The tradition of celebrating the birth anniversary of Tirthankara Mahaveera by non-Jains at their place of worship continues on Long Island for 16 years. In Jainism, five milestone events in the life of a Tirthankara are termed as five auspicious (Kalyanak) occurrences: conception, birth, renunciation from worldly life, attainment of absolute knowledge, and Nirvana. Rightfully it is also called Mahaveera Janma Kalyanak.
The event is organized by Gathering of Light and the key person is Rev. JoAnn Barrett whom all speakers and Jains profusely praised for her dedication and Rev. in turn praised Ila Vora for making the event possible and continuing the tradition.
The event kicked off with all Jain events without exception by reciting the Navkar mantra that was melodiously recited by Mrs. Jyoti Shah followed by a welcome from Rev. JoAnn Barrett, followed by Imagine, a song by John Lennon. The essence of Jainism as excerpted from L.M. Sanghvi’s Jain Declaration on Nature was delivered by a member of the Gathering of Light.
Glory of Bhagwan Mahaveer was sung by Chandresh Panchamia while chanting of Om Parmatma Namo Namoh, Mahaveer Swami Namo Namoh by youths, while Vande Mahaveer, Jai Jai Mahaveer song was led by Arthur Jacques. Three major speeches were delivered by Nitin Ajmera, Dr. Anuja Shah and John Di Leonardo.
Ila Vora read out the message from Arvind Vora, one of the initiators of this event before the closing song, recited by all, Let There Be Peace on Earth
Excerpts from John Di Leonardo’s speech on how Jainism influenced him
My name is John Di Leonardo. I am an anthrozoologist, peace activist, and president of Long Island Orchestrating for Nature, also known as LION, the leading animal advocacy organization on Long Island and the premier fowl rescue from Manhattan to Montauk. It is an honor to speak today in celebration of Mahavir Jayanti as Jainism has been a tremendous influence on my life.
My proudest victories have always been through my local organization LION, right here on Long Island, shutting down Cole Bros. Circus after 66 peaceful protests annually from Elmont to Greenport and getting the circus’s permits denied to perform in Islip, stopping a slaughterhouse from opening also in Islip—saving 40,000 birds from slaughter each year, ending wild animal acts at dozens of fairs, stopping a sordid aquarium chain—which had license suspensions and revocations in other states—from opening in Oyster Bay, stopping the massacre of thousands of geese and thousands of deer, and rescuing tens of thousands of fishes and amphibians from a construction project right here in Huntington Station just last year.
For this reason, in July of 2021, emboldened by the support of my wife and the Jain principle of Aparigraha, or non-attachment, I resigned from my fulltime position with PETA to put my full energies into opening Long Island’s first Center for animal advocacy and farmed animal rescue as well as a national resource Center for domestic fowl rescue, volunteering full-time to achieve it ever since.
We cannot save the world all at once but through small vows, or Anuvratas, we can make progressive vows to stop cruelties in our daily life or vows to stop individual acts of cruelty in our communities. Over time, these progressive vows add up and we will be astonished at what each of us can do for our sentient community.
If it was not for Mahavir, I do not know where I would be today, but thanks to Jainism, today I am a peace activist making our world better in a very tangible way.
Nitin Ajmera spoke on the need of peace and nonviolence in strife-torn world
Nitin Ajmera, Chairperson of the Parliament of World’s Religions (PoWR) was invited to speak on Peace and Non-Violence and its relevance in the present world. “We all have come out of a pandemic into a war. The largest non-war related deaths in the history of the world, to be followed by deaths due to war. We all need a peaceful resolution, bilateral talks and understanding of each other’s fears, concerns and find a solution where we all can coexist with peace and harmony. If we can control our needs and wants, there is a lot of happiness to be shared with all of us.
Jains believe in Aparigrah – limiting our wants and needs to what is needed for survival and not to accumulate and then waste. By doing so, we are encouraged to donate closets full of unused clothes, not to keep water running during shaving or brushing teeth, neither order large quantities of food in restaurants nor keep lights on in rooms where no one is sitting etc. – minimizing our intake from the environment and allowing it to be used where it is needed and or at least available for future use.
I thank Rev. JoAnn Barrett and Gathering of Light for such a wonderful opportunity. Through their program of “Sacred Water Ceremony”, they have carried the PoWR message to the local community of prayers to our water sources all around us. I welcome all of you to come and join in the new experiences, when PoWR organizes its 9th Convening at Chicago from August 13-18, 2023. Please register, and let us all create a difference in the world that we live in.”
Dr Anuja Shah’s speech on Mahaveera’s message about peace
“Lord Mahavir, who propounded and spread the Jain philosophy, lived over 2500 years ago.
Yet His birth continues to be celebrated with great reverence every year as we all know Lord Mahavir did not just preach but lived and taught by example. Every word spoken was self-experienced with cogent clarity in every syllable.
Born as Prince Vardhaman, He was later given the name Mahavir to reflect His utmost bravery. Because He conquered all His inner enemies, His vices, which is the ultimate form of victory.
He experienced the most supreme and eternal state of inner purity, happiness, and bliss. And because of His boundless compassion, He wanted every living being to also experience this.
His teachings are eternal and ageless as they reflect the path of universal truth. The same path taken by every great soul, every enlightened master past, present and the future too.
Lord Mahavir said to live and let live because compassion is the ultimate religion. Which means having respect and love all and not just some.
Therefore, Lord Mahavir’s priceless wisdom especially that of Nonviolence or Ahimsa is just as relevant today
In fact with the ongoing war crises, Ahimsa is the need of the hour is what we would all say.
But what can each of us do, how can we apply Mahavir’s message of Nonviolence to help the current world situation one may ask.
The beauty is that while His teachings are simple and clear, they are powerfully transforming when taken to task
Lord Mahavir said to practice Nonviolence at EVERY level – physical, verbal and in the thoughts we choose.
Because You see when you squeeze an orange it can only give that which it holds inside which is orange juice.
He said the root cause of all the misery in our lives and in this world stems from our wrong beliefs.
By empowering our lives with eternal truths is the only way to end all forms of grief. When, with the right understanding and practice, nonviolence permeates into our being and each thought becomes pure.
Then, selfless love and compassion for every single type of life form will be the automatic and effortless result, nothing less, nothing more.
And just like one candle has the power to light at least dozens of other candles from just one flame.
Our inner purity, positivity and peace will spread to those around us and impact them to do the same
John Lennon of the Beatles in his desire for world peace had composed and sung a very famous song called Imagine. And thru Lord Mahavir’s invaluable message of nonviolence, this dream for world peace can surely happen.
May all follow the path of truth shown out of pure compassion by the great souls and enlightened masters like Lord Mahavir. So that each one of us, the entire world and every living being can experience everlasting happiness and inner peace.”