Monday, 27th March 2017
LEARNING FROM THE JAINS
Last week, I had a fascinating series of meetings in London which helped me reflect on my culture and how we can positively contribute to building a peaceful world through education. There is huge global anxiety at present about faith and immigrants, yet there are many who see and understand the importance of immigrants who bring their culture and values and enrich wider society through sharing and interaction. I remember how hard my father Mr. Keshavji Rupshi Shah worked as a community leader and volunteer in Mombasa to spread education very widely among the community, and would like to continue the legacy he left behind. It was great to see that the Economist has now recognised the Gujaratis as the worlds most entrepreneurial culture - and this extends much beyond business I feel.
At the Centre for Jaina Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London University, two Jain nuns are pursuing PhD studies, with Samani Pratibhapragya having submitted her thesis and Samani Unnatapragya, just starting one. I have had the good fortune to read Pratibhaji's thesis on Preksha Dhyana and Jain Meditation and thought it was simply outstanding. Visiting SOAS, I was really moved by the presence of these nuns in the huge milieu of students from all over the world studying at this world famous institution - their very presence acts as an important cultural bridge, and their role is uniquely ambassadorial as much as it is as learners. The Centre, Directed by Dr. Peter Flugel, has developed a pioneering global reputation in Jain Studies and at a recent independent Research Evaluation, it was ranked as World Class. Dr. Lynne Sedgmore CBE, a world expert in Leadership and Spirituality, is always calling for the Jains to speak up and engage more as she feels they have so much to teach in creating a peaceful and healthy world. Similary, Dr. Hasmukh Shah of Bradford and Mr. Dhiraj Shah of Birmingham from the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh have been supporting and mentoring Hindu students for decades through the National Hindus Students Forum and are very keen that scholars engage with the community and the wider world to help raise our cultural profile and unite our community. Talk of a Think Tank to influence policy has been brewing for many years, and the time is ripe for us to directly engage with policy-makers and influence policy.
Jain Nuns in the Heart of London, studying for a PhD at SOAS - Samani Pratibha Pragya (left) and Samani Unnata Pragya (right)
The presence of the Jain Nuns in the heart of London at such an institution shows to me clearly how vibrant and open-minded our tradition is, where we are willing to invite scientists to challenge our faith and thinking, and to learn from them. I was most impressed by Pratibhapragya’s thesis on Preksha Meditation, which is a pioneering method of spiritual science and health developed by the late scholar-scientist-monk Acharya Mahaprajna of the Terapanth movement. Pratibhaji was very thankful of the support provided by Dr. Peter Flugel, and many lay members of the Jain community in the UK in conducting and completing this research.
On Thursday, I had a lunch meeting with my co-author Aidan Rankin, who is himself a very talented author of several books on Jainism, and we discussed the book on Jain Ethical Finance that we are collaborating on. In the evening on Friday, we had an informal dinner with academics working at various Universities to share experiences and learn from and support one another. Dr. Prakash Shah, Dr. Alpa Dhanani, Dr. Bindi Shah and I got together – sadly Dr. Alpa Shah from the LSE could not make it. We were also delighted to welcome BBC Radio 4 broadcaster Ritula Shah to this group, who has vast experience of interviewing academics for the BBC and understanding the links between research and policy impact.
Jains who are scholars in various fields such as Sociology, Business, Finance and Law network over dinner in London with Ritula Shah of the BBC
In our discussions, we felt that the community does not understand and value research and its potential to improve society and at the same time inform the wider world about Jain culture and values. Much more could be done about this, and there are direct benefits for the Jains in that it could help us retain and share our values more widely, and help the wider public in the countries where we live to understand and accept our cultural identity at a time of such angst about diversity and faiths. The wonderful pioneering work of the International School for Jain Studies, led by Dr. Sulekh Jain and Dr. Shugan Jain, is a case in point – we need to promote this much more widely, and support our young people to attend this truly diverse Summer school in India. Registrations for 2016 are still open and the information is here. In London, the outstanding work by teachers and students at the Shri Chandana Vidyapeeth School is breeding a new generation of young people who are very excited about their culture and values, and are going to provide fresh leadership for a brighter Jain future.
Did you know that Jain Vishwa Bharti has supported 40 PhD theses in Jainism, and have their own University? We should also help Research centres like Jain Vishwa Bharti, SOAS, the centre at Ghent University in Belgium where scholars do amazing research, and many Universities in America like Florida International University, Loyola College in California and Jain academics working at different Universities in India and all over the world.
In India, the Gyan Sagar Science Foundation recently held an international conference on Jain Science and this was attended from the UK by Dr. Mukul and Dr. Freya Shah. They are both committed to doing more research on Jain ethics and science in the area of medicine, and this area has fantastic potential. At IIT in Mumbai there is a similar conference happening this weekend. For example, we have a huge mental health crisis in Britain and Jain meditation methods like Preksha Dhyana can be a wonderful preventative measure from which everyone can benefit. Gyan Sagar Foundation are co-sponsoring the next conference at SOAS on the theme of Science and Jainism which is coming up in 18/19 March 2016 – the entire event is free, and all are welcome to register and attend. Full details are here.
Here are some reflections for readers –
If any philanthropists are considering supporting Jain research and need guidance, we are very happy to meet them and discuss. Kindly contact me in the first instance.
This blog goes to 2000 people all over the world - if you forward it to your friends and family, more people can be inspired to continue such work and to support it. Please help bring peace by sharing it.
Article added on 9th January 2016 at 1:08pm
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