November 20, 2013
Jains are a prosperous community of merchants and professionals in India with the highest degree of literacy of any religious community. One can imagine that business practice in India is not made by or for saints. However, it is one of the minor mysteries of the continent that their monks and nuns live an extreme form of austerity : they eat only once a day, cereals, vegetables and dairies – even eggs are banned from their diet; they do not cook but live off the community’s leftovers; the water they drink has to be boiled and then filtered; members of the Shwetambara sect do not wash ever for fear of hurting a living creature in the water; they sweep off the floor, ahead of their steps, with a cotton broom for the same reason; they do not shave their head put pluck all their hair twice a year; they do not use any form of transport, being animal or mechanical; electricity or appliances or even candle light are banned since fire is sacred to them.
Jainism prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings and emphasises spiritual independence and equality between all forms of life, from the whale to the mosquito. Practitioners believe that non-violence and self-control are the means by which they can obtain liberation.
One of the minor pleasures of the traveller is to witness overweight – a sign of prosperity in India - ladies and men eagerly looking forward to the six weeks period they will live as nuns and monks with the same draconian restrictions, minus the plucking of hair. A form of sacred masochism? A path to salvation?