Peace Through Dialog 2007 - Dr. Vinod Kapashi : Traditions Or Fundamentalism?

Published: 07.01.2008
Updated: 02.07.2015

Jaina Convention
Federation of Jain Associations In North America

Traditions Or Fundamentalism?

Dhammomangal mukkitham, ahimsa, sanjamo tavo
Devapi tarn namassanti jassa dhamme soya mono.


Dr. Vinod Kapashi, UK

vinod[at]kapashi.wanadoo.co.uk

Dr. Vinod Kapashi, a Jain scholar, has explored few traditional beliefs and explained how they have affected our religious thinking and actions. Do we need to change? Dr. Kapashi has lectured in the Parliament of Worlds' Religions in Chicago, Cape Town and Barcelona. He is teaching Jainism since 15 years and has gained Ph. D. in Jain sacred Hymns (nav-smarana). He is the president of Mahavir Foundation and takes keen interest in Interfaith activities in the U.K having served as the president of the Harrow Interfaith Council in the past.

A Religion based on non-violence, self-control and austerities is the auspicious and best one. Even the Gods bow down to him whose mind is fixed on this religion.- Dasa-Vaikalika- Sootra 1/1)

Our saints, scholars and even lay Jains have stressed upon us that our religion is based on solid principles, age-old values and teaching of Bhagvan Mahavir. Our religion stands on the bedrock of principles, which are timetested and eternal yet, relevant for any time and any place. Those who have studied Jain scripture would happily subscribe to these ideas. Our religion indeed is based on eternal principles like non-violence (Ahimsa), consideration and acceptance of multiplicity in human thinking and approaches (anekantvada) and non-possessiveness (aparigraha). These are enough, if we understand properly and practice them to have a peaceful co-existence and sustenance of environmental harmony.

Bhagvan Mahavir our 24th Tirthankara who taught us these values was a great philosopher, thinker, reformist and above all a great environmentalist. He has provided guidelines and code of conduct for every human being on this earth.

It is now more than 2,500 years of His nirvana and we have been left with the great legacy of His thinking and His discourses. Jainism, like any other religion has gone through quite a few changes over the past two to three thousand years. What we follow now as day-to-day rituals and minute behaviour patterns were not all explained in our original scriptures. We follow certain guidelines based on what our great saints and acharyas have given to us in post-scriptural books. Patterns of rituals were carefully worked out like how one should sit whilst doing certain rituals or how to recite certain verses (gathas). There are certain lines of verses, which only man can recite. Certain books which can only be read at particular times by particularly qualified person or persons and so on. A strict code of conduct as to what food should be consumed at what time, in what quantity and at what stage were all meticulously written down by our acharyas.

Now the question is being asked: Do we need to examine and change at least some of our practices? Do we need to replace some of the wordings in Pratikramana Sootra to make them more relevant? We ceremoniously and like a parrot recite certain verses during the time of Paryushana, which were written down when our forefathers used to cook food by using cowdung cakes. They have mentioned everything related to that particular lifestyle. All these seem out of trend and out of place to our young people now.

Our acharyas have laid down rules of giving our money to various meritorious causes. They have carefully devised systems of different accounting methods of all such incomes. We are advised that we must give money to various causes. Seven different places or kshetras have been mentioned. Making and installing an idol comes on top of the list [1]. This was a very good idea when it was formulated. However over the centuries, we have maintained the same thinking, same ideal and same pattern of donating our money. As a result there is always a surplus in temple-funds and less money in other humanitarian accounts.

Questions are being asked now by our young people as most of them think that we ought to change. We do respect the fundamental values and teaching, which are eternal, but we do need to examine certain guidelines, which are related to a particular time or place. At least let us not cultivate fundamentalism over certain ritualistic practices. I use the word fundamentalism here because I have noticed that there are group of people who follow every ritual, every pattern and every advice as to what to eat and how to eat with utmost precision. Not only that they are quick to criticize or condemn others who do not follow such patterns. Every small posture whilst doing certain rituals has to be observed with strict care and precision- they would say. Even a colour or make of your rosary and the cloth (katasanu) you sit on are more important for them then concentrating on God's name.

It is widely noticed that most Christians have accepted the theory of evolution (at least in part) and say that whatever is written in Bible about the evolution, is not the ultimate and final truth. However, some of our Jain scholars still maintain that there are two Suns, which are circling round the earth, and the earth is flat. For them modern concept of astronomy is just not acceptable.

There are many issues and many other points, which one can discuss without arriving at any certain conclusion. One can go on listing many points, which needs to be addressed. But the main point is this: Do we really believe in philosophy of many-sided approach or multiplicity of different view-points (anekantvada)? Are we prepared to listen to others and respect their views as well? If so are we prepared to sit down and have a meaningful dialogue? Are we prepared to re-examine some of the post scriptural advices and be bold enough to challenge them? Let us meet, discuss and explore few things. We have not yet decided who we are and what is the name of the last Tirthankara? Is our religion a Jain religion or Jaina religion? (We do not find two different spellings like Islam or Islama). Who do we believe in: Mahavir, Mahavira, Mahaveer or Mahaveera? Time for a dialogue, if not interfaith then for intra-faith it should be. Michchhami Dukkadam.

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharyas
  2. Ahimsa
  3. Anekantvada
  4. Aparigraha
  5. Chicago
  6. Dravya
  7. Federation of Jain Associations in North America
  8. Gyan
  9. Harrow
  10. Islam
  11. JAINA
  12. JAINA Convention
  13. Jaina
  14. Jainism
  15. Jina
  16. Mahaveer
  17. Mahavir
  18. Mahavir Foundation
  19. Mahavira
  20. Nirvana
  21. Non-violence
  22. Paryushana
  23. Pratikramana
  24. Sadhu
  25. Sadhvi
  26. Shravika
  27. Tirthankara
  28. Vinod Kapashi
  29. shravaka
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