Jainism-Present & Future in The West


By Chandraprakash Shah


Not a single civilization has remained permanent except Jainism from eternity. This has become possible due to their concept of no creator, no protector and no destroyer theory. Each soul is creator, protector and destroyer of itself. This theory is given to all in the lineage of each family. Jain culture and heritage is quite different than others. Our fore fathers had sown the seeds of civilized society in to their successors. If we continue to such legacy we must educate our generation with this gift of civilization. It can only be obtained through the first stanza of Tattavarthsutra as mentioned above. Jains are capable of removing all the obstacles that appear in their path.

People in the East and particularly in India are very much curious to observe how the Jainism is observed and how it will flourish in the West in the forthcoming ages or future.
1. What will be the future of Jainism in the West where there are no monks and nuns to practices?
2. How rites and rituals will be performed in absence of monks and nuns as they are at present being performed in the India under the direct supervision and guidance of the holy teachers?
3. How the teachings of Bhagwan Mahavir and other Tirthanakaras will be taught?
4. What will be the ideal situation for the monks and nuns to reside permanently in the western atmosphere?
5. What can be the rules for an ascetic order out side India if they are allowed to stay in the western world and under whose authority to promote Jainism?
6. These and many other questions are arising in the mind of Indian as well as Western Jain Community.

Let us begin with the History of Jains who migrated to West from African and Indian sub-continents.

Since the beginning of the 20th Century large numbers of Jains have migrated to Western world in search of business, livelihood and earning. Some have emigrated from African sub—continent. Originally they migrated to African countries like Mombassa, Kenya etc. However, due to political turmoil in those countries they again immigrated to Western worlds, particularly to USA and UK. There are approximately 200,000 Jains living out side India and mostly in USA and UK.

They immigrated to these countries for better off. However, they maintained close link with their mother land and always eager to maintain their heritage and cultural values. Conditions prevailing in these countries are quite different than that of in India. Culturally they are isolated. As the time passed over they mixed themselves with the western culture just as Parsis were mixed up with Gujarati community hundreds of years ago in India. It is worth noting that even after mixing with entirely different cultural Jains maintained their identity as Jains. They tried to promote Jainism and Jain way of life within the framework of Western atmosphere without diluting Jain ethics and traditions.

We can observe that many Jain temples have been erected in USA and two in UK. All the different segments of Jain Community have their own place of worship in USA and Europe. The Jain Centre of New York and temples at various cities of USA are the glaring examples of keeping in touch with Jain rituals. Further Jain Temple of Leicester and Pottesbar in UK provide enough proof for the adherence to Jainism. Jain Temples in Japan, Nairobi, and Mombassa etc are also the symbolic features of the Jain community to remain attached with our heritage and culture.

Contrary to the Indian tradition and only two fields development at present, namely, Jinalayas and Jina images, the Western world is concentrating and developing on Knowledge acquiring system about Jainism. Majority of the students are non-jains. We the jains either in India or in the West lack sufficient knowledge and its presentation in the modern atmosphere. We only look from point of view of performing rites and rituals. Our forefathers studied the Jainism in depth and cultivated the habit of it to perform in the daily use. The non-jains are attracted tremendously towards the principles of Jainism particularly Ahimsa.

The quest for Jain studies and knowledge has also risen to such a level that more or less spiritual leaders and scholars are being invited on the auspicious Jain festivals to deliver the goods. Not only Jains but non-jains are attracted towards Jainism. Various Jain education academies are being started and some of them are already set up. There are courses in Jainism starting from root level to Doctorate level. They are also being offered in the foreign Universities. Jain centre for studies at SOAS in London, Birmingham and De’ Montford Universities in UK and Harvard University in USA are the notable in this respect. A course in Jainism at Hawaiian University is also going on. A summer school vacation batch of five to twenty students is also being arranged from USA and UK to India for studies in Jainism with practical experience. At Antwerp University in Belgium a course in Jainism is offered under the department of Comparative study of World Religions. Majority of the students are from China and Japan. JAINA of USA is doing splendid work in promoting Jainism outside India. They are using the entire latest technology to spread Jainism in its various fields. Jains of USA normally, take out pilgrimage tour of India every year during fall season and keep themselves abreast with the latest development in Jainism.

There is bright future of Jainism in the Western World. UK government has given its recognition to Jain Faith and now it is at par with other nine faiths such as Christianity, Muslim, Buddhism, Bahai’s, Sikhism, Judaism and Hinduism. In all government correspondences related to faiths now the Jain Faiths will be included. In my opinion, its Indian counter part lacks in this regards. Jains of India do not pursue the matter vehemently at the government level and always occupied in small petty issues of infightings. The requirements of the Jain community dispersed throughout the world and of prospective converts are not being catered to for the lack of ascetic order in the Western world. If there is a four-fold organization out side India this will be an added advantage for the promotion of Jainism in the Western world and its future will be brighter.

Now it is a time to create four-fold organization outside India for the reappraisal of traditional practices. Ascetics are an added value as they represent idealistic view. There must be some relaxations in the rules governing their stay in the world outside India depending upon the circumstances of the country but within the frame work of vows being observed in India. This is not the only criteria. There are other fields too to flourish Jainism in West.

Muslims, Hindus, Buddhist, Sikhs and others have single body to represent their faith at different local, statutory and government levels. Although Jains have different organizations they lack a supreme body to negotiate and take care of the community at all the levels. The bodies of other faiths have developed such a infra-structure that their views and needs are broadcasted to the rest of the societies among whom they live in. There is no single body to represent Jains at educational, religious groups, interfaith and multifaiths organizations, social organizations and other institutions. In order to perceived needs of jains there are several questions arising for consideration.

As a matter of principle there should be as very fewer digressions as possible from the prevailing practice in India. Whatever form of adaptation of practice take place in the West it must have authentication from the Sangha and Acarya in India. Practically, we can consider as under:

Infrastructure in the West
International Head quarter
Resources and Staffs|

There will be separate rules and regulations governing movement, life style, gochari etc for ascetics
Initiation and renunciation in the West under the guidance of ascetic available here with the blessing of their heads in India.

Status of Ascetics
Ascetics attached to Interfaith and Multifaith activities
Another cadre of Jain Priest can be created who can look after:
Daily Pathshala work
Promotion of Jain Values
Their role on socio-religious occasions
Betterment of community affairs
Local Community can take care of them and their families
There can be rules and regulations for laymen and laywomen too.
They must promote the jain values in the family and community
Try to cultivate habit of Right conduct
They should take religious education and provide the same to family
Muster support for Jains
Look after Monks, nuns and priests
Look after the management of places of worships
Provide necessary funding (Those who are capable) to community
Actively participating in Jain rituals.
A category of Karsevak can be initiated.

If we nicely put into the actions our thoughts with well developed marketing strategy, publicity and provide e-technological data there is no reason why Jainism cannot have bright future in the West. If we do not act collective, as other minority faiths have done in the West, our very existence is in danger. Jains are capable of doing anything but they do not want to do for Jainism. Just have a look to an idea of our Mahajan culture of the past, how much influence they had on the rulers of their time. Observe minutely examples growth and development of Swaminarayan faith and the Brahmakumaris in the recent years. They have more or less branches in all the countries.

We have more to offer to the world than other faiths on the platform of Ahimsa, Anekantvad and Aparigraha as well as Celibacy. Our teachings, ethics, peace processes, philanthropy, compassionate behaviour to all living beings, ecological and environmental issues and economics of day to day life are unparalleled in the world. We are at present only concentrating on “Three A” but we forget that Celibacy covers all the remaining four major vows. If it is impossible to observe Celibacy in total, it can be restricted to certain stages. I do not say that we should go back to “Brahmcaryashram” stage, if that can be done it is an added fragrance, however, one can certain refrain from sensual pleasures. The role of Ascetics appears here in the picture. Their idealism and vows certainly can change the scenario. We Must be the Salesman of Mahavir’s Teachings

The four fold organization of the Sangha is the main spirit behind the livening of the Jainism. The close and constant rapport with ascetics make the lay people very much inclined to the value of own faith. We must have well trained, full fledged full time professionals to manage the show as other faiths have such infrastructure in the West.



Author : Mr. Chandraprakash Shah
49, Highfield Avenue, London NW11 9EU
Tele : 004402086320544, 00917926604559, India
E-Mail : chandraprakashshah@rediffmail.com & CShah90@aol.com


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