Jainism on the Internet
By Mr. Pravin K. Shah
While the number of people in the world who formally consider themselves Jain is very small (about 5 million), it is a very special religion. The Internet offers us a channel, which can potentially allow the message of Jainism to reach as many people as material from faiths with 100 times more adherents (Hindus: 1 billion, Christian: 2 billion).
This brief article mentions about some of the Jain resources that are available on the net, that have been selected as samples. It also presents some strategies to use for placing information on the web. Jainism made its appearance on the web around the end of 1994. In 1995 I started making a personal list of Jainism related links, which I placed on the web as an indexed link. This collection of links has now grown to be very large. A few years ago I has compiled a note about type of Jain resources available on the web following a suggestion by Pravin Shah. At the JAINA Convention in Chicago, 2001, I had the opportunity to give a presentation "Jainism in the Internet Age". This note draws from these materials. .
While there are many excellent sites available on Jainism that should not dissuade anyone from creating his or her own web sites. I must say that simple and personal web sites on Jainism can serve as a powerful testimony. One should go ahead and build your own unique web site without worrying about possible overlap, although unique material will make a site more interesting. The way search engines work, the WWW is a great equalizer, and a small site can have a good chance of being found and visited.
There is no substitute for personal interaction. However written words and illustrations are a good way of learning quietly with ones own pace. That is why we need books. All the fundamental Jain principles have their origin in the texts compiled incorporating the teachings of Lord Mahavira and the kevalis of his sangha. They were transmitted orally through the shruta-kevalis and the acharyas. When writing became common, they were gradually written down. Jains had written books about 2,000 years ago. You can see monks carved under the Jina idols holding books, these idols found in Mathura bear inscriptions from Shaka and Kushan period. By 10th century, all the shruta (oral tradition) had been written down.
The next transition in technology came with printing which made Jains books widely available in early 20th century. Internet arrived at the end of the 20th century (about 1995), which is the next major transition. It is especially good for Jains who are a very small minority in the world. Overseas Jains have no Jain neighborhoods to support them; the Internet forms a new form of neighborhood. Only a few years ago Jainism was a mystery to most people in the world (indeed even in India), but today, anyone, in any part of the world, can access a sizable collection of articles, texts, pictures, even music related to Jainism. Just as Jains had embraced the technology of writing very early 2000 years ago, they have enthusiastically welcomed the Internet.
Internet had a wide impact on how we live and work. It is used for information, commerce and entertainment. It has also emerged as a major source of spiritual information and inspiration. Barna Research Group (1998) reports that 12% of the adults use Internet for spirituality. Even more significantly, 16% of the teens expected that in 5 years, they would use the Internet as a substitute for formal place of worship.
The teens have emerged as a major user of the Internet. About 34% of them use the Internet to make new friends and 28% use it to communicate with existing friends. 56% of them use Internet for finding music and 7% use it to buy things. The web developers need to arrange things so that their spiritual content is encountered during other activities. Below I give some samples of the Jainism related resources available on the web. It is intended to be only a small representative list. There can never be a complete list of resources because Internet is so dynamic.
General Directories: You can search the Internet using one of several search engines like Google, AltaVista or Yahoo. The newsgroups can be searched using groups.google.com. A large collection of Jainism related links can be found at: www.cs.colostate.edu and www.jainsamaj.org.
Personal web sites: These sites reflect the views and tastes of Individuals. They could be nicely done or can be simple, but they are always interesting. You will find several of them if you will use a search engine and search for Jainism. An example ispersonal.vsnl.com/booby
Intermediate & Special Interest Sites Jain Centers & organizations: Many of them in North America and some in other countries also now have a web site. Some examples are: www.jaina.org, www.yja.org, www.youngjains.org.uk www.jcgb.org, www.jcnc.orgjains.australians.com
Books: You can search university libraries, web based booksellers and some lists:catalog.loc.gov, www.jaindharam.org, of Printed Jain Books in English.htm www.hindibooks.8m.com, www.mlbd.com, members.tripod.com (amazon.com)
Tirthas: Its is certainly no substitute for real pilgrimage, but one can feel inspired by visiting sites like these. There are several supersites and several sites on individual tirthas.www.asahi-net.or.jp (Japanese) www.jainpilgrimages.com, www.jaintirthdarshan.com, (Hindi) www.rajtourism.com, www.jaintirth.org
Discussion groups: A lot of lively discussion takes place at several of the Yahoo lists. Some popular ones are www.groups.yahoo.com, www.groups.yahoo.com, www.groups.yahoo.com There is also a newsgroup: www.alt.religion.jain, which is archived atgroups.google.com.
Vegetarianism & Ahimsa: There are many excellent sites like www.ivu.org, www.bawarchi.com
www.veggiefiles.com, www.wizard.net Note that not all vegetarian recipes are suitable for Jains who have taken higher vratas.
Glossaries: See for example www.cs.colostate.edu
Jain Names: There is even a list of Jain baby names: www.jainfriends.faithweb.com
Texts: It may be quite surprising that several scholarly books and articles are now available on the web. Some excellent sources are www.terapanth.com, www.sendai-ct.ac.jp (original texts) www.jainworld.com, www.jinvani.com, www.angelfire.com, www.jainfriends.faithweb.com
Creating new web content
It takes strategic planning to reach the target audience and make an impact. Placing a highly respected book on the web will be in vain if intended readers do not come across it, of if they find it too hard to digest. A developer must keep the target audience in mind. I suggest that they consider these four
1. Devout Jains
2. Jains who are not especially devout. They are probably the majority of the Jains.
3. Friends of Jains (and Jainism), who know a little bit about Jainism, and want to know more.
4. Non-Jains, who have not encountered Jainism yet.
We need a variety of materials, not just scholarly. Some of the material should be relatively easy to understand and appreciate. "Jainism for Dummies"? Yes, often things that are plain and easy are absorbed best. The medium should be not just text but should include images, sound perhaps even animation. Simply placing material on the web will make it static. It should be updated time to time so that visitors keep coming back. Techniques for making some of the contents interactive or dynamic should be contemplated.
When a web site is created, often it reflects the interests of the builder. Some attempt should be made to take into account the interests of potential visitors. While large sites can need to be hosted on commercial servers, simpler sites can be hosted on free or low-cost servers.
Here is some advice from www.onmission.com
1. Be interactive, not passive. People who have grown up with cyberspace have little experience with passive media. Don't expect straight text or to hold anyone's attention in the online world.
2. Be networked, not hierarchical. Internet is most decentralized, antihierarchical medium ever devised. The online world will favor spiritual teachings that lack a complex hierarchy.
3. Think postmodern, not modern. Days of organized religion's privileged standing have passed; church must present its truths to people more accepting of a variety of religious perspectives.
4. Don't expect passive acceptance. In keeping with the postmodernism, people will be more likely to question authority. This questioning will empower more believers to take an active role in the spiritual community.
5. Be collaborative, not isolationist. Denominational distinctions have become blurred.
6. Be asynchronous, not time-bound. Online environment is unfettered by time or space. At any time and across time zones, two or more spiritual persons can gather in a chat room and "have church."
Jain Centers or Temples should all have a web site. Such a web site extends the reach of beyond the confines of the temple. All such sites should have some interactive components. They must be backed by volunteers who will answer questions, encourage people to visit or conduct guided tours if needed.
Publicizing the URL of the web site is very important. I suggest all of the following.
1. General Search engines: optimize site for submission and submit
* Use submission sites like: www.search.com/guides/submit
* Check Meta tags, contents, response time (image size, server performance)
* Check position of your site (watson.addy.com) time to time.\
2. Submit to specialized search engines/indexes:
* Submit to indexes devoted to Jainism, religion or India
3. Get links at related sites: send a compelling request
4. Do direct publicity on newsgroups, Yahoo groups and selected email addresses. Use very infrequently, otherwise it will be regarded as spam.
5. Monitor visitation by using a counter or a free counting service.For example, here is the top 4 URLs listed by Google (which is the most popular general search engine, with about 32% of the share). These can serve as examples.
A very interesting article "J@inism: A Guide for Net Surfers" can be found in the Souvenir Volume of the 4th YJA Convention, that gives an annotated list of over 300 sites.
Information Courtesy : Mr. Pravin K. Shah
Chairperson JAINA Education Committee
"Federation of Jain Associations in North America
509 Carriage Woods Circle Raleigh, NC 27607-3969 USA
Email - Pkshah1@attglobal.net Telephone and fax 919-859-4994
Websites - www.jaina.org and www.jainism.org