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Jainism in the United States

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

American Jains
Total population
American English
Indian Languages

Adherents of Jainism first arrived in the United States in the 20th century. The most significant time of Jain immigration was in the early 1970s.

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  • ✪ Practicing Jainism in America - Jainism Basics
  • ✪ Ankur Jain at TEDxSF (7 Billion Well)
  • ✪ Religion in the United States
  • ✪ Buddhism and Jainism - Part 2 Jainism – ancient history of india l jainism upsc
  • ✪ What is Jainism?


Jai Jinendra, and hey everyone! My name is Nirali. I’m a practicing Jain. And I’m American. Today, I’m going to tell you how all of that works. I don’t consider myself to be the best Jain in the world, but I don’t consider myself the worst. I’m extremely fortunate to have had an education in Jainism while living in America and to have been raised Jain. This definitely makes it easier for me to practice Jainism than someone who has recently converted or doesn’t have the resources that I do. This is why, a year ago today, I made a video called Jainism Basics, which outlines some of the fundamental principles of Jainism. But I did not go into how that translates into real life. So today, I am making this little video to show you how I practice Jainism in America, and maybe you can glean some ways to practice as well. PRAYER So as with any religion, prayer is a big part of practicing Jainism. Like I said, I’ve been lucky enough to learn a lot about Jainism, from stutis and stavans to Chaityavandan and Samayik. However, the one thing everyone should know is the Navkaar Mantra, which I say every single day, often multiple times a day - all the time, in my head. If you came from Jainism Basics, you know how it goes, but here’s a refresher if you need it: Namo Arihantanam Namo Siddhanam Namo Aiyariyanam Namo Uvvajhayanam Namo Loe Savvasahunam Eso Pancha Namokaro Savva Pava Panasanau Mangalanancha Savve Sim Paddhamam Havvei Mangalam As you already know, it bows down to the five supreme spiritual people in Jainism, Arihants, Siddhas, Achariyas, Upadhyayas, and Sarva Sadhus. So that is the main prayer, but how and when do I pray? Like I said before, I say the Navkaar Mantra all the time, but there are specific places for prayer. At my childhood home, we have a “ghar derasar.” “Ghar” means home, and “Derasar” means temple, so Home-Temple. And this means we have a little room dedicated to prayer, where we have murtis, or statues, of some of the bhagwans that we can pray to. While many Jains dedicate a space in their home to pray, like my parents did, many don’t have the space or the supplies, which is totally fine. I have a little corner of my bedroom where there are images of bhagwans that I can pray to. Also, many Jains are Sthanakvasis, and don’t use murtis to pray. So outside of the home, where do people go to pray? Where are the derasars? I’ve been to many derasars in America in my lifetime, including the first ever Derasar in the United States - The Jain Center of America in Queens, I’ve also been to many in New Jersey including the first Jain Thirth outside of India - Siddhachalam. There is also a great resource for finding Jain temples in North America on I’ll leave the link in the description. DIET As a Jain, I’ve been raised on a vegetarian diet, and I try to be a “pure vegetarian,” which means eating an eggless diet along with a meat-free diet. However, I am partial to desserts at restaurants and I am not perfect at all with this part. The reason why I maintain a vegetarian diet is because of one of the three major tenets of Jainism: Ahimsa, or nonviolence. There are more things I could do, in terms of diet. There are a variety of restrictions you can make to your diet that are considered “Jain.” The most common of these is eliminating potatoes, onions, and garlic, as well as all root vegetables. There are big reasons for these restrictions, just like there are reasons for keeping Kosher or Halal. I actually do know a lot of Jains in America who don’t eat root vegetables, but like I said, I’m not the best Jain and I’m not the worst. And I’m a firm believer it’s not up to anyone to police anyone else’s diet. If you would like to learn more about the various Jain diets, let me know and I might make a video about it. PATHSHALA The reason why I have so much knowledge about Jainism is because I went to Pathshala. This simply translates to “school,” but in this context, I am obviously talking about religious classes. From birth until the beginning of high school, my Friday nights - yes, Friday nights - were booked up because I would go to to learn about Jainism. Since I started at such a young age, so much of what I learned has stuck with me and probably will for life. One of the major reasons for that is because Jainism is taught through stories, through allegories like that of the blind men and the elephant. If you follow me at all outside of the Jainism series, you know that storytelling is my favorite thing in the world, and narrative sticks to people like superglue. Its impact is truly incredible. Hopefully soon, I’ll be able to share some of these stories with you. Since I did it for so long, I literally grew up with the people in my Pathshala class, and they’re still my closest friends till date. Many of the Derasars I mentioned earlier have Pathshala programs, and even if they don’t, experience has shown me that people are always willing to impart knowledge on curious learners. My mom would attend Pathshala with us every single week. She learned more about Jainism living in America than she ever did in India. And after my Pathshala teacher moved to India, she started her own Pathshala classes because so many people asked her to. And she’s still learning. PARYUSHAN I don’t think I can talk about my experience practicing Jainism without mentioning Paryushan, the biggest holiday in the Jain religion. It’s a holiday of penance that lasts eight days. This is when I am a really good Jain. I fast, I follow one of the strictest versions Jain diet, with the help of Paryushan Meals - check it out if you live in New York or New Jersey - I drink boiled water, I do pratikraman every night that I can, and I do puja every day that I can. I see everyone all the time in those eight days, and it’s honestly beautiful. It’s one of my favorite times of year, which is strange because I am restricting myself that time of year. OTHER THINGS There are many other things that I do that fall under the “practicing Jainism” umbrella. For example, I wear a rakshapotli, which is this little red bracelet that you’ve seen in every single video - unless I was wearing long sleeves or I was wearing my gold one, which broke off quite a few months ago now. It’s simply a holy - bracelet, I suppose - that indicates that I’m a religious person. It doesn’t indicate that I’m Jain, because Hindus and other Indian religions use this as well, but I know that it came from a derasar and is holy. I also don’t kill things. As you know, one of the biggest tenets of Jainism is Ahimsa, and because of this, I’ve never purposefully killed an ant or crushed a spider in fear. Instead, I’ve learned to coax it onto a piece of paper and and take that piece of paper out doors and let the insect - or arachnid - live. Yes, I do all of this while panicking because nonviolence does not mean fearlessness, but it’s one of the little ways I practice Jainism in my daily life. One final thing, and this one I’m extremely bad at, is cleanliness. Yes, the “cleanliness is next to godliness” trope is also in Jainism. A Jain household is typically very clean. We should endeavor not to let food spoil because organisms grow that you will eventually have to kill because they can harm you. Same goes for sweeping floors and generally being clean. We don’t want to have to harm any life, so it’s better to stop it from happening in the first place. CONCLUSION Of course, there are many, many other ways to practice Jainism, and in the spirit of Anekantvad, there is no one right way to practice Jainism. The greatest way to practice Jainism in my opinion, is to have belief. Believe in the principles and understand why you do what you do. It’s learning as much as you can and thinking critically before believing and figuring out what works for you. I’d love to hear more ways you practice Jainism in the comments. Sources I used in making this video and other things I mentioned will be linked in the description down below. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or corrections, I’m always willing to hear what you have to say in the comments. You can also find me on twitter and tumblr @firewordsparkler. And, if you would like, you can support my channel and content like this by heading over to my Patreon. I make weekly videos on a wide variety of topics. I’d like to take a moment to thank you all so much for your generous support of my Jainism Basics series. The original video now has over 10 thousand views, and it’s because of wonderful people like you who are curious and want to learn more about about my obscure religion. It’s been exactly a year, and I never thought it would get this popular. I was so incredibly nervous making that video, and you have given me the confidence to speak to my experience. Because of this, I’ve made a few videos on Jainism, which you can watch in a handy little playlist linked down below. Thank you all so much for watching, and I’ll see you guys next time. Bye!



Poster announcing lecture by Virchand Gandhi
Poster announcing lecture by Virchand Gandhi

In 1893, Virachand Gandhi was officially the first Jain delegate to visit the United States, and represented Jainism in the first ever Parliament of World Religions.[3] Virchand Gandhi is considered a key figure in the history of American Jainism as the first practicing Jain to speak publicly in the United States about Jainism.[1] The first St. Louis Jain temple in the United States was built for the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. After the fair, the temple was moved to Las Vegas and later to Los Angeles. It is now owned by the Jain Center of Southern California. Adherents of Jainism first arrived in the United States in 1944.[4] The most significant time of Jain immigration was in the early 1970s. The United States has since become a center of the Jain diaspora[citation needed].

From left to right: Virchand Gandhi, Hewivitarne Dharmapala, Swami Vivekananda, and (possibly) G. Bonet Maury
From left to right: Virchand Gandhi, Hewivitarne Dharmapala, Swami Vivekananda, and (possibly) G. Bonet Maury

The first former Jain monastic to travel to the United States, Chitrabhanu, arrived in 1971. He gave several lectures about Jainism at Harvard University and established a Jain center in New York City. The first monk who traveled outside India by use of mechanical means was Acharya Sushil Kumar who arrived in the United States in 1975.[5] He established multiple Jain centers, including International Mahavira Jain Mission popularly known as Siddhachalam.[6] In the 1980s, he and Chitrabhanu inspired the founding of Federation of Jain Associations in North America to support the Jain community in the United States and Canada.[6]

As of 2010 the United States contained the most Jain temples of any country in the Jain diaspora.[1] At least one third of the Jains living outside India live in the United States, numbering close to 100,000.[1][2] Jain temples in the United States, which numbered 26 as of 2006, frequently incorporate marble and arches in a style reminiscent of Rajasthan architecture.[1] There are almost 100 distinct Jain congregations in the United States.[6]

Many Jains in the United States are often employed in white-collar occupations.[citation needed] They also frequently volunteer at animal welfare organizations.[1]

Jain Sects

Unlike India and United Kingdom, the Jain community in United States doesn't find sectarian differences, Both Digambara and Śvētāmbara share common roof. Although Swetambara sect in United States claims to represent all Jains by Cultural Appropriation as they are in majority (76% vs 24%) with various non-denominational Jain temples, which, in reality are run as Śvētāmbara temples with very little or no management participation of Digambara. Digambara communities have protested this treatment by forming Digambar Jain Sangh of North America.

Federation of Jain Associations in North America and Siddhachalam

Main temple at Siddhachalam Jain center at New Jersey. Images of the tirthankaras Mahavira, Chandraprabha, Rishabha, Shantinatha and Parshvanatha.
Main temple at Siddhachalam Jain center at New Jersey. Images of the tirthankaras Mahavira, Chandraprabha, Rishabha, Shantinatha and Parshvanatha.

The Federation of Jain Associations in North America is an umbrella organization of local American and Canadian Jain congregations to preserve, practice, and promote Jainism and the Jain way of life.[7] Siddhachalam located in Blairstown, NJ, is the first place of pilgrimage for Jains outside India. It is a sister organization of Jaina and brings together all Jains into one place for worship, study and reflection.[8]

Jain symbols

The Federation of Jain Associations in North America uses a modified version of the standard Jain symbol, the Jain Emblem. It replaces the swastika with an om because the former is not considered a pious symbol in the western world.[9]

Jain Studies

Florida International University (Miami, Florida) hosts the Bhagwan Mahavir Professorship in Jain Studies, the first Jain Studies chair at a North American university. The Jain Society and Rice University signed a memorandum of understanding in January 2016 to establish a post-doctoral fellowship in Jain studies.[10]

American Jain Centers

Most of the Jain centers are complexes that include a main temple that houses both Shvetambara and Digambara images, libraries, meeting rooms, room for visiting monks/nuns etc.


See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Lee, Jonathan H. X. (21 December 2010), Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife, ABC-CLIO, pp. 487–488, ISBN 978-0-313-35066-5
  2. ^ a b Wiley, Kristi L. (2004), Historical dictionary of Jainism, Scarecrow Press, p. 19, ISBN 978-0-8108-5051-4
  3. ^ Jain, Pankaz; Pankaz Hingarh; Dr. Bipin Doshi, Priti Shah. "Virchand Gandhi, A Gandhi Before Gandhi". A german e-magazine. herenow4u.
  4. ^ Watts, Tim J. "Religion, Indian American". In Huping Ling; Allan W. Austin (17 March 2015). Asian American History and Culture: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 353. ISBN 978-1-317-47645-0.
  5. ^ The Gurus of India, Uban, SS., Allied Publishers, 1977.
  6. ^ a b c Queen, Edward L.; Prothero, Stephen R.; Shattuck, Gardiner H. (2009), Encyclopedia of American religious history, Infobase Publishing, p. 531, ISBN 978-0-8160-6660-5
  7. ^ "About JAINA". Retrieved 2012-01-16.
  8. ^ "About Siddhachalam". Siddhachalam. 28 June 2013. Retrieved 2017-10-26.
  9. ^ "Jain Symbols". p. 29. Retrieved 2012-03-16.
  10. ^ "US' Rice University to offer post-doctoral fellowship in Jain studies", The Economic Times, 25 January 2016

Further reading

  • Jainism in America Bhuvanendra Kumar. Benaras, Jain Humanities Press, 1996
  • The Western Order of Jainism by Nathubhai Shah of London (Jain Journal Vol XXX1, No 1 July 1996)
  • Jains and Their Religion in America: A Social Survey by Dr. Bhuvannendra Kumar (Jain Journal Vol XXX1, No 1 July 1996)
  • JAIN eLibrary attempts to provide an increasingly complete digitized collection of Jain Scriptures, dictionaries, encyclopedias, articles, commentaries, photographs, and other materials related to Jain life.

External links

This page was last edited on 6 March 2019, at 03:56
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