The Religion Of Jainism: The White Handkerchief

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During the ancient times between the 7th – 5th BCE, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism were originated in India. All these three religions have very similar beliefs, but according to most people Jainism is most commonly known for being the most peaceful religion of all time. Many things play a factor when it comes to being the world’s most peaceful religion not just refraining from eating fish, meat, eggs or potatoes. There is one specific belief that drew my attention to the world’s greatest peaceful religion the most. Before I explain this, you should briefly understand some viewpoints in the Jainism religion.

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A Jain is one who accepts the teachings of the Tirthankaras. Tirthankaras are the most important people in Jainism because they removed themselves from all the attachments of the world. In addition, Jains have been able to break the cycle of rebirth and death which they believe keep their souls trapped on earth. To reach this stage of non-rebirth known as “Samsora” Jains must adhere to some of their most important beliefs. 

The most important beliefs of Jainism are known as the “Mahavaratas”. The Mahavaratas or the 5 core beliefs are Ahimsa or non-violence, Satya which means always being truthful, Asteya translates to not stealing, Brahmacharya is being faithful to your partner or being completely celibate, and last is Aparigraha the act of not being weighed down by possessions or unnecessary attachments to people, places or things. This is how the Jains achieve their path to “Moksha” which is known as freeing your soul. Ahimsa is by far the most important of all these 5 vows and is strictly followed by all Jains. Jains believe that non-violence is the highest religion, and if you want to achieve Moksha you need to stop harming other life forms. 

To understand the beliefs of Jainism further I had the pleasure of interviewing a former military friend of mine whose name is Saman Sahami. Saman is what is known as a “Regular Jains” or “The normies”. The normies believe in the 5 vows, but also think that their time to be a monk and try to achieve Moksha will come to them in another lifetime. As a normie Saman mentioned to me that even though he does not believe this lifetime is the one for him to achieve Moksha, he still practices the 5 core beliefs of Jainism to some extent. To the normies they have their own abbreviated set of 5 vows known as the “Anuvrata”. 

The Anuvrata are basically an abbreviated version of the 5 core beliefs. Saman still avoids violence and even violent jobs. He says he doesn’t lie, steal, or cheat people of business which is why he mentioned he will never work for Herbalife. He also says he remains faithful to his partner once he finds one and he also tries to do his best at unburdening himself from wealth by donating to many charities. Jains are an extremely charitable community, and other than donating to charities they try to spend most of their time at temples, health clinics, schools, and even the animal shelter. Saman mentioned to me that after his full week of work and school schedule he spends his weekends volunteering anywhere he could, his favorite being the animal shelter. There he spends time walking dogs, feeding, and even cleaning up after them. His home life is also impacted due to his religions beliefs because he has to practice his most difficult vow. 

Going back to the 5 core beliefs of Jainism Saman believes extremely in Ahimsa. Ahimsa is as explained before, the concept of non-violence. This isn’t just harming other life forms but eating them as well. Saman does not eat fish, meat, eggs or potatoes. He says that this is a daily struggle for him because it is not just about eating any of those foods, but every time before he starts to eat Saman demonstrated to me how he has to search through every piece of food first just in case he finds any sign of lifeform in his meal. He moved every piece of food from its original place to see if he could detect something hidden on his plate. His family did this as well, and I also partook so I can get the full experience of this practice. It was a very meticulous one for sure.

There are many extremes with everything in life, but the extreme that drew me closer to Jainism is the fact that they decide to wear a white handkerchief around their face. After me and Saman ate our vegetarian meals I continued to interview him with the question of why the “monk side” of Jainism chooses to wear the well-known white handkerchief. Even though Saman is a normie his uncle lives in India and is considered a monk of the Jain religion. Saman explained to me that because of Ahimsa is why the white handkerchief came to life. He learned from his uncle that it is not only about refraining from eating specific foods and hurting humans, but about all things with life in this world. By all things Saman emphasized that it meant anything that they believe to be part of the Earth itself. The white handkerchief is used for a very simple purpose. This is to not breathe any hot air onto any living lifeform as well as keeping yourself from ever accidently breathing in a mosquito or something even smaller than the insect. Saman mentioned his Uncle has been wearing his white handkerchief since before he has even met him. Saman mentioned this is not the only extreme that he thinks is a little over the top. He also said that his uncle as well as other monks walk around with a broom to sweep away what could be any life forms so they cannot have the slightest chance of stepping on them.

After gathering all this information from Saman I came to realize that Jainism has very specific beliefs. Being a religion that achieves enlightenment through escaping the rebirth of life, this leads to many specific practices that Jains must follow. With everything I have learned I couldn’t help but to feel impacted by this religion and its beliefs, but the person that was more impacted by this was Saman. That was evident because before I ended the interview Saman was excited to mention to me that he was going to set a goal for him in his next life. That goal was to achieve Moksha. 

Bibliography

  • Fohr, Sherry. 2015 “Jainism: A Guide for the Perplexed”.
  • Saman, an interview done by Nicolas Romero, October 2019
16 December 2021

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