Monday, May 8, 2017

Jainism: Two Great Resources

Here's a terrific short introduction to Jainism from the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Jainism is an Indic religion and its founder, Nataputta Mahavira, was a contemporary of the Buddha. Jains believe in a soul, but no God. They also believe in non-violence or ahimsa and many Jains starve themselves when near death, a process called Sallekhana.

One of the best introductions to Jainism comes from the travel writer, William Dalrymple. He highlights the life  of a young Jain in his book, Nine Lives, in a chapter called, "A Nun's Tale."  You can read an excerpt of that chapter here at the New York Times. I usually assign it to my students when we cover Jainism.

Dalrymple follows Prasannamati Mataji in her monastery in the ancient pilgrimage town of Sravanabelagola in India.  He reviews the early history of Jainism and learns that Mataji gave away all her possessions and wealth and left her family to become a nun. Like Buddhist monks, Jains believe that attachments bring suffering.

We learn about Sallekhana when Matajii's friend gets ill with cancer. She begins to starve herself to death. Matajii insists that it is not suicide.  She tells Dalrymple,
“No, no: sallekhana is not suicide...We believe that death is not the end, and that life and death are complementary. So when you embrace sallekhana you are embracing a whole new life — it’s no more than going through from one room to another.” 
Sellekhana is not the only big difference between Jainism and Hinduism and Buddhism.  For example,  the Jain's understand karma differently.  Buddhists and Hindus see it as the fruit of their actions but Jains see it as "a fine material substance that physically attaches itself to the soul."

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