My Understanding and Reflections on the four Traditions/Sampradayas in Jainism

By Dr.Sulekh. C. Jain

After several hundred years of the nirvana of the last Tirthankar; Bhagwan Mahavir, due to different interpretation of his teachings, environmental and geographical factors, Jainism split in to 2 main Sects. Digambar and Shvetambar.  

Over time, both the major Jain traditions evolved further into sub-traditions. For example, the devotional worship traditions of Shvetambar are referred to as Murti-pujakas, those who live in and around Jain temples became Deravasi or Mandira-margi. Those who avoid temples and pursue their spirituality at a designated monastic meeting place came to be known as Sthānakavāsī around 1474 A.D .

About the 18th century, the Shvetambar and Digambar traditions saw an emergence of separate Terapanthi movements. Shvetambar Terapanth was started by Acharya Bhikshu in 18th century. Tera derived from Tera which literally means “yours”.

In addition, there are a few more  traditions/sects (such as Kanji Swami Panth), Shrimad Rajchandra Panth and Taran-Panthi etc.) which are of recent origin.   

Raj Bhakta Marg or Kavi Panth or Shrimadia are founded on teachings of Shrimad Rajchandra by his followers after his death in 1901. They combine Digambar and Shvetambar traditions. Former Sthanakavasi monk Kanji Swami established Kanji Panth in 1934, which is regarded to be a branch of Digambar Jainism. Akram Vignan Movement established by Dada Bhagwan draws inspiration from teachings of Rajchandra and other Jain scriptures though it is considered as a Jain-Vaishnava .

It is a known and accepted fact and beliefs that while there are some differences in practices, rituals and some interpretation of Jin Vaani, the core philosophy and main principles of each sect is the same.

Over time, all the sects grew and flourished with their own separate places of worship, properties, establishments, mathas, sometimes disputed claims to the same places of worship, followers (gurus, acharyas, monks, bhattaraks, nuns and lay shravaks and shravikas), scriptures, language, pandits, preachers, scholars, traditions, rituals, festivals, holy days, leaders, hierarchies, restrictions on inter – sect marriages and regionalism etc. In many ways over time, the walls of separation between these Sects became quite thick  and is not stopping even today.  

With the passage of time, these divisions became stronger and stronger and dialog and cooperation between various sects became practically nonexistent. 

Strangely, many leaders and monks of all sects talk of unity in public but generally in private most of  their actions are of non-unity and promotion of their sect only. Talks and Walk are not in sync. 

How is the situation today?

Frankly not good. I have observed, that in many ways, all these sects behave like or similar to  Shia and Suni traditions of Islam minus the physical violence and harm to others. Several prominent Jain leaders have told me that for some programs and projects, it is much easier to work with leaders of other faiths than that of  the other Jain traditions/Sects. 

Fifty-Five years ago, we found North America (USA and Canada) a fertile ground to break these walls of separation that exist so deep in India. The reasons were that after 1965, the first-generation Jain immigrants to USA and Canada were highly educated, professionals and broad minded. Originally, even though they all were born and raised in their  own traditions at home, but assumption was that when moving to North America, they will leave all those differences behind and come here simply as Jains only.  

Personally, 57 years ago, I did just that. I took this  very vow and did not bring any Sectarianisms with me from India to North America, I left it there (even though I was born and raised in Sthanakvasi tradition in Haryana). My spouse is from Digambar tradition and my 2 children are just only Jains and do not belong to any Sect. 

Here in North America, in earlier days, many Jain leaders tried earnestly and sincerely to establish Jain community of unity and nonsectarian outlook. For this, we promoted the idea that all Jain organizations and places of worship should be free from being designated/named to any particular Sect. With this very vision and idea, in 1981, we established JAINA (very historic and bold step) representing all Jains and a symbol, role model and promoter of this very vision but frankly we are failing very rapidly and the undercurrents, clouds and action of separation and sectarism  here too are growing day by day. The sad fact is that even JAINA has succumbed to this menace. 

This is very sad.

My Take on various sects and their meaning (in my eyes). 

The most prevalent understanding amongst the general Jain community is that some of the terminologies or names of various Sects refer to the style/kind/color of the dress of their monks (not of their lay followers). For example, Shvetambr means whose monks and nuns wear white clothes and Digambar means whose monks (not nuns) have no clothes i.e., are nude.

Friends, here, my take is quite different. I feel the 4 names/nomenclature of the 4 traditions are the 4 names of the aatmaa (soul) in its same (Shukla Leshya) state /aura/leshya and thus all the 4 names mean the same thing. 

This is my take and understanding 

Shvetambar means not just white clothes but whose aatmaa (soul) is in Shukla (white) leshya/aura. Such a state can only happen when one’s aatmaa is free from 4 Kashayas/passions of anger, greed, deceit and EGO

Digambar means no possession even of any clothing but here possession and no clothing means having no possession of anger, greed, deceit and EGO.  Such an aatmaa in that state will also be in Shukla leshya/aura. 

Sthanakvaasi means who dwells in his/her aatmaa which is in a state of Shukla leshya /aura and this is possible only when one is completely free from the 4 kshayas/passions of anger, greed, deceit and EGO.

Terapanthi means whose panth is pure aatmaa free from anger, greed, deceit and EGO and thus in Shukla leshya/aura. 

Here we see, all the 4 names/nomenclature of the 4 Sects mean the same thing i.e., these are the 4 different names of an aatmaa which is in Shukla Leshya/aura and free from any possession of the 4 kashays/passions.

How nice it will be if we all contemplate on this spiritual meaning and break the walls of sectarianism which we have built over many centuries and still keep on building! Now is the time. 

 Truly this is Anekant in action. Now you decide!  

Image courtesy of thesatimes

Share this post