Jain religion puts a significant emphasis on the thought process of a human being. It describes that a person’s behaviour and actions are the reflection of his internal thoughts. It is not the action but the intention behind the action that results in the accumulation of Karma. Hence, one should be very careful about his thoughts, how he thinks, and the subject matter of his thought.
To make room for pure thoughts, and to drive out the evil ones, Jainism recommends reflecting or meditating on the twelve-thought known as twelve Bhavna or Anupreksha.
Bhavna in Jainism encompasses twelve focal points that guide one’s meditation and shape the content of their thoughts, religious, beneficial, peaceful, harmless, spiritually advancing, karma-preventing thoughts. They cover a wide field of teachings of Jainism. They are designed to serve as aids to spiritual progress, produce detachment, and lead the aspirants from the realm of desire to the path of renunciation. They are reflections upon the fundamental facts of life, intended to develop purity of thought and sincerity in the practice of religion.
These twelve bhabnas or twelve contemplations are described as follows:
Anitya Bhavna – Impermanence of the world: Under this reflection, one thinks that in this world everything such as life, youth, wealth, and property is transient or subject to alteration. Nothing in the universe is permanent, even though the whole universe is permanent or constant. Spiritual values are therefore worth striving for as the soul’s ultimate freedom and stability. This will help to break all worldly attachments.
Asarana Bhavna – No one provides protection: Under this reflection, one thinks that he is helpless against death, old age, and disease. The only way he can conquer death and disease is by destroying all his karma. The soul (person) is his own saviour, and to achieve total freedom and enlightenment, one takes refuge in the true path of religion and the five benevolent personalities. They are Arihanta, Siddha, Acharya, Upadhyay and Sadhus or monks. The refuge to others is due to delusion and must be avoided.
Samsara Bhavna – No permanent relationship in the universe: Under this reflection, one thinks that the soul transmigrates from one life to the other and takes birth in a human, animal, hellish, or heavenly body. The continual cycle of birth, life, and death is full of pain and misery. He has not yet ended this cycle. There are no permanent worldly relations like father, mother, friend, and foe. It is we who establish these relations and live accordingly. This kind of thought will help minimize or stop any attachments to other living beings, or objects. The soul must achieve ultimate freedom from it, which is liberation or Moksha.
Ekatva Bhavna – Solitude of the soul: Under this reflection, one thinks that the soul is solitaire, and lonely in existence. The soul assumes birth alone and departs alone from this world. The soul is responsible for its own actions and karma. The soul will enjoy the fruits, and suffer the bad consequences of its own action alone. Such thoughts will stimulate his efforts to get rid of karmas by his own initiative and will lead a religious life.
Anyatva Bhavna – Separateness: Under this reflection, one thinks that one’s own soul is separate from any other objects or living beings of the world. Even his physical body is also not his. At the time of death, the soul leaves the body behind. The body is matter, while the soul is all consciousness. The soul therefore should not develop an attachment to worldly objects, other living beings, or his physical body. He should not allow himself to be controlled by desires, greed, and urges of his own physical body.
Asuchi Bhavna – Impureness of the body: Under this reflection, one thinks about the constituent elements of one’s body. It is made of impure things like blood, bones, flesh, etc. It also generates impure things like perspiration, urine, and stool. The soul, which resides within the body, remains unattached to the body. The soul is alone, pure, and liberated. The body ultimately becomes nonexistent, but the soul is eternal. Therefore emotional attachments to the body are useless.
Asrava Bhavna – Influx of karma: Under this reflection, one thinks about karma streaming into the soul. Every time he enjoys or suffers through his five senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing), he accumulates more karma. This thought will make him more careful and will try to stop the influx of karma.
Samvara Bhavna – Stoppage of influx of karma: Under this reflection, one thinks about stopping evil thoughts, and becomes absorbed in achieving spiritual knowledge and meditation. This prevents the influx of karma.
Nirjara Bhavna – Shedding of karma: Under this reflection, one thinks about the evil consequences of karma, and strives to destroy the previously acquired karma by austerity and meditation.
Loka Bhavna – Transitory of the universe: Under this reflection, one thinks about the real nature of this universe. Judging from the standpoint of substance, it is eternal but from the standpoint of modification, it is transitory. Thus all objects of the world come into existence and perish. This thought makes him understand the true nature of reality, which is necessary for the right knowledge and faith.
Bodhi Durlabh Bhavna – Unattainability of right faith, knowledge, and conduct: Under this reflection, one thinks that it is very difficult for the transmigrating soul to acquire the right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct in this world. Therefore, when one has the opportunity to be a religious person, take advantage of it to develop the right religious talent. This thought will strengthen one’s effort to attain the right faith and knowledge and live accordingly.
Dharma Bhavna – Unattainability of true preceptor, scriptures, and religion: Under this reflection, one thinks that the true preceptor (teacher), religious scriptures, and religion are excellent shelters in this world full of agony. All other things lead to misery and suffering.
We take time to look after our bodies in so many different ways. Many of us think about what we eat and how to eat the best. For example, we desire superfoods and/or use supplements to ensure that the body receives the correct nutrients it needs.
The priority here is only to look good from the outside or externally. And for that, we heavily invest in anti-wrinkle products, salon visits, gym subscriptions and whatnot! However, we totally overlook the truth that the body is prone to diseases and will continue to age.
But do any of these activities, such as having good food, supplements, using beauty products or so have any effect on the soul? No. The soul which resides in the body is not affected by any of these external things. It does not need any of this. It survives with or without them.
The true nature of the body is to decay and age. We must cultivate the thought that the body is separate from the soul. The soul is pure and not contaminated by any activities of the body.
An example of the body being prone to disease can be understood through the example of Sigmund Freud. He was the father of modern psychiatry and he was diagnosed with mouth cancer in the late 1930s. He underwent 30 operations to remove the tumours in his jaw but died in 1939.
All humans, despite their age, gender and status are susceptible to disease. The one thing humans have in common is the fact that they have a body which goes through the effects of activities throughout their lifetime and suffers immensely due to disease, lack of nutrition, poverty, hard work and so on.
Another thing that humans have in common is they have a soul. The soul does not experience the pains that the human body goes through. The soul doesn’t need much. Once we realise what the body is and recognise its purpose, we will be able to detach from all the things the body needs, wants, and experiences and can focus on what the soul needs instead. Thus we’ll have more time to reflect on our soul, we’ll have more energy and we will progress further on the spiritual path. Remember the fruit of the path is freedom from all of this.
The purpose of the Bhavnas is to aid spiritual progress, produce detachment, and lead the aspirants from the realm of desire to the path of renunciation.
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