Jain Temple | India | Living in Mexico

Jain Temple

Jainism: I'd heard the name of this religion but couldn't recall anything about it. I vaguely remembered it was ancient. I thought it was centered somewhere in Asia, and I knew that it featured extreme asceticism. In other words, I knew as much about it as I knew about Zoroastrianism. I was wandering inside Jaisalmer Fort when I came upon a Jain Temple.


The architecture was unlike anything I'd encountered, seeming to derive from no tradition I knew of. I learned that Jainism is very old, dating from the Fourth Century BCE, so its esthetic heritage probably doesn't have many precursors to draw on.


Ornate roof structures contain a wealth of detail—and deep mysteries. Who are these people?


Hinduism developed out of Jainism. One of the Jain tenets is striking: extreme respect for all life forms. Their concern for living things far outreaches Hinduism or Buddhism. Strict vegetarians, many Jains will not even farm vegetables because farming necessarily kills bugs. Even today, some Jains, like these Svetambara (white-clad) monks, wear mesh over their faces to avoid inhaling insects, and carry soft brooms to sweep their paths clear of any creatures so they won't step on them.


Image: BBC

Some put netting over spigots so insects won't crawl into pipes and perish when the water is turned on. Others strain water drawn from wells, returning any bugs found to their environment.

Jains renounce worldly goods. Svetambaras dress in untailored white cloth and own only face masks, brooms, begging bowls, books and writing materials. Digambara (sky-clad) monks go farther: they live out their lives completely naked. They must receive donations in their cupped hands because they don't even have begging bowls. They own absolutely nothing. They have even have renounced any sense of shame, living untroubled by their nakedness in the world of the clothed.


Image: Picasa

Jains' respect for living things and their asceticism seem admirable, but there's a dark side. "Digambaras believe that women cannot achieve liberation without first being reborn as a man. This is because women cannot live a truly ascetic life, because they have to possess clothes since it is impractical for them to live naked, [and] women are intrinsically harmful." *

Maybe I have it wrong, but what I get from reading this is that they believe that even insects are potentially divine, but women are not. And we all know where that kind of thinking leads.


Is there no religious or political tradition that does not divide people into higher and lower classes?

I saw this sign. Offended, I chose not to enter the temple.

* Source: BBC