Dec 19, 2020

Bridging the gap between Jainism Principles and the way it is Practiced.


Q25. How can we ensure that there is no gap between the purpose of Jainism and the way we practice it in our day-to-day life? And how can we bridge this gap if it occurs?

This is a very insightful and a useful question. The question itself challenges us to reflect on “being” vs. “doing” and be mindful of who we are becoming in process of all the “doing”.  This kind of consciousness helps us in being aware of our internal bhaav (thoughts and intentions) and enables to us to incorporate spirituality in all aspects of life.

Any activity which takes us closer to realizing our own true self is a religious activity and realizing our own true self is our religion.

When we understand the purpose of the religion, the core principles of the religion and then practice religion through our activities, rituals, and traditions, then there is no gap. And we also end up attaining the spiritual benefits from the religion. However, the gap occurs when religion is practiced without proper understanding or reflection.

We will first look at the purpose of Jainism, core principles and then talk about the gap.

Jainism Purpose

At a fundamental level, the core purpose of Jainism is to:

§  Eliminate mithyatva which means ignorance about reality and faith in wrong knowledge. I am a pure soul, and not a non-living substance which is this body.  My qualities are Infinite Knowledge (Anant Jnan), Infinite Perception (Anant Darshan), Infinite Bliss (Anant Sukha), and Infinite Energy (Anant Virya).

§  Eliminate or reduce kashaya which are my anger, ego, deceit, and greed

§  Strengthen spirituality to develop inner peace, calm, and stillness

§  Maintain equanimity, joy, and bliss within

§  Live a purposeful and meaningful life with constant awareness

The Karma philosophy is one of the core tenets of Jainism and it underscores the importance of our thoughts (bhaav). The vibration caused by our thoughts attaches the karma particles to our soul regardless of whether any action is carried out or not. This is why our internal being is of utmost importance when we are conducting any action. And the ultimate goal for us is to achieve the "no-mind" state, where there are no thoughts, we are living in the present moment and is the true nature of our soul. Whether we truly experience this state, or just understand is intellectually, we alone can answer that question. Hence, in Jainism practices like meditation, reflection and introspection are required and critical for spiritual growth and inner transformation.

In Jainism, there are no "thou shalt" like commandments. On the contrary, Jainism is an introspective religion guided by principles and value that create a moral compass for us. And not a religion of dogmatic blind faith and fixed rules.

Along with reflecting on the purpose of religion, we will contemplate on the core Jain principles that help us constantly reflect on our spiritual growth and inner transformation:

§  Ahimsa: Non-violence and compassion towards self, all living beings and environment through our thoughts, words, and actions. At the core, we should follow path of minimum violence for healthy survival (please review the Five senses and their role in Jainism article for more details).

§  Anekantvad: Acceptance of all positive views, no judgement and respect towards all living beings. Anekantvad reminds us that there is no absolute truth and helps us understand diversity in views, physical attributes, thinking, abilities etc.

§  Aparigraha: Non-possessive mindset towards worldly possessions; we should not consume or accumulate more than our needs.

§  Satya: Speak and support truth, while ensuring it doesn’t cause harm to others.

§  Asteya: Not steal or take anything that does not belong to us or is properly given to us.

Now let’s look into how the religion is commonly practiced and what causes the gap.

Religious Practices and the Gap

Religion, as a community, is generally practiced through rituals and traditions. Rituals and traditions play a significant role to build a culture, strengthen the religious values, and to create a sense of community. Rituals also important to instill values and build up religious interest in children, youth, and future generations.

When the rituals and activities are performed with proper understanding, awareness, and reflection then there is alignment with the true purpose of the religion, its values, and there is no gap.

However, when the rituals are performed without proper understanding and/or are not aligned with the principles then we start experiencing the gap, for example:

§  If rituals or activities are performed mechanically, without proper understanding or out of obligation, fear or show, instead of reflecting and experiencing the spiritual benefits, then there is gap.

§  If practicing religion or performing rituals is boosting our ego, instead of making us humble within, then there is a gap.

§  If while carrying out religious activities, there is anger and animosity amongst people, instead of maitri bhaav (friendship), then there is a gap.

§  If the rituals are performed as a token act of metaphorical cleansing but continuing to treat others unjustly in family, social, and business relationships, then there is a gap.

§  If we continue to remain ignorant and practice past traditions that involve cruelty towards moveable living beings, instead of avoiding violence to the environment and other living beings, then there is a gap. Some examples of this gap are:

o   Use dairy products like milk, ghee in our religious rituals. (see the article on dairy products for more details)

o   Wear silk clothes while doing puja, use woolen katasanucharavolo, use peacock feather for broom, varakh etc. (see the on himsak product used in the rituals for more details)

o   Use products like styrofoam, plastic at the religious centers. (see the article on climate crisis for more details)

o   Dispose religious materials in the rivers, oceans, dry well or bury them in the ground which pollutes the ground and oceans and it is not legal.

So, the gap occurs when there is misalignment between our religious practices and the purpose and principles of the religion. And it appears that the primary reasons for the gap are ignorance, blind faith, following past traditions that are now obsolete, or performing rituals out of fear, ego, or greed.

As laypeople, we need social connections and activities. But somehow, we got to so focused on “doing” that we lost the sight of spiritual significance, why we are doing it, and who we are becoming in the process.

Many of our activities are carried out for generations and we stopped questioning them either out of fear, under the pretense of faith in religion, suppression or to not disturb the status quo. In addition, our societies recognize the activities that can be easily seen by others, like external penances and book knowledge. And that also makes it little more challenging to bridge the gap.

Why is it important to bridge the gap?

We need to bridge the gap so that we achieve the intended spiritual benefits from the religious practices and rituals, and subsequently achieve the inner transformation we wish to see within ourselves. Rituals are external stimulants, and its purpose is to create the right environment for us, the laypeople, to make spiritual progress.

It is also important to bridge the gap for the youth and future generations. The current age provides youth with much diversified cultural exposure, which makes them very aware and vocal about the lack of integrity between the values and actions. And this kind of disparity, when not addressed, drives them away from religion.

How do we bridge the gap?

The one line in Jain Agam Das-vaikalik sutra provides the essence of how our Tirthankara envisioned the religion should be practiced.

“Padhamum Jnanm Tao Daya.“

First knowledge (Jnan) / understanding and then conduct or action.

Rituals or traditions should not be mistaken as a religion, but rather the spiritual benefit that we gain directly and indirectly by performing a ritual is the religion.

 

The core teaching by Bhagwan Mahavira urges us use our own logic, reasoning and learn from our own experiences.


To bridge the gap between the purpose of the religion and the way it is practiced, we need to approach it from society and individual level.

Society level

Some thoughts/ideas on how we can collectively bridge this kind of a gap at our Jain societies level:

§  Promote and establish practices such that all the rituals are performed with proper knowledge, understanding, awareness, and reflection. For example, performing Pratikraman with meaning.

§  Don’t make the rituals fear driven and ensure that the bhaav/intention remains in the forefront for all rituals.

§  Make information available and accessible in a manner that is easily understood by everyone - create more literature, YouTube videos, audios, articles, books.

§  Request monks/nuns, spiritual leaders, speaker to publicize the importance of bridging this gap.

§  Add more humanitarian, environmental, social cause activities at the centers.  Use Bio-degradable paper products. Do not use plastic or foam products.  Every center should have reuse/recycling centers.

§  Establish recycling centers for properly recycling religious material instead of following old practices that contributes towards climate crisis and are not legal.

§  Create a goal and work towards aligning of all the rituals and activities at the centers with the Jain principles and purpose. For example, take actions to mitigate climate crisis, avoid use of products (like milk, wool, silk, peacock feathers, saffron, varakh etc.) that involve cruelty towards moveable living beings.

These are things we need to know and understand and then pass them on to our future generations to set the right foundation at an early age. This enables in developing internal virtues like prayashchit, vinay, vayyavach, swadhyay and samadhi.

Individual level

Some thoughts/ideas on how we can bridge this kind of a gap at an individual level.

§  For any ritual or activity, we need to consistently measure and reflect on our inner transformation goals:

§  Am I gaining humility?

§  Is my ego reduced?

§  Am I genuinely asking for forgiveness from anyone I might have hurt and committing to not doing it again?

§  Am I truly forgiving others who did wrong to me?

§  Am I performing activities for recognition, name, fame, power, or any other rewards?

§  Is my anger and other vices are reduced?

§  Can I live by myself happily and can I remain happy in my own company?

§  Vayavach – Look for opportunities to serve others

§  Understanding the purpose of external and internal penances

§  Meditate and reflect upon our own virtues

§  Cultivate the strength to find happiness within, instead of looking outside for happiness

§  Eliminate or reduce our Mithyatva - I’m the soul and not the body. Live each moment in that awareness

§  Eliminate or reduce our Kashaya (anger, ego, greed, deceit)

§  Become an advocate to bring about the change required to bridge the gap at our centers

 

In summary

Jainism is an introspective religion, and it is up to each one of us to ensure that we bridge the gap with proper knowledge, awareness, and conduct. The goal is to practice religion in such a way that it becomes a spiritual journey for us, and it enhances every aspect of our life.

“Religion is belief in someone else's experience.
Spirituality is having your own experience.” 
Deepak Chopra

So, it is not about what we do, or what role or tile we have, but it is about who we are internally and who we are becoming the process of all the doing. Once that awareness is in place, “what we do and how we do” follows naturally and is driven by that context and our values. Regular reflections are also help us see our blind spots and growth areas.

 

Nov 25, 2020

Menstruation - Religious and Social Stigma


Q24. Why are women not allowed in the temple or to do puja, prayer, rituals etc. during their menstruation, the monthly biological cycle?

 

We applaud the youth for asking this progressive question and thinking beyond the status-quo.  Menstruation is a natural biological process that a woman undergoes and that makes creation of any human life possible. Yet, some religious authorities and traditional followers treat menstrual cycles as unclean, impure, and go so far to forbid women from participating in religious or temple activities during their menstrual cycles.

 

With increased awareness and knowledge, both men and women, are questioning the reasons for these rules, traditions, and practices surrounding menstruation. Why menstruating women are separated from the religious community? Is there is any spiritual significance, or any Jain principle driven reasons behind these rules?

 

When a girl starts menstruating, these rules are dealt in different ways and generally one of the following happens:

a.    Girl accepts the culturally programmed deep rooted belief system, she doesn’t feel a need to question the restrictions or she doesn’t see anything wrong with it.

b.    Girl questions the restrictions and the family come up with an approach with mutual understanding and respect, but they are still constrained by the traditional / societal belief systems. For example, they won’t have any restrictions at home, but they won’t go to temple during menstruation or won’t share their thoughts on this topic with others or in public.

c.     Girl questions the restrictions because she wants to understand rather than follow these rules blindly. But no satisfactory or principle driven reasons are provided, and she is expected to comply.

d.    Girl refuses to follow such restrictions and she is portrayed as defiant or rebellious.

We spoke with some sadhvijis (nuns) and a few laywomen who follow sadhvijis very closely from different Jain sects. They all have said and agreed, this is a very controversial and challenging subject to discuss. During our conversations, we have found that their practices are based on their Guru Maharaj’s discretion.

 

Some women who grew up with these rules may never feel comfortable discarding this tradition. While for others, it often creates feelings of confusion over the reasons, conflict, shame, resentment, or even hostility towards the religion and the community.

 

This article is primarily intended for people who experience feelings of confusion and see themselves in scenarios b, c, or d. We are addressing this question to create awareness with knowledge and answer questions for curious minds who want to understand objectively from principles. 

 

 

Natural Biological Process for Human Life

First and foremost, menstruation is a natural biological process that a woman goes through, nothing more and nothing less.  Menstrual cycle is fundamental for any human life. Instead of shaming women for this natural phenomenon, we shall acknowledge that our very existence is dependent on it. Blood of a woman was, and is, a natural and fundamental component of life. This understanding is so vital, and we need to really let that sink in. 

Once this fundamental belief system is examined, we can reflect on our thought process and attempt to uproot our internal biases such seeing this biological process as impure or unclean, instead of pious.

 

With this in mind, we will explore various commonly cited reasons for restrictions due to menstruation. We urge you to think, internalize the information and use your own wisdom to make your decision.

 

 

Common Reasons for Restrictions

There are many traditions that bring meaningful symbolic purpose. Traditions like bowing to Bhagwan, saying Jai Jinendra to each other, removing shoes, and wearing clean and proper clothes for puja. These traditions bring us together and help us celebrate our heritage, culture, and religion in a positive way that harms no one. But not every tradition deserves this respect. Some traditions are better left behind. 

 

 

Desecrate our Tirthankaras

Some religious authorities and traditional followers say that menstruating women are not worthy of praying to the Tirthankaras because their presence near the Murti would desecrate our Bhagwan. They say that their state of mind or emotional state during menstrual cycle is somehow inappropriate to be near anything sacred. This is indefensible of course, since our Tirthankaras are vitragi, they don’t have any kind of attachments or aversion. And ultimately all temple rituals in Jain religion are meant to purify our own Soul. This tradition of barring women in their cycles from participating in derasar not only has no rational basis in Jain dharma, but it’s also harmful and shameful. It implies a message that women are dirty or polluted.

 

 

Dev and Devi Curse

Some people or traditionalists believe that it’s the Dev and Devi who can be adversely affected by the ‘asuchi’ or impurities associated with menstruation and these temple Devs and Devis will curse the person and the Jain community.

 

First let’s look at it from historic perspective, the concept of praying Dev and Devi got introduced into Jainism approximately in 6th or 7th century, which is about 1100 years after Mahavir Swami’s nirvana. During Mahavir Swami’s time, no one   prayed to Devs or Devis in Jainism, but it got introduced because of the influence of other Indian traditions and religions at that time and it also appealed to human desires and weaknesses.

 

If we look at Mahavir Swami’s life, he went through so many difficulties (upsargs and parishah) on his journey to liberation but he did not take any kind of rescue or refuge in Dev or Devi for the difficulties he had to face.  Even Lord Indra offered him to be at his service during his Sadhana period of 12.5 years.  But Bhagwan Mahavir denied it and said that “No one can attain Keval Jnan with someone’s help. And this is the fundamental Jain principle that we need to chart our own path for liberation. Jainism principally does not believe and is not dependent on blessings or curse from dev and devis.

 

 

Magnetic Pious Field Gets Disturbed around Temple

Others believe that the magnetic fields around the derasar could get disturbed by menstruating women. Derasar is the place of our vitraagi tirthankara, who are above kind of aversions or attachments, so again how can it affect them or their residence? Do these otherwise rational people would check whether their female airplane pilots are fit to fly, lest their condition cause the plane to crash? Or the female surgeons are fit to perform a surgery?

 

 

Menstruating Women need Rest

The notion of menstruation as a period of “rest” is widely prevalent and often propagated as a reason for these restrictions.  

 

In older days, women were required to do extensive physical labor work and more people lived in joint families, compared to the current time. During the menstrual cycle, women experience discomfort, abdominal cramps, pains of varying intensity which makes it very difficult for them to carry out their usually daily activities and household work. When the society made restrictions mandatory duties, the families were coerced into allowing women to rest during those days and subsequently the women too, were able to take rest without any guilt.

 

But the question we need to ask is, if the intention is to provide that “rest”, which the women badly need due to stress and physical discomfort, then why is there a notion of women as pollutants and impure during menstruation? The intention to provide physical rest is a noble intention, but the stigma, isolation, and public shaming creates a much more intense emotional stress and social disgust around it, and that takes away the value behind this noble intention.

 

Moreover, rare is the household where the burden of housework and childcare doesn’t fall overwhelmingly on the woman, regardless of the time of month. This rationale of “resting” is often a self-serving and hypocritical excuse. Because even in current times, we are trying to continue this discriminating practice under the pretext of socially acceptable label of “resting”.

 

 

 

State of Mind

Furthermore, if menstruation is somehow physically “polluting” let us consider that some worshipers’ states of mind may be much more seriously afflicted by the effects of anger, greed, ego and lust. Should they also be required to abstain from doing darshan? There are no rules about this. No one seems to excuse himself or herself from praying and doing aarti because of his or her emotional state of mind, or presence of negative thoughts and passions. If we extend the rule to its logical end, we will find that hardly any person is ever fit to visit derasar.

 

 

So, the question is why?

Why have menstruating women been singled out for this public shaming and banned from doing darshan or other religious rituals? Could it be because the men feared something they didn’t understand, so they demonized it? The collective history of civilization is replete with examples of patriarchal cultures creating rules to suppress women.

 

Maybe we picked up the tradition from another religion, but without thinking whether it’s time to leave it behind. Maybe the rule was created for some other reason that doesn’t make sense anymore, but we have mindlessly maintained the rule out of a misguided respect for tradition.


The Jinmanjari 1996 Publication from Canada Bramhi Jain Society goes in great depth about Jainism and the Spirituality of Women starting on page 49. It provides the historic perspectives and specifically talks about how Jainism wasn't able to escape the patriarchal doctrine and other socio-religious influences on menstruation either, starting on page 57Link to the complete article on Jainelibrary (or search by # 524013) - https://jainelibrary.org/book-detail/?srno=524013.

 

If the tradition were of symbolic value and not harming anyone, it wouldn’t matter. But it’s not harmless. It’s discriminatory. The rule is inconsistently applied and irrational. This tradition’s time is over and should be discarded.

 

For example, Acharya Sushil Muni consistently and openly condemned these traditions. There are religions like Sikhism, who have completely rejected the idea of impurity and does not endorse any restrictions on menstruating women. Buddha also had similar views.  Also, there are families who don’t follow these norms, they educate others and are creating some awareness amongst the society, but they are in minority.

 

 

Summary

In summary, women should be treated with dignity, respect and seen as an equal.  We respect everyone’s right to his or her opinion, but it should not take away entitlement, respect and dignity from others. 


We shall consider that human birth is not possible without menstruation. Instead of shaming women for this natural phenomenon, we shall acknowledge that our very existence is dependent on it.

 

Woman’s menstrual cycle is no one’s business but hers. Women should not feel any pressure to avoid religious activities due to period. Women should be free to meditate, pray, and visit the temple anywhere and anytime they want to. It should be her choice. Men can act as an ally by supporting women and discouraging such rules in their homes and temples. 

 

The core principles of Jainism teach us to show compassion toward others and never miss an opportunity to serve others. When us humans are going through difficult situations, we need the spiritual teachings and practices from Jainism more than ever at that point. So, when women are going through psychological changes with menstruation, the society should provide the support and not isolate them or make them feel shameful. 

 

The real spiritual growth impediments do not reside in any outward physical form, but instead in our inner state of being when it takes on the forms of ego, greed, deceit, or anger. The greater purpose of the religion is to realize and experience the true nature of our soul and any activity that take us closer to that is our religion.

 

Sep 28, 2020

Jainism view on Gender-Based Inequalities in Religious Context..


Q23. What is Jain view on gender-based inequality? Is there inequality between men and women in religious context? If yes, why and should it continue?

This is a very practical question from today’s youth and non-traditional Jains. Gender discrimination is something that human race has endured over time and across all cultures. Gender-based inequality is a term that implies differential treatment based on gender regardless of race, religion, caste, or creed. There has been progress towards gender equality over the past decade in various areas with awareness, education, and actions. However, many challenges with gender inequality are still pervasive. 

 

First let us talk about what is meant by gender-based inequality from a religious perspective.

Gender-based inequality in a religious realm implies that women and men are treated differently. And there is inequality or discrimination in the religious responsibilities, experiences, practices, rules, norms or what you’re allowed to do based on the gender.

 

Some of the gender-based inequalities that we have observed between men and women in practicing Jain religion are:

·        Women cannot recite certain sutras and cannot perform certain rituals

·        If rituals are performed by men and women together, all sutras should be recited by men

·        Women cannot enter in temple during their monthly period

·        In some sects, women cannot attain liberation. They need to be born as a man for liberation

·        In some Jain stories it is said that bad karma results in being born as a girl

 

So, the questions we must ask ourselves are:

·        Why do we have inequalities and restrictions only for women?

·        Why do practices exist that treat women inferior to men?

·        Do Jain principles or Bhagwan Mahavir state that women are inferior to men?

·        How much of these practices, including what is written in scriptures, are influenced by the culture at the time of writing the scriptures and how much is truly based on Tirthankar’s preachings?

 

To understand Jain view, we will first look at various key aspects like what we can learn from Mahavir Swami’s life, Jain fundamental beliefs, and most importantly the purpose of Jainism.

 

 

What we can learn from Mahavir Swami’s Life

The day after Mahavir Swami attained Keval Gyan (Omniscience), he established the fourfold order of Jain Sangh, known as the Chaturvidh Sangh - Sadhu, Sadhvi, Shravak and Shravika. 

Mahavir Swami initiated:

·        Gautam Swami and Chandanbala, 1st Sadhu and Sadhvi, by providing them 5 Maha-vrats.

·        Anand Shravak and Sulsa Shravika, 1st Shravak and Shravika, by providing them 5 Anu-vrat, 3 Guna-vrat and 4 Shiksha-vrat known as 12 vrats (vows) for laypeople.

He did not indicate any place in Acharang sutra (Agam 01) and Upashak Dashang Ang Agam (Agam 07) that men are superior to women. It was right away described as fourfold, including women as two of its components, laywomen (shravika) and nuns (sadhvi), alongside laymen (shravak) and monks (sadhu). This has been recognized and accepted by all Jain sects without any disagreement or embarrassment.

 

This action demonstrates to us that Bhagwan Mahavir, our spiritual teacher, treated women and men equally, he did not create any gender bias and he is the first guru of Jain monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. He realized that men and women are different because of gender and hence he created different gender based aachar but treated both as equals.

 

Before Mahavir Swami’s time there were 4 vows, in which brahmacharya and aparigraha were merged, because women were treated as property. In his time, he created a fifth vow to distinguish women’s status, not equal to property.

 

Mahavir Swami was open-minded and very progressive for his time. Culturally during that time, many inequalities existed in the Indian community. It was a male dominated society and women were considered property of men. Despite of all that, we can see from Mahavir Swami’s actions that he neither agreed nor promoted gender biased inequalities or any other kind of inequalities.

 

Next, we want to shed light on the Jain fundamentals and principle as they relate to this question.

 

 

Jain Fundamentals and Principles

According to Jain fundamentals, every living being is a soul and has the potential to achieve liberation. All the Jain fundamentals and principles are gender independent. Jainism even goes to the next extent and treats not only humans, animals, but even 1-sensed earth, water, air bodied also as equal souls who in their pure form possess Infinite Jnan, Infinite Darshan, Infinite Charitra or Infinite Happiness, and Infinite Energy or Power.

 

However, all souls in their impure form, is covered by Karma and hence possesses only Limited Jnan, Limited Darshan, Limited Charitra, Limited Power and Energy. To achieve liberation, one must first eliminate Mithyatva (Darshan Mohaniya Karma) and then reduce and ultimately eliminate Kashayas (Charitra Mohaniya Karma).

 

All humans (both males and females) with a fully developed mind, have the capability to eliminate Mithyatva and reduce and ultimately eliminate Charitra Mohaniya Karma through practice of meditation.  Both men and women are equally capable of becoming knower and observer, by practicing meditation and have the potential to achieve liberation.

 

Physical differences in humans have no bearing on achieving the true nature of the soul. Then, why should women be any exception? Human life is capable of achieving liberation with gyan and dhyaan, regardless of the physical differences in the human body.

 

Our Tirthankars are Vitraagi, they don’t have any kind of attachments. They would not create any discriminating restrictions for men or women.

 

As we can see, there is nothing in Jain fundamental beliefs and principles that are gender driven or endorses inequality. And furthermore, Jainism is an introspective (bhaav pradhan) religion which promotes compassion, equanimity, friendship, and love towards all living beings. There is no place for inequalities or discrimination towards women.

 

 

Social and Cultural Influences that created Inequalities

Mahavir Swami’s actions, virtues, teachings, and characteristic traits teaches us equality, however, things changed slowly after his nirvana.

 

The social and cultural influences of that era impacted the religion sphere and the inequalities towards women proliferated into Jainism. Women were treated as property of men and they were sold in the open market.  Even Chandanbala was sold by her owner in an open market.  Mahavir Swami freed enslaved Chandanbala, and dogma/stereotypes were broken by making her the first Sadhvi of Sangh. However, the scriptures that were written hundreds of years after Mahavir’s nirvana have society’s biases embedded in them.

 

The inequalities continued to carry forward as traditions or blind beliefs. They hold no spiritual or principle driven reasons.

 

When such inequalities are questioned then reasons are provided to retroactively justify the conditions that are already in place. If we think about it, most of the time one blind tradition is justified with another blind assumption.

 

 

Why change?

The question that often comes up is why change and why disturb something that is going on for generations? The reason is because people lose respect and drive away from religion when they see such inequalities.  Several other religions have changed and eliminated inequalities to certain extent. 

 

Religion has the potential to be the pioneer and set an example of the changes we wish to see in all realms of society like social, professional, economic, decision-making. Equality is the fundamental right of all living beings and all the Jain principles uphold that value.

 

There are also psychological, social, and spiritual pitfalls for both genders because of inequality.

 

Women or girls might consciously or subconsciously see themselves as less and that prevents them from achieving their potential. They often form an unintended and an invisible barrier within them to equal opportunity, and may doubt themselves from taking courageous steps even in the realm of spiritual practice

 

Men or boys knowingly or unknowingly might create a sense of entitlement or ego within them, which would come in their way of healthy relationships, lifestyle and spiritual liberation. There is also the irony that even if he himself may not initially recognize the harm in treating women as inferior, he may object when other men treat his own mother, sister or wife that way.

 

From a religious perspective, change is needed so that the true essence of religion of equality and Ahimsa that Jainism preaches is maintained and in the name of religion we don’t knowingly or inadvertently cause any harm to any soul or cause any barriers for a soul’s progress.

 

From a cultural perspective, we see a highly conflicted behavior. On one side the religion elevates many Goddesses and holds them in high regard, but then ironically, it also puts numerous restrictions and constraints towards women of the society and their potential involvement and their contributions towards growth of the religion. This suggests that the culture itself is in conflict and should be treated as a changeable force and not as an immutable authority.


Bottom line, if something is wrong and against the principles then we must change.

 

 

How do we elicit change?

At an individual level, first educate yourself, understand, verify the information with your logic and internalize it. Reflect on your own previously internalized bias and attempt to uproot your unconscious negative attitudes, whether toward your own or the opposite gender.

 

Knowledge is power. Once the knowledge becomes our own then we can educate others around us.

“Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach.” - Aristotle

This quote from Aristotle points out the distinction between knowing and understanding. When we understand and internalize the knowledge then we can educate others with respect while maintaining the harmony. This kind of approach creates a potential to make the change a natural transition.

 

There are going to be situations when we can’t change the deeply rooted belief systems and that’s beyond our control. But at a minimum what we don’t want to pass on something that is against our Jain principles and Jainism teachings to the next generation.

 

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world” - Gandhiji

First and foremost, women should see themselves as equal. Women should understand the cultural programming and subconscious barriers that are preventing them from seeing themselves as equal.

 

At a community level, we should not create any rules that create or promote inequalities like women can’t read certain sutras or make statements like women can’t attain liberation or one is born as a woman because of bad karmas.  Jain religious principles are not and should not be male dominated. Both men and women should be treated equally. Jain principles are universal and apply equally to all souls and doesn’t distinguish by gender.

 

In 1980s, Shri Amar Muniji took a revolutionary and historic step in the right direction by giving the title of “Acharya” to Sadhvi Chandanaji of Veerayatan. Acharya Chandanaji is the first and only Jain nun who has been given the title of “Acharya” thus far. But it is still an exception and not the norm.  

 

 

In Summary

Our spiritual teacher Tirthankar Mahavir treated everyone equally, yet the inequality was created after his time, mostly because of the era and culture they were in. There is nothing in our Jain values and principles that states or promotes any kind of inequalities between Monks and Nuns, Laymen and Laywomen. In Jainism, equality is a fundamental principle and every soul has the same potential and same inherent soul qualities.

 

Women and men are physically different, but they should be treated equal. If a systematic or radical change is required, then we all have to do our part. Whether it is writing about it, creating awareness, or calling out discrimination when we see it.

 

If we fail to do the right thing by sitting on the sidelines, remaining ignorant or not questioning inequalities under the pretense of faith in religion, then we are doing a disservice to the current and future generations.