Essay on Jainism by Damian Geddry

Posted: 18.04.2012
Updated on: 30.07.2015

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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...

Six-Week Jainism Fellowship In India

I have noticed something funny about us Westerners. We are taught that enlightenment is a noun - a time, a place, and a period in history where we attained something - as in some thing: The Enlightenment. As if it were a static intellectual achievement that changed us forever. Perhaps it did. But I have an instinctive feeling that this is not the whole story. I suspect that enlightenment is a verb - something ongoing, unfolding and alive - as in a life. And yet the temporal enlightenment that we Westerners talk about seems to have forced the spiritual practices of Christianity into a corner, from which they are still struggling to emerge. The American culture of empiricism and achievement seems to have put Christianity on the defensive, by which the bible has become a petrified history book, and contemplative, mystical practices have been shoved into a dark closet. 

I took my first peek into that closet when I came to the Claremont School of Theology. Although I’m neither religious, nor a practicing Christian, I found the word “theology” too fascinating to ignore. And although I had no intention of doing graduate work at the advanced age of 45, my curiosity took over. This curiosity led me to a Masters Degree from Claremont, and a vastly more expansive view of the word god. Ironically, my understanding of god has become rather less personal, while my understanding of the word enlightenment has become significantly more so; hence my interest in the study of Jainism in India. I am a product of Western culture. I am oriented toward science, facts and reason. And I have come to believe in objectivity. But objectivity and belief call faith into question, because too often the notion of objectivity is simply my ego laying claim to the truth. And I still find it too easy to dress that truth in Christian mythology.

I will tell you that I have a housing facility for 25 people living with AIDS. I can inform you that I worked as a counselor in a free clinic for eight years. And I can proudly say that I sit on the board of the Gooden Center of Pasadena, a recovery program for men suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. And when Claremont Lincoln University was announced, I immediately volunteered to help advertise the school and its message of interreligious cooperation. Advertising was my previous paid career of 30 years. But my philanthropic behaviors are simply part of an acculturation by compassionate, Roman Catholic parents. And while these actions do jibe with the teachings of Jesus, I feel that Christians have saddled this man with too much divinity. In short, I believe the teachings of Jesus are metaphoric of something greater; something truly objective. And in the same way I felt that the Claremont School of Theology might help me come to terms with the objective values within Christianity, I’m now hoping that an ancient Eastern religion can help me with the next step: finding an objective voice within myself.

Am I asking too much from a religious tradition about which I know virtually nothing? Perhaps. But then, I came to Claremont with nothing more than a child’s understanding of Christianity - having left the church and my family at an early age. And still, the Claremont experience was nothing short of liberating. Now I come to you with little more than an intuition about objectivity, enlightenment, and Jainism. Is this delusional? From a distance, an immersion in Jainism actually looks like a logical step in my life experience. You see, as young man I took the practical step of joining Alcoholics Anonymous to address a growing problem with drinking and drugs. And in hindsight I recognize AA was my first spiritual practice - a daily encounter with ego, attachment and willfulness. It not only saved my life, AA expanded my life. But AA asks that you turn your will and your life over to a power greater than yourself. And after decades in this program, I realized I didn’t have one. So next I came to Claremont to see if there was truth buried beneath the rubble of Christian history and dogma. And in turn, study became my spiritual practice; a contemplative practice, so to speak. But I know I’m still operating on a borrowed value system. While I admit that some Christian stories resonate, I don’t know why. And I simply can’t place authority in an anthropomorphic father - primarily because he’s never spoken to me. Maybe I don’t know how to listen.

Or maybe I’m listening for the wrong voice. Which is why I want to study with you. My desire is to develop the kind of clear internal voice that I experienced during a class called Contemplative Anthropologies - a review of the meditative practices from many religious traditions. And, if you believe that Jainism can help me develop a wise, objective intuition within myself, I would like to take these skills back to the community of men at the Gooden Center and share it with them - in an effort to help them with their struggles against addiction. Like myself, many people in recovery are also estranged from their religious traditions, and yet a spiritual practice is key to sobriety. To address this problem, we are developing a program at the Gooden Center called Faith in Recovery - where people will have the opportunity to learn about different faiths and spiritual practices that can help them on their path to a cleaner, more conscious life. In short, this is the kind of ongoing growth and enlightenment that I am interested in. Truly, AA led me to Claremont, Claremont led me to you, and if my suspicions are correct, you may lead me back to the Gooden Center with a new, living practice for sobriety. This is my goal, and if you find it appropriate, I respectfully ask that you consider me for the six-week fellowship with the International School for Jane Studies.

In addition, my partner of ten years has expressed strong interest in this program. He is an elementary school teacher who works in an impoverished district in L.A. His goal is to bring non-violent practices to the youngest members of our culture. Luis Alfredo Galvan is not a student at Claremont, and therefore would pay his own expenses and fees. Alfredo was raised in Northern Mexico and is bi-lingual.

Thank you for this very generous opportunity,
Damian Geddry
101 Cornell Ave.
Claremont, CA 91711
949-533-9755

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Sulekh C. Jain