Shravanabelagola, January 30, 2006: The principles of non-violence was taking deep roots in North America meaning United States of America and Canada, home of nearly 100,000 Jains, according to members of the Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA).
According to the 86 member strong delegation of JAINA which visited Shravanabelagola on Monday, the first generation of Jains from India migrated to North America in the 1960s and currently the second generation of Jains comprises 40 percent of the population. “When we landed in USA in the 60s, there was no climate to practice Jainism and some fell prey to western culture. But today it is different. The climate exists and regular meetings and programmes are held to promote Jain way of life, rather than mere rituals,” says Kirit C Daftary, President of JAINA, an umbrella organization of local Jain Associations in USA and Canada started with the blessings from Gurudev Shri Chitrabhanuji and Acharya Late Shri Sushil Kumarji. It was initiated at the first Jain Convention held in Los Angeles in 1981 and formalized at the second Jain Convention in New York in 1983.
JAINA is a federation of 62 Jain organizations representing more than 100,000 Jains living in USA and Canada without any distinction based on sect, language or region. It has provided a forum to foster friendship and unity among various Jain communities in North America, spread over New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas, New Jersy and Boston.
“We have been successful in spreading the message of Mahaveera over the last 12 years and made it easier for the current generation of Jain youth in USA live the value systems enshrined in Jainism, especially with the number of marriages outside the community being high. Further, the interest in Jain way of life is on the increase. This is clear from the fact that if during 1993 Mahamastakabhisheka, a 43 member Jaina delegation attended the celebrations, this is year we are 86 member strong,” says Dr.Dheeraj Shah, former President of JAINA, who participated the ’93 celebrations. The delegation, which visited Shravanabelagola and held discussions with the Swamiji and MMC06 Hon President Naresh Kumar Sethi on Monday, will return again on February Seven to take part in the Mahamastakabhisheka on February 8.
JAINA as followers of “Jiv Daya” (Kindness) and “Ahimsa” has responded to various humanitarian causes over the years. “Previously we raised over $200,000 for Tsunami Victims, $650,000 for Gujarat Earthquake, $100,000 for Latur Earthquake Fund, more than $70,000 for Kutch Cyclone Relief Fund and then for the Turkey earthquake Fund, Orissa and Kosovo. Now, we are involved in helping victims of Cyclone Kathrina,” says ex-JAINA Committee member Pramod Jaweri.
According to Kirit C Daftary, JAINA was successful in arranging the recital of a jain Prayer as an opening prayer in the US house of representatives in May 2001 in celebration of the 2600th birth anniversary of Lord Mahavir, the 24th Tirthankar. Jain prayers were also held in the state assemblies of Maryland, Ohio and Virginia.
JAINA has adopted the first Sunday in October in recognition of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday as Ahimsa Day. JAINA volunteers work with local governments to issue proclamations for observance of Ahimsa Day. It is celebrated by promoting non-violence, Vegetarianism and organizing seminars on Ahimsa.
“We were also instrumental in Bill Clinton pardoning the Thanks Giving turkey and sending it to the Washington Zoo instead of the kitchen. The tradition has continued since with the current President George Bush following suit. We are in hot pursuit to ensure that October 2 is declared as a National Ahimsa Day in USA. We had made the suggestion to Clinton but he did not agree though now he rues the decision,” says Dr.Dheeraj Shah, who was in the campaign team of the former US president. JAINA has also constructed composite Jain Temples and places of worship featuring both the Digambara and Shwethambara idols, with the religious freedom of all getting legitimacy with the passage of Religious Restoration Bill in 1993 by Clinton administration.
In recognition of JAINA’s world wide humanitarian work, United States Agency for International Development has awarded JAINA a certificate of registration making it eligible to receive grants from USAID. It also grants JAINA a blanket certificate to export medical and educational equipment for humanitarian aid globally. JAINA has also received several awards in United States and India including awards from World Medical Relief Inc. of Detroit, and American Red Cross.
There are two youth organizations within JAINA: Young Jains of America (YJA) and Young Jain Professionals (YJP). The Marriage Information service and JAINA Network Forum have enabled many parents to find Jain spouses for their children. The North American Family Assistance committee has quietly helped Jain families in need and the Senior Housing Committee is exploring possibilities of creating housing for the aging Jain population in different cities.
JAINA has established bilateral relationships with the World Confederation of Jains, Veeraytan, Vegetarian Society of Bombay, Jain Social Group Federation and Bidada Sarvodya Trust through its Government and International Relations Committee. The Interfaith Committee has fostered valuable contacts with many inter-religious organizations and participated in the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona, Spain. – Jain Heritage Centres News Service (JHCNS)