Western Perceptions Of Jainism ► [05] Misconceptions, Achievements and Current Expectations

Posted: 02.06.2005

In our survey of western perspectives on Jingoism we have considered some of the factors involved in the meeting and understanding of western and eastern thought. There remains time to mention but two more major items. In the homeland of Jainism the mainspring of the teaching is with the renunciants, the homeless women and men who go around possessionless, begging their livelihood and teaching and ministering. They cannot cause harm to life by using a cart, a car, a ship or aircraft. It would be a failure not to uphold the principles embodied here. In former times Jainas dealt with such difficulties as best they could, sometimes by splitting the community. This is not a way they wish to take today. Gurudev Chitrabhanu came to America in 1971 and has established an International Meditation Center. Acharya Sushil Muni came in 1975 and has established Siddhachalam, a community of renunciants and householders. For some years Ganadhipati Acarya Tulasi of Ladnun in Rajasthan has been working to authorize orders of monks and nuns who are dispensed from the vow of travelling only by foot. These samanas and samanis have been visiting and teaching in Europe and America. In addition much has been and will be done by the use of the printed work, by cassettes, videos and films and by short visits to and fro. But the most important new factor of all has been the silent manifestation of the Jaina diaspora, "the seed scattered abroad," the people who have settled outside India. Between the 1960s and the 1990s a Jaina diaspora appeared in Britain and English-speaking North America with a "presence" in Kenya, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and outliers in such places as Australia and New Zealand.


Useful information on the growth and organization of the Jaina diaspora will be found in Michael Carrithers and Caroline Humphrey: The Assembly of Listeners. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991 and Marcus Banks: Organizing Jainism in India and England, Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1992.


Some of these had come from Uganda as a result of Amin's madness, others had come as Ethiopia and Tanzania indigenized, nationalized and socialized their economies. Most came as highly trained and needed professionals or entrepreneurs or men and women of means who could provide employment and create prosperity. The Jainas have come in peace and dwelt here in non-violence seeking to serve and prosper the life of the communities they have joined. Dr. Sulekh Jain, President of the Federation of Jaina Associations of North America which was founded in 1981 to coordinate and promote knowledge of and service by Jainism in this continent, in considering what the newspapers have said of the effect of the westerners' activities in the first thirty years after Columbus' landing in Santa Domingo, he contrasted what had happened in Jaina history in the west during the thirty years just gone by.


Paraphrased from notes made at a Jaina meeting in the Fremont (California) Hindu Temple. 17 October 1992.


The serendipity of their coming is that at the time when we westerners realize we are desperately in need of help in our attitude to the divine, to science, to our fellow men and women, to life together in community, and in all forms of violence and poverty, to death, to the environment, here there has appeared among us a group whose long history proves they have ideas, answers and methods which will be of help.


See for example S. Settar's Inviting Death. l.eiden & New York: Brill, 1988 and Pursuing Death. Dharwad: Institute of Art History, Karnatak University, 1990.


Given time and space it would not be difficult to expatiate usefully on each one of these items where Jaina thought and example could greatly assist us. Here four side-glances must suffice. Their contribution on ecology has been briefly noted already. On death, just as we are at last giving deeper attention to euthanasia, research is telling us to be aware of jaina thought and action on this.


It has not been possible in this paper to refer to Jainism's contribution to scientific thought. But any one wishing to follow up that important and highly relevant topic would find Protessor K. V. Mardia's The Scientific Foundations of Jainism. New Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass 1990, full of valuable insights and guidance.


On the divine, if I may judge from my students' essays, it is a great weight lifted off young shoulders if those who resent the "guilt trips" hung on them by the way in which God has been presented to them; learn of a concept of divinity which is not conveyed in terms of an angry God meeting out punishments. As to Religion and Science, Jainism can help put the sad tragicomedy of what happened over Galileo and Darwin into its historical context of mistakes made by certain groups of Churchmen in a particular context. In the latter case for example, for what it is worth, if a jocular anecdote be permitted and if one can trust oral tradition, apparently an Oxford Union undergraduate debate did much to set the alternatives for man's descent as being either from the angels or from the apes. 20


Collaborated by a conversation with Dr. Gregory Bateson in September 1972 at Kresge College. U. C. S. C. This oral tradition was first heard by me in October 1946 on being shown the Oxford: University Union debating hall. Apparently “the members of the house" voted as much as anything on the brilliance of the oratorical presentation. In the debate on the origin of our species to the disgust of the defeated Huxley people the Wilberforce group used the words of Psalm 8 to clinch their argument, descent from monkeys or from beings "but a little lower than the angels."


But to return to the Jainas, it is by no means inevitable either that they should continue their intellectual brilliance and contribution or that they will open it up to others. They are not the kind of people who will come and push things at us. They have not yet fully emerged from 3000 years of vulnerable minority status, surviving by their integrity but also by striving to be inconspicuous. They are facing life in a new situation and their greatest concern must be to see their own children in a strange and perilous environment get a proper chance to choose on their own behalf to be Jainas with full knowledge and singleness of purpose. The modern world is a great wiper out of genius and tradition. But if the Jaina community in the west can survive and in an appropriate and understandable way open their religious and intellectual treasures to the people around them, it would make all the difference in the world to outsiders whose only recourse is trying to learn about it from books. As the books give it, it is to many of us apparently stern, cold, and frighteningly demanding of intellect and years of sustained self-discipline. Learning of it from living and practicing people would convey some of the love, delight, and comprehensibility, warmth and fellowship which are its keynotes. Jainas very sincerely will say. "But we do not want to proselytize and make converts." Outside their intellectual obsession with vast numbers in metaphysics and mathematics Jainas do not give a hoot for numbers. They have suffered so much by attacks from other religions they would eschew any kind of sheep-stealing. But there are many among us of no adherence who would like to join them. Besides this, learning from them could do much to produce better Christians, better Muslims, better Jews, better non-believers, better humans, better science, better ecology, a better cosmos. The Parliament of 2093 will tell those who come after what success or failure is achieved.

As a conclusion let us add an invocation.

Year after year at the degree-giving we call "Commencement", it is usual to deliver an invocation. Until recently it was fairly usual, despite the wall of partition and the separation of Church and State, to mention God. Supreme Court rulings now make this dubious. The great Jaina Namaskara Mantra more than meets the legalities and is full of dignity, antiquity and power.

Without trespassing on anyone’ s beliefs we may thus conclude:

Namo Arihantanam
Namo Siddhanam
Namo Ayriyanam
Namo Uvajjhayanam
Namo Loe Savva-sahunam
Eso Panch Namokaro
Manglananch Savvesim
Padhamam Havei Mangalam
[Avasyaka Sutra 1.2]

I bow to the Victors
I bow to those Liberated Souls.
I bow to the Preceptors
I bow to the Spiritual Teachers
I bow to all Saints
This five-fold obeisance
Wipes out all evils,
Amidst that which is auspicious,
This is the most auspicious.

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