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The Vegetarian World Forum
No. 1 Vol. X - SPRING 1956 pp.15-18:

GLIMPSE OF THE FABULOUS JAINS
Woodland Kahler

WHEN a man’s behaviour inflicts suffering on himself there is a limit beyond which he does not go. To the suffering he may
inflict on others, however, there seems to be no limit - except an undeveloped sense of justice which far too often is satisfied with high falutin words. Most of us, as a matter of fact, habitually live on a word-level, confusing the word with the thing itself. Not so the Jains whose words are an essential part of their being. One of the outstanding lessons of Mahatma Gandhi’s life is that man must learn to meditate until his highest ideals are a part of his action. A great friend of the Jains, Gandhi often spoke of them with approval, and for this reason, among others, my wife and I when we went to India as official representatives of the International Vegetarian Union, were most eager to meet the Jains and learn from them more about their extraordinary way of closing that dark, bottomless chasm between the Word and the Deed out of which come all the nightmares of our violent 20th century.

The Prime Minister of India, Mr. Nehru, has acknowledged the contribution of Jainism to the advancement of Indian culture; and the President of India, Dr. Prasad, has gone so far as to say “Jainism because of its Ahimsa doctrine deserves to become the universal religion.” Not all Indian vegetarians are Jains, but all Jains are vegetarians and their influence upon the humanitarian movement throughout the world has been tremendous. In the West, Dr. Albert Schweitzer has come to the conclusion that “Man’s only hope for the future is the repudiation of inhumanity.” The Schweitzer message of Respect for Life has its deep roots in Jainism. Except for Ahimsa (or non-hurtfulness) the basic Jain teachings are to be found in all religions, and nearly everybody on earth pays lip service to the ideal “Thou shalt not kill.” But the Jains do not stop with a pious profession of non-hurtfulness. As far as humanly possible they put the profession into practice. If everybody actually would begin to reduce cruelty in the world, armaments would reduce themselves.

ON arrival in Bombay, where my wife and I had been invited by the Bombay Humanitarian League and the All India Animal Welfare Association, to co-operate in the organization of the 1957 World Vegetarian Congress, we found waiting for us in our room at the Taj Mahal Hotel a booklet describing a contemporary Jain movement called Anuvrata Andolan, sponsored by Acharya Shri Tulsi, a Jain high priest. In the booklet was a card from Mr. Sunderlal Javeri, a young pearl merchant. Before we were able to get in touch with Mr. Javeri, however, Mr. Damji Jethabhai, a devout Jain as well as a successful Bombay businessman dealing in cotton, automobiles, and Burma-shell products, called at our hotel and offered to take us in his car immediately to a Jain temple. We, of course, accepted his kind invitation.

After taking off our shoes at the entrance of the temple, we sat down on the floor - my wife with the women and Mr. Jethabhai and I with the men - and the presiding priest, who was talking in Hindi to his followers when we came in, at once switched over into English for our special benefit. At the end of his talk the priest invited us to go with him and three of his disciples to a room on an upper floor of the temple where, for over an hour, he explained to us the Jain way of life.

There are many classes of Jains from house-holders who take simple vows to high priests who renounce all worldy things and are permitted to remain in one community only for a month at a time, except during the Monsoon (rainy season) when a sojourn of four months is permitted. These priests travel by foot and eat one meal a day at noon. They are not allowed to eat anything specially prepared for them, but may share in the meals of others. Any person who has rooted hatred and desire out of his life - or even is trying to do so - may, if he wishes, call himself a Jain. Jainism is the only religion in the world without a founder. All other major religions began with avatars such as Buddha or Christ, for example, but since Jainism has always existed, a founder was never necessary.

While my wife and I were in the upper room of the Jain temple we tried to tell the high priest about our own first faltering steps on the spiral staircase to enlightenment, taken after we had read Mahatma Gandhi’s inspired letters to his Ashram. In attempting to express our deep conviction that all problems which face the world can be solved by giving children and parents a basic education in non-hurtfulness, my wife and I at the very same moment were both unexpectedly moved to tears of happiness at the thought of this almighty possibility. The wise and gentle holy man looked at us with a smile of great understanding and said, “As messengers from the glamorous West you will speak to the children of India with authority. Feeling as you do, why not come to live in India and help the Jains spread the gospel of Ahimsa? Our youth will listen to you more than to their own parents.” My wife and I will never forget our first visit to a Jain high priest and his invitation is still ringing softly and sweetly in our Western ears.

It is interesting to note that Western scientists are to-day verifying the fact, always upheld by the Jains, that much scientific knowledge is inaccessible except to a quiet and confident faculty higher and better than the ordinary agitated mind of man. Sooner or later everyone in the practical action-loving West will have to admit that the value of action lies not in its immediate material result, but in its contribution to the establishment of right relationships.

Following a path of action re-enforced by purifying vows, many Jain philosophers have in the past attained a super-intellectuality not open to minds stimulated by meat, alcohol, tobacco, coffee, refined sugar products, and other unrelaxing irritants. Contemporary Western scholars are beginning to find out that a considerable number of so-called modern scientific discoveries have already been set down centuries ago in the philosophic writings of the Jains. Dr. Einstein’s theory of relativity, for example, accepted by the world of to-day as something quite new, appears to be only a reflection of one of the many aspects of ancient Jainism.

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WITH THE JAINS IN INDIA
Mr. and Mrs. Woodland Kahler listening to a talk by a Jain priest, Acharya Shri Tulsi

A FEW days after our first visit to a Jain temple, Mr. Sunderlal Javeri took us to see Acharya Shri Tulsi, and once again we found ourselves at the feet of a Jain priest. Although the lower half of the priest’s face was covered by a white mask, his beautiful dark eyes were not hidden from us, and through them we felt a great warmth of heart and personal charm, accentuated by the purity of his mind and spirit. He wore the symbolic white mask over his mouth, not because he was afraid of germs, but to prevent his hot breath from scorching the innocent life unseen in the air around him.

After he had been good enough to explain to us the principles of the Anuvrata Andolan movement, I asked him the following question: “Since you have said it is impossible for mankind to exist without killing many living beings, how - if we are all one - can we hope to achieve happiness here on earth?”

“To be happy is man’s true nature,” Acharya Shri Tulsi said; “by following the upward path of Ahimsa he becomes more and more conscious of his true nature which is happiness.”

As we looked around us at the people sitting at the feet of the lain priest, we saw nothing but happy faces. From their spontaneous smiles and laughter it was evident that these adventurers on the upward path had not lost along the way the joy of living. Acharya Shri Tulsi asked me to give a poetic theme to one of his disciples, and I suggested “a spiral staircase to enlightenment.” While waiting for the poem to be composed, the high priest showed us several pictures - gorgeous little paintings done in oil - by another one of his disciples. The paintings illustrated moral precepts of Jainism.

Still another disciple handed us a magnifying glass together with some scriptural verses he had written in characters so small they seemed to be a fine straight line. Under the magnifying glass, however, the same characters could be distinguished in clear cut relief, proving once again that things in the material world are not what they at first seem to be. With a humorous twinkle in his big dark eyes, Acharya Shri Tulsi put it another way, “If you do not disappoint your material desires, they will ‘disappoint you!”

As a means to purification, Anuvrata Andolan recommends a series of simple vows, gradated to suit the cajability of the individual aspirant. Acharya Shri Tulsi recognizes that it is important for contemporary man to cross the frontiers of narrow nationalism and therefore the Anuvrata Andolan movement is open to the men and women of all nations, regardless of race or religion.

After a few minutes had passed the disciple-poet stepped forward and recited in Sanscrit his poem. Not a quick flash, but remarkably long for such a short period of creation. And even though my wife and I could not understand the words, the mood and rhythm were clearly perceptible. When the poet had finished, everybody applauded, and another disciple translated the Sanscrit into English. As well as I can remember, the poem expressed the idea that a whirlpool in the water spirals downwards toward darkness and destruction: but a human soul having once set foot on the spiral staircase of non-hurtfulness, circles higher and higher toward the light of truth.

Before we left, someone asked my wife if her dog, a purse-sized miniature Pinscher, which she had with her in her hand bag, would speak to the high priest. At my wife’s command the little animal, looking like a tiny deer out of a Walt Disney forest, suddenly barked very loudly in Acharya Shri Tulsi’s direction, very much to the amusement of the high priest and all his disciples. We said good-bye in a happy mood, having been lifted to a new height of understanding by the jolly Jains and their venerable Archarya.

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THE JAIN EXTREME
Acharya Shri Tulsi, leader of "Anuvratta Andolan," the International Jain movement, is not afraid of microbes, but does not wish his breath to scorch them.
(photo from the Autmn 1956 issue of World Forum)

SHAKESPEARE wrote that clothes make the man, but the Jains evidently believe that harmony in human life is not the result of rigid adherence to external trappings. The first Jain priest we visited in Bombay wore a simple loin-cloth: the second, Acharya Shri Tulsi, wore a white flowing robe: and the third and last. His Holiness Shri Nemi Sagarji Maharaj. having renounced all material possessions whatsoever, wore absolutely nothing. The police in all nations appear at times to suffer sudden concern over the moral turpitude of others, and the well meaning Bombay police force had such an attack of excess delicacy when Shri Nemi Sagarji Maharaj came walking into town. But no force on earth, police or otherwise, can triumph over the unquestionable purity of a great Jain sage, and the day we were taken to see His Holiness, by Mr. Ratanchand Hirachand, a wealthy Jain shipping merchant, Shri Nemi Sagarji Maharaj was, as usual, completely naked.

On this particular occasion I was accorded a seat of honour on a raised platform beside the revered high priest. Shri Maharaj looked old and withered in body but the serene laughter of eternal youth was on his lips and his clear dark eyes glowed with an inner celestial fire. He reached behind him and handed me a loud-speaker attached to an electric wire, inviting me to address the large gathering of Jain men and women seated on the flagstones of the inner courtyard where we had assembled. Having, myself, suffered in many parts of the world from over-long speeches, I took only about three minutes to express my gratitude to the Jains for all the rich gifts of the spirit they had given my wife and me, but to my amused dismay the interpreter who translated my talk took what seemed to me three-quarters of an hour. Fortunately the audience was pleased and afterwards His Holiness added a big bunch of grapes for my wife to the gifts of the spirit we had already been given.

If, over the centuries, the dust of ages has settled in certain small crevices of Jainism, these inconsequential specks are destined very soon to be vigorously swept away. Before he died, Bernard Shaw, the great British vegetarian from Ireland, expressed a wish to be reborn into a Jain family. The Irish have a way of getting what they want, and therefore I venture to prophesy that Jainism is going to go places and do things on an international front as soon as little reborn Bernard has had time to grow up. May all the Western World share in a Renaissance of Jainism, learning from the good example of the fabulous Jains that the secret of health, happiness, and peace on earth, lies in the transference of our centre of living to ever higher states of conscious.

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EATING THE INDIAN JAIN WAY
Mr. and Mrs. Woodland Kahler enjoying an Indian vegetarian meal with a family of Jains

(photo from the Autmn 1956 issue of World Forum)

 

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