Welcome to Daily SPARC – each weekday our chaplains, friends from the Penn Religious Communities Council and other voices from campus will be posting messages of support and encouragement.

Today’s message is from Penn students Shivali Govani C’17 & D’21 & Parth Shah C’18 & M’22 from the Penn Hindu & Jain Association:

Jains recall a story of their 23rd Tirthankara Parsvanatha as follows:

About 3,000 years ago, a popular monk named Kamath practiced severe penances using sacrificial fires. Parsva, a newly devout monk, came to know of the violence caused by these fires. When he noticed a snake burning in Kamath’s fire, he intervened to save it. Parsva’s efforts failed, and the snake was killed and reincarnated as Dharanendra, lord of an underworld kingdom. Kamath became irritated that Parsva interfered with his practice, and he swore vengeance on Parsva. In his next life, Kamath was reborn as Meghmali, the lord of rain. One day, as Parsva was meditating in the forest, Meghmali saw him and recalled his anger. In revenge, Meghmali used his supernatural powers to bring forth violent animals and heavy rainfall upon Parsva. However, Parsva remained in deep meditation, undisturbed. Upon noticing that Parsva was about to drown, Dharanendra protected Parsva from the rains. In that same life, Parsva attained enlightenment.

While non-violence, non-attachment, and non-absolutism are the three pillars of Jainism, here we also see a principle not often illustrated in Jainism: resilience.

In the natural world, resilience is a characteristic of equilibrium. Equilibrium is when the actions of many small agents (molecules, cells, people) are in a dynamic but stable state of existence. What makes equilibria interesting is not that they are delicate and easily disturbed, but rather they are resilient. They are capable of taking shocks by adapting to change. When Parsva’s thoughts were in a state of meditative equilibrium, he was resilient to Meghmali’s disturbances.

In the Hindu Epic Ramayan, Sita, the wife of Lord Ram is abducted by demon Ravana and imprisoned in Lanka. During her year in captivity, Sita faces a lot of trials and tribulations as Ravana coerces her to marry him. Despite the threats of demons, Sita’s adherence to righteousness helps her focus her heart on Ram. Through her courage, Sita shows us that resilience can come from having strong faith in your principles.

We can also learn a lot about resiliency by looking at a particularly ubiquitous topic in the COVID era: the immune system. Three characteristics stand out: vast numbers, diversity, and adaptation. The immune system produces vast numbers of antibodies with the same general structure; however, these antibodies differ slightly from one another, giving our bodies the ability to identify a rich spectrum of foreign objects. Once antibodies identify a foreign object, the immune system adapts: memory B cells are produced so that the immune system can rapidly respond to future reinfection. This is certainly not the story of any single particularly determined molecule, cell, or body.

Sure, resilient systems in the natural world have the benefit of vast numbers, diversity, and adaption. But how can we as individuals become more resilient? Resilience requires self-confidence and hope. But at the same time, it requires humility and abandoning ego. Certainly, Parsva could not have survived Meghmali’s storm without the assistance of Dharanendra. Similarly, Sita relied on her moral values for support. Establishing a support system — a network of friends, family, and values — can help us adapt to hardships. Taking the time to rekindle relationships and reflect on personal values can make us more resilient to what life may throw at us.