing from green to yellow) smell, taste (sweet, sour etc.) and touch (hot, cold, hard, soft etc.) change simultaneously as a mango becomes ripe. The non-living substance with above attributes is known as “Pudgala” (Matter) in Jainism. We can literally explain every process of our body and every chemical reaction as various modes of these attributes. However, there are processes that occur within us which cannot be explained using the above attributes. Even the modern science cannot properly explain these processes such as gaining knowledge, forming beliefs, intentions, emotions and happiness/unhappiness. We can convey messages in different languages but the knowledge of message does not change and it’s a separate process than formation of words. Also, when we see something with the eyes, the picture gets transmitted to brain via neurons as electric signal. Even in this form, those particles have touch, taste, color and smell; however, those particles do not know what message or picture they are carrying. It is similar in the sense that particles on the flash drive do not know whose picture is on the flash drive. It is us living beings who know what pictures are stored on flash drive. According to this logic, our entire body is a non-living substance. So, where do the knowledge, belief, intentions, emotions and happiness occur?

According to Jainism, the Substance that has attributes of knowledge, belief, intentions, emotions and happiness is known as Jiv (Soul). It does not have attributes of Pudagala such as touch, taste, color and smell; hence cannot be known by seeing, smelling, tasting or touching. However, it can be known and experienced by its own attributes. Just like the modes of touch, taste, color and smell; the modes of knowledge, belief, intentions and happiness also continuously change while those attributes remain constant. You may have heard a story of a woman, an infant and a dog. A woman left her sleeping kid at home with the dog; and when she came back, she saw blood on dog’s mouth and therefore became fearful, thinking dog killed the son and killed the dog. Later, she realized that dog actually saved her son from the snake. So, in this case, when the woman had wrong perception (and thereby, wrong knowledge), it led her to form wrong belief, which led her to have fearful/angry emotions and thus making women unhappy. This proves that whenever Jiv (Living Being) has wrong knowledge, it also has wrong belief and unhappiness. According to Jainism, this State of Wrong Knowledge-Wrong Belief-Wrong Intentions-Unhappiness is called State of Stress.

Many of us have seen mangoes being kept in grass to make them ripe. After keeping green mangoes in grass for few days, they become ripe. The question is: where did the sweetness of the mango come from? Did it come from grass or did it come from mango itself? Grass never had any sweetness; therefore, sweetness of the mango must have come from mango itself. So, what was the role of the grass in that process? According to Jainism, the ability of mango to become sweet was the main Intrinsic Cause of the mango being ripe and the grass was merely present Instrumental Cause. Grass did not cause any changes within mango. It was mango which in the presence of grass turned itself sweet. Though this example sounds very intuitive and simple, it has great implications. For example, can external circumstances and other people cause stress within a Jiv (living being)? Well, if we apply the same rationale as above: no, they cannot cause stress in a Jiv. It is us who become stressful due to our own wrong perceptions about universe, wrong beliefs (known as Mithyatva in Jainism) and wrong emotions (Kashayas) such as anger, ego, deceit and greed. When we become stressful due to our own Intrinsic causes, the external circumstances are merely known Instrumental Causes. Unless and until we start taking responsibility for our own actions and start introspecting our wrong understanding, we can never get rid of stress permanently. By learning simple Jain fundamentals, every living being can permanently eradicate this perpetual misery of stress. I sincerely wish that we all study this wonderful treasure of Jain philosophy as imparted by Tirthankaras and achieve ever lasting peace and happiness.

Questions or comments?

Please contact Prerit Shah at or (201) 920-6927

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