Everything You Should Know About Jain Pilgrimages

Pilgrimages in the Jain style might refer to actual physical journeys or they might refer to a more spiritual journey. There are many such pilgrimages. A “Tirtha” comes from the Sanskrit word for ford, and refers to both aspects of journey. The purpose of this type of pilgrimage is inspiration, especially when considering the reincarnation of one’s soul. Tirtha sites are located mostly throughout India. They include places like Ashtapada Hill, Girnar, Champapuri, Kundalpur, Aharji, Rajgir, etc. The list goes on.

One of the most important points to visit on a Jain Tirtha is Parasnath Hill, the highest mountain in Jharkhand. According to Jain texts, this is the site where nearly all of the 24 Tirthankaras (saviors) attained Moksha (the salvation of one’s soul). There are two routes, the shorter of which takes about 12 hours. The longest is about 44 kilometers!

There is a group of temples atop Mount Girnar, which is another important pilgrimage destination. Of all the Jain sects, this location is most meaningful to those belonging to Digambara and Svetambara (which are the two main sects). Jain texts teach that the 22nd Tirthankara devoted his life to asceticism when animals were slaughtered for his wedding. He then traveled to Mount Girnar, where he attained Moksha at his death. Coincidentally, his bride also became a nun.

Temples atop Mount Girnar include those at Neminath, Adabadji Adinatha, Panchmeru, Meraka-vasahi, Sangram Soni, Kumarapala, Mansingha Bhojaraja, Vastupala-vhiara, and Samprati Raja.

A group of Svetambara temples called the Dilwara Temples are near the Mount Abu settlement, and mark another pilgrim’s point of interest. Those traveling to this group of temples will be able to pray at sites that date between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries. These include the Vimal Vasahi Temple, and others at Luna Vasahi, Pittalhar, Shri Parshvanath, Shri Mahaveer Swami, and Jirnoddhar.

There are many other points to which a pilgrim might travel located throughout India.

Are There Jain Temples And Resources Located In Florida?

Jainism is practiced almost everywhere in the world — even though few people know that such a resolutely pacifist religious even exists. Those who live in or are traveling to the southern United States can relax knowing that there are many avenues through which to study the religion. Many temples and resources are located in Florida. These places of worship see a lot of traffic, though, and proceed with caution while the pandemic rages.

The Jain Society of Central Florida is presided over by Denish P. Vardhan and headquartered at 407 W. Citrus Street in Altamonte Springs. The Federation of Jain Associations in North America heads 72 smaller Jain Centers with around 150,000 members scattered about the United States and Canada. One can research this organization using the acronym JAINA.

The JAINA mission is “to preserve, practice, and promote Jain Dharma and Jain Way of Life. With the blessings of Acharya Sushil Kumarji and Gurudev Chitrabhanuji, JAINA was founded in 1981 and formalized in 1983.”

Notably, JAINA is the biggest umbrella conducting such activities outside of mainland India. A number of committees help determine the order of operations. It also represents Jains from all around the world.

What does JAINA actually do? There are many services provided. These include activities related to education, humanitarian, publication, production, community outreach, administrative, religion, government, public relations, youth, and environment. The Jain faith is especially concerned with protecting the global environment, as it practices awareness of Ahimsa. Jains typically follow a plant-based diet to do as little harm as possible — even to microorganisms we cannot see.

JAINA also organizes a Biennial Convention in order to help the Jain community foster new relationships and increase networking. “Biennial” means once every two years.

The magazine “Jain Digest” can also be obtained through JAINA — and we urge believers to look into this if they cannot visit a temple. Articles are devoted to teaching readers the importance of spiritual growth while fostering important values and principles related to the Jain faith.

There are Jain Centers located in Fort Myers, Miami (JCSF), Northeast (JANEF), Orlando (JSOCF), Palm Beach, Panama City Beach, and Tampa Bay (JSTB). Those traveling to other Southeast states can find centers in Atlanta and Augusta, GA; Southern Louisiana and Northwest Louisiana; Charlotte (JCGC) and Raleigh (JSCNC) in North Carolina; and Memphis and Middle (JSMT) in Tennessee.

There are a number of affiliates that support Jaina, including the Jaina India Foundation (JIF), the International School for Jain Studies (ISJS), the International Alumni Association of Shri Mahavir Jain Vidyalaya (IAAMJV), and Siddhachalam. 

Parents who wish to introduce children to Jainism can join or support the Young Jains of America, whose members are usually aged fourteen to twenty-nine. Another group, the Young Jains Professionals, works to foster comprehension of relevant Jain principles while teaching Jain history. Both groups work to increase networking between Jains.

The Jain Society of Central Florida has conducted many Zoom chats in order to employ social distancing during this trying time:

How Jains Perceive Modern Law

Jainism is one of the world’s most complex — and peaceful — religions. While your average American might never have heard of it, Jainism is practiced in nearly every major country in the world. This includes the United States. Because most people don’t understand the religion’s nuances (they don’t worship a deity, for example), Jain law might be something of an enigma. But they have long-standing perceptions of how to approach law. Here are a few things you might find interesting about Jains and modern law.

Many religions — Christianity included — were popularized during a time when wealth inequality was very high (and notably comparable with today’s). That means they acquired new followers by preaching the benefits of poverty, which wasn’t something to be shunned or stigmatized. Rather, it was to be celebrated. Material wealth was the thing to be shunned! That might sound strange considering how many of us seek to add to our material collections even while we preach Christianity to those around us. 

Jainism grew to become popular for the same reasons. But unlike most followers of most big religions around the world, Jain followers still hold to those beliefs even today. The concept of bankruptcy, for example, would sound strange to a Jain both a thousand years ago and today, because Jains basically practice bankruptcy as part of their core beliefs.

Jains believe in five types of marriage, which differ somewhat from Hindu marriages. Although most Jains will possess very little wealth, property, or other assets, the assets they do have will pass to the widow if a man dies with or without a son. Passing the wealth to the wife is one of the cultural traditions that deviates from most of the world’s other major religions (and common practice even when religion isn’t a factor). 

Jain couples are allowed to adopt when they cannot have children. The rights of succession hold true even when the children are not biological. When a Jain couple has two twin sons, the one who is born first will ultimately be considered the eldest son by Jain law.

One of the strangest Jain practices revolves around death: Sallekhana. This is the practice of fasting oneself to death. This process does not occur all at once, but gradually over time. The Jain will slowly reduce food consumption and drink less water. This is considered a spiritual process in order to increase good karma and reduce passion in the human world. 

Interestingly, Jain law does not treat this form of killing oneself as a legal suicide. The reasons why are semantic at best: the killing of oneself in this way does not occur through an act of passion, and the subject does not use poison or other tools. 

When we say the process is slow, we mean it! This act of fasting until death can take years.

Modern humanitarian groups have placed a stigma on this practice. Perhaps this is why Sallekhana is rarely adopted in the modern era. 

Terrorism Continues Unabated Despite COVID-19 Restrictions

One might think that even terrorist organizations would take heed of COVID-19 preventative measures to ensure they live to fight another day — but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, terrorism continues to plague countries like India. Indian Permanent Representative to the U.N. T.S. Tirumurti believes that India is home to nearly every religion in the world and that many pacifist religious communities (such as those who believe in Jainism) are among them.

Tirumurti said, “We now have countries taking advantage of the ongoing pandemic and spreading divisive hatred to other parts of the world on the basis of religion. COVID has not prevented them from supporting cross-border terrorism to kill innocent people and spread religious hatred.”

He acknowledged that anti-semitism was a large part of the problem in other countries, but not India. He explained: “I also come from a country which does not have any trace of anti-semitism.”

He was referring to India’s large Jewish community, which has thrived inside the country’s borders since before the birth of Jesus Christ.

Jain followers believe in peace more than anything else, and strive to live in harmony with all creatures big and small. They are notorious for this peace, and very few followers in Jainism ever turn to more radical beliefs — especially those that condone violence and terrorism.

Speaking of active terrorists around the world, Tirumurti said, “We ask them to look inwards to promote harmony within their own societies, stop sectarian violence and ensure the protection of minorities. We believe it is important for the United Nations to speak decisively and not take sides with one group of religions vis-a-vis the others or justify terrorism in any way.”

Are you interested in joining the fight against terrorism? The first step begins at home! Put out your hand for members of other communities and educate yourself and others on the various differences that make us unique — because we are stronger when we embrace those differences and the ones who hold them.

Does Jainism Provide Insight About Medical Treatments?

Jainism is one of the world’s most enigmatic and misunderstood religions, which isn’t so surprising. Although the religion is popular in much of the eastern world, the west knows virtually nothing about it. Jains have strong beliefs regarding a person’s journey through life and death, and these beliefs help guide and advise followers on how to best make difficult decisions. So what do Jains believe regarding best practices surrounding medical treatments?

First and foremost, Jains believe that all forms of life are important — but that human life is of paramount importance. This provides some guidance on the most controversial types of medical treatment, but Jains have the opportunity to interpret some texts in their own way. This allows them to make decisions that are best suited to them individually.

The belief that life is so important means that medical procedures like abortion are unacceptale. More controversial is the fact that Jains are urged to protect the baby’s life even when the mother’s is in danger. Although the practice of aborting a pregnancy when the mother’s life might otherwise be lost is frowned upon, it is accepted in some circumstances so long as the mother continues to repent. In addition, contraceptive action is frowned upon in most Jain circles.

When the situation is dire — such as when traumatic brain injury makes lifelong debilitation or mental impairment more likely — then the individual in question may decide what actions should be taken under which circumstances. These actions are dependent on the advice of Jain spiritual leaders, though, and should not be taken lightly. It should be noted that assisted suicide is unacceptable.

Strangely, autopsy is acceptable in Jain culture. Other procedures before or after death, such as blood transfusion and organ transplantation, are acceptable and done only in accordance with an individual’s wishes. Certain medical procedures are not performed on many Jain patients because of how they are derived from animal products. Remember, Jain’s hold all life sacred — down to the smallest microbe. Even some foods are banned due to the high likelihood that microscopic life will be damaged. 

Because of this same belief in protecting all life, Jain’s will accept care or end-of-life caregiving only when it does not cause harm. Jain medical providers should always understand these beliefs, and try to administer medicine in accordance with them. 

When a Jain follower reaches the end of his or her life, it is perfectly normal to expect a great deal of visitation by friends, family members, and other pillars of the community such as religious leaders. Community is an important part of Jain philosophy, and Jains do their best to provide comfort to those who are about to take the next step of their journey from life into death. 

Many daily rituals performed by Jain followers occur due to these beliefs. The Jains do not pray to one god in particular — instead, they worship life in all its forms.

Possible Jain Artifact Discovered In Tiruvallur

A rock sculpture depicting the Jain successor of the 23rd Tirthankara — known as Mahavira or Vardhamana — was recently discovered in the Tiruvallur district of India during an excavation of a temple located near Puliyur village. Based on the physical characteristics of the statue, scholars have placed it in or around the 11th century AD, but more work must be done to make these initial speculations more conclusive. Most notably, Mahavira was sitting.

Scholars also believe the statue was lost because of shifting philosophies surrounding the concept of Jainism.

The temple is known as Bajanai Koil by locals. Scholar Sridhar Appandairaj and Jain Priest K Jeevakumar made the pilgrimage to analyze the potential finding for themselves. According to locals, the statue was assumed to characterize Buddha. Sridhar said, “A senior citizen in the village would perform puja on the sculpture until two years ago. He told the villagers it was the idol of Buddha and they still believe so. The priest is no more today. We told the villagers that it’s the sculpture of Mahavira, not Buddha.”

He added, “The stylistic pattern shows it was sculpted during the later period of Jainism, say after the 10th century AD. Many ancient sculptures of Jain Tirthankaras have been found abandoned in Tamil Nadu. We have constructed shelters for those sculptures in many places. After we talked, Puliyur villagers have said they will protect it.”

The finding proves a point long argued by Indian scholars: while the country is home to over a billion people, many live in remote areas where poverty is more transparent than efforts to industrialize or modernize. That helps preserve artifacts thought unimportant before they can be discovered by scientists. 

Jeevakumar said, “The image is placed on a pedestal, a reason why it remains intact. But the features on the face have been lost due to lack of care. We have district administration and we hope that they will take immediate action to preserve the sculpture.”

Best Jain Temples For Indian Citizens Traveling In Eastern United States

This year has hardly been the most optimal time to travel, but the days of COVID-19 will be behind us sooner or later. And some people need to travel for business or family regardless of the personal risks. Jain believers living in India might not realize that there are plenty of temples where they can worship and find common ground with others right here in the United States — if you know where to look. Here are the Jain temples you might want to visit.

Maryland is home to many of these temples, which should be no surprise since many Jain politicians or businessmen and women need to travel there. The Jain Society of Metropolitan Washington is currently open by appointment for Darshan on weekends, but please be aware of current restrictions and safety guidelines regarding COVID-19. Please do not travel to the grounds if you have fever or show other symptoms. 

The JSMW is currently experiencing increased membership coupled with new community activities, which is why a 5.25-acre parcel of additional land was bought as part of a 2011 deal to add at least two new temples and one new community center. The center will offer educational opportunities like estate planning and advanced directive workshops. Please visit the website before you travel there.

The Greater Baltimore Temple in Maryland is a great place for Jain followers to practice their beliefs when they cannot be home. Sharadeeya Navaratri continues through this Sunday, October 25th. The temple is also currently requesting donations, which have become much more infrequent because not everyone can visit in person.

Not sure if Baltimore is the right location for you? Educators there offer a children’s educational program devoted to Bal Vihar for those aged 4 to 16 years old. Participants will learn about Hinduism and Jainism, and practice Indian languages. There is also a large community hall that can normally be rented out by believers, but it is currently closed due to COVID-19 concerns. Please check back frequently to find out when it reopens!

Contact the Greater Baltimore Temple by writing to P.O. Box 690 on 2909 Bloom Road or send an email to gbt101@yahoo.com.

To discover additional temples in North America, visit the Federation of Jain Associations in North America, where Americans and Canadians work together to promote education about Jain practices. The temple in Blairstown, New Jersey is the perfect place for a pilgrimage to the United States — and in fact it was the first constructed for just that sort of pilgrimage internationally.

The federation is better known as JAINA, which provides many programs related to: youth services, government and public affairs, religious services, administrative services, community outreach, publication, production, humanitarian services, environment, education, and biennial conventions and festivals for Jains around the world.

The Greater Baltimore Temple in Maryland offers online services for anyone who wishes to join:

Estate Planning For The Jain Family

At no point in modern history has it been so clear that planning ahead should be priority one — both for your own benefit and also your family’s. Estate planning is a venture that helps provide families with some security should the worst happen. What will happen to the family assets? Both physical belongings and monetary accounts make up a person or family’s estate. But Jains are expected to live with few assets to call their own. How does that work?

The Jain Center of California provides some of that much needed security by way of information.

Those who join the JCC will be allowed to join informative seminars to explore options related to Medicare, Medicare, Social Security and other benefits such as transportation or housing. Groups will also have the opportunity to attend competitions and tours, with religious observations at the top of the list.

Are you a Jain senior living in the United States? The Jain Senior Association has been active for over 20 years to provide fulfilling daily activities to those who might want to become closer with their communities during retirement. More importantly, estate planning advice is available to all members.

JAINA is the Federation of Jain Associations in North America. If you are a Jain who is not living in Southern California, this is probably the best place to look for financial or estate planning advice.

JAINA’s mission is manifold, but includes:

“Talking to Jain brothers and sisters should give single seniors identity, safety, and belonging. They can share their experience with people in similar situations and that could possibly help relieve stress and tension. They can also get moral, spiritual, and motivational support over the phone. The group can also provide a good platform for swadhyay, sharing of reading material, and up-lifting conversations with like-minded people.”

Those interested should contact Bharat Kothari at 630-877-5845 or Surjit Kaji at 510-795-7600.

Because Jains usually do not have many belongings, they often feel like they do not have an estate — but everyone does! For example, even those who have nothing should still consider the benefits of a last will and testament, or at the very least providing instructions for a health care proxy in the event that something terrible happens. All of this is part of proper estate planning. And even Jain individuals can benefit from taking out a life insurance policy to leave their families some protection.

Most Jains who seek out estate planning advice feel alone — like they lack the social and emotional support that is such a strong pillar of Jain teaching and community. But it does not have to be that way. Whether or not you feel alone, we at Anekant firmly believe that preparing for the future is something you need to do in the here and now, even if you have a strong family. In fact, that’s an even better reason to get started!

Ahimsa in Jainism

Jainism is built upon a foundation of non-violence — ahimsa — which is one of the guiding principles by which Jains live. Everything else that Jains believe is directly connected to this pacifist way of life, from how the interact with those of different faiths right down to what they eat. In fact, Jains might find it impossible to act in any way at all were it not for how living through ahimsa is regulated.

Many of us live peacefully. But how many of us extend the notion of “peace” to everything we do on a day to day basis? You might have friends or family members who are vegetarian or vegan — or perhaps you choose this diet for yourself. But even these dietary restrictions are chosen for certain reasons that differ from person to person. Jains are vegetarian because this diet does the least amount of harm to living beings.

However, nothing is quite so simple.

For Jains, “macro” forms of life and “micro” forms of life bear no discernable distinction. In other words, you can cause just as much chaos by killing small forms of life as you can by killing larger ones. But it’s completely impossible to live without killing microorganisms! Think about it: every step you take might demolish entire communities of tiny organisms that can’t be seen with the naked eye! 

Therefore, the Jains take specific actions (or avoid them) in order to avoid hurting all forms of life. Certains types of foods are also avoided simply because they are more likely to be filled with microorganisms. 

In order to live through ahimsa, it is important to study the opposite: violence. Jains use “violence” as sort of an umbrella term for which they have many categories. For example, there is intentional violence, violence through self-defense, domestic violence, or violence while working. Knowing what the main categories of violence are, and how enacting one could result in the personal injury of another, are important to Jain believers.

Jains also distinguish between the how and why. Violence can be perpetuated in three basic ways, for example: body, speech, and mind. Even motivation for violence matters in Jain philosophy. These potential motivations include anger, greed, price, and deception.

Why put such stock in a completely nonviolent way of life? It’s not because Jains believe in a supremely omniscient or omnipotent god like other religions. It’s not even for the betterment or wellbeing of the communities in which Jains live! The entire point of philosophical ahimsa is that harm to others directly equates to harming oneself. You cannot hurt another without also causing harm to yourself!

Ironically, Jain philosophy is all about “self.” But in order to eventually liberate what other faiths call the “soul,” it it necessary to put oneself above all others. Then again, by doing so — you would also be doing what is right for everyone else!

The Jain Philosophy On COVID-19: Let Us Come Together Even As We Remain Apart

Indian society has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic that has gripped the world in a powerful fist clenched tight with fear, misinformation, and uncertainty about the future. One of the core tenets of Jainism relies on our ability to remain strong in the face of adversity. Ahimsa describes our capacity to live non-violent lives even as forces far out of our control repeatedly strike us. COVID-19 is just one such force.

How we respond to this crisis is what makes us who we are.

Will Jains react by abandoning our beliefs? No. Defying the teachinings? Absolutely not. We will continue to live in peace with all creatures, big and small, the best we can. Many people do not know that Jain monks already wear face coverings on a routine basis to prevent themselves from inhaling microorganisms that cannot be seen by the naked eye. In that way, we prevent ourselves from infecting others with the novel coronavirus — or at the very least reduce the risk to the extent that is possible.

Many have questioned whether or not the Jains consider coronavirus to be just another living thing with which to live in harmony. The answer is complicated. Science usually categorizes a virus as something that is not alive. But Jains are free to choose. Usually we prefer to err on the side of caution.

Also, we must consider the weight with which we consider life’s obstacles. Should we place more weight on coronavirus than, say, global climate change? The former affects humans, but it won’t wipe out our species. The latter will affect all living beings on this planet, which could lead to the destruction of many. Humanity has other obstacles. We hope that the current pandemic will not turn attention away from those that carry greater urgency.

We ask everyone who reads about Jainism to continue living together, in harmony — and avoid the urge to live in fear or swallow misinformation during this time.