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on 7 April 2010
BOOK REVIEW: MANY-SIDED WISDOM - A New Politics of the Spirit by Aidan Rankin, 150pp, O Books, ([...] 2010, ISBN 978-1-84694-277-8
In the huge cacophony of noise and pollution that is the modern media, it is rare to find a new work which is written with patience and perseverance, where the author has laboured over his thoughts and researched them for years (decades even) before putting them to print. This new book flows like a timeless river, respects its readers very deeply, and unites a wide range of disciplines from politics to ecology, spirituality, philosophy and economics so flawlessly, that we feel we are truly being touched by wisdom which has stood the test of time.
We live in a time where luxury is being eroded - there is the threat of global warming and the reality of climate change, war is always around the corner, and the rich are also the most anxious and dis-satisfied, whilst the poor only fall ever-lower, and population rises. Science, the objective saviour, is not able to solve these problems for us. Neither is Capitalism. The word `holistic' is increasingly being talked about as the way forward - where silos or barriers between thoughts or organisations need to be broken, and we need more co-operation and less competition. And the ancient Indian Jain tradition is one of the foremost exponents of the richness and depth of holistic thinking, action and science. Rankin draws on this in this book.
The book comprises six chapters, with titles ranging from `Letting Go of Dogma', to `A Subtle Power', `Karmic Ecology' and `Growing Beyond Growth'. It is aimed at a reader who is keen to discover wisdom, to unite the multiple worlds of mind, body and spirit, and willing to invest some time and effort in reading and understanding profound voices. He makes the task very easy for the reader by using prose which is effortlessly smooth and flowing, concise and poetic, focused yet liberating. I definitely felt very uplifted when I finished the book - a sense of personal growth and inner peace and understanding, which I hope will stay with my soul forever.
Rankin firmly places his book on the Jain wisdom of `Anekant' or Many-Sidedness. This is a complex idea, which demonstrates that truth has multiple-facets, and depends on the position of the seeker and their assumptions and world-views, explicit or implicit. This is not the same as relativism, where there is no objective truth, but neither is it purely rational, or purely spiritual or purely emotional. The Jains allow all these perspectives to cohere, and in their philosophy of maybe-ism (Syadvada), show that truth can be tentative, but must be sincere, non-violent, and respectful of all living beings and their rights to co-exist. We should seek objective truth, but should not be fundamentalist about the process or the outcome, and also listen to other perspectives respectfully. He demonstrates the fundamental weakness of human-centric science and ideology, which is so paralysing and disrespectful of nature and its awesome intelligence and richness.
In my work through the social enterprise Diverse Ethics (where Aidan is a colleague), I seek to practice my Jain heritage quietly, and show leaders, organisations and individuals, the beauty of the timeless wisdoms of the world, and how they can enrich our present life here and now. I encourage people not to get drawn by the pretence and lack of authenticity of so many modern experts, who are usually solely after the money, and instead look to cultures, communities and wisdoms to seek sustainable truths and solutions. For example, I am on the Board of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, and recently invited Executives and Board members to participate in an Ancient Jain Ayambil Festival and have their Board meeting in the Jain Temple Complex in London. This gave them the opportunity, not just to see the stone sculptures and temple, but also the living heritage in the faces of the 300 people who attended the festival. The whole experience was very rewarding for everyone, and something they will remember for a long time. It affected them at multiple levels, and enabled them to see their own world from a different lens. In the process, everyone was enriched, including the Jains.
Modern education is premised on fundamentalist world-views about dualism, nature, materialism and the separation of mind, body and spirit. Subjects are there to dissect the truth, rather than to see its wholesome spirit and inter-connectedness. In the process, even people become easily violent as they get sucked in by consumerism and the obsession with growth. Minds become greedy, selfish and stressed, producing actions which are violent in nature and divisive in spirit. Instead, Aidan talks about truth which involves detachment, simplicity, humility and selflessness, a truth that seeks to build communities and connect peoples. He examines the ethics of Science.
Whilst `racism' is not a word people like to read or talk about, there is a strong racism in thought and science too. It centres around the obsession with euro-centric philosophy and science, the subtle ideals of white supremacy and `civilisation', and most importantly, the obsession with the human condition and the total disregard for nature and its own intelligence and wisdom. As a University student, none of my Lecturers showed interest in my faith and culture, nor my own world-view. Identity was there to be stamped upon, by the quest for `objective' science, which has already stamped upon plants, forests, insects and animals. In spite of globalisation, our minds today are still very closed and suspicious of difference.
The uniqueness of this work is that Aidan is a `white' Englishman born and raised in Britain, educated at Oxford and LSE (PhD in Politics), and yet highly respectful of the wisdoms of the East, and someone who has clearly spent a lot of time and energy in deciphering and translating them. His very life shows how we can transcend our barriers and histories of prejudice, and have the huge opportunity in this age to learn, grow and enrich the quality of our lived experience. In fact, his work hugely enriches the Jain faith and philosophy, as he places it into a context of modern life, which we as a community are ourselves struggling to relate to. He gives hope to our youth, a language to connect their inner and outer experiences, and ways of expanding their horizons through anekant.
I strongly recommend thought leaders and wisdom seekers, to embark on the journey of reading and experiencing this book. Let it simmer, reflect on it, and have small group discussions around its contents. It will help you cultivate a mind which is borderless and action which is peaceful and fulfilling. In the process, others will want to tap your wisdom and ripples will grow ever larger.
Dr. Atul Keshavji Shah is author of `Celebrating Diversity' and `Social Cohesion' (co-authored with Aidan Rankin)
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on 19 May 2011
To quote "`true to spirit of many sidedness, this book is and is not a book about Jainism and is and is not about politics, it is about Jainism, in the sense that the idea at its core Anakantavada (Anekant) or many sidedness". Through interrogation via the Jain practice of Anekant or many sided viewpoint Aidan Rankin logically and very eloquently makes the case for a step forward by viewing life through the discipline of an ancient wisdom with great understanding of the human condition and its common failings. Current discredited global trends and false priorities which so exalt the importance of the individual paradoxically are shown to create a lack of freedom, mean heartedness and the seeds of eventual human isolation so impacting on the ecological and environmental health of our planet.

This book is inspirational in as much as it invites us to investigate an ancient way of personal and human development already quietly and patiently practiced within Jain communities worldwide. The discipline of Anekant or many sidedness stands in sharp contradiction to the dogmatic either / or viewpoints so failing human societies. To achieve a multi-faceted viewpoint requires the development of humility. Jainism doesn't seek to coerce or deny viewpoints. It is not about being converted or triumphing over others beliefs or practices. Real strength of personality comes from listening and evaluating ones understanding to seek positive rather than negative karmic influences. Humility and compassion will paradoxically produce more character than those who so publically seek individualism only to end up being the same as everybody else. The natural order whereby compassion and multi-faceted knowledge will result in unsought after leadership for the individual is shown to be in stark contradiction to current day life whereby the dominance of narrow prejudiced viewpoints causes seething resentment and unease amongst those who are so subjugated or ignored.

Aidan Rankin offers a glimpse of the spiritual mysterious through his thought provoking life observations. He talks of paradoxes which are seen to fall away in the search for utopian goals, suggesting an interested reader would want to explore deeper. It should perhaps not be surprising that ancient practices and wisdom so understanding of the human character should cast such a light on collective present day attitudes and individual's, habits, cravings and state of mind in seeking contentment and peace outside of our own personality confines. I read this book feeling great empathy with the Anekant interpretation/extrapolations to everyday life. Aidan Rankin is a well known political and ecological writer which is evident in his analytical insights and clear writing style. I would recommend this and his previous insightful book `Jain Path' and hope as many people as possible can read and reflect upon its contents inspiring an interest in Jainism.
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on 2 September 2010
This book is based on the ancient Jain idea of Anekant, or Many-Sided Wisdom, otherwise known as Multiple Viewpoints or Non-Absolutism. In the so- called "developed" West we tend to see all things as right or wrong, black or white. We are switched into this binary thinking, which we equate with progress, which in turn requires increasing consumption, the need for expansion, and dominion over the natural world. And we are attached to too many possessions. Rankin tells us that this attachment, rather than religion per se, is the cause of many wars that are blamed on religion. We see our power over others as a strength; we lack humility, which is seen as weakness. Nowhere is there a greater need for the practice of this many-sided wisdom than in our divisive politics, and polarized religions. Our problem is that we all think we hold the only path to truth; and we are in a mess because of this. The Shinto masters say that "my truth does not need to be the same as your truth." And this is also the Jain way. We can all be right, in different ways. We can respect the other point of view totally, and find common factors, connecting strands, between otherwise conflicting arguments. This is Anekant, or non-violence of the mind. It requires us to recondition our minds; to change the way we look at ideas. And it could transform individuals and society, and the world in which we live, offering the path to a safer better world for all humanity.

The author explains in some depth the three main principles of Jain understanding, which lead to Anekant. Firstly, Jains have a fundamental respect and sympathy with all creatures. All life is interconnected, and our intelligence confers responsibility, not entitlement. Then he writes of cosmic law, Karma and reincarnation. Thirdly, he explores and explains why he believes that Jainism is so relevant today, not only in the Western world but also in the emerging global community that is influenced largely by Western ideas.

Whilst the book is based on Jainism the author is at pains to explain that the ideas have full relevance for us all, of any religious tradition or none. The concept is relevant within the practice of all religions and across all religious divides. The Jain understanding of each individual as a unit of consciousness in no way interferes with the essence of a message that is of relevance to us all. We are all on a spiritual journey; but we are restricted by our human consciousness that is not fully evolved spiritually, although an increasing number of people are sensing a shift in consciousness towards a greater spirituality. Even then, Rankin tells us to beware the New Age movement that is often tainted by commercialism, and the Green politicians who still believe they are the only ones who are right!

The book concludes with the Jain rule of "Careful Actions, Careful Thoughts," followed by the Jain ascetics but a good guide for living for us all. Before taking any action we need to ask ourselves what effect that action will have on us, on others, on society, on the planet and on a generation or more from now. This type of thinking is instinctive in many indigenous cultures. It also links with the Seventh Generation Principle, from the political culture of the Iroquois people, and now adopted by Native American elders and activists. "What about the seventh generation? Where are you taking them? What will they have?"
This short review cannot possibly do full justice to such a fascinating idea. Anekant, Rankin tells us, is a gift from Jainism to the world, and if allowed to do so, it has the potential to heal not only our wounded planet but also the wounds within ourselves. It is a gift we would all do well to use gratefully and with humility and understanding.

This is an excellent book. It is well researched, and written in an easy and lucid style. I recommend that it should be read by anyone with a real concern for the future of this world.
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