© Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion / Corporation canadienne des Sciences Religieuses
Jain Doctrine and Practice: Academic Perspectives
Reviewed by: Maria Heim
The Roop Lal Jain annual lecture series at the University of Toronto began in 1990 with the support of the Jain community in Canada. This volume, edited by Joseph T. O'Connell (University of Toronto), includes the first nine papers given in the series. Although six of the nine pieces here have been published previously, scholars of Jainism and allied fields in South Asian religion will welcome this assembled collection; it contributes significantly to an often neglected field of study.
The first lecture in the series was presented by Padmanabh Jaini, whose long and prolific career first established Jain studies in North America. His piece here on ahi \[mudot] s \[amacr] serves both as a solid introduction to Jainism as well as an exploration of the many angles, both salvific and social, on Jain teachings of non-violence.
The next two articles concern matters of Jain epistemology. William Johnson takes us deep into Jain theories of knowledge, examining questions of how knowledge relates to salvific practice. He covers a broad expanse of issues here -- the nature of omniscience (kevalajñ \[amacr] na), Jain theories on the innateness of knowledge, gnostic strains in Jainism, and the relationship of knowledge and practice -- and concludes with a discussion of how Jain knowledge, which he sees as a path to self-knowledge, should be distinguished from scientific knowledge. Jayandra Soni's article opens with a basic problem that occurs in the context of multiple religious leaders claiming omniscience: that is, if the Buddha and Mah \[amacr] vira are both omniscient, why do their teachings contradict one another? For Soni, part of the answer for Jains will lie in the nature of a reliable authority ( \[amacr] pta). To be \[amacr] pta is to provide true and reliable knowledge that is based in Jain scripture and tradition (and so claims of omniscience by those without this status should be presumably dismissed outright).
Robert Zydenbos's article explores the nature of divinity in Jainism. He argues that while it is readily apparent that Jainism does not posit a notion of a creator deity (and takes a thrashing for this doctrine by Christian missionaries such as Margaret Stevenson in her 1915 polemical book, The Heart of Jainism), their tradition is alive with the presence of the divine or the numinous in a variety of forms. Zydenbos documents the worship of T \[imacr] rtha \[nodot] karas as guides and exemplars of the Jain path, and the worship of pan-Indic devas and yak \[sudot] as, who are worshipped for more worldly aspirations.
Paul Dundas takes up the narrative cycles of one of the most popular of the Jinas, Nemi. According to legend, Nemi renounces the world on the occasion of his wedding when he sees animals lined up for slaughter for the marriage feast hosted in the home of his cousin, K \[rudot] \[sudot] \[nudot] a. Dundas' question is this: if T \[imacr] rtha \[nodot] karas are born only to good Jain families and good Jain families are vegetarians, why is meat on the menu at all for the marriage feast? This same question has been discussed by Jains themselves. The 16th-century \[sacute] vet \[amacr] mbara Jain scholar Dharmas \[amacr] gara argues that meat was served at the feast to irreligious guests, but that it was not K \[rudot] \[sudot] \[nudot] a's doing. His argument, as Dundas presents it, is that correct religious attitude (samyaktva) is incompatible with meat-eating, and since K \[rudot] \[sudot] \[nudot] a is later destined to be a T \[imacr] rtha \[nodot] kara, it is not possible that he can lack samyaktva. A quite different view is represented by Ya \[sacute] ovijaya (1624-88), who disputes Dharmas \[amacr] gara's arguments on a number of grounds and argues that samyaktva is not completely destroyed by eating meat. He is less ready than Dharmas \[amacr] gara to dismiss scriptural passages that describe K \[rudot] \[sudot] \[nudot] a eating meat, but argues that even such lapses should not be taken to destroy potential for salvation. Dundas suggests that what is at stake in this debate is not just K \[rudot] \[sudot] \[nudot] a's reputation, which Jains were historically ambivalent about anyway, but how traditional scholars perceived the damages done to religious faith by lapses in vegetarianism.
Two of the essays centre on how Jains have historically coped with living in a predominantly non-Jain environment. Olle Qvarnström quite skilfully documents Jain strategies for attracting converts. He argues that the tradition mastered two simultaneous yet contrasting strategies that ensured their survival: opposition (to preserve a distinctive self-identity) and absorption (to assimilate some traditions and ideas that had widespread popularity, including even some elements from goddess and tantric cults). Phyllis Granoff (Master University) brings her extensive knowledge of medieval Jain narrative traditions to bear on some of the anxieties expressed in Jain story literature that arise from Jainism's minority status in a religiously pluralistic environment. Her essay translates and discusses six stories from the medieval M \[umacr] la \[sacute] uddhiprakara \[nudot] a that treat chi \[nudot] \[dudot] ik \[amacr] s, those who were forced to experience ``temporary lapses'' in their Jain practice due to outside pressures from Hindus and Buddhists.
The final two essays deal with more recent developments within Jainism: John Cort's analysis of reform movements in the 19th and 20th centuries and Joseph T. O'Connell's essay on Jain contributions to current ethical discourse. Cort's essay compares modern reform movements with reform movements from earlier times (13th to 17th centuries). This carefully documented comparative analysis might be recommended as a model for postcolonial scholarship because it shows that we can only appreciate the changes stimulated by colonialism by having a good grasp on precolonial history. O'Connell's piece surveys ``discussions, dialogues and debates'' in contemporary North American Jain circles about modern moral issues. He shows that Jains have much to say on certain favoured topics, such as vegetarianism, animal rights, ecology, world peace, religious tolerance and nonviolence in general. There is notably less discussion among Jains on other areas of urgent moral concern, however. Topics related to such issues as the economic disparities imposed by globalization, the global AIDS pandemic, bioethics, nuclear buildup, capital punishment, and communal politics and violence towards minorities have not garnered much public discussion from Jain quarters. O'Connell argues that Jainism's long-standing and rich tradition of principled moral convictions should be developed and expanded to incorporate discussion on these broader issues.