Jainism – a way of life
QUESTIONS PEOPLE ASK ……….
I go and lecture at various institutions and privately held meetings. Some of the most common questions being asked are given here.
Q. You say Jainism does not believe in creation. Does it not mean Jainism does not believe in God?
A. The Jain idea of God is that of a human being who achieves nirvana after completing the cycle of life and death. There is no creator God, but Jains believe in the divinity of man. Every being has a potential to become God. Jains say that no one has created this universe. There is no super, divine being- almighty. Jains reject the idea of such God or Gods. According to Jainism, this universe came into existence on its own and it will exist in one form or the other (matter or energy).
However it is a well-known fact that most Jains go to temples and worship God. The images in the temple are that of Tirthankaras who once existed on the earth and who have attained omniscience and then nirvāna. Jains would say that every being must look up to God, praise him and worship him or meditate upon his qualities in order to get inspiration, strength and divine vibrations.
Q. Shouldn’t Jain monks travel outside India and spread Jainism?
A. This is an age-old question. Monks (and nuns) take five great vows when they are initiated into the sangha. These vows are quite strict and forbid them to do any himsā (violence). It has been argued that mechanical means of transportation can cause himsā. However people argue that when Lord Mahāvir was alive there were no motorcars, trains and planes anyway.
Others say that in this day and age one must use the modern facilities and technologies. A scholarly monk can only reach the distant places by using cars and planes. This will help the Jain religion as people who live in countries like England and the USA are deprived of the gracious presence of monks/nuns.
So issue can be looked upon from both sides. What Lord Mahāvir would have said about this is a topic for speculation. However by and large Jain Āchāryas have maintained that it is this strict code of conduct, which makes Jainism unique, and a well-respected faith in the world.
Q. Jains are very strict as far as Ahimsā is concerned. Does it mean Jains do not believe in defending the country or joining army?
A. There are instances in the history that Jains have taken part in military matters. A minister called Udayan in Gujarāt went to a battlefield and fought for his own country. These instances however, are rare in the Jain history. There are very few Jains in the military. This is due to the fact that they do not want to commit himsā (violence) directly. Some monks in the past have taken a view that one must defend his country, his honour and his religion at any cost. Killing an oppressor or a tyrant will be a lesser kind of himsā as it is committed to protect the interests of larger section of the community. Again this is an issue with two arguments. Individuals should decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong.
Q. Mowing grass in the garden is himsā (violence). What is your view about this?
A. The Āchārānga Sutra clearly states that plants have life and they have feelings of pains and pleasures. Mowing grass is definitely one kind of violence but on the other hand one must not forget that if grass is allowed to grow wildly it would harbour (and eventually be killed) many lives which may cause more damage to the garden and the property. Also one must keep his garden tidy in the interest of social contacts with the neighbours. This again is one of the responsibilities of a house-holder.
Q. Why Jains do not eat potatoes and other root vegetables?
A. Potatoes are regarded as kand-mool (root vegetables). Jains have been advised not to eat this because potatoes are anantkayas (have many lives). When you pick up root-vegetables, which grow under the topsoil, you are likely to harm other living beings (like worms) too. Most Jains are very strict about not eating potatoes whilst other say we should think less about these issues and concentrate on other virtues.
Q. There are too many Jain temples in India. When I went to India, I noticed that even today many temples are still being built. Why are’nt they spending money in charitable activities?
A. Temple building and installing idols in a temple is considered very meritorious act which is capable of removing some bondage of karmas. The activities of temple building have increased considerably in last 15 centuries. One can see something like 800 temples on the hills of Shatrunjaya alone. Devoted people feel happy and their faith gets strengthened on worshipping an image of Tirthankara. It must be noted that the temple built by the Swāmi Narayan people in Neasden, London is not only a source of inspiration for the devotees but a landmark which has promoted Swāmi Narayan Movement in the western world. Jain temple(s) in London would serve the same purpose. (See chapter No. 6 also)
Jains have special rules about different types of funds. Any money collected in temples and during rituals can only be spent in building a new temple and /or restoration of an existing temple. This fund is called dev-dravya (god’s money). Dev-dravya cannot be used for any other purposes.
One can understand why this rule was made hundred of years ago. Now the situation is quite different. There are more then 10,000 temples in India and more are being built. There are many towns and villages in India where old temples are not being properly looked after because Jains have migrated elsewhere. Jains have accumulated large funds for dev-dravya and less for other purposes. e.g. welfare of the people.
The new generation is asking questions about the fairness of this rule. New ideas have started to emerge whereby Jains have increasingly started to open up hospitals and educational centres with the blessings of monks and nuns. This is proving to be a very positive move forward by the Jain community both in India and abroad.
Q. Surely, Jain religion is very hard; its strict code of conduct makes it very difficult to practice. Jainism is not for a man working in the City and having a busy life…
A. Jainism is as strict as you perceive it to be. Religion is of course very personal. Jain Āchāryas say that you have to practice the religion yatha-shakti (as per your capacity) and according to the desh-kala (place and time). One can interpret this to mean that Jainism allows you to walk the path of gradual progression provided your heart is pure and conscious is clear
Q. How can I observe the rule of ‘not to eat anything after sunset’ (Ratri- bhojan parityag or Anāthami) in England. In the month of December, sun sets here at 3.45 p.m. in the afternoon whereas I come home after 6.30 p.m.
A. It is quite true that even if you want to practice anāthami you may find it very difficult because of the timings of sunset in the UK. The sun sets at about 9.45 p.m. in the month of June, whereas it can be as early as 3.45 p.m. in the month of December. Just because the sun sets at 9.45 p.m. does not necessarily mean that one should eat as late as this in the summer. Similarly in December you don’t have to stop eating before 3.45 p.m. because of your job. Considering these two points one should make up one’s own mind regarding a suitable year round time to eat. (My advice is based upon the fact that something is better than nothing).
Q. I do not understand the rituals and I think they are unnecessary. Surely this is not true Jainism.
A. First of all we must consider what do we mean by rituals. Have you seen the scenes of Opening of the Parliament in the House of Commons? They stick to their precise timings and method with utmost discipline and age-old routine. Religious rituals are somewhat like that event. When you want to pray or worship in a mass you must devise a proper method and decide the exact time and also which sutras you want to recite. This brings discipline into people. Nowadays people have started criticising this because everything is followed very rigidly and the language in which sutras are recited is no longer in common use. If you understand the meaning of the sutras you will see that they are indeed very good. The method adopted is fair and keeps the community spirit alive.
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