Jainism FAQs

Are there any monks and nuns outside India?

There are some monks and nuns outside India but these are few and far between. The vow of non-violence which Jain monks and nuns take means that they move around only on foot, avoiding mechanical forms of transport. Forms of transport such as trains, cars or bicycles commit violence because tiny beings are harmed by their mechanisms and progress. This is also true of transport powered by animals, such as horse carts. Mendicants also cannot properly meet the samiti rules – which revolve around extreme care in daily life – if they take transportation.

The Jain mendicants outside India are mostly samaṇs or samaṇīs, who form a special type of novice mendicant in the Śvetāmbara Terāpanthin sect. Although they have taken the ‘Five Great Vows’ – mahā-vratas – they have been given special permission to use modern methods of communication and transport. They can thus travel outside India and are important among Jain communities round the world, regardless of sect.

A few other mendicants who are not samaṇs or samaṇīs have travelled abroad, and have become famous such as Sushil Muni or Chitrabhanu, but they remain rare cases. Digambara monks have never travelled out of India, but their bhaṭṭārakas, who are clerics and not ascetics, often visit the West.

Do Jains have gurus?

The word guru is a Sanskrit term for a spiritual teacher with great knowledge and wisdom. A guru acts as a guide or leader to followers who seek spiritual and philosophical truths. Thus the term can be used for Jain ācāryas or mendicant leaders.

However, Jains believe that spiritual progress depends upon individual behaviour and attitude. Therefore, although the advice of teachers and leaders is undoubtedly useful, Jains do not usually demonstrate the degree of reverence towards ācāryas that can be seen in other religions. The term is also closely associated with Hinduism and Sikhism and is thus not commonly used among Jains.

Is there an equivalent of the pope in Jainism?

There is no single person in charge of doctrine or practice in Jainism. Only a few of the Jain sects have a central authority, a leading monk who interprets scriptures or gives rulings on new issues. This is the case with the Terāpanthin and the Ancala-gaccha.

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