Thursday, March 29, 2018

Dedication of Jains in Mumbai and Dombivli to their religion and its teachings of peace, harmony and non-violence are impressive

Mumbai and Dombivli (in Maharashtra state of India) where I lived, studied and worked (studied and worked only in Mumbai even when I was living in Dombivli), for most of the first four decades of my life, had quite a few Jains, and a few Jain temples as well! I also had a few Jain colleagues when I was working in the software industry!

Whatever I saw of the Jain community's dedication to their religion was impressive!

And then there were these extraordinary stories of young girls doing extraordinary fasts lasting for many days. One such case was in the same building as my aunt's flat in Sion area of Bombay/Mumbai in the 1980s.

I used to go for lunch quite regularly to my aunt's (mother's sister's) apartment flat-home when I was studying in Ruia College at Matunga (from around mid 1978 to mid 1983 doing junior college science studies followed by B.Sc. Physics) and perhaps even when I was doing my M.Sc. (Physics with Electronics specialization) at Khalsa college (Sion-Matunga area) for six months or so before I dropped out.

The building name, if I recall correctly, was Mahavir Kutir. At that time I did not dwell upon the name. But now as I recall it, of course the name indicates that the owner would most probably be a follower of Bhagwan Mahavir, one of the tirthankaras (great spiritual leaders would be a rough English translation, I guess) of the Jain religion.

So there were Jain families living in the building where my aunt was living. In the case of one Jain family in this building, one girl went on some extraordinary fast for many days - I think they don't even take water. It was the big talk of the building and perhaps area!

At that time, I don't recall exactly how I viewed it. On the one hand, there was the tremendous reverence for asceticism that was ingrained in almost every Indian, no matter what his religion, and that certainly was ingrained in me too. So, for sure, a part of me would have marvelled at a young Jain girl in Mumbai taking up such rigorous ascetic kind of discipline, even if it was temporary. Another part of me, which surely would have come from the Bombay/Mumbai materialistic world exposure, would have wondered whether she was doing the right thing in not enjoying the world at such a young age!

And then there would be talk about how some lady Jains leave their family to become sannyasinis (celibate nuns). And how they would pluck the hair from their head one hair at a time, as part of that process! That seemed too much for me then, as a young adult in Mumbai (I was turned 18 in 1980; so I was in my late teens and early twenties then).

Today, in my mid-fifties, with a lot more reading & video-viewing exposure and significant real-life exposure to spiritual life, ashram systems as well as religions, I have great reverence for the rigorous asceticism that is displayed by some Jains even today in this materialistic world of ours. For me at least, Jain ascetics display the highest level of ****real practice**** of asceticism in India today, which is a great source of inspiration for those who want to give up worldly life and focus on an ascetic life.

These Jain ascetics demonstrate that absolute or near-absolute mastery over the senses can be achieved even today in this very materialistic, early 21st century, world of ours.

Regarding Jain families, I have never ever heard of or seen a Jain family person (quite a few Jain families are into business and I recall quite a few Jain owned shops in Dombivli) get into violent and abusive language let alone indulge in violence! Now Mumbai and Dombivli have their fair share of violence with Mumbai having even gang wars with guys from rival gangs (and sometimes extortion targets who refuse to pay up) being killed by gunfire (pistol type guns usually NOT assault rifles). So it is I think an extraordinary tribute to Jain religion as practiced in the 20th and 21st century in and around Mumbai, that they have such a great record of peace, harmony and non-violence.

It seems to me that Jainism is far more active in India today than Buddhism. A software industry colleague of mine had shared some aspects of Jain religious history with me including telling me that Bhagawan Mahavir was not the founder of Jainism (which is what I had thought earlier) but a later tirthankara from many such Jain tirthankaras. He was right!

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahavira :

Mahavira (/məˌhɑːˈvɪərə/; IAST: Bhagavān Mahāvīra), also known as Vardhamāna, was the twenty-fourth Tirthankara (ford-maker) of Jainism. In the Jain tradition, it is believed that Mahavira was born in the early part of the 6th century BC into a royal family in what is now Bihar, India. At the age of thirty, abandoning all worldly possessions, he left his home in pursuit of spiritual awakening and became an ascetic. For the next twelve and a half years, Mahavira practiced intense meditation and severe austerities, after which he is believed to have attained Kevala Jnana (omniscience). He preached for thirty years, and is believed by Jains to have died in the 6th century BC. Scholars such as Karl Potter consider his biographical details as uncertain, with some suggesting he lived in the 5th century BC contemporaneously with the Buddha. Mahavira died at the age of 72 in Pawapuri (now Bihar), and his remains were cremated. According to the Jain tradition, Mahavira had 14,000 muni (male ascetics), 36,000 aryika (nuns), 159,000 sravakas (laymen), and 318,000 sravikas (laywomen) as his followers. Some of the royal followers included Srenika (popularly known as Bimbisara) of Magadha, Kunika of Anga (Ajatashatru), and Chetaka of Videha.

After he gained Kevala Jnana, Mahavira taught that the observance of the vows ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (chastity), and aparigraha (non-attachment) is necessary for spiritual liberation. Mahavira taught that the doctrine of non-injury must cover all living beings, and causing injury to any being in any form creates bad karma which affects one's rebirth and future well-being and suffering. According to Mahatma Gandhi, Mahāvīra was the greatest authority on Ahimsa. He gave the principle of Anekantavada (many-sided reality), Syadvada and Nayavada. Mahavira taught that the soul is permanent and eternal with respect to dravya (substance) and impermanent with respect to paryaya (modes that originate and vanish). The teachings of Mahavira were compiled by Gautama Swami (his chief disciple) and were called Jain Agamas. These texts were transmitted through oral tradition by Jain monks, but are believed to have been largely lost by about the 1st century when they were first written down. The surviving versions of the Agamas taught by Mahavira are some of the foundational texts of Jainism.

Mahavira is usually depicted in a sitting or standing meditative posture with the symbol of a lion beneath him. The earliest iconography for Mahavira is from archaeological sites in the north Indian city of Mathura. These are variously dated from the 1st century BC to the 2nd century AD. The day he was born is celebrated as Mahavir Janma-kalyanak (popularly known as Mahavir Jayanti), and the day of his liberation is celebrated by Jains as Diwali. In 1973, which was the 2,500th anniversary of the Nirvana (or Moksha) of Mahavira, monks of the various sects of Jainism assembled to resolve their differences and arrive at some commons points of agreement about the history and philosophy of Jainism.

--- end wiki extract ---

Ravi: A joyful, peaceful, harmonious and non-violent (except violence used in self-defense - that's my - Ravi's - exception) Mahavir Jayanti to all.

This Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Facebook video (in Hindi) on occasion of Mahavir Jayanti, https://www.facebook.com/narendramodi/videos/10160275305570165/, dated 29th March 2018, is around 30 seconds long.

[I thank wikipedia and have presumed that they will not have any objections to me sharing the above extract from their website on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever.]

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