Jainism In North America (Past, Present And Future)

Posted: 11.05.2008
Updated on: 30.07.2015

 

Jainism In North America (Past, Present And Future)

“Jainism - India’s, and possibly the world’s oldest religion - is a quiet, overwhelmingly serious way of life, a cultural insistence on compassion, a sociology of aesthetics that has dramatically changed the world, and will continue to affect change.” Dr. Michael Tobias

100 years ago at the first Parliament of world’s Religions in Chicago, a Jain leader, a scholar, and the only Jain on North American soils, Mr. V.R. Gandhi said, “I come from India, the mother of religions. I represent Jainism, a faith older than Buddhism, similar to its ethics, but different from it in its philosophy and professed by several millions of India’s most peaceful and law abiding citizens.” Mr. Gandhi then gave a short no-nonsense, highly condensed and technical account of the ethnics and history of the Jains, their books, teachings, and practices. From this humble beginning, a Jain Diaspora appeared not only in North America, but also in Britain, East Africa, Malaysia, and Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and in such other places as Australia and New Zealand. It is probably the first time that about 100,000 Jains are settled outside India today.

This is an exciting period for us Jains in North America. Now about 50,000 Jains live in U.S.A and Canada. Since 1965, we have established a strong infrastructure that we all can be proud of. Now there is a Jain organization or a group in practically every major city in North America. Twelve years ago we created a national organization or a group in (Federation of Jain Associations in North America, JAINA), which now represents nearly all the Jains. More than twenty places of worship with Jain deities have been established. Several new Jain temples are being constructed or being designed. Suitable, appropriate, easy to read and understand educational and Pooja materials have been made available and several more are in progress. Quite a few videos and audios are now available; a couple of libraries (especially JAINA library in Lubbock, Texas) are ready to serve the needs of the community.

We now celebrate our holy festivals on a very regular basis. Many of our rituals, places of worship and publications are non-sectarian. JAINA conventions and other such functions have become gathering places for all Jains to meet debate and discuss issues. Participation in inter faith movements, visits and availability of Jain scholars, publication of several Jain Magazines (e.g. Jain Digest, Jain Study Circular and Jinamanjiri, etc.) and start or beginning of Jain studies at several universities in U.S.A and Canada are bringing new awareness within the Jain community. Other examples of Jain community’s forward and progressive march are celebration of Paryushan and Das Laxana Parvas on a grand scale, many long tapasyas (fasts), Chaturmas, donations for charities, youth camps and seminars, Ahimsa Day celebrations, movements in ecology and environment, youth essay competition, Directory of Jains in North America and start of an electronic bulletin board on Jain news and education.

The Federation of JAINA is a unique institution and does not have many parallels in the Jain world. JAINA is not an organization of individuals, but rather, an association of associations. During its twelve years of existence, it has strived to unite all Jains as Jains (in spite of our diversity of religious beliefs, traditions, customs, languages and regional origins).

The theme of the 7th JAINA convention is “JAINISM: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE.” In the North American context, I have so far touched upon our PAST and Present. So, what about our Future?

This is an issue that the entire Jain community, all the Jain Centers and JAINA have to discuss, debate, decide and plan. This Convention will provide such a platform.

Winds of change are everywhere. Nations are changing. Yesterday’s enemies are today’s friends and partners. Yet, in spite of this, there is so much violence and hatred throughout the globe. In these times, Jainism has much to offer to the world. To quote Dr. Micheal Tobias, “Jainism is a momentous example to all of us that there can, and does exist a successful, ecologically responsible way of life which is abundantly and unconditionally non violent in thought, action and deed. For millennia, Jain logic has worked out a more complete picture of human experience that encompasses our capacity for compassion.”

Since Jainism now is a worldwide/global religion, its practices, philosophies and beliefs can be and should be part of that local and global solution that we daily see in the destruction of environment, violence, killings and exploitation around us. Question is what and how Jains should determine their role, place and responsibilities. This Convention is one such place to debate these issues.

Jains are a fairly accomplished community. We have a rich heritage, our people are educated and affluent, believe in and practice Anekantvad (multiplicity of truth) and our monks and scholars are very learned and practice what they preach. Such a well disciplined and organized community can be great source of strength and a catalyst for change. The Jains in North America must now start interacting with other non-Jains groups, organizations, associations.


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