Essay on Jainism by Nelda Nichole Kerr

Posted: 18.04.2012
Claremont Lincoln University

About 3 months ago, Claremont Lincoln University ran an essay competition to select candidates who want to go to India to study Jainism during ISSJS Classes in 2012. They were asked to write on why they want to study Jainism...

This Divine Life Expands: A Request to Study Jainism in India

The birth of Claremont Lincoln University has been a true gift to witness. As I have worked towards my Master of Arts degree in Philosophy of Religion over the past two years, Claremont has provided a space for intellectual and spiritual exploration that fosters respect for all religious traditions. Still, we are not confined to traditional methods of exploration. We are training religious leaders by allowing them to create new relationships, develop new skills and work in new mediums that will undoubtedly change the face of religion now, and in years to come.

The addition of the International School for Jain Studies (ISJS) and the Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA) to the Claremont Lincoln family is no exception. We have invited in a partner that, for over 3,000 years, has seen beyond the boundaries that religious dogma can create. On September 6, 2012, at the opening of our new school, I was particularly taken by the compassionate presence of our Jain brothers and sisters. Their message of nonviolence and religious discipline, their excitement to put these values into action, and their willingness to meet with us, where we are, to do this work, is inspirational.

It is with great excitement that I submit my name for consideration to study Jainism in India during the summer of 2012. This would be a true learning experience for me, as my studies have primarily focused on Christianity, Buddhism and Sufism. Still, I feel my 5 years of vegetarianism (including 2 as a vegan), my commitment to meditation and philosophical inquiry, and my child-like curiosity will carry me well into this new setting. I am a seasoned traveller, and would look forward to learning the practices and wisdom of this tradition in a new culture.

Much of my spiritual journey has been fueled by a love for poetry and song. The Jain tradition is rich in poetry, poetic mantras and music. It is my hope that the program will invite us to share in music and storytelling, as well as lecture and discussion. I wish to explore their revered libraries and take in the beauty of their traditional artwork.

I take all of these elements to be reflections of the Jain Mahavratas, or ‘Great Vows’ (anuvratas or ‘small vows’ for laypersons). I will look for their mark on the form and style of Jain artistic expression. When Nonviolence (ahimsā), Truthfulness (satya), Non-stealing (asteya), sexual chastity (brahmacarya) and non-attachment (aparigraha) are taken seriously, one’s life becomes a thing of beauty, a work of art. I have great respect for this path, and will open my heart, eyes and ears to its truth.

I am captivated by the sound of the Sanskrit language. I have been selected as a reader for the Jain Recording Project, and look forward to lessons in tongue placement and pronunciation this Spring, which will surely help with communication during the six-week fellowship. As I continue my religious education, I will look for ways to use and share these speaking skills. The ability to pronounce key terms in each other’s languages can be a way of showing respect for one another as our relationships deepen.

I want to know the Jain religion intimately, but I am always more interested in getting to know people. I will be excited to meet professors and students who, like me, have a thirst to study religion. These relationships will come to embody the interreligious spirit of Claremont Lincoln, and I will nurture them with love and trust.

Though I will be a representative of Claremont Lincoln University, I will also carry the experiences that led me to study at Claremont. I was raised in Independence, MO. My parents did not graduate from college, and they did not practice any specific religion. They raised me to carry respect for all people, no matter their background, and especially for myself. They have accepted my decision to practice Christianity, and are very proud of my academic accomplishments. As I have dedicated myself to academic and religious disciplines, their support has been my foundation.

I studied for my Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy/Religion and English: Writing at Graceland University in Lamoni, IA. My advisor, Dr. C. Robert Mesle, seeing the limitations of studying the world’s religions in such a small, homogenous town, sent me to Toronto, Canada in the summer of 2008 to take an interactive course in world religions. The Jain Society of Toronto welcomed us into their beautiful center, fed us a traditional meal, invited us into their library and prayer hall, and shared with us their collection of idols that represent the various Jain sects. This small taste of Jain hospitality makes me confident that I should be well taken care of on this journey.

In short, it would be an honor to be selected for the 2012 fellowship to study Jainism in India. I am an earnest lover of knowledge who will seek every opportunity to learn, and will bring back the fruits of this experience to share in my academic and public writing, speaking and singing in Claremont and beyond. Thank you for your consideration.

Nelda Nichole Kerr
Claremont Lincoln University
January, 2012

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