Andrea R. Jain
This chapter reviews cases of conversion to the Jain tradition and suggests that Jains have an affirmative view of conversion and have actively responded to shifting social contexts in attempts to attract converts. The Jain tradition emerged with the proselytizing endeavors of a charismatic ascetic teacher, Mahavira. Since then, Jains have actively sought to keep Jain adherents and attract new ones by constructing religious practices and ideas appropriate to particular religious markets. They have offered potential converts merit gained by devotion to monastic teachers and rituals to popular deities believed to deliver benefits to their devotees. Contemporary proselytizing endeavors by Jain monastic teachers and the Jain laity have succeeded in informing a global audience about the Jain tradition through programs for social reform based on a reconstruction of the ethic of ahimsa and forms of modern yoga, such as preksha dhyana of the Jain Shvetambara Terapanth.
Lawrence A. Babb
Jainism is a South Asian religion that emerged into historical view in the first half of the first millennium BCE. Along with Buddhism, Jainism is the only other surviving example of ancient India's non-Vedic, heterodox traditions. The largest numbers of Jains are found in five Indian states: Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan. Currently the largest overseas Jain populations are found in North America (Canada and the United States) and the United Kingdom. The most distinctive feature of Jainism is undoubtedly its doctrine of karma as an actual physical substance that adheres to souls and prevents their liberation. Another crucial element in Jainism is its powerful commitment to ahimsa, or non-violence. The Jain tradition accepts the varna system (an ancient, idealized social order in which society is divided into four classes: priests, warrior-rulers, agriculturists and merchants, and menial servants). As is the case with castes generally, Jain castes differ from one region to another. The most prominent castes among North Indian Digambaras are the Agravals and the Khandelvals, both renown trading castes.
Jains dismiss as delusional the belief in a grace-bestowing creator God, yet approach each day reverentially and prayerfully. This seeming paradox is explored, arguing that Jainism’s refusal to treat human life as the only form of conscious, rational life underpins its rejection of a transcosmic God. The meaningful cosmos in Jainism is filled with conscious, intentional beings, some identified as gods, and all of whom are situated within the same existential trajectory seeking release. This essay ponders the diverse understandings of ‘God’ that we find in Jainism and seeks to elucidate this ancient devotional structure, which rests upon, not a creator God, but a meaningful cosmos.
Christopher Key Chapple
This article examines the Jaina faith in light of its commitment to environmental values. After providing an overview of Jaina history and principles, it discusses contemporary Jain environmentalism, concentration on the elements and senses as vehicle for ecoawareness, and water in Jainism. This article also includes the author's reflections on his own practice of the Jain principles as interpreted through the tradition of classical yoga. At the time of its inception and until recent decades, the protection of ecology and environment did not play a significant role in the Jain way of life beyond a care to minimize any harm that one might inflict on others that would harm one's own soul. In contemporary times, Jainism has been reinterpreted as enhancing human-earth relations. The precepts of Jainism, particularly non-violence and non-possession, generally associated in their most rigorous forms with monastic men and women, have now been refigured and recast in an ecological mold.