Surrounded by ancient Indian style architecture, intricate marble carvings of celestial beings and meditating worshippers, ULV students and faculty learned about Jain philosophy and religion at their visit to the Jain Center of Southern California in Buena Park Sunday.
University Chaplain and Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion Zandra Wagoner and Senior Adjunct Professor of Philosophy and Religion Dane Sawyer took the students on a souljourn trip, or soul journey, to expand their knowledge about Jainism.
“The purpose (of souljourn) is to help broaden our perspective and have a larger understanding of people who are different from us,” Wagoner said.
Jainism is a pacifist religion developed in India that regards the soul as eternal and prescribes a path of nonviolence to achieve liberation.
“We do not believe in God as a creator, but rather when a soul becomes completely pure, it has become God,” said Premal Doshi, youth coordinator for the Jain Center of Southern California.
Tours were given by Doshi and Nitin Shah, external affairs liaison for the center. They handed out two pamphlets and a book from the International School for Jain Studies to the students as a guide to learn more about Jainism.
Students were asked to remove shoes prior to entering the temple out of respect and cleanliness.
In the lobby of the center stood St. Louis Jain Temple, a 1,010-year-old massive wooden temple that was a part of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The temple was originally an art piece in the former Castaways Casino in Las Vegas.
Tacked against the wall of the lobby were the “great vows” of Jainism, which included “right faith, non-violence, right knowledge, tolerance, truth, right conduct” and more. Jains live strictly in accordance with these vows, to help them attain the path to liberation.
“Our motto is to ‘live and let live,’” Doshi said. “We aim to reduce violence with compassion and ecology.”
Up the stairs was a Jain library and classrooms, which are used to educate people of all ages.
“Every alternate Sunday we hold study groups based on different ages and levels in English and our native language, Gujarati,” Doshi said.
“About 1,000 people have attended today, many of them divided up in the classes,” he said.
The main temple of worship, built out of white marble, is home to 24 Jain idols, known as Tirthankaras. They are great omniscient teachers that accomplished the ultimate spiritual goal of existence and have shown the path to liberation to others over time.
The statues of the idols are all built to look the same because all souls are considered equal, Doshi said.
According to Doshi, Jains bow to the idols to pay their respect, but also because bowing down is what removes one’s ego.
Upon entrance to the temple, students witnessed Jains meditating, praying puja and reciting hymns.
Hymns are passed down from generation to generation which praise attributes of five supreme beings: Arihanta (enlightened human beings), Siddha (liberated souls), Ächärya (head of the Jain congregation), Upädhyäy (ascetic teachers) and all Sädhus (ascetic monks and nuns).
“We chant to obtain the attributes they have to progress on our own spiritual journey,” Doshi said.
After the tours, a free lunch, which consisted of traditional vegetarian Jain food (originating from the Gujarat region of India) was provided.
Jains are strictly vegetarian and vegan from an ethical and moral standpoint because they do not wish to harm animals, one’s own body or soul. They believe each living organism has five senses and rank them on a scale of the multiplicity of senses.
“Living beings, such as humans, have five senses, and plants have one sense,” Shah said.
The Jain Center of Southern California also has an auditorium and ballroom, which holds social community events, such as weddings and plays. It was built in 2005 and is the largest Jain center in North America.
At the end of the visit, Wagoner, Sawyer and students had a discussion about their site visit.
“What you take from each souljourn trip is inspiring, and it maintains the souljourn active to work with interfaith cooperation,” said Roxana Bautista, president of Common Ground and junior psychology major.
Others thought the trip gave them a hands on experience.
“All the souljourn trips give you an experience that you wouldn’t normally get inside a college classroom,” said Vanessa Oceguera, sophomore public affairs major and religion minor.
“Jainism forces our eyes to see if we’re living our life to the fullest and being happy with the concept of eternal recurrence because karma could affect you in your next life,” she said.
Erum Jaffrey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the story “Students take part in a soul journey” (April 24) the age of the Jain Temple of Southern California was misstated. It was built in 2005. The Campus Times regrets the error.