Peace Through Dialog 2007 - JAINA - Next 25 Years

Posted: 09.10.2007
Updated on: 09.01.2009


Every two years,
the JAINA conventions
give the community
a rare chance to meet
the volunteers and elected
representatives and
participate in workshops
and discussions.
Every convention
demonstrates the
community’s enormous
goodwill for JAINA and
their hopes and
expectations; however, the
community at large does
not really interact with
JAINA.

Previously, I have chronicled the 25-year journey of JAINA from its inception to the silver Jubilee year of 2005. The formative years of JAINA have seen a phenomenal growth from a handful of centers in 1981 to 67 centers spread all over North America in 2007. Founding visionaries Gurudev Shri Chitrabhanuji and late Acharya Shree Sushil Kumarji inspired a non-sectarian organization that is the foremost example of unity in the Jain universe. Today JAINA serves over 100,000 Jains without any regard to language, place of origin or sect and is the largest such organization in the world. JAINA is seen as a model of unity around the world and admired for its ability to unite so many individuals with a common goal.

Admirable as JAINA’s accomplishments and stature are, it is time we paused to contemplate where we go from here. The next generation of Jains will have to meet new challenges and our growth will have to be a planned one. What follows is a discussion of ideas that have been considered many times in JAINA Executive Committee and at social occasions. The vision presented here is not a complete one – just to allow people to consider what the future course of JAINA can be.

JAINA is an umbrella organization – an organization of organizations. JAINA functions through Directors nominated by its member centers. It publishes a quarterly magazine Jain Digest that is mailed freely to 9,000 homes in North America and maintains a web site that provides information about the workings of JAINA. Every two years, the JAINA conventions give the community a rare chance to meet the volunteers and elected representatives and participate in workshops and discussions. Every convention demonstrates the community’s enormous goodwill for JAINA and their hopes and expectations; however, the community at large does not really interact with JAINA. At the end of the convention people go back to their homes and leave JAINA back in the hands of their representatives, very similar to participating in a wedding ceremony but leaving the newlyweds on their own thereafter.

This disconnect between JAINA and the community at large has been of great concern to JAINA leaders for some time and it must be addressed. The various committees of JAINA do strive to serve segments of the community. For example, the Education Committee creates uniform Pathshala curriculums for children of all ages; the Pilgrimage Committee arranges annual pilgrimages to Teerthdhams in India; the Scholar Invitation Committee facilitates visits of monks and scholars; YJP and YJA serve the young generation and JNF enables social interaction among young adults. World community service committee and North American family assistance committee taps into reservoir of generosity of community and funds relief operations world wide or helps needy families here. For all the useful services these and other committees provide, the impact of JAINA on the lives of most of the community members is fairly limited.

With some help from JAINA, the Jain community in North America will continue to get more organized, a few more centers will be formed and more Temples will be built in the coming years but for JAINA, the real growth will come from providing meaningful service to all the segments of the community. To provide that kind of service, JAINA will have to transform itself into a service organization. JAINA must provide service not only to the member centers but to the community at large. From strictly a volunteer organization it will have to become somewhat professional organization.

Something in our
upbringing prevents
us from discussing
life for the survivor
after the death of one
spouse. There are no
retirement communities
for our elders who
have special diet,
social and medical needs.
There is a need to build
senior activity centers,
day care centers and retirement
homes for them in
the same community
where they had lived and
worked for years.

The segment of the population that will demand urgent attention is the aging first generation that came here as students in the 1960’s. That group of early immigrants has now reached a retirement age. They have overcome enormous odds and created in this adopted land social and religious institutions that mirrored what they grew up with back home in India. They persevered, prospered and provided excellent education opportunities to their children. They take well-deserved pride in the achievements of their children but are now experiencing “Empty Nest” syndrome. As a group, we have paid little attention to the needs of this aging population. As individuals they may have secured a financial future for themselves but they have not openly debated their social future. Something in our upbringing prevents us from discussing life for the survivor after the death of one spouse. There are no retirement communities for our elders who have special diet, social and medical needs. There is a need to build senior activity centers, day care centers and retirement homes for them in the same community where they had lived and worked for years. A pilot project in warmer climate like Florida could be a first step in that direction. Our community does not participate very much in state sponsored services even though states do offer incentives for senior citizen projects. The irony is – this is not largely a financial dilemma for our seniors. It is plain and simple lack of planning. JAINA can take a lead in this area and help plan such communities.

The thirty and forty years old “Second Generation” has different needs. Many are in a secure financial health as they pursue their chosen career paths. Two paycheck families with young children at home keep them fairly busy. They are not very religiously indoctrinated and have little participation in rituals. Many of them grew up without being exposed to Temples, religious discourses or pathshalas. None existed for them. But deep in their hearts they harbor respect for their culture and their religion. They occasionally visit Temples and enroll their kids in Pathshala or dance schools but do not regularly contribute their time or treasures for ritual dominated religious activities. Many can’t read Indian languages and can’t teach their youngsters reading or writing language of their ancestors. They reluctantly accept erosion of old customs. They welcome any opportunity available for religious or cultural exposures for their children and are pleased when their children return from Temples reciting stories from scriptures or show interest in traditional Indian dancing or singing in Indian languages. This vital section of our community can be served by designing programs that they can identify with or see value in. Adult pathshala in English, Yoga and meditation classes, community service projects and interfaith seminars can make them regular participants and supporters in our centers. JAINA can design such programs and help centers to offer these programs.

YJA offers many programs to youth. Their Biennial conventions are a showcase of talents, idealism and the dedication of our young ones. But as their members enter colleges, many leave their hometowns and old connections behind. JAINA should offer programs on campuses to these kids in an effort to keep them in our folds. Scholarships, seminars and counseling can organize them and foster a relationship with local Jain centers. Area Jain centers can be encouraged to have outreach programs as students try to celebrate Jain festivals on campuses.

It is important to note that JAINA can undertake most of the above mentioned programs without spending a lot of resources and it can result in greater community participation.

It is time that
we started
planning for that
future and organized
ourselves into an
organization that not
only handles the here
and now, but
additionally looks
forward, plans
and anticipates the
future needs of our
community. The ideas
presented here
are the tip of the iceberg.
Many more will
materialize as we start to
discuss our future. It is
important that the
community members
give their input as to
which direction JAINA
should move.

Past three decades have seen a dramatic growth in our ranks and the future growth should be a planned one. Long Range Planning committee (LRP) of JAINA has produced excellent position papers under the title Vision 2020. Their group of dedicated volunteers have surveyed over 500 people and organizations like JAINA, YJA, YJP, local Jain Centers and Jains in small towns and large cities. They have studied functioning of Swaminarayan and Jewish communities and drawn a vision that could be the most useful tool as we chart our future. A four step plan prescribed by the LRP for JWOL – “Jain Way of Life” is a studied and sincere path to our future.

In addition to the services to various segments of the community described above, JAINA must prepare for the future by making some structural changes. As our numbers grow and we have more centers and more Temples, we must constantly reinvent ourselves. JAINA should have a physical facility: a North American headquarters in a large metropolitan city. It should offer frequent seminars on the core Jain principles of Ahimsa, Aparigrah and Anekant in various cities. JAINA should join hands with like-minded organizations such as Vegetarian Society of America, PETA and participate in more interfaith activities. JAINA can encourage our centers to open their doors to the local communities with programs like Yoga and community activities.

There are many independent Jain activities like JAIN WORLD web portal, International School for Jain studies or JIVDAYA magazine doing excellent work in their chosen area. A close relationship with these fine institutions can further JAINA’s goals and multiply benefits to the community by way of avoiding duplications of efforts and streamlining all our resources. Now is a good time for all of us to come together.

The core theme of JAINA – unity of Jains in North America, has made it the center of attention for Jain organizations throughout the Jain universe. JAINA stands out as the largest such organization in the world and that status brings with it certain special obligations. In this age of free flow of people, capital and ideas the whole world is our stage. To fulfill the manifest destiny of JAINA - a leader in unifying all the Jains everywhere, JAINA must participate in more international conferences and have active relationships with non-sectarian Jain organizations worldwide. To bolster its humanitarian activities everywhere, JAINA must seek an NGO status with the United Nations and a liaison office in India.

To fulfill the manifest
destiny of
JAINA - a leader
in unifying all the
Jains everywhere,
JAINA must
participate in more
international
conferences and have
active relationships with
non-sectarian Jain
organizations worldwide.
To bolster
its humanitarian
activities everywhere,
JAINA must seek
an NGO status with the
United Nations and a
liaison office in India.

Transformation of JAINA into a service organization will take some time but as a first step, JAINA should hold town hall type meetings at various centers and get the pulse of the community. I have attended several such meetings over the years and community response was always very strongly in favor of JAINA. We need to have many more such meetings. May be a web based forum – a discussion group - for members to give their input and JAINA to respond should be tried. To consider planning for senior citizen communities, a census of seniors and survey of their needs can be started with the help of member centers. The survey may also identify volunteers who will help make the project a reality. JAINA (education Committee) can develop national test or examination of Jain Pathshala a curriculum and curriculum for adult pathshala as it is developing JAINA E-Library consisting of Jain scriptures, Shastras, ancient and modern literature, stories, rituals, audio and video files etc. We should also supply University libraries with Jain literature.

Implementation of these ambitious future plans will need a coordinated action plan with financial backing. Long range Planning Committee of JAINA is projecting that by the year 2020 JAINA can have an operating budget of $10 million if every member family donates just $200 per year to JAINA. That kind of budget could allow us to have 30 full time highly qualified and talented staff combined with hundreds of volunteers to carry out our vision. The Planned giving committee of JAINA has estimated that over the next twenty to thirty years approximately ten to twenty billion dollars will be transferred from first generation of Jains to next generation. A major share of these transfers could go to our Government through income, capital gains, alternate minimum, gift and ultimately estate taxes. In the USA, tax laws generally are very favorable to generous people. Through Planned giving, one can be very generous to a charitable organization and at the same time pass on the maximum asset to their family members. As a non profit tax exempt religious organization, JAINA can be designated as beneficiary in one’s financial planning.

Our pursuit of our dreams brought us to this country many decades ago. Since then we have endured many obstacles and have developed into a powerful and thriving community in North America. As our proudest achievements, our children are in line to be the beneficiaries of our efforts. It is time that we started planning for that future and organized ourselves into an organization that not only handles the here and now, but additionally looks forward, plans and anticipates the future needs of our community. The ideas presented here are the tip of the iceberg. Many more will materialize as we start to discuss our future. It is important that the community members give their input as to which direction JAINA should move. As an organization thriving to better serve the people at large, JAINA is ready to listen to these ideas and serve as an organizing body to make sure our dreams of the next 25 years come true.

Dilip V. Shah


Jambudweep - Painting Courtesy - Mahendra Shah

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JAINA

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