Each family’s micro value system greatly influences that family’s “index of religiosity” and consequently determines family’s response mechanism to internal and external activities governing the family’s religious and moral fabric, including the acceptance and/or non-acceptance of interfaith marriages.
Interfaith marriage (a marital union between a Jain and non-Jain person) should receive some scrutiny as this phenomenon is sharply rising.
No insult or disregard is intended for non-Jains in this context, since Jain Dharma teaches us to maintain friendship, kindness, and non-violent mindset toward all living beings – Jain and non-Jains alike, and respect another’s point of view. In fact, the chief disciple of the last Tirthankara, Shri Mahavir Bhagwan, was Shri Gautam Swami, who was a Brahmin by birth, but became a great Jain sage, compiled Jain scriptures for posterity, and finally attained Keval Jnana3 – a testament to the greatness of Jina’s magnificent Jain Philosophy that each and every living being can attain the everlasting bliss regardless of who they are and where they come from. Therefore, the argument is not against the non-Jain fellow human beings, but rather against the value system of present-day Jain families that does not allow a systematic assimilation of a non-Jain into Jain principles and practices. If we cared deeply enough, we would take effort to imbibe Jain values on our non-Jain family member.
Interfaith marriage might well prove be the most pervasive and yet most unappreciated threat to the existence of Jain Principles in the years to come. It will trigger the most systematic diffusion and erosion of Jain values in most fundamental way, i.e., by changing the Jain ecology or the micro value system that I have referred to thus far in this article. The question is whether we have the wisdom to see it and when challenged with such a situation, whether we as a family are prepared to put in the effort to imbibe Jain values on the non-Jain family member.
Societal Conduct Issues:
The Jains are a very small but an influential religious group in India. Even with such a small population, we are already beset by sectarianism between Digambara and Shwetambara.
There continues to be further divisions, sub-sectarianism, internal bickering, power struggle, lack of empathy for fellow Jains etc. We do not have the wisdom among ourselves to unite in one cause when our religion and religious places of worship are under attack from external threat. It is simply pathetic that we are fighting among ourselves to claim Shri Sammed Shikhar, when the only goal there should be is the worship and adulation of the Jinas. When we are not united among ourselves, we will be unable to protect the glory of this religion from external threats.
Let us find out way to co-exist with our differences. In this regard, the Jains residing in North America are certainly leading by example and are creating a future model of co-existence wherefrom our larger fraternity in India can learn. Let us co-exist in a manner that is respectful of each other’s macro and micro traditions and by creating an environment where we celebrate our commonalities.
I am advocating for us to live as an “enlightened”, educated, and forward-looking society whose roots are firmly grounded in Jain Principles, whose actions and behaviours are influenced by Jain Principles and whose collective activities strengthen our religion and help our future as a community, and to the extent possible help other fellow human beings in need irrespective of their religious affiliations.
As the saying goes – “Charity always begins at home”, we must begin to change ourselves to see changes in others and then will we be able to see and expect resultant changes in the community at large. Simply stated, we need to go back to the basics. The revered Acharya Shri Umaswami provides us the basic framework – “Samyakdharshanjnancharitranimokshamargah:“4 – The trinity of Rational Perception, Rational Knowledge, and Rational Conduct forms path to liberation. Consider this as a path, an order, or a salvo of a Jiva in the pursuit of ultimate happiness. If we focused on improving our commitment to the trinity as an individual, as a family and as a society, I sincerely believe we can vastly improve ourselves and those around us as well. So how do we go about it?
Be Aware and Self-enlightened (Personal):
We need to be aware of who we are and what our true identity is through the eyes of Jain Scriptures, for they alone have the potential to awaken our consciousness. We need to commit to learn little bit more about ourselves – to create, develop and nourish the right belief about our own nature of existence, that we are full of conscious energy (Chetan Atma), that we are seer and knower, that we are responsible for our own destiny, that we are capable of achieving everlasting bliss. This type of firm belief will in turn unleash a wave of positive energy, positive action, and enlightened understanding of the self and of the world around us. This will put an individual on the right footing to be a change agent for compassion, love, kindness, equanimity, forbearance, forgiveness, and nobility. Such person would constantly seek to understand and be understood for happenings around oneself. This would help to control and manage our passions (Kashayas) resulting in a positive model behaviour.
Foster Jain Micro Value System (Family):
The families must take as much effort, if not more, to build, nurture and sustain the religiosity and piety (Dharma) within children as they teach their children how to become smart in the worldly affairs. We take great pains to ensure our children become successful in worldly life by providing them with good education, setting high expectations and following through by being involved in their life. And we must do all these things and do it well. However, the problem starts when we do this ONLY at the expense of ignoring to help them build a true affinity towards Dharma. It is primarily so because parents themselves have not understood the place and importance of Dharma in their lives. If they have not understood that, how can they pass this on to their children? Sending children to Pathashala only will not solve the problem, but it is a mere starting point. Parents must take proactive and deliberate efforts to inculcate a feeling of true affinity towards Dharma. And that begins with parents first.
If we, parents, become strong religious role models to our children, it is more likely that they will be influenced at an early age, and be more inclined to follow-through in their life. Regardless of the conditions and circumstances in which they will live, such children will place Dharma on their list of priority.
Make a Positive Impact on the Community at Large (Societal Impact):
An enlightened and aware individual and family will make a positive impact on the society around them. They will carry themselves in the most dignified manner with a feeling of obligation toward each other. They will unleash a positive force by constantly seeking to reconcile and understand the differences, and only work to the betterment of the community as a whole. They will avoid personal calculations, sect-specific selfish goals, and work as a whole community to spread the message of the Jina. Instead of squabbling over personal and sect-specific differences and issues, they will work to resolve those conflicts, establish boundaries of comfort and discomfort, and take those actions that benefit the community as a whole. If one sect is in danger or facing challenges, other sects would come to help, and above all genuinely respect the differences and treat fellow Jains with dignity, trust, and utmost respect. If we can establish this type of fellowship among our own people, our problems as a community will disappear. We will be stronger bound by a common purpose and steadfastness to each other.
1Shri Ratnakarand Shravakachaar, Shloka 26
2Spiritual conquerors who establish the four-fold order of Jain Dharma and the Jain Philosophy
3Perfect Knowledge attained upon the destruction four types of Ghatiya karmas.
4Shri Tattvarth Sutra, Chapter 1, Sutra 1