Jainism is a tradition which dates back thousands of years, which is unbelievably rich and profound, and which has certain unmistakable signs of identity. Contrary to what some might think, it is not in any sense a poor relation of Buddhism, nor is a strange, atheistic and ascetic sect within Hinduism. Jainism is, above all, the religion of non-violence (ahimsa), an ideal which all other religions of India were subsequently to make theirs and which was made universal by Gandhi in the 20th century. Like Buddhism, Jainism is a religion without God which paradoxically opens to the truly sacred in the deepest reaches of all living beings in the cosmos. And it is also the religion of non-absolutism (anekantavada), a particular form of philosophical pluralism, which seems astonishingly modern.
The author traces the dynamics and development of Jainism—deftly steering between the extremes of the overly academic and the superficial. He looks at Jainism’s main features: its cosmology, mythology, its origins and great figures, its main subdivisions and religious groups, its scriptures, practices and soteriological approaches, as well as its rituals, the social, cultural and political interactions, and so forth.
Jainism is both a didactic introduction and an invitation to study the religious traditions of Indian: a study of its philosophy, its art, its ways of life, its ways of being integrated into the world, and releasing from it.
Agustin Paniker (Barcelona, 1959) is a publisher and an independent writer of Indian and Spanish blood, expert in the society, religions and philosophies of India.
He has also written in Spanish Indika. Una descolonizacion intellectual (2005) and Los Sikhs. Historia, identidad y religion (2007).
I deem it a great honour to write a foreword to the English version of Professor Agustin Paniker’s well-known work on Jainism. The original book was written in Spanish in 2001 and the revised edition in 2008. The present edition is translated into English from the revised Spanish edition by David Sutcliffe. The three editions in ten years time show its popularity among the scholars.
The author is an acute and a versatile scholar, and his present treatise is an all-comprehensive outstanding contribution to the subject of Jainism. The author in his book has covered a varied and sundry subjects on Jainism which are not usually found in one volume. The author has selected some twelve topics of important nature and everyone of his selections is unique in its presentation. All the important and much covered subjects are put in one volume, so that the readers have a thorough grasp of the subject. It deals with the history, mythology, philosophy, and religion and Jam society in a systematic manner. The cosmology of Jainism, though difficult to present in a clear way, has been discussed in a scholarly manner. The development of Jainism in different parts of India is delineated in a historical perspective. The Jam orders, Iconography and worship are all done in a befitting manner. Even the topic soteriology is depicted in a scientific outlook. In one word, the book is one in all and all in one.
The style of the translator is simple, lucid and poignant. The translator has not unnecessarily made his style cumbersome and difficult to understand. The exposition of the subject is straightforward and easy to comprehend. I must congratulate Shri NP. Jam for publishing this book in his series for the benefit of the readers, and I also believe that the scholars will derive much help from this book. I recommend this volume strongly to the reading public.
Jainism is one of the great religious traditions of India. Nonetheless, it is little known outside South Asia. For those few who have heard of the Jams, they simply form a part of the fabulous and exotic tapestry Of India—an intrinsic part of a dream-like landscape which, over the course of centuries, the West and its imagination have steadily moulded around ideas like “India” or “the East”.
It all began with the Greek chroniclers. Later came the Phoenician and Roman traders. Afterwards, the Arabs, the Portuguese navigators, and the Christian missionaries. Then, the German Romantics, the orientalists, the British colonisers, the hippies and flower power people... down to the tourists we see today. Each and every generation, including those who travelled to India and those who never set foot on its soil, have played their part in weaving a tapestry portraying a fantastic, deep, exotic and distant India. Educated Indians, on their part, have deliberately embellished this picture.
This landscape is replete with luxuriant jungles; rimmed by inaccessible mountain ranges. There, hot spices and aromatic herbs grow, and great elephants, cobras and Bengal tigers have their dwelling. These are lands scourged by tropical storms and crossed by extremely sacred rivers. Among the paddy fields there are dark eyes and colourful saris. There have been reports of incredible palaces inhabited by immensely rich maharajahs, whose treasures teem with shining rubies, pearls and amber. An estimated 300 million gods and goddesses dwell in this land, each one with his or her own temple, where incense burns incessantly. India, or rather, the Indic continent, “as an object of desire, has always been a constant on the horizon of the Western imagination. Hegel (1837: 272) already observed this was so.
Of course there are other Indias that have been imagined that are less fantastic or evocative. The India of famines and grinding poverty; of filth and lack of hygiene. The overpopulated India teeming with boys and girls with no future. Or flooded by the monsoons and devastated by thought, the scene of catastrophic accidents. The India mortgaged by social injustice and gender violence. Or the India of inter-religious conflicts, fanaticism and war. Indians could be as spiritually trascendent as incorrigibly superstitious. Although these stereotypes are much later, excessively promoted as they are by media interests and the yellow press, they to have fed into, and helped to mould, the images of India we— Indians and non-Indians—continue to create. The mystical and exotic India of the Romantic view contrasts with the ugly India of the Utilitarian view.
Notwithstanding, Jainism rarely forms a part of this miserable, third-worldish and moribund version of India. If it is imagined at all, the Jam religion is filed, so to speak, under a subheading of the fabulous, prodigious India, the India of wisdom, the India that has long seduced the Europeans. Let us return, then, to the fabulous picture.
At the top of some mountain, on the fringes of a village, beside a river, perhaps within an abandoned temple, extraordinary mystics meditate. Quiet, serene, the archetypes of the anonymous wisdom of the remote past: the yogis with supernatural powers; the priest versed in sacred litanies (mantras), the fakir on his bed of nails; the over zealous holy man, smeared in ashes; the dauntless ascetic, entering into total ataraxy. It is in this last category, that of the proverbial yogis, that the Jams fit into. Were not the Jams those mysterious naked philosophers (gymnosophistes) that the forces of Alexander the Great (4th century BC) came upon during their Indian campaign?
Alexander’s chroniclers tell of the meeting between the commander and a group of holy men, whose wisdom was already legendary at that time. Of the gymnosophist Kalanos, it was said that he was immune to pain and pleasure, and of Dandamis that he did not dare leave India. The way of life adopted by these naked ascetics, their way of facing death, theft indifference to social conventions all left a deep impression on the Macedonians. A little later, the Stoics saw in them the practical culmination of all their theories concerning immunity to pleasure and pain (Halbfass 1988: 435). While not everyone accepts that these naked ascetics were Jams (von Glasenapp 1925: 163-165), it remains a likely possibility (Drew 1987: 147). This is a curious state of affairs: the first Indian monks to capture the West’s imagination were precisely those whom it then forgot almost completely. Even Diogenes Laertius (3rd century) spoke of these wise men, and wondered just to what extent they had affected Hellenic philosophy (Halbfass 1988: 3). There was some sparse mention centuries later, on the lips of the missionaries, or of some German intellectual. But gradually, the references disappeared. Today, if Jainism appears at all on the West’s horizon, it has to do with that India populated with strange ascetics that fascinated the Greeks. The initial image that was formed has endured and remained with us, ever more fuzzy and lost in the mist of legends.
I think it is quite legitimate and healthy that fables should be spun out of these stereotypes, and the imagination is left to free-wheel. After all, India has long been the land of fables and legends and has always stimulated a healthy vein of daydreaming. But, at the same time, I think that a measure of correct information would also be valuable. My argument is that knowledge is one of the few cures that we have for healing intercultural respect and for approaching the daunting complexity that is India. Reviewing the clichés in this way is not in any sense a cold, soulless reappraisal of the scene, but rather a more stimulating, deeper comprehension of an extraordinary tradition.
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