Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Learning from a naked ascetic

One of the assignments in my Hinduism seminar was to research the Jain religious tradition. There are about 4.5 million Jains in the world of which 98% live in India. Jainism dates back at least to the sixth century BC. Using a broad definition, Jains are those who follow the 24 Conquerors and their teachings of the Three Jewels (right faith, right knowledge, and right action).

As in Hinduism and Buddhism, Jains believe in reincarnation and karma. However, their view of karma is slightly different. They believe that karma is actually a physical substance that attaches to one's jiva ("soul") because of false belief, attachment to the world, and acts of violence. This karma enslaves one into samsara, that is, the cycle of death and rebirth. The only way to be set free from this endless cycle is by becoming an ascetic: practising ahimsa (non-violence) and austerities. These austerities create heat (tapas) which burn off one's karma and also prevent future karma from sticking to one's soul.

There are two major sects within Jainism: the Shvetambaras (white-clad) and the Digambaras (sky-clad). These two groups have a variety of differences, but one of the major ones is that Shvetambari monks wear white robes, while the Digambari monks are "sky-clad" and live completely in the nude. As a symbol of their complete detachment from the world, including their sexuality, they wander the countryside in the nude relying on the laity for their food and shelter.

For a Digambari monk the greatest thing he can do with his life is to give up all attachments to the world and devote himself to ahimsa, meditation, and fasting. Then, after a lifetime of austerities, he enters death free of passions as he slowly restricts his intake of food leading to his death.

Can we learn something from these highly-committed 'sky-clad' monks? I believe we can.

After seeing the extent to which Jain monks go in an attempt to achieve liberation from samsara, I am compelled to ask myself a few questions:

"What is the greatest thing I can do with my life?"

"What am I living for?"

"If I know what I am living for, does my lifestyle actually reflect what I am claiming?"

"How would my life be different if I was fully committed to what I claim is the most important thing in my life?"

Studying the life of these highly-committed Jain monks has forced me to look in the mirror and evaluate my life. As a Christian, I know I am not committed to Christ as much as I should. I do not love God nor people as I should. I am self-centered and often live as if the world revolved around me. I have much to work on. However, I also know that God has forgiven me through Christ and that he will continue to work in me not allowing me to stay the way I am. I have the hope that God is not finished with me yet.

1 comment:

Michael Austin Diaz said...

I added a link to your blog from mine. If you keep up the good posts, I might be able to just drop out of seminary and read your blog instead!