RIGHT EXPOSITION OF JAINISM IN THE WEST
N.L.Jain , Jaina Kendra, Rewa (M.P.) – 486 001.
I have utilised the
occasion of presentation of my paper on the concept of Zero in Jaina Texts"
at the IV Int. conference of Mathematics, Maebashi, Japan to visit the U.S. and
Canada. Many learned Jaina saints, Bhattarakas and scholars have been going to
the west for many years promoting Jainism as a world religion through their
lectures and practices. Many impressive narratives on these activities are
published in Jaina Papers here and abroad. My interest lay in learning the
effect of these tours on Western non-Jain and Scholarly world. Accordingly I
visited the religion or religious studies department of many universities, their
libraries and public libraries. I also met many faculty members of these
department. I learnt that there are numerous religion studies departments in
universities and abroad and also there are large number of students in them.
Despite this, there was hardly any knowledge about Jainism and its literature
among them. There was virtually no Jaina literature there (expect in Austin. T.X.)
However, there are courses on World’s Religions and we could find many
textbooks on this subject written by competent teacher scholars. The students
got the knowledge of Jainism through these books only. I read about 25 of these
books written between 1889 and 1999. (Two of them are published in India). They
describe Jainism in four to twenty four pages including some pictures of
architectural importance. I was surprised to read their contents about Jainism
in them. I could feel that there are many wrong conceptions about it among most
of the scholars and therefore students also. If such descriptions are read, the
new generation will have negative opinion. (This does not mean that all the
books have similar descriptions. Some books have good analytical descriptions
like the OUP books of 1996 and 1997). The reason for this could be that our
literature has neither reached the authors nor the publishers. Also whatever has
reached them, it is either indirect or traditional which have led them to
present it then way they have done it. Of course, this indicates the lop-sided
studies of these scholars. I do not know whether any attempt has been made to
remove these types of conceptions. How, otherwise, the same would have been
expressed even in the book of 1999. I also felt from all this that the western
world remains immune of these yearly lectures and expositions by about two
dozens saints and scholarly people. The appreciation of a system by others has a
better promotional effect rather than self-praise. Many books like "Seven
System in Indian Philosophy" (Trigunayat) and "The World Religions
Reader" (Rutludge) do not contain even any description about Jainism. Of
Course, Sikhism and its literature finds place everywhere. Many authors still
state Jainism and Buddhism are reformatory forms of Hinduism and they describe
them in a single chapter. Even many Indian Scholars in religious studies
departments they do not agree to Jainism as an independent religion. The
resident Indian Jainas also do not seem to attempt to remove these incorrect
concepts in their books. This is the case even with the books "Jainism in
North America" (1996) and "Conquerors of the World (1998). A similar
situation was pointed out by S.K. Jain in U.K. and Europe while he was a
visiting fellow there in 1992. Dr. Johrapurkar and Jain also felt the same way
much earlier with some suggestions. As a result there is need for purposeful
exposition of Jainism on global basis. Accordingly, we require to collect books
– text books, general books and reference books published during, say half the
century in different important languages and serialise the lop-sided or
incorrect views in them and try to prepare multi-faceted book refuting them
logically and send it to the authors and publishers so that they may modify
their views in the next edition of their books. I shall describe here only some
points for proper refutations.
Jainism in many books of World Religions in the West
The various concepts described in
these books may be classified under many categories.
Conceptions about Jainism
Barring few books, most books
still point out Jainism (and Buddhism too) as a reformed form of Hinduism. They
have been developed as a revolt against vedic tradition. Jainism is a minority
section of Hinduism. (Thrower, Hopfe, Munroe, Kaufman etc.)
Jaina Sect is a strange one and
it is understood difficultly
Jainism does not seem to be as
attractive as Buddhism because the Jaina texts are tasteless and difficult. They
are not understood by all.
According to Toynbee, Jainism is
highly self-centered. The self-centeredness is an intellectual and moral error.
It creates egoism. That is why it could not undergo expansion.
According to Basham and Scheitzer,
Jainism is basically selfish and negative. Its concepts of Arhat and Tirthankara
are based on selfishness. They are not all welfarist as the concept of
Bodhi-Sattva. (Despite this, Thrower agrees that the negative tendency has two
positive effects : (1) Satisfaction of curiosity about the knowledge of the fine
entitles and (2) Knowledge of external and internal world. These are also
The Jaina thought and practices
are extremist. The concept of theism, devotionalism, austerities and
non-violence are forms of extremism. In fact the western world feels strange to
think atheistic system as a form of religion. It questions about this point.
This type of system is the most difficult path for the progress of life and
Prof. Munroe opines that the
western religious system are more organised than the eastern ones.
Prof. Hutchinson opines that the
Jaina tenets are unwordly. This is not a religion for the world. However it
requires thinking why it is a living religion even today. The hedomist west gets
a shock by Jaina etc.
Some authors have assumed it to
be the religion of Salvation and austerities. The naked sainthood is essential
for infinite bliss.
Origin of Jainism
and Biography of Mahavira
Many books published upto 1995
have stated Mahavira as the founder of Jainism. Some authors,
however refer to the tradition of
Lord makers. Some books have stated Mahavira as the historical founder of
Jainism and they keep silence on the earlier history. Some authors have stated
that Mahavira gave Jainism a more positive from (Celibacy, penitential retreat
etc.) than Parshvanatha and he was renovator, modifier and time tuner of Parsvan
system. Despite the opinion of Dr. Rice and Dr. Zinmmer that Jainism existed
(though under different name of Nirgzantha) in Pre-Aryan (1900-2700 BC) these
authors seem to be lop-sided.
Almost all the books have
biography of Mahavira based on Kalpasutra (foetus transference, marriage, one
daughter, divine cloth etc.) Some authors agree to some miracles in his life.
However his biography is not as marvelous as Christ, Mohammed and Buddha. That
is why, most western scholar’s state his biography is not as unattrative,
formal less reliable and legendary. On the one hand, these authors agree
Mahavira to be a staunch austerity, adventurous, deep philosopher and capable
organiser (of four fold order) on the other, they state him a sage engaged in
extremely tormenting and inconscientious harsh austere life.
Though Jainism is said to be
naturalistic, the descriptions of his foetus transference etc. are stated to be
super natural. They seem to be more legendary. His period of 540-468 B.C. is
said to be better historical than 599-527 B.C. On this basis he is given
contemporarieness heretic scholars.
Many books have a number of
mistakes about his life (1) his place of birth (Patna), (2) age of initiation
(28 years) (3) acceptance of only peacock –feather broom (Pichi) and (4) 70
years of fourth aeon remaining after Mahavira’s salvation etc.
Almost all the authors have
stated the harshness of austerities as sermonised by Mahavira. These are
extremes. However, his philosophic concepts are fundamental and adventurous. He
was a wrestler of spiritualism and escapist from the physical world. His sermons
were generally meant for the minority of followers (Monks).
Jaina Tenets :
(1) Ethics and Practices
The Jaina Society may be
classified in tow categories (1) Majority (laymen) and (2) Minority (Monks). The
monk practices are general taken as model. In contrast, the conduct of laymen is
practical. Currently a third category intermediate between the two has also come
to exist. Its conduct is nearly monk like (but it has some freedoms like going
abroad etc.) All the laymen have six daily duties. The detail worship is
prominent among them.. This creates a positive mental state. Fynes, Hopfe and
others have described it on the basis of Svetambara system and no Digambara
process has been mentioned despite Jaini's book (1979).
Most of the western scholars
presume Jaina tenets as tenets of austerity and salvation. Many authors upto
1995 have postulated them to be following detachmental path where the life and
the word are negated and there is an idea of escape from both the corners. It is
pessimistic towards life and the world and discourages every type of activities.
Its ethics and practices are based on this concept. The Jainas are like Quakers-
worshipper of peace and satisfaction. But their five principles of non-violence,
non-false-speaking , non-stealing, non-sex and non-attachment possession are
indicative of the tendency of life negation. Prof. Hopfe states that the laity
generally observe the first three as far as possible but there is laxity in
observing the last two. However the monks and nuns do observe them fully.
Secondly all those five concepts have no boundary. They apply to all the living
creatures. Prof. Schwetizer has said that these concepts are not the basic
concepts of the Jainas. They are originated from their detachmental ideology,
which promotes inactivity in life. The Jainas talk about compassion etc. so that
they may become deatched from the world. What is the purpose there for others
for them? They accept the passionate in activity and negate the sympathetic
assistance for others. It is due to this that the Jaina ethics / practices
promote individualism and egoism (Acharya Rajnisha had also similar thoughts).
According to Basham also the Jaina ethics and practices are basically negative
and selfish. They are individualistic rather than socialistic. That is why, the
lifestyle of Jaina is controlled by harsh rules. This is the secret of their
longevity. Despite this, the Jaina tenets do not offer permanent happiness
without monkhood. This is in contrast with other religions.
All the above five principles of
the Jainas are the same for both the laity and monks. However, their total
observance is there in the monkhood only. (Many scholars discussed the effect of
the principles of non-violence in terms if the lifestyle of the Jainas in the
form of vegetarianism environmental preservation and non-involvement in
violence-involving professions. It is also influenced other systems too.)
Despite this Prof. Noss opines that the Jaina ethics detaches us from evil
actions and promotes the overall hapiness. Not only this the harsh austeritic
life has also an indirect effect of moving towards welfare of all and the self.
Despite the ethical code of the Jainas being individualistic, it accepts the
self as the maker of own destiny. It is not therefore, incarnationist. Its torch
bears are not bestowers of fortunes. But their remembrance serves a source of
direction and encouragement. That is why, the temples, worship and prayers have
no value for the Jainas. Despite the fact that their fundamentals are easily
comprehensible their elaboration and philosophy is not simple to be easily
The ontology of Jainas is duelist
(living – non – living) and pluralist ( six physical realities, nine
spiritual categories, seven spiritual reals etc.). The Scholars have opined it
as a realist ontology. It has an object of acquiring salvation by breaking away
the combination of living and non living (Karmas). The relationship of these
entities through Karmas is very interesting. Their non-living world is
atomistic. Generally, Jainism is not deterministic because of its realistic
nature. However it is naturalistic and a-theistic where there is no positivism.
It seems that man was initially a-theist. That is why Carvakism is said to the
oldest (Thrower). The Jainas do not admit actorship of God but they admit
capicity of Godhood in every living being and hence they are polytheists. It is
due to this that they could not be popular like the Carvakas.
The Jainas are not purely
devotionalists like the Muslims or Christians. They admit the triad of right
knowledge, faith and conduct. It is because of this multi-dimensionism that they
have been surviving since hoary past. The western world is not ready even to
accept any atheist system as a religion. (It is not even prepared to accept the
The Jainas are Karmists and
Aureolists. (This is the result of their psychological understanding). These
principles are also infested with pessimism. But these are the specific
principles of the Jainas, which serve as a spiritual glue for the
living-non-living combination. Rice has opined that Jaina ontology is totally
pessimistic. It starts from hylozoism and goes upto goodhood for all. He admits
the tetrad of love, compassion , happiness and peace of the Buddhists as
positive (but does not even mention the tetrad of friendship, happiness ,
compassion and neutrality of the Jainas.) They even call the positive of the
Jainas as leftist.
The concept of cyclically
devolving and evolving world also makes a bit under trouble. Their logistics and
epistemology is fine but complex. Their theory of seven fold predications also
confuses the western mind. However it is not consistent with determinism
(Mention of stand pointism is rare)
Jainism and Women
There are three times as many
nuns as male monks (Fynes). However their level has taken as inferior to monks.
In Svetambara tradition, women may have salvation while there is no salvation
for them in Dig. Tradition. (However it is the nuns who have preserved the
traditional Jain practices and rituals.
Jaina Religion :
It is agreed, in general, that
Mahavira was an excellent reformer and awakener of contemporary society.
However, most authors do not seem to admit Jainism as a social religion because
the general tendencies of society are heterodox with their principles. Moreover,
the individualistic principles do not apply to society (like the macro world
theories to micro-world). According to Schwetizer there are no principles useful
for society in Jainism. However if there are any, they have come from Hindu
Many authors have mentioned the
Dig./ Svet. Literature. However , Basham has clearly mentioned it to be
tasteless and scholarship – showing.
Almost all authors admit
origination of the two main schisms in the first century C.E. They also mention
about them. The non-idolator Sthanakavasi sect is also sometimes mentioned. But
Terapantha of Sve. And Taranpantha of Digambaras generally do not find mention.
The Jainas are generally found in
every part and state of India. However most authors have pointed Digambaras to
exist in south and the Sve in the north. (It is probable that this concept of
theirs might be with early historical perspectives. They have generally
forgotten central, eastern and western India (Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Jabalpur,
Calcutta, Dimapur etc.)
The Svet. Have been stated to be
more liberal and popular (on the basis of some of their tenets) than the
Digambara (stated as conservative).
It is only women who undertake
religious fastings. Also, it is only the males who participate in bidding.
Generally, there are no mention
of holy places in terms of salvation and miraculous places. However, Pavapur,
Sammed Shrikhar (and Kailash also) find rare mention. Of course Mount Abu and
Shatrunjaya (shravana belagola also) find mention due to their art /
Dr. Kaufmanns has stated that the
Jaina images are different from and unattractive than Buddha images. These do
not express the compassion and softness on their faces. When they are adored and
ornamented, they look fierce.
Almost all authors have expressed
holy death process as "Self starvation"
The Jainas have abandoned the
theory of nakedness for salvation and many Digambaras have adopted clothes while
The Jainas do not have spiritual
practices like the Hindus. However the practices of hair plaucking, harsh
postures, meditation under heat, fastings (Mahavira has approx. 4000 fasting
days out of 4380 days in 12 years) and the like are extremes and non
–conscientious activities. Rev. Murray opines that alms-begging and tasteless
foods are also such activities.
It will be clear from the
above as to what type of lop-sided and denatured concepts about Jainism are
there in the Western academic World even at the end of the 20th
century. About 70 % basic tenants of Judaism and Christianity are negative in
character but they are not taken in that way. However, the Jaina tenets are
called negative and secondary. Similarly, it is not proper to call Jainism as a
religion of monks only on the basis of some earlier texts. Many of its texts
contain laity practices for wordly welfare. The male and female laity are the
important components of four-fold order of Jainas and it is on them that the
institution of monks and the order has become so much long lived. The Jainas are
also credited for their non-violent professions (like banking, textiles,
transport, computers jewellery etc.) and rigid spiritual practices.
It is therefore, necessary to
prepare a book through the serious Jaina scholars to scholarly refute the above
mentioned ( and many others involving philosophical principles also) opinions.
The Institutions involved in promotion of Jainism abroad should come forward in
this project. To prepare such a monograph, one will have to compile various
points mentioned in western book published in the last fifty years (as suggested
earlier) an analyse them to present the correct picture of Jainism.. One will
have to abandon the status quoits concepts and to elaborate the dynamism,
positively and enormous capacity of happiness promotion of Jainism. It is hoped
that some National and International Jaina Institutions will come forward
leading to the rightful exposition of Jainism on global arena. Some of the
suggestions of S.K. Jain may also be taken of by them.
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