Article: Non-sectarian movements

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

The Jain religious movements founded in the 20th century demonstrate novel features. Inspired by the personal example and qualities of an individual man, Jains of all sects began to follow movements with no formal sectarian basis. These new movements were generally established by devout Jains who rejected existing sects in favour of a third path to the truth.

The two best-known examples of non-sectarian movements are the Rājacandra movement and the Kānjī-svāmī-panth. Jains of the diaspora make up a high percentage of followers of these movements. These loose groupings of individuals who are inspired by the work and life of charismatic leaders seem particularly attractive to Jains who cannot take part fully in the traditional religious life.

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Outside sectarian traditions

The two movements connected with Rājacandra and Kānjī-svāmī lay great emphasis on practising asceticism and focusing on developing the soul. They highlight how lay people can live by ascetic principles, which Jains believe help spiritual progress, without completely rejecting the householder status.

The development of these movements contrasts with the standard pattern of founding a new sect or religious organisation within the Jain faith. Most Jain sects have been initiated by a charismatic individual monk, who establishes his followers in a new group. This band usually disagrees with the views held by the majority of their original sect. The breakaway group has gradually developed a mendicant lineage, around which lay followers gather. Though they may differ on certain points, they probably remain loosely affiliated to the broader sect, with whom they agree in many areas of scriptural interpretation and religious practice.

However, these new movements are not affiliated with any sect. Although inspired by historical writers and thinkers who may be associated with certain sects, mainly Digambara, their founders did not believe that the answers to spiritual questions lie with one group or another. Indeed, these movements explicitly reject divisions such as sectarian groupings, mendicant or lay status and caste. This attracts followers from all kinds of background, who may believe that they can find greater religious fulfilment and spiritual freedom outside the traditional sectarian system.

Rājacandra movement

A woman prays in the temple to Shrimad Rajchandra at the ashram in Dharampur, Gujarat. A lay man who lived according to strict ascetic principles, Śrīmad Rājacandra was a 19th-century writer and reformer. His life and teachings have inspired many follower

Shrimad Rajchandra temple
Image by Ravin Mehta © Ravin Mehta

Śrīmad Rājacandra was a well-known lay figure of the late 19th century, inspired by the Digambara mystical tradition. Associated with Gujarat, he lived as a lay man, never taking initiation as a monk. The keywords of his teachings are:

  • asceticism
  • understanding the deeper meaning of Jainism beyond sectarian differences
  • the ultimate goal of full realisation of the soul.

Technically Rājacandra did not found any group or sect, although he attracted devotees of his works and personal example in his lifetime. However, a large number of followers revere him, especially among the diaspora, and his ashram in Agās in Gujarat has become a sort of pilgrimage centre. Of late, ‘there are signs that a lay guru lineage is evolving’ (Dundas 2002: 265). His disciples are loosely organised in the Rāj Bhakta Mārg, which means ‘Path followed by the devotee of Rājacandra’.

Kānjī-svāmī-panth

Charismatic monk Kānjī-svāmi (1889–1980) preaching in Rajkot, Gujarat. Kānjī-svāmi founded a movement called the Kānjī-svāmī-panth, which attracts people from all backgrounds. It has a particular following among Jains outside India

Kānjī-svāmi lecturing
Image by unknown © unknown

This is a Digambara-based non-sectarian tradition of the 20th century founded by Kānjī-svāmī (1889–1980).

Born into a Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin family, Kānjī-svāmi became a monk in this tradition. But when he discovered Kundakunda’s works, with their emphasis on the nature of the soul, he had a change of heart. In 1934, he publicly disrobed and turned to the Digambara path, which he considered the only true one. Stressing the higher level of truth, Kānjī-svāmi was a charismatic preacher and attracted many followers.

The Kānjī-svāmī-panth is a good instance of a non-sectarian Jain movement that attracts people from all religious backgrounds. It has no association with monastic orders even though Kānjī-svāmi was a monk. Songadh in Gujarat was the first centre linked to the Kānjī-svāmī movement and new centres are appearing regularly in India. Kānjī-svāmi’s spiritual path is also successful among the Jain diaspora.

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.

Images

  • Shrimad Rajchandra temple A woman prays in the temple dedicated to Shrimad Rajchandra at the ashram in Dharampur, Gujarat. A lay man who lived according to strict ascetic principles, Śrīmad Rājacandra was a 19th-century writer and reformer. His life and teachings have inspired the establishment of many temples and ashrams.. Image by Ravin Mehta © Ravin Mehta
  • Kānjī-svāmi lecturing Charismatic monk Kānjī-svāmi (1889–1980) preaching in Rajkot, Gujarat. Kānjī-svāmi founded a movement called the Kānjī-svāmī-panth, which attracts people from all backgrounds. It has a particular following among Jains outside India.. Image by unknown © unknown
  • Fourfold community This manuscript painting illustrates the 'fourfold community' of Jains listening to a Jina preach. All four elements of the Jain community are crucial and interdependent. Lay men and lay women are shown on the top two rows while monks and a nun are on the bottom. All the figures are kneeling and raise their hands in a gesture of respect.. Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

Further Reading

‘A Tale of Two Cities: On the Origins of Digambar Sectarianism in North India’
John E. Cort
Multiple Histories: Culture and Society in the Study of Rajasthan
edited by Lawrence A. Babb, Varsha Joshi and Michael W. Meister
Rawat Publications; Jaipur, Rajasthan, India; 2002

Full details

The Jains
Paul Dundas
Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices series; series editor John Hinnels and Ninian Smart; volume 14
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2002

Full details

‘Demographic Trends in Jaina Monasticism’
Peter Flügel
Studies in Jaina History and Culture: Disputes and Dialogues
edited by Peter Flügel
Routledge Advances in Jaina Studies series; volume 1
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2006

Full details

Jaina Sects and Schools
Muni Uttam Kamal Jain
Concept Publishing Company; Delhi, India; 1975

Full details

The Jaina Path of Purification
Padmanabh S. Jaini
University of California Press; Berkeley, California USA; 1979

Full details

The Unknown Pilgrims: The voice of the sādhvīs – the history, spirituality, and life of the Jaina women ascetics
N. Shāntā
translated by Mary Rogers
Sri Garib Dass Oriental series; volume 219
Sri Satguru Publications; New Delhi, India; 1997

Full details

Historical Dictionary of Jainism
Kristi L. Wiley
Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements series; series editor Jon Woronoff; volume 53
Scarecrow Press; Maryland, USA; 2004

Full details

Rāj Bhakta Mārg – the path of devotion to Srimad Rajcandra: a Jain community in the twenty-first century
Emma Salter
PhD dissertation submitted to University of Wales in 2002

Full details

‘Rethinking Religious Authority: A Perspective on the Followers of Śrīmad Rājacandra’
Emma Salter
Studies in Jaina History and Culture: Disputes and Dialogues
edited by Peter Flügel
Routledge Advances in Jaina Studies series; volume 1
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2006

Full details

Shrimad Rajchandra: A Life
Digish Mehta
Shrimad Rajchandra Ashram; Agas, Gujarat, India; 1991

Full details

Bibliography of Literature in English about Shrimad Rajchandra
Prakash Mody
Toronto, Canada; 2006

Full details

Philosophy and spirituality of Śrīmad Rājchandra
Umedmal Kesharchand Pungaliya
Prakrit Bharati Academy; Jaipur, Rajasthan, India; 1996

Full details

Atma-siddhi = Self-realisation
Śrīmad Rajchandra
translated by Dayabhai C. Mehta
Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan; Mumbai, India; 1976

Full details

The Atma-Siddhi (or Self-Realisation) of Shrimad Rajchandra
Śrīmad Rājacandra
translated by Rai Bahadur J. L. Jaini
Shrimad Rajchandra Gyan Pracharak Trust; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1987

Full details

Glossary

Ascetic

Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.

Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.

Asceticism

The practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition. Asceticism involves self-denial – for example refusing tasty food or warm clothes – and sometimes self-mortification, such as wearing hair-shirts or whipping oneself.

Ashram

A religious community separated from the outside world, from the Sanskrit word āśramah - practising austerity.

Caste

Hindu society is traditionally divided into numerous jātis or classes, which are usually grouped into the four varṇas – often called 'castes' – of:

  • Brāhmaṇa – priest
  • Kṣatriya – warrior
  • Vaśya – merchant or farmer
  • Śūdra – labourer.

Relating to ritual purity, castes are hereditary and probably based on occupation. Members of different castes performed particular socio-economic roles and did not mix or eat the same food. People outside the caste system were usually looked down upon.

Caturvidha-saṅgha

The ‘fourfold society’ of Jain tradition, which is made up of ascetics and the laity, and of males and females.

Common Era

The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.

Devotee

An enthusiastic follower of a religion. Can also describe a keen enthusiast of an individual, concept or activity.

Diaspora

From the Greek term meaning 'scattering or dispersal', the word 'diaspora' describes large groups of people with shared roots who live away from their ancestral homes. They have usually moved because they were forced to by other groups, because they have fled war, famine or persecution, or to improve economic opportunies. They usually have strong emotional, religious, linguistic, social and economic ties to their original homeland.

Digambara

'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.

Disciple

An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.

Gujarāt

The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.

Guru

Sanskrit term meaning both:

  • a spiritual teacher
  • 'heavy', in contrast to laghu or ‘light'.

Jain

Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.

Jīva

Sanskrit for 'self', 'soul' or 'that which is sentient'. It makes up the universe along with ajīva, or non-sentient material substance. It is a material substance that changes in size according to the body it inhabits in each life. It is born in different bodies in various places in the Jain universe based on karma from earlier lives. The soul is liberated from the cycle of birth when it has achieved spiritual purity and omniscience. Also called ātma or ātman.

Laity

Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.

Mendicant lineage

Ascetics are initiated into a tradition handed down from a named religious teacher. Religious instructions and principles are passed on orally and in writings from one generation of mendicants to the next, continuing the monastic lineage.

Mysticism

A system of contemplative prayer, meditation and complete detachment from worldly affairs in the hope of gaining direct spiritual experience of the divine. In Jainism those who practise mystical techniques hope to gain true self-realisation and thus destroy karma and be liberated.

Pilgrimage

A journey to a place of religious significance. Some religions encourage pilgrimage as ways to advance spiritual progress and deepen the faith of those who make the trip – pilgrims.

Preach

To deliver a speech on a religious topic, usually given by a prophet or member of the clergy. It may be a formal task of a religious office or open to all believers in a religious faith. Often covering social and moral subjects, preaching may be intended to:

  • remind hearers of religious principles and rules
  • encourage piety
  • persuade non-believers of the correctness of the preacher's religious beliefs.

Renunciation

Giving up something. A lay person who becomes an ascetic renounces the life of a householder within society, instead choosing the physical hardships of being a monk or nun. The formal renunciation ceremony in Jainism is dīkṣā.

Sāgāra

Sanskrit term meaning 'with a home’ – that is, a ‘householder’ or lay Jain. A synonym for a lay person, emphasising that he or she is a member of a household, with responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain mendicant does not have.

Scripture

Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.

Sect

An organised group of believers in a religion, often distinguished from other groups within the same religious faith who have differences of doctrine or practice.

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