Cultivating Compassion in the Desert

February, 2024 by Rajvi Doshi
The UAE is known for its glamorous skyscrapers and endless desert horizons, making it a cool blend of tradition with modern vibes. For all of us being expatriates of the country, finding a new home in an alien country can be challenging, however this unique blend of warmth this country offered, fit right in to make it feel like home in no time, effectively resulting in the growth of the Jain community. This growth came with lot of reciprocation for the betterment of the Jain community with new ideas, new approaches. What began with a small group of families gather together to practice Jain rituals and religious occasions at one’s home 50 years ago, today has evolved substantially into a large community of over 2,000 families, representing a noteworthy milestone in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Jains spiritual odyssey. The UAE Jain community’s dedication to uphold our traditions and nurture unity is evident through diverse Jain principle-focused initiatives and events conducted over the years.

In nurturing the spiritual development of the Jain community, the UAE Jain Sanghs have been instrumental in orchestrating religious gatherings. These gatherings extend beyond the confines of the temples, often taking place in community halls or designated spaces where members come together for prayers, meditation, and discussions on Jain philosophy. Whether it’s a serene bhakti session or a thought-provoking discourse by various spiritual luminaries, these gatherings serve as crucial platforms for the exchange of spiritual insights, strengthening the bonds that tie the Jain diaspora in the UAE.

The community comes together to commemorate the Jain festivals throughout the year. Each Jain Sangh in the UAE releases a comprehensive calendar for the mumukshus, providing detailed information about the events scheduled during the corresponding festive periods. During this time, the community actively embraces the practice of tapa, predominately during paryushan and ayambil olis, with a significant number of participants engaging in this spiritual discipline. In the past year, the UAE Jain community achieved a notable record of surpassing 100 athaais (performing eight fasts continuously) and above tapa during paryushan; there were over 125 navpad ayambil olis observed with 1,500+ ayambils performed by independent mumukshus on the occasion of both the ayambil olis. Following which, a samuh parna is organized to honor and felicitate all the tapasvis and swamivatsalya for the entire Jain community. Also, the Jain Sanghs in the UAE have been highly proactive in facilitating individuals eager to engage in various forms of tapa throughout the year. This commitment has prompted them to establish dedicated chouviyar house across the country, ensuring accessibility for those seeking to undertake spiritual activities. Additionally, during the festive times, the Sanghs celebrate Mahavir janma vanchan during paryushan, Trishlamata’s swapna darshan at the time of Mahavir Swami’s janma kalyanak; Siddhachal bhaav yatra on the tithi of kartik poonam; explain the significance, educate, and perform the rituals on gyan pacham, maun agyaras, Parshwanath Bhagwan kalyanaks on posh dashmi, and other significant tithis on the Jain calendar. Furthermore, the Sangh has also curated and led tirth yatra for everyone to Shree Samet Shikarji, Nakodaji and Shree Girnar tirth. Apart from this, like-minded Jains have formed small reading groups (swadhyay groups), where each swadhyay group consists of adults to young adults participating separately or cohesively. These swadhyay groups focus on studying/reading Jain scriptures, read and discuss books written by gurus/luminaries, based on aagnas obtained from the respected spiritual gurus/luminaries, and lectures addressed by learned individuals from the UAE. Through these gatherings, be it online or in-person, participants engage in spiritual conversations, aiming to enhance their understanding and uplift their spiritual consciousness.

The UAE Jain community has been blessed and fortunate by the periodic visits of many revered Jain spiritual gurus, leaders, and guides over the past five decades. These visits bring a profound sense of connection to our roots of Jainism and serve as a source of inspiration for the diaspora. The impact of the spiritual discourses and sermons by these esteemed gurus not only deepen our understanding of Jain philosophy but also provide practical guidance on incorporating spiritual principles into the intricacies of our daily life. Looking back over the past five decades, the devotees eagerly await on the arrival of the esteemed spiritual luminaries, creating a sense of anticipation and collective devotion. The enthusiasm and deep bhakti bhaav, I have witnessed is so awe-inspiring, people go beyond their daily grind, wholeheartedly dedicating their time to be in the presence of these distinguished luminaries, driven by a genuine sense of reverence and devotion. During their stay, the gurus often engage in interactive sessions, answering queries, and offering personal guidance to individuals on their spiritual journeys. These encounters become transformative moments, fostering a renewed commitment to Jain principles, and reinforcing the sense of community among the faithful mumukshus residing in the desert landscapes of the UAE. In the presence of these spiritual beacons, Jain activities take on a heightened significance, creating lasting impressions on the spiritual fabric of the community in this cosmopolitan setting.

The UAE Jain community has been actively engaging the youth in spiritual development. The way in which the youth in the UAE have integrated the Jain principles into the daily lives is nothing short of awesomeness and inspiration. The foundation of both in-person and online pathshalas, led by dedicated teachers and volunteers, exemplify an elevated commitment to educate the youth about Jain culture, traditions, and scriptures has helped to be the backbone of this mindset. Additionally, bal shibirs and youth workshops are organized to connect youth with fellow youth members under the guidance of spiritual gurus/luminaries. The active pursuit of Jainism education by the youth reflects their diligence, as they conscientiously incorporate the Jain principles into their lives.

The members of the Jain community as a collective effort have tied up with local charities such as Dubai Cares, Red Cross, and compassion driven initiatives. It’s incredible to witness like-minded members of the community coming together, pooling their resources, and extending a helping hand to those in need. From food donation drives for labor camps in the UAE to clothes, toys, food donation drives collaborated with Indian charitable organizations, to taking part in walkathons fundraising campaigns to blood donation volunteer programs tied up with a local UAE hospital, these connections have created a positive ripple effect of kindness. During COVID, it was a difficult situation for people who couldn’t travel back home to their families, especially the labor/workers who didn’t have the means to reach home, the members from the Jain community collaborated with The Consulate General of India, Dubai to help labor/workers to return back to home. Additionally, the members of the Jain community have collaborated with The Consulate General of India, Dubai to conduct humanitarian drives to send aid for countries under disaster crisis like Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Lebanon. It’s a reminder that even small gestures can make a big impact when fueled by the compassion of a united community.

Lately, it’s been pretty cool to see more Jains in the UAE getting hip to the whole environmentally friendly vibe. There’s this buzz around plant-based living and environmentally sustainable living, which has been catching on like wildfire, and it’s not just a trend – it’s becoming a lifestyle. Rooted in principles of non-violence and compassion, the Jain community has long advocated for this vegetarian lifestyle. Now, with the intensifying global focus on sustainability and ethical consumption, more Jains are taking a step further by embracing more environment friendly based choices. It’s like a tradition meeting modern-day eco-consciousness, and its making waves. Go Jains, showing us all how it’s done in style!

The social scene for the Jain community is quite vibrant, filled with joy and camaraderie. The Jain Social Group (JSG) is known to be the OG in bringing together the entire community. Since its inception, JSG has held fun-filled events, parties featured with lively music and dance, treasure hunting, quiz competitions and so on. These social interactions not only provide a platform for enjoyment but also foster a sense of community among the Jains, reinforcing the bonds that go beyond religious affiliations.

Ageing can be challenging, especially while living alone at home and with limited activities due to health issues that limit social interactions. The members Jain community came up with this fantastic idea to bring together all the senior citizens of the Jain community known as “Rishtey” based on the concept of LOVE. L for listening, lending help, O for outdoor activities, V for vacation, vitalize, add vigor by exercise and wellness events and volunteering, and E stands for empowering them with skills and education. Through this initiative they have organized food donation drives, yoga on the beach, nature cure trips, education-oriented workshops, and picnics, creating opportunities for the elders to relive their social interactions by reconnecting with their old friends. It’s a thoughtful initiative, adding a sprinkle of joy to the lives of our cherished senior community members.

The UAE Jain community in business have forged strong economic ties by actively engaging in collaborative efforts, fostering growth through the potent tool of networking since its inception of Jain International Trade Organization (JITO) Dubai Chapter in year 2008. At the end of this month, JITO Dubai Chapter is set to elevate these connections to a global scale through an international conference. This event serves as a dynamic platform, uniting Jains businesses worldwide under one roof. The conference promises to be impactful with influential keynote speakers sharing insights, dedicated networking sessions facilitating fruitful interactions, and a gala dinner offering a relaxed setting for further connections. It reflects the community’s commitment to not only economic prosperity but also global cohesion among Jain entrepreneurs.

Looking ahead, the Jain community have got this awesome dream of constructing a Jain temple and community center here in the UAE. It has been a dream of every Jain in the country, to have a dedicated space where we can gather, practice spirituality, hold sessions with spiritual luminaries, exchange ideas, keep our traditions alive. The idea is having a place that’s not just a building but a home for our community’s spirit. It might be a dream now, but we are excited to see it become a reality, bringing a slice of our culture to the sands of the UAE. This February, all us Jains are coming together as one big family to show solidarity and the incredible power our community holds at the Ahlan Modi event. It’s all about turning our shared dream into reality. There is a buzz of excitement as we stand united, ready to make things happen and bring our vision to life. Its more than just a gathering; it’s a testament to the strength and determination that defines us as a community. Here is to turning dreams into actions.

About Author

Rajvi Doshi, FCCA, CPA
Rajvi is a resident of Dubai and a Fellow Chartered Accountant practicing in the UAE and USA. Gained her education from the London School of Economics, UK and S P Jain IMR, India. From childhood, her curiosity about Jain philosophy has driven her to explore it through books, stories, engaging in profound conversations with spiritual gurus, monks, and knowledgeable individuals. This is her first step as a contributor for the Jain Avenue magazine (Voice of the practitioners of Jain Dharma).

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