The Institute of Jainology, the international body representing the Jain faith, celebrated its 10thannual Ahimsa Day on 17th October at its regular venue, the House of Commons, London. Committee Room no 10 had been filled up well before time and there was standing room only.
Compère for the evening – Mrs Komal Mehta introduced herself and welcomed everyone on a coolish autumn evening.The House once again reverberated with the recitation of the auspicious Jain prayer, Namokar Mantra by Mrs Vishita Haria.
Baron Dholakia, OBE, PC, DL, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, opened the evening saying how much he had admired this event which had focused on the two issues – peace and alleviation of poverty.
He mentioned that this annual event brought him closer to the community he served, not only because it was a day to explore the role of Ahimsa in the modern world, but because it gave him the opportunity to listen to his community, and to be reminded that if all politicians of all nations behaved and adhered to the principles of Ahimsa and love, the world we live in would be a completely different place than what it is today.
He was followed by Mr Shailesh Vara, Conservative MP for NW Cambridgeshire, who congratulated the community on staging a program of such a high stature annually. He cited quotations by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr about being the change themselves to bring about the change they want to see. He also advised the Jain community members to be actively involved in local and national affairs rather than being the passive by-standers.
Mr John Ashworth MP, Leicester South, the next speaker spoke of how the Jain temple at Leicester had become a focal point of many interfaith activities.
Jaysukh Mehta, a Director of the Institute and the coordinator of the Ahimsa Day programme, welcomed the guests on behalf of the Institute. He highlighted the fact that for the past 10 years, the Institute had conveyed the message of Ahimsa and compassion through its different speakers. He continued that the Institute has been presenting Ahimsa Awards for the last six years. It has been a privilege to have come across people whose life styles, their activities and actions have helped transform lives of deprived people.
Dr Mehool Sanghrajka, Director of Education, then introduced Mr Scott Neeson as someone who had moved from rags to riches by becoming the president of 20th Century Fox with a life of luxury before leaving everything to care for the destitute children in Cambodia. Dr Sanghrajka announced that Mr Scott Neeson had been selected by the Board of the Institute to receive the 2012 Ahimsa Award. Please click here to read the full citation for the award. Mr Shailesh Vara MP then presented the award.
Scott Neeson in acknowledging the award and as the keynote speaker proceeded to describe his life. He was born in Edinburgh in a working class family, did not do well at school. He migrated to Australia and got a junior job in the film industry. He started
working his way up in the industry and moved to Hollywood where he rose to be the President of 20th Century Fox. There he led a life of fast cars, speed boats and luxury living. The sight of children eking out a meagre living from the smouldering rubbish dumps of Cambodia changed his vision of life. He went back to rags by giving up everything he had to salvage these children and their families from the drudgery they were suffering. He started a school for 45 children – the number of schools formed since then has grown and currently he takes care of 1300 children and several hundred families.
A documentary on his life is now available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmAYOnBXit0 His two statements, first one, relevance of Ahimsa Award to his life made it the most precious award he had received and the second that ‘I will not change my present life for anything else on this earth’ touched everyone.
Dr Harshad Sanghrajka gave the Jain perspective on alleviation of poverty starting with explaining how poverty is viewed from different viewpoints. A young boy from a rich family said of a poor family – that the family was poor and even the driver, cook and the gardener were poor!! He quoted the three Aces of Bhagwan Mahavir Ahimsa, Anekantvad and Aparigraha and explained their relevance in the modern world. He talked about the Jain vows applicable to the monks and the laity. At each point he was able to compare Scott Neeson’s activities with the three As. Click here to see the full text of Dr H Sanghrajka’s address.
Nemu Chandaria OBE, then highlighted some of the Institute’s activities during the past year. He also recalled the vision and the hardwork over 25 years by the past Chairman Mr Ratilal Chandaria and looked forward to his continuing support. He described the JAINpedia project briefly and talked about the travelling exhibition that is being taken to different centres in the country. Please click here for the full text of Mr Chandaria’s address.
Mr Raxit Shah, Chairman of Oshwal Association of the UK and Mr George Ballentyne from Leicester Council of Faiths were also invited to address the audience about their work with the Jain communities in the country, and the importance of Ahimsa in today’s world. The evening was closed by Mr Kanti Shah, Director/Secretary of the Institute giving a vote of thanks and allowing the guests to spend the next 20 minutes to meet and greet.