HLT 324-Assignment: Understanding of the religions of the world

HLT 324-Assignment: Understanding of the religions of the world

HLT 324-Assignment: Understanding of the religions of the world

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Each week, you will read all the assigned pages listed in this syllabus. You will also write a one-page journal in which you will discuss the main ideas discussed in the reading. A complete journal entry will answer the following three questions: 1) What are three (at least) key ideas discussed in the assigned pages? 2) What struck you the most in reading these pages? 3) How does the reading affect your understanding of the religions of the world?

Part B

Describe and discuss one thing that struck you in this week’s reading assignment.


IN A SMALL VILLAGE in the southern Indian state ofKarnataka, a middle- aged man stands silently in the main room of the home of Mr. and Mrs. Chandra, lifelong residents of the village and followers of the Jain religious tradition. Mr. Chandra carefully places small amounts of food in the cupped hands of his visitor. Other family members look on rever- ently, respectful and admiring both of the man who is receiving the food and of all that he represents-even though they have not met him before this day.

These morsels of food-thirty-two altogether-and the small amount of water to follow are the only things he will ingest on this or any other day. His sole possessions consist of a gourd for drinking water and a broom for sweeping the path before him as he walks, lest he acciden- tally destroy a living being even as small as an ant. As a monk of the Digambara (literally, “sky-clad”) sect of Jainism, this visitor does not even possess clothing. He stands naked before the Chandra family and, during his annual eight-month period of wandering about the land, goes naked before the elements.

Along with illustrating the austerities of the Jain monastic life, this ritual of giving, known as dana, indicates certain distinctions between ascetics (which includes both monks and nuns) and laypeople. The Chandras and the other laypeople who have gathered to participate in this dana represent the great majority of Jains in the world today.

Jains worship in a temple at Ranakpur, India. Splendid marble temples such as this are a common feature of the Jain tradition. Assignment: Understanding of the religions of the world

190 Chapter 6 JAINISM




Arabian Sea

0 km 200 400

0 miles 200 400

Significant sites in the

development of Jainism.

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As members of the laity, their rel igious duties differ from those of the ascetics, who exemplify Jainism’s highest ideals of nonviolence and self-denial. The layperson de- pends on the ascetic for spiritual nourishment. But this in no way diminishes the sanctity or relevance of the lay religious life. The reverence shown by the roomful of admirers is as true to Jainism as is the monk’s extraordinary self-discipline as he fol- lows the ascetic path. Through such acts as dana, the lay participants can positively affect their karma (“action”) and its consequences that determine prospects for a good rebirth. At the same time, the ascetic depends on laypeople like the Chandras for physi- cal nourishment and support.

Viewing the scene from a more distant perspective, we can note other features of Jainism. For one thing, Mr. and Mrs. Chandra painstakingly prepared the food and carefully strained the water in preparation of the ritual, in order to avoid harming any living organism such as a tiny plant or insect in the water. They had invited the monk to partake of the food, for it would not befit one so venerated as a Digambara monk actually to have to beg for his food. The monk’s accepting of the offerings was not a foregone conclusion. Had he for any reason found the circumstances objectionable

and refused, the Chandras’ reputation would have been damaged. In other words, the ritual of dana is played out within an interwoven network of reli- gious and social ideas and forces. The fact that the monk stands naked with cupped hands is proof that he is a member of the Digambara sect, the more prevalent sect in southern India. In any number of households across India on this very morning, we could find similar scenes, but with some variations. Members of Jainism’s Shvetambara sect, for example, don white robes and hold alms bowls for receiving their food. Or the ascetic could be a nun, in which case she would be clothed, even if of the Digambara sect.

Stepping back even further as we view this ritual of dana, we can observe a number of cor- relations with other South Asian religions. A non- violent ethical stance, the ascetic path, karma, rebirth, and dana are also prominent aspects of Hinduism and Buddhism. Compared with those two religions, Jainism is a very small one, with just over 5 million adherents, the great majority of whom live in India. Because it rejects the author- ity of the Vedas (Chapter 4), Jainism (along with Buddhism) is considered to be distinctive relative to the Hindu traditions. Through the centuries, Jainism has earned a special reputation for having exemplified the ideal of nonviolence. ~~

T his chapter sheds light on the main ele-ments of Jainism, with regard to both the ascetics and the laity-and the interplay between the two groups. We have already identi-

fied some central Jain teachings: nonviolence, the Assignment: Understanding of the religions of the world

need for an ascetic lifestyle, and the ultimate need

Tl MELINE Jainism

Jainism 191

c. Eighth century B.C.E. Probable period of Parshva, the twenty-third tirthankara.

Sixth or fifth centuries B.C.E. Probable period of Mahavira (Shvetambara traditional dates 599-527 B.C.E.; Digambaras date Mahavira’s death at 510 s.c.E.; current scholarly opinion holds that he died in app. 425 s.c.E.).

(From antiquity through the medieval period, there is scant evidence for historical events, though there is much evidence for general involvement by Jains in the cu ltural life of India, through the building of temples and monuments, founding of schools and sects, and interaction with other religions.)

1313 c.E. Pillaging of Mount Shatrunjaya by Turkish invaders.

Fifteenth century Period of Lanka, precursor of Sthanakvasi and Terapanthi sects.

1526 Founding of the Mughal Empire.

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