Article: Non-sectarian movements

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Contemporary appeal

This manuscript painting shows the 'fourfold community' of Jains listening to a Jina. All four parts of the Jain community are crucial and interdependent. Lay men and lay women are shown on the top rows with monks and a nun below

Fourfold community
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

The divisions between the principal Jain sects of Digambara and Śvetāmbara date back to the early Common Era. New movements that ignore sectarian differences seem to draw the Jain diaspora in particular. A large proportion of the followers of Rājacandra and Kānjī-svāmi are Jains who live in the West. Naturally, these movements also have numerous devotees in India but they appear to better meet the needs of Jains outside India in some respects.

Firstly, these movements are less formal in nature than sects in India, whose members may not have much contact with Jains of other sects. Jains outside India tend to downgrade sectarian concerns, preferring to find areas of common agreement with other Jains. Their shared Jain values and concerns override any sectarian differences.

Secondly, the new movements also place greater reliance on personal practice. Monks and nuns do not usually travel outside India because of the restrictions on their using mechanical transport. Therefore diaspora Jains will have far fewer chances to meet any mendicants. The concept of the ‘fourfold community’ underlines the interdependence of lay and mendicant Jains in maintaining the Jain faith.

Thirdly, these movements allow the laity to express their religiosity without going as far as renouncing worldly concerns entirely. Becoming a mendicant is a joyous event but it is generally acknowledged that it is not for everyone and that life as a householder is valuable too. Since Jains who live outside India are overwhelmingly lay people, these movements honour the lay practice of faith. Without mendicants, some of the traditional practices do not meaningfully exist, such as the giving of alms. The lack of opportunity for close contact with the mendicant elements of the fourfold community forces Jains of the diaspora to continue with their faith in fresh ways.

The popularity of such movements may indicate that a wider Jain identity feels more comfortable to contemporary Jains living outside India, who may face greater difficulty in maintaining Jain values.

EXT:contentbrowse Processing Watermark

Related Manuscript Images - All text is © JAINpedia / Institute of Jainology 2020 under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 licence The Jain universe online at

Unless images are explicitly stated as either public domain or licensed under a Creative Commons licence, all images are copyrighted. See individual images for details of copyright.