In between all the learning i’ve been doing (to enrich my understanding of Indian and therefor my experience whilst here) my hosts have been supplementing all the knowledge with great experiences.
For instance, how better to improve an understanding of the religions of Jainism and Hinduism than by visiting the local temples?! And who better to do it with than by friends mother (considered one of the most qualified Jain academics in the State after obtaining a masters of world religion in England majoring and minoring in Jainism!)
I did a breif introduction on Jainism in my last post but incase you missed/couldnt be bothered reading it (it’s ok – it WAS pretty heavy reading!) heres a quick summary as further into the post i’ll be going into a bit of depth.
Jainism is an ancient religion of India that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice rely mainly on self-effort to progress the soul up the spiritual ladder to divine consciousness. Any soul that has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state of supreme being is called Jina
Jainism, which its followers consider to have always existed, is believed by historians to have arisen between the ninth and the sixth century BC. The earliest of the enlightened ascetic leaders of Jainism (Tirthankaras) that can be dated historically are Parshva (9th century BC) and Mahavira (6th century BC). In the modern world, it is a small but influential religious minority with as many as 4.2 million followers in India. Jains successfully sustained this ancient religion to this era and have significantly influenced and contributed to ethical, political and economic spheres in India. Jains have an ancient tradition of scholarship and have the highest degree of literacy in India; Jain libraries are the oldest in the country.
Jain monks and nuns practice strict asceticism and strive to make their current birth their last, thus ending their cycle of transmigration. The laity, who pursue less rigorous practices, strive to attain rational perception and to do as much good as possible and get closer to the goal of attaining freedom from the cycle of transmigration. Following strict ethics, the laity usually choose professions that revere and protect life and totally avoid violent livelihoods. This has resulted in Jains becoming traders and merchants instead of farmers and while contributing only a small percentage to the population of India, they contribute hugely to it’s economic growth.
From what i have gathered, Jainism could be considered more as a way of life than as a religion. Perhaps you’ll agree after reading through it’s core beliefs. Jains have the five vows of non-violence, truth, non-stealing, celibacy and non-possession. It is not possible to observe these vows completely in day-to-day life, espeically for common men and women (non priests) so they are therefore followed to a limited extent. For example, the vow of celibacy is upheld through the practice of monogamy
Jains have built temples where idols of tirthankaras are revered. Essentially they recognize that while the Jain idols have no miraculous powers, daily rituals help the worshipper towards a reverent state of mind. The members of some sects of Jainism don’t believe in worship of the Jina image or Temple visits as an important part of daily ritual. They believe instead in meditation and silent prayers. My Indian family fall under this category so they don’t regularly go to the templt to worship (though they still go on important occasions like birthdays). Despite this my Indian mother kindly took me to two of the local temples. The first was on the private property of a dedicated Jain family. A beautiful stone carving structure in the shape of a chariot.
In Jainism, a Tirthankar (तीर्थंकर Propogator) is a human being who achieves enlightenment (perfect knowledge) through asceticism and who then becomes a role-model teacher for those seeking spiritual guidance. In Jain temples, Jains do not pray to the Tirthankars as a way of asking for forgiveness or in a way in which anything in return from the Tirthankar is expected. Instead, it is more like how a young boy has a photo of his favourite Sports player on his bedroom wall, as a means of idolization and a reminder of what he wishes to be.
Jains believe that Devas (gods or celestial beings) cannot help jiva to obtain liberation, which must be achieved by individuals through their own efforts. Nevertheless Temple visiting is an important part of daily life for many Jains.
Inside were many Tirthankar statues, carvings and places for prayer or worship. The purpose of jain worship or prayer is to break the barriers of the worldly attachments and desires, so as to assist in the liberation of the soul. Whilst praying Jains often perform rituals like holding prayer beads, decorating the statues or making drawings to assist their focus. The material offerings made during the prayer are merely symbolic and are for the benefit of the offerer. The action and ritual of offering keeps the mind in meditative state.
The whole temple was spotless and infront of one of the carvings was a little donation box with some grains of rice scattered ontop of it. My friends mother swiftly flicked it around from side to side
and before i could say “Tirthankar” she had formed it into the Jain symbol that bascially sums up Jainism.
The swastika symbolizing the 4 states the soul can live in (human, animal, in heaven, in hell), above, the 3 ways to liberate the soul (Right Faith , Right Knowledge and Right Conduct) and then the place where the soul is liberated which is the ultimate goal. In accordance with the Jain belief that you should not take/use things that don’t belong to you – she made a donation for using the grain to make the symbol.
The symbolism of prayer is so strong it assists the devotee to concentrate on the virtues of Arihantas and Thirthankaras. Above all, prayer is not performed with a desire for any material goal. Jains are clear that the Jinas reside in moksha and are completely detached from the world.
For an interesting contrast, after we left the Jain temple we crossed street to a bright orange building. It was a hindu temple for monkey god “Hanuman“.
Hanuman, the mighty ape that aided Lord Rama in his expedition against evil forces, is one of the most popular idols in the Hindu pantheon and Hanuman temples are among the most common public shrines found in India. This is because the character of Hanuman teaches of the unlimited power that lies unused within each one of us. Hanuman directed all his energies towards the worship of Lord Rama, and his undying devotion made him such that he became free from all physical fatigue. And Hanuman’s only desire was to go on serving Rama. Hanuman perfectly exemplifies ‘Dasyabhava’ devotion — one of the nine types of devotions — that bonds the master and the servant.
A Hindu temple is believed to be the earthly seat of a deity and the place where the deity waits for its devotees. As such, temple structures are sacred spaces where gods partake of human offerings and in which the people can be with the gods. Many temples resemble palace architecture; this is not surprising, as deities are often considered kings.
As we exited, a priest/monk of the temple was handing back a third of the food that was donated to the temple during the day to visitors to the temple. These bits of food are now considered holy and ontop of this he blessed us and put a red dot of paint on our foreheads 🙂