Jain Nuns Spread The Faith, Seek State Of Supreme Being

Posted: 02.01.2011
Updated on: 06.12.2011


 FIU Student Media

Miami, Friday, January 21, 2011

Light beams through the half-open window into the spacious white room, reflecting on the glass top of a bamboo frame table. Surrounding the table, three generations of Jain nuns sit cross legged on the floor breathing peacefully the heavy air of a hot Miami rainy day.

Samani Chaitanya Pragya, the senior of the three, maintains a perpetual stare into the distance and closes her eyes as if succumbing to a deep, wise sleep.

Mumukshu Sheetal, the youngest of the three, fidgets her garments with a wide smile as if waiting for a chance to talk, and Samani Unnata Pragya sits in the middle of the two observing every move in the still room with a benevolent stare.

The voice of Samani Unnata Pragya breaks the silence

“We are an order, a team; we are sisters connected by Jainism.”

Samani Unnata Pragya is a Jain nun who teaches Asian religion, spirituality and meditation at FIU. She has been living in Miami for four years but is originally from Bangalore, India.

Identified by students and staff as Samani Ji, she is also the director of the Preksha Meditation Club and practices traditional Jain customs.

“We dress in white because it symbolizes purity,” Mumukshu Sheetal said. “It’s also a reminder of the path we’ve chosen; it’s harder to turn back.”

Free from any material attachment, the room where they spend their days looks empty and bare apart from a mattress on the floor, a chair and a small table.  There aren’t any TVs, radios or air conditioning. The only sounds are the casual strokes of the wind against the curtains and the occasional chatter of passersby.

“Life is simple for us,” Samani Ji said. “What might be an attraction for you might be a distraction for me.”

According to Samani Ji, Jainism consists of the total detachment from the material. It embraces the idea of nonviolence and self-effort in order to elevate the soul to divine consciousness and liberation. The goal is for a soul to conquer its own inner enemies and reach a state of supreme being called a Jina.

“All this comes with great effort,” Samani Ji said. “We wake up at 4 a.m. every day for our daily prayer and we have many rules we must follow.”

Forbidden by Jainism to participate in any activity that might involve violent behavior, Jain nuns cannot cook or drive. The cooking is done by Mumukshu Sheetal, who is in the process of becoming a Jain nun, and they must rely on walking for transportation.

“You’ll find them crossing the street in a single file at 8 a.m. on the dot,” says Florida International University student Laura Flores, who lives in Kendall and drives past Vista Verde Community every day before class. “As far as I know, they haven’t missed a day.”

As Samani Ji straightens up, her face becomes contorted with emotion. The gazes of Mumukshu Sheetal and Samani Chaitanya Pragya are upon her as she leans forward and closes her eyes.

“Life was not always this way though,” she says. “I once lived a common man’s life.”

Samani Ji decided to devote her life to Jainism at the age of 23. “Back then my life consisted of attending college, spending time with my family and socializing with friends,” she says, noting that she graduated in India with a bachelor’s in science with hopes of becoming a doctor for the spiritually dedicated.

“I enjoyed cartoons,” Samani Ji recalls. “I liked Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck because they didn’t have much violence and they kept us happy.”

Samani Ji lived with her parents and was very close to her aunt, Sadhvi Laksya Prabha.

“My aunt is my inspiration,” Samani Ji says. “She was always peaceful and willing to help others.”

Samani Ji says the main reason she chose to devote her life to Jainism came when she witnessed a friend’s family fall apart due to illness.

“I’ve always been a sensitive person,” she says. “The fact that I could choose my state of being appealed to me.”

Samani Ji joined the Parmarthik Shikshan Sanstha, a training center in Bangalore that specialized in helping monks and nuns become acquainted with Jainism.

“It represented more or less a test to see if you could devote yourself to Jainism,” Samani Chaitanya Pragya says.

Samani Ji stayed in the training center for six years until she received her renunciation ceremony. A training nun or monk may continue training in the center for as long as he/she needs.

“It is only when you are ready to detach from the world that you pass to being a Samani nun,” Mumukshu Sheetal says.

“In the training center, every nun is appointed a guru,” Samani Ji says. “My guru guided me through my decision to travel to Miami and teach religion.”

A Samani nun may take two paths in life: one being an academic or teaching path, and the other one a leader in the Jain community.

Receiving an education, traveling and leading an enriching life are common lifestyles for a nun before devoting their lives to the religious path.

“The primary goal before seeking enlightenment is doing everything you want to do,” she says. “You may not know you want something unless you try it.”

Samani Ji travels to India every summer to meet with her guru. During that time, she visits family, attends philosophy chats, studies scriptures and composes scripts for spiritual dramas. She also takes part in Indian traditions.

“At dinner time,” Mumukshu Sheetal says, “we travel from house to house; each person sharing a bit of their food.”

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Lucia Sastre / Contributing Writer