Chicago: The Jain Associations in North America (JAINA) held its 11th biennial convention from July 5 to July 8 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont. An estimated 6,000 Jains from the US, Canada, UK, and India, and from all four sects -- the Shwetambar, Digambar, Sthanakvasi and Terapanthi, converged to celebrate their faith and heritage. Attending cultural programs, and viewing exhibits, they mingled with their fellows and heard discourses on Jainism by some 300 speakers.
Dressed in white robes, the Jain monks and nuns, known respectively as sadhus and sahdhvis, led prayers for the vast assemblage, and spoke of illumination, renunciation, compassion, and ahimsa.
It was a crowded schedule: Offering Yoga and meditation sessions, lectures, panel discussions, Pratikraman, Bhakti Sangeet, Bhaktamar Stotra, parades, gastronomy - all of which was vegetarian, and varied entertainment, including a Lake Michigan cruise, the conference was packed with the gentle, teeming thousands whom arguably may be among the most dedicated practitioners of ahimsa in the world.
It was filled also with pageantry, and iconography; the apogee might well have been the symbolic lighting of 26 candles beside the replica of the Pawapuri Jal Mandir atop a giant pedestal. The candles represented one for each century since the birth of Bhawant Mahavir, the founder of Jainism. Representatives of all 57 chapters of JAINA, carrying flags, walked in procession, creating a colorful show of Jain solidarity.
Dr. Bipin D. Parikh, chairman and convener of the convention, extolled it. "JAINA is a unified community. The convention aimed at unifying all the Jains to spread the message of Lord Mahavir," he said.
In addition to the Munis, Jain politicians, scientists, physicians, and other leaders spoke. Keynote addresses were delivered by Father Carlos Valles of Spain, Sahdvi Shilapiji, Dr. L.M. Singhvi, former High Commissioner of India to the UK, Dr. N.P. Jain, a career diplomat, Satish Kumar Jain, a Jain monk from the UK, John Robbins, a renowned animal rights activist, Dr. Herman Kuhn, co-founder and president of the Jain Association of Germany, and Induben Jain, Managing Director of Times of India, Mumbai.
Dr. Dhiraj Shah, one of the conference organizers, explained the import of the gathering: "We felt we should gather to spread Lord Mahavir’s message," he said. "We do not try to convert people into our religion, however. It is the message that is important - the message of ahimsa, non-possession, and compassion."
It was indeed a gathering of many voices of Jainism; a literal who’s who of distinguished Jains spoke. Among them were Shri Chitrabhanuji Gurudev, Shri Jinchandra, Vijayji Maharaj, Shri Devendrakeertiji Bhattarakji, Sadhviji Chandanaji Acharya, Dr. Bruce (Balbhadra) Costain, Dr. Virendra Hedge, Shri Dipchand Gardi, Shri Srenikbhai Kasturbhai Sheth, and Indiraben Jain, Jyotindra N. Doshi, Manubhai Doshi, Dr. Snehrani Jain, Prof. Vimal Prakash Jain, Dr. Yasvant Malaiya, and Dr. Shailendra C. Palvia.
In addition to programs for adults, there was a special convention program for youth. Billed as a "convention within the convention," it included events centered around spiritual growth, leadership training, cultural enrichment, and the marriage information services (MIS).
MIS was effectually a match making service. Matrimonial candidates attending the conference posted their pictures on a Web site for other candidates to view and make plans to meet at the convention.
"Many of us are in our 40's and 50's, born in India, and born in the Jain religion of Lord Mahavir," explained Dr Shah. "Our children are born here in Western environment; they don’t have the traditions. This conference is to help them understand and appreciate Jainism."
All told, the conference succeeded in its objective of bringing the Jain community together and to attempt to demonstrate both its efficacy and relevancy 2600 years after the birth of its founder .
"This convention worked for universal peace and brotherhood, " said Dr Parikh.
Just a small sampling of the lectures includes the following:
"The aesthetics of renunciation: Jain arts in Western collection -- Christie" by Yamini Mehta;
"Haribhadra and Jain Yoga" by Dr. Chris Chapple;
"Jain concept of Anekantvada" by Panditji Dhirajlal Mehta;
"Meaning and analysis of Samnvatsari Pratikraman" by Anop Vora;
"Arhum Yoga" by Roop Chandaji;
"Gunsthan and Moksha in Jainism" by Dr. Sneh Rani Jain;
"Lord Mahavir's message for the universe" by Maharaj Sri Amarendra Muniji;
"Will trust and estate planning" by Eric Matlin;
"Jain Society interaction" by Girish Shah;
"Challenges of 21st century and Jainism" by Maharaj Sri Jin Chandra Suriji;
"Hindi poetry" by Dr. Suman Jain and Dr. Shailendra Sharma;
'Contribution of Jain poets" by Prof. Yashvant Malaiya;
"Shrimad Rajchandra's impact on Mahatma Gandhi and Jainism" by Pravin L. Shah;
"Practice and importance of meditation" by Jyotindra Doshi;
"Acharya Kundkundacharya and five Agams" by Dr. Hukamchand Bharill;
"nonviolence in today's world" by Dulichand Jain; "
"Shatavadhan - how to develop memory and brainpower" by Maharaj Sri Manek Muniji;
"Post-earthquake operations -- Bharatiya Jain Sangatthan" by Shanti Mutha;
"Understanding of modern science with Jain philosophy" by Kiranbhai Parikh;
"Meditation and modern science" by Dr. Paras Agrawal;
"Prayer - the way to Moksha" by Maharaj Sri Jinchandra Vijayji;
"Namaskar- maha mantra na rahasy" by Rajnibhai Shah;
"Relevance of Jainism to the present century" by Manubhai Doshi;
"World peace through nonviolence" by Prakash Jain;
"Jainism - an universal faith" by Devendrakeerty Bhattarakji;
"Jain Shravak in modern times and stress management" by Mangalprajna and Vineetpragyaji Samani;
"Medical supplies - how to get it free for charity" by Ramesh Shah;
"Jineshwar Bhakti" by Babubhai Kadiwala;
"Yoga" by Vikram Desai;
"Unity of Jains" by Pravin K. Shah;
"Samayik ni Sadhana" by Chandrakant Mehta;
"A Jain model of Moksha" by Dr. Kokila Doshi.
There were panel discussions such as "Ask your scholars," moderated by Dr. Sushi Jain; "Karma, fate and effort" moderated by Niraj Jain and Dr. Sekharchand; "Nonviolence - an interfaith perspective" moderated by Ramesh Solanki and Dr. Hemlata Pokharna; and "Vegetarianism" moderated by Jasu Shah and Dr. Kalyan Gangwal.