Apr 8
2024
5PM-6:30PM CET
Teaching and Learning Jainism in Contemporary Society
5:00 pm - 5:45 pm
Yogic Practices in the Nirvāṇa Kalyāṇaka of Mahāvīra
45 mins
The pañca-kalyāṇaka, or the five auspicious occurrences, mark key events in the life of all the Jinas, or ford-makers (tīrthaṅkaras). In 2024, Jains worldwide will celebrate the fifth of these auspicious events, the nirvāṇa kalyāṇaka, in the life of Mahāvīra (the great hero). This paper mainly delves into this paramount historical event within the Jain congregation and shows why teaching this is important today. Nirvāṇa is identified as “the complete extinction of the flame of karma” or “the establishment of the self in its nature”. The central argument posits that the nirvāṇa kalyāṇaka is characterised by disciplined yogic practices, namely: 1) the unification of fasting (tapoyoga) as a key component; 2) postural yoga (āsana-yoga) indicated by a particular way of sitting during the nirvāṇa kalyāṇaka; and 3) the deliverance of a discourse (svādhyāya-yoga) or knowledge-yoga (jñāna-yoga) as part of the third type of traditional Jain meditation upon realities (dharma-dhyāna). Finally, the supreme meditative yoga (dhyāna-yoga) centres on the self and conclusively stops the three modes of vocal, mental, and physical activities (yoga) in the highest state of pure meditation (śukla-dhyāna). In this state, yoga as activity culminates as a- yoga, or non-activity, which is understood as an ultimate liberation. Finally, over the exclusive astronomical conjugation (graha-yoga), there is a connection between astronomical conjunction and the nirvāṇa that occurs in a particular universal planetary movement which is documented in the Kalpa-sūtra (147).
The analysis in this paper is substantiated through Jain canonical and commentarial passages that shed light on the specific yogic practices employed by Mahāvīra during his nirvāṇa. By examining these yogic elements, this paper aims to provide a deeper understanding of the spiritual and disciplinary dimensions inherent in this historical event. This paper will also assess how teaching dhyāna-yoga today promotes a new type of spiritual practice that meets a need in Jain communities worldwide.
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5:45 pm - 6:30 pm
Enacting transmission of Jain dharma: Informal and formal practices in the field of diasporic Jain cultural production
45 mins
Like other migrant communities, Jains in the diaspora have developed processes and organisations to preserve their ‘original’ culture, religious heritage, and identity. In this presentation I define Jain communities in the diaspora as a field of cultural production. This concept allows me to tease out actors in the Jain diaspora social space who engage in transmission of Jain dharma, in deciding what elements of the dharma are worth reproducing and who leads this reproduction. The presentation draws on in-depth qualitative research conducted between 2008-10 in Britain and USA, involving interviews with 60 young adult Jains (aged 18-30 years), participant observations at several Young Jains of America (YJA), Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA), Young Jains UK (YJUK) conventions and events, and analysis of magazines, newsletters, websites of YJA and YJUK. Additional data was collected through interviews with 20 young adult Jains from both countries between 2021-22. This research found, and as others have noted, parents and grandparents are important sources of transmission of Jain rituals, prayers, diet and socialisation into Jain traditions and beliefs during childhood. Since the late 1990s, many school-age diasporic Jain children have attended Jain pathshalas, operating in private homes and later moving to established Jain centres across the United States or in rented spaces in the UK. Here I draw on Bothra’s (2018) excellent research and anecdotal evidence to highlight features of pathshalas in the US and UK contexts. From the 1990s onwards, another set of actors involved in the transmission, representation and production of Jain dharma have been YJUK and YJA. Through these organisations teenage and young adult Jains not only learn about Jain dharma but have social space to discuss its meaning and relevance in late modern societies. Crucially, these are also spaces where Jain discourse is characterised by the promotion of peer-led rather than monastic authority. My comparative analysis of the two organisations revealed that despite a transnational circulation of ideas between the two organisations, intersection of religion, ethnicity, national citizenship and migration histories in specific contexts differently shaped religious identities, religious group boundaries and religious discourses in the first decade of the 21 st century. The second decade of the 21 st century also saw the emergence of youth groups associated with the Shrimad Rajchandra Mission Dharampur. Within these groups Jain dharma is transmitted, represented, and produced differently to that of YJA and YJUK, one that is influenced by spiritual leader Pujya Gurudev Rakeshbhai Zaveri. My presentation highlights two key points: processes of cultural production not only include creation of cultural production but also reflection on how to produce it; and the boundaries of cultural fields are not predetermined by nation-states but include transnational contexts.
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Mar 4
2024
7PM-8:30PM CET
Eating and Fasting. A Contemporary perspective
Presiding: Atul Shah
5:00 pm - 5:45 pm
Food Security – An Issue for Practical Jain Studies
45 mins
Food security refers to a situation in which every person is able to receive at all times a sufficient amount of safe and nutritious food. The disruptions caused by Covid19, the Russian attack on Ukraine, climate change and limited resources all show the vulnerability of global food systems and the need to rethink what the human diet should look like in the future. This presentation will discuss food security in the context of applied Jain Studies. Jains are at the forefront of religious groups that seek to motivate people towards dietary transition away from meat consumption towards a more sustainable vegetarian or vegan diet. Like other religious communities, Jains have a long history of maintaining or re-establishing food security. A recent example is the large-scale distribution of meals by Jain volunteers during the Covid19 pandemic. “What should we eat?” is a central question both for experts in food security and for Jains who want to live in today’s world according to the principles of their tradition. The presentation aims to show how these interests intersect, for example in the concept of food sovereignty, which takes seriously the cultural role that food plays for communities. The presentation will conclude with a discussion of the reasons why religious organisations should be represented also in policy discussions on fighting hunger and promoting a sustainable diet.
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5:45 pm - 6:30 pm
Sallekhana and Asceticism in Jain Texts
45 mins
In one group of Jain texts, sallekhanā (the fast to death) forms the apex of ascetic practice. It concludes the exemplary life of a Jain who, seeking to embody dharma to perfection, applies himself to long and tedious forms of asceticism. Compared to the Buddhist tradition of ancient India, Jains are often characterized as being more extreme. No matter the ascetic practice, Jains always seem to have gone one step further. Where Buddhists would eat meat, Jains adopted a vegetarian diet. Where Buddhist monks shaved their head, Jain ascetics plucked out their hair. Where Buddhist monastics ultimately rejected the ascetic practice of nakedness, some Jain groups made it their quintessential practice. These distinctions between early Buddhist monks and Jain ascetics are well documented. By contrast, the scholarly literature on Indian asceticism lacks critical examinations of the particular type of ascetic practices leading to sallekhanā. To start filling this gap, I will analyze in this lecture the story of Skandaka, as recounted in the Viyāhapannatti (Bhagavaī). I will focus on the series of increasingly
challenging ascetic practices that Skandaka completed before adopting the vow of sallekhanā. By doing so, I will argue for the interconnectedness between the refinement of moral virtues, the purification of the soul, and the disciplining of the body that, in the process, changes radically.
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Feb 5
2024
5PM-6:30PM CET
Philosophy
Presiding: Jayandra Soni
5:00 pm - 5:45 pm
Can an Anekāntavādin Disagree?
45 mins
Although some studies (e.g., Cort 2000) had cautioned against reading the Jaina theory of non-onesidedness (anekāntavāda) as exclusively advocating intellectual nonviolence (ahiṃsā) or tolerance, the 'tolerance' account still continues to reappear and circulate—though less frequently than before and much more among the Jains than the scholarly community. In revisiting this debate, the paper engages with the epistemology of disagreement and raises a crucial question: is it possible for the practitioners of non-onesidedness to have genuine disagreements? And some further complicated questions to add to it—what is the nature of such disagreements: are they absolute or conditional? Does non-onesidedness involve an obligation to agree more and disagree less? Is there an approach that goes beyond the standard dichotomy presented by the binary of 'agreement' and 'disagreement'? Is it possible to disagree with those who are worthy of respect? In framing an answer to these questions and also exploring the concepts of 'epistemic superior', 'epistemic peer' and 'epistemic inferior' in the Jaina context, this paper revisits some of the core elements of anekāntavāda. The paper also contributes to the Jaina response to religious pluralism and concludes with a more fundamental question: is it too evil to disagree?
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5:45 pm - 6:30 pm
Language and Cognition in Anantavīrya’s Thought
45 mins
In my presentation I will discuss the problem of the relationship between language and cognition in Anantavīrya’s thought (11/12th c. CE) as expressed in the Sanskrit treatise Parīkṣâmukha-laghu-vṛtti (PĀLV, ‘Accessible Commentary to the «Introduction to [Logical] Analysis»’) providing a commentary to the Parīkṣâmukha(-sūtra) (PĀ, ‘Introduction to [Logical] Analysis’) by Māṇikyanandin (9th/10th c. CE), particularly to the passages PĀLV 3.95–3.97. I will focus on the following issues: the relationship between the statement of an authoritative person and its relation to cognition of a thing (where a large part of the analysis is occupied by a consideration of the authorship and validity of the Vedas), the issue of innate intention of the speaker (or the author of the statement) as well as of the semantic relationship between the word and the thing based on convention and the problem of word meaning in the light of the discussion with the Buddhist theory of the exclusion (apoha) of the other (Diṅnāga, Dharmakīrti). These issues have been discussed in PĀLV at exceptional length (particularly PĀLV 3.95 and 3.97), even though PĀLV is a rather concise work and such extended arguments are scarce in it. The significance of this exception will also become the subject of this discussion. The presentation will give the audience an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the philosophical interpretation contained in the lesser-known commentary on PĀ, providing space for possible further comparison between it and that of another commentary, Prabhācandra’s Prameya-kamala-mārtaṇḍa (PKM, ‘The Lotus-like Sun [revealing] Cognisable Objects’).
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Dec 4
2023
5PM-6:30PM CET
Collections
Presiding: Johannes Beltz
5:00 pm - 5:45 pm
Jain manuscripts in Paris
45 mins
The collection of Jain manuscripts at the National Library of France (BnF), Paris, counts around 350 items. From the first ones collected in the mid-18th century to a recent acquisition, it shows the interests of French scholars for this field. In this paper, I will draw an overview of the collection and shed light on some important historical moments and figures. Recently, the BnF digitalized the entire collection that is now accessible all over the world on Gallica. This important task must be followed by detailed descriptions using international standards.
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5:45 pm - 6:30 pm
Jain Manuscripts at Wellcome Collection: Overview, Issues, Future
45 mins
In this brief talk, I’ll give an overview of the Jain manuscripts currently held at Wellcome Collection, including their problematic provenance histories. Against this backdrop, I’ll sketch out the issues involved in cataloguing and managing these manuscripts while staying consistent with the overall collections management aims and policies of Wellcome Collection. Finally, I’ll point to some potential pathways for the collection’s future and suggest ways of thinking around manuscript collections that consider different historical types of ‘taking’.
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Nov 6
2023
5PM-6:30PM CET
Narratives
Presiding: Eva De Clercq
5:00 pm - 5:45 pm
Invitation to Bhīma’s Beheading and Quenched Fire: Strategies of Suspense in Devaprabhasūri’s Jain Mahābhārata Adaptation
45 mins
Over the millennia, Jains have composed a large number of works by adapting popular narratives such as the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata. In recent years, Jain Studies scholars have become increasingly cognisant of the fact that several Jain adaptations of these epics have often unjustly been ignored on the basis of being perceived as mere epigonic works. From this, they seek to remedy this oversight and reevaluate the literary merits of these works. However, the scholars who explore the novelty and uniqueness in these Jain adaptations works have either mostly focused on how Jains reworked these narratives to reflect the Jain worldview and ethos, or have analysed the Jain adaptations through the lens of the rasa-theory. Little has been said on how Jains added narrative tension and suspense to episodes that were, and still are, extremely familiar to Indian audiences to the point of predictability. Through a close reading of Devaprabhasūri’s Pāṇḍavacarita (1213 CE), I will show how this Jain Mahābhārata adaptation employs story devices such as switching away from a main character’s perspective and fake-out deaths of important characters. In his adaptation of Arjuna’s exile as well as in his adaptation of the slaying of the asura Baka, Devaprabhasūri uses both types of story devices to create suspense. In doing so, I wish to shed light on alternative strategies of reading that allow us to understand some of the novelty of Jain literary works beyond their capacity for moral instruction.
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5:45 pm - 6:30 pm
The Absurd and the Grotesque in the Dharmaparīkṣā: a Taste of Embodied Humour
45 mins
Heleen De Jonckheere is a scholar of Jain literature and Jain history. Her current research focuses on the conceptualisation and practice of translation and adaptation in the Jain context and in South Asia in general, and on the religious implications of translation. Her further interests include Jain narrative literature, Jain manuscript culture, religious plurality in historical India as well as the interactions of popular forms of religiosity with more established forms of religion. She received a PhD from Ghent University in December 2020 and continued her work at the University of Chicago and the University of Toronto. At present, Heleen is appointed as lecturer in South Asian Religions at SOAS, University of London.
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