Quietism and Karma non-action as non-ethics in Jain asceticism

Common Knowledge 15 (2):197-207 (2009)
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This essay is conceived as a contribution to the academic debate on the ethical status of mystical traditions with regard to Jain asceticism in particular and—through comparison of Jain with Advaita Vedanta asceticism—to ideologies of radical quietism more generally. For both Jain and Advaita Vedantic ascetic traditions, the material world, and particularly the body, are the primary obstacles to spiritual development. We deal with the social, physical, and environmental implications of such a worldview, rather than with the practice or the phenomenology or the doctrine of mysticism, which we grant to be an accurate reflection of a particular kind of cosmic experience. We address ethical issues, not metaphysical ones. In our discussion of Jain asceticism, we demonstrate that the basic problem (and promise) of quietism, in almost any cultural form, is the shocking realization it can occasion that the Real has absolutely nothing to do with the social or with any sort of ethical action. We argue that Jain asceticism cannot function as an adequate resource for contemporary ethics. Our normative concerns lie exclusively with the adequacy of Jain quietism in supporting a stable global community and a sustainable natural environment. One can be mystical without being ethical, and ethical without being a mystic. We conclude that the truths of quietism are both very profound and profoundly nonethical



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