7 Spiritual Lessons from the Skyclad Jain Monks and Forest Buddhists

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1. The world is multifaceted

At the heart of both Jain and Buddhist philosophy is the assertion that the world is multi-faceted, and that all-encompassing knowledge is only available through “direct seeing”. One of the fascinating things about Jain philosophy in particular is the contention that many different “ways” of understanding a phenomenon are valid. Consider, for instance, the difference between knowing something rationally, knowing it by the way it looks, or closing your eyes and knowing it by its contours. All are valid and all are different.

Reality is invariably and eternally complex, and no single philosophical understanding can capture it completely. That said, both religions maintain that direct insight (called “kevala” by the Jains) does see the world in its entirety. This insight is propounded as the goal of spiritual life, and is brought about by many years of refining the mind.

2. Nature is a great spiritual teacher

It is said that the Buddha advised his followers to go to the forest, find a quiet place and sit in meditation. The Thai forest monks are in many ways heirs to this simple piece of advice. Indeed, the Buddha’s life was characterized by a close involvement with nature. He practiced, lived and was enlightened in natural settings. Pilgrimages made in nature are also important to the Digambara monks.

It’s easy to disregard nature as a spiritual teacher. It doesn’t offer us any solid precepts or tangible advice. Yet it’s vital to remember that we are creatures that “come” from nature. We have evolved to exist in harmony with it. Spiritual lessons and a sense of tranquility come naturally from being in the mere presence of the natural world and much of the “work” is done just under the surface, beyond thought and reason.

3. Spiritual freedom lies in the absence of attachment

The central premise at the heart of the world’s great spiritual paths could be summed up simply: the world is full of suffering, the root of suffering is attachment, the dropping of attachment means the end of suffering. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Look at your own life…what, if it were taken away, would make you unhappy? What do you think you need in order to be happy? Answering these two questions gives you a chance to identify your own attachments. I’ll ask again: what is it, without which, you could not be happy? The uprooting of these beliefs, not matter how difficult, is the path to freedom and the creed that underlies almost all spiritual endeavour.

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