We would never bring those things into our temples, but since we’re at a museum exhibit, it’s ok, right? I’m not sure. The experience made me take a step back and think about the timeline of Jainism from a broader perspective. Jainism is known to predate Buddhism and rivals Hinduism as the oldest surviving religion. Tracing as far back as the the third or fourth millennium BC, there is believed to be one major period of decline in medieval India until around the 19th century. But where are we now? Is the existence of a Jain diaspora contributing to another period of decline?
Many would say the religion still flourishes today, and while I can see how that is true, I have a much harder time believing that Jainism will continue to prosper in thirty years in the same way that it prospers today. This uncertainty stems from an honest evaluation of myself and my generation of young Jains, specifically young Jains in America. We are an eclectic group of individuals. Some of us go to the temple regularly, some of us do not. Some of us strictly follow a Jain diet, some of us cannot. Some of us tell ourselves we will do anything it takes to maintain our Jain values and traditions… but most do not.
Growing up in America means living with a culture that will clash Jain values in some way or another. It’s difficult to do both. So, most of us decide to sacrifice some aspect of the religion to balance American culture simultaneously. Our parents who grew up in India didn’t have to worry about this culture clash because lifestyle there generally supported religion, if not cultivated it. While it is very much possible to pursue a strict Jain lifestyle here in America, I think many of us choose to follow only certain aspects of the religion so that we can accommodate the realities of living in this country. The future of Jainism lies in our hands, but I don’t think we’re prepared for the weight we are being asked to carry.