Reference Books - Jainism

 

The Jaina Path of Purification, By P. S. Jaini, conveys a picture of the tradition that is rigorous yet fun to read. It begins with a dramatic description of sallekhana, the outlines the basic Jain teachings and describes with flair the process of spiritual ascent through the fourteen gunasthanas. Though I had been familiar with some earlier studies on Jainism, this book brought the tradition alive for me when it was published in 1979. It helped inspire further studies of this important religion by a whole new generation of scholars.

The Jains, By Paul Dundas, provides a comprehensive historical survey. When I first met Paul at a Jain conference in Amherst, Massachusetts, shortly before the release of the book, I was quite dazzled with the depth of his historical knowledge and his familiarity with the primary figures of the extensive Jain literary tradition. The book brought to me new understanding particularly of the medieval and early modern periods. Gladly, a new edition of the books has just been published by Routledge 2002 with diacritical marks, a necessity woefully absent from the first edition.

Absent Lord : Ascetics and Kings in a Jain Ritual Culture, By Lawrence Alan Babb, The book combines fieldwork with historical research to produce and award winning account of Jainism. Babb, an anthropologist by training developed this study while engaged in field research in Rajasthan. He gives a wonderfully complete account of the relationship between Shvetambaras and Digambaras in northern India and provides a detailed account of the Data Gurus, the prominent leaders of the Tapa Gacch, who wielded considerable influence in the court of some Mughal emperors. He combines this historical perspective with close observance of contemporary ritual practices.

The Outlines of Jainism, By Jagmanderlal Jaini, published in 1916, provides and excellent brief overview of Jain thought. Written with great elegance and concision, this book needs to be republished. It includes helpful charts and summaries of key Jain stories and parables that add texture to one's study of the faith.

Umasvati's Tattvarthasutra translated By Nathmal Tatia, It summarises the Jain worldview in a manner accepted by both Shvetambaras and Digambaras. I used it with an undergraduate class on Hindu and Jain theology and the students loved it. It includes the root text with the original Sanskrit and summaries of the major commentarial traditions. The book is beautifully produced and well indexed.

The Acharangasutra translated By Herman Jacobi, over one hundred years ago. Even in its somewhat antique phraseology, it conveys a sense of rig our and urgency that accompanies a life of ritual behavior rooted in the avoidance of harm to any being, whether moving or still. This oldest surviving Jain text provides a glimpse into the thorough manner in which Mahavir analysed the cosmos, and conveys the great ethical sense that arose from his definition of life. Reading portions of this material helps the student of Jainism capture a sense of the gravity and beauty of Jainism's cosmo-ehical sensibilities.

Open Boundaries, edited By John Cort, provides and excellent in-depth glimpse into Jainism in historical perspective and introduces the reader to several important researchers, including Cort, Peterson, Davis, Orr, Meister and others. Through the inscriptions, one learns of the past prominence of Jainism in Tamil Nadu. Through a study of temple architecture, one learns about the 'conversions' of religious buildings from one faith to another. Through a close study of texts, one learns in this book about Jain aesthetics, its relationship with the royal court of Kumarapala, its interpretations of Yoga, and of Tantra and Mantra in the Jain tradition.

Organizing Jains in India and England, By Marcus Banks, presents a delightful and well-researched study of the move on many Jain families from western India to eastern Africa and hen ultimately to England. In contrast to the life of an American Jain, which is generally a life of assimilation into the mainstream, one gets a sense of isolation among British Jains, who - as described by this social scientist - generally seemed to occupy a well defined ethnic niche, at least in the 1980s. This book includes marvelous photographs and detailed descriptions of the role of Jain gathering halls for worship and social events, from Gujarat to eastern Africa and Leicester.

Jainism: An Indian Religion of Salvation, By Helmuth von Glasenapp, was originally published in German in 1925 and newly translated into English by Shridhar B. Shrotri in 1999. It provides a nearly encyclopedic resource for learning about Jainism. Von Glasenapp, renowned for his detailed studies of Jain karma theory, provides historical and philosophical survey of the faith with some sociological observations. He provides somewhat more technical detail than Jaini or Dundas on certain topics yet conveys this information in a readable style. With over 550 pages and 30 plates, this sizable book collates a broad range of important information.

Yogadrstisamuccaya of Haribhadra, This book, available in English translation by Dixit through the L. D. Series published in Ahmedabad, surveys different styles of Yoga (Patanjala, Jaina, Buddhist, Vedantin) and suggests that some Yogis might tend to go astray by participating in rituals of dubious merit. However, Haribhadra does suggest that all well-meaning faiths share the common goal of spiritual  liberation. He implicitly calls upon his readers to respect the views of others, to offer words of reconciliation and seek not to offend those with whom one disagrees. A sound piece of advice in our present times.

 

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