Preaching & teaching, the Jain way of living

We have been advised to drink only boiled water, eat vegetarian food and not include vegetables that grow under the soil, in our diet.

Published: 03rd January 2021 10:48 PM  |   Last Updated: 04th January 2021 04:40 AM   |  A+A-

Thirteen Jain monks are currently staying in Mylapore in Chennai | Martin Louis

By Express News Service

CHENNAI: Several hundred years ago, Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism, said that Jain monks should cover the mouth with a mask so that the hot air that comes from our mouth will not kill the germs in the air. Social distancing has always been practised where male and female monks are not allowed to come close to each other. We have been advised to drink only boiled water, eat vegetarian food and not include vegetables that grow under the soil, in our diet.

Little did we know that this would become the way of living in today’s post-pandemic world for everyone,” explains Param Pujya (P Pu) Samitiji, a Jain monk. Samitiji is one among the 13 other monks, who have been residing in Chennai for the past nine months. Under the guidance of the three senior-most monks — P Pu Navkar Aradhikan Dr Pratibhaji MS, P Pu Prafullaji MS and P Pu Siddhisudhaji MS — they have been teaching Jain philosophies and giving discourses to the Jain community in the city on the virtual space, all through the lockdown.

“Jalna, in Maharashtra, is the holy place of our guru Param Pujya Ganeshlalji Maharaj Saheb. Last December, we travelled on foot from there to Nanded and then to Hyderabad. We reached Chennai just before the lockdown. Every Chaturmas, a holy period of four months, this year from July to November, we reside in one city. The rest of the eight months we travel on foot to the place where we decide to have our next Chaturmas,” explains P Pu Garimaji. The monks are currently residing at Shree Vardhaman Shwetambar Sthanakvasi Jain Sangh, Mylapore.

A world of their own
Devout Jains take five main vows — ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (not stealing), brahmacharya (sexual continence), and aparigraha (non-possessiveness). When a householder decides to become a monk or nun, after due preparation, he or she completes the ritual of renunciation or initiation — diksha. The two main Jain sects of Digambaras and Svetambaras follow somewhat different diksha ceremonies, as the requirement to become monks are different.

“We are Svetambaras and we wear plain white dress and do not worship idols. In all sects, the initiation of new monks is celebrated by all of the fourfold community. Monastic equipment, such as the broom and mouth-cloth, are considered as the minimum to live a religious life. The broom (ogha) is used to sweep the floor before sitting down so that we don’t harm any insects.

We are compassionate towards every creature,” shares Samitiji. There are more than 16,000 Jain ascetics in India. “As we travel and preach in the local languages, people get to know about our ideologies. After seeking permission from their parents, they renounce the worldly pleasure and come to us. It’s a choice of life and anybody from any religion, caste or creed can become a monk.

Currently, we have four Jains who have taken the vow of renunciation but are yet to become a monk. Pratibhaji, our seniormost member, monitors their progress to see if they are firm on their beliefs on giving up worldly possessions,” says Garimaji, who’s one of the youngest monks in the group.

Pray and teach
The monks wake up at 4 am. They ask for forgiveness in the early morning prayers. After which, they pray along with bhaktas who come to meet them. Following breakfast, they give discourses and set out to take alms from the neighbourhood. In the noon, they perform their sadhana and meditation. They chant universal mantras in the evening and then end their day with a prayer. “We are not supposed to eat after sunset. The next morning, 48 minutes after sunrise we have our breakfast.

There weren’t many challenges during the lockdown. People from Chennai were helpful. When we couldn’t go out to seek alms, a few bhaktas gave us food. We couldn’t preach much so we were engrossed in meditation and selfimprovement,”shares Garimaji.While a few from the 13 monks plan to stay in Chennai for another year, a few others will walk to Hyderabad. The monks in Chennai will be moving across the city and spreading messages about Jainism.

They also plan to host classes for children on meditation, life skills, slokas and memory techniques. “Pratibhaji has two Guinness records to her name — one for writing the longest poem as a tribute to her guru and another for conducting the longest singing programme for 27 hours under her guidance. She plans to open an old-age home in Badnapur, Aurangabad, for elderly saints who cannot walk, an orphanage, hospital and revive the gurukul concept for kids. We are separated from our birth family, but we regard the whole world as our family,” says Samitiji.


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