The seventh Ahimsa Day celebrations once again proved to be as successful as the previous ones. Portcullis House, the House of Commons annexe once again reverberated with the Namokar Mantras and Jai Jinendra – the latter greeting has now become a familiar greeting for many of the Members of the Parliament.
The evening started with light refreshments and an opportunity for the guests to mingle. Several MPs came for the refreshments but some had to leave early because of imminent voting in the House.
The formal part of the program was started at 7.00pm by the compére for the evening, Ms Chetna Kapacee. Pujya Samniji’s from Jain Vishwa Bharti’s London Centre chanted the auspicious Namokar Mantra to commence the proceedings for the evening.
Nemu Chandaria OBE, Institute’s Deputy Chairman welcomed the guests on Institute’s behalf. He then went on to outline the Institute’s activities and achievements since inception.
Mr Stephen Pound, MP our host for the evening then welcomed the guests and expressed his admiration of Jain philosphy. Once again he wished that the House of Commons would tune itself to the Jain philosophy and imbibe the concepts of Ahimsa – making this a better world for all of us.
He was followed by Mr Barry Gardiner MP, current Chair of Parliamentary Labour Friends of India, Ms Dawn Butler MP, a government Whip and Mr Navin Shah, Member of Greater London Assembly. They all expressed their feelings of being previleged to be invited to an event to celebrate such a noble cause as Ahimsa.
Professor Heppell our keynote speaker of the evening was introduced with a list of achievements. He was described as Europe’s leading online education expert, with a vast portfolio of successful, large scale, learning projects behind him. He has also held professorship with several of the UK Universities.
Professor Stephen Heppell made an insightful presentation about innovative ways of learning which have often transformed communities in developing communities or other learning groups. He spoke of this perhaps being the era of the death of education but the dawn of learning.
In particular, Professor Heppell spoke convincingly about an increasingly visual generation who might choose YouTube over Google when using the internet for information and educational purposes. He spoke about the success of smaller scale learning units which create a locally relevant curriculum. His presentation was insightful and the clips that he used were both entertaining and informative. The presentation certainly provided the audience with a new way of thinking about learning, education and the use of technology in the dissemination of information and knowledge.
Jaysukh Mehta then declared Professor Padmanabh Jaini as recepient of the IoJ Ahimsa Award 2009. His citation read:
Professor Jaini has made an outstanding contribution to the world of academia through his publications on the philosophy and practice of Jainism and its concepts including Ahimsa. He has brought to the attention of the wider academic and theological community the richness and depth of Jainism through his rigorous study, research and publication of Jain philosophy.
Padmanabh Jaini is currently Professor emeritus of Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, USA. In his schooling days, he had received firm grounding in Digambar traditions. He also had the opportunity to meet many of the great Digambar scholars.
Whilst studying for his first degree, he had the opportunity to visit several Svetamber institutions and for the first time he became aware of the diversity that existed within Jainism and, that there were other Jain sectarian groups.
His familiarity with Svetambar Jainism gave him the opportunity to study under the great Jain scholar, Pundit Sukhlalji Sanghvi.
Pundit Sukhlalji encouraged him to study the Pali Cannon to improve his understanding of Jain scriptures.
He did research in Sri Lanka and at Banaras Hindu University in Buddhism.
In 1956 Professor Jaini was invited to join School of Oriental & African Studies, London as a lecturer where he later gained his doctorate.
In 1967, he moved to the University of Michigan as Professor of Indic Studies. And finally in 1972, he came to Berkeley, California where he served until his retirement in 1994 as Professor of Buddhist Studies.
In the field of Jain Studies, his best known publications are Jain Path of Purification, Gender & Salvation and Jain Sectarian Debates.
Some of his major articles have been published under titles:
Collected Papers on Jain Studies (2000) Prof Jaini was honoured in 2003 by a Fest schrift for his contributions to Jainism and early Buddhism.
Collected Papers on Buddhist Studies (2001).
He is one of the rare Jain scholars with a firm grounding in both the Digambar and Svetambar traditions and is a towering figure within Jain academia.
Through his publications, Professor Jaini has indeed given Jainism and its concepts of Ahimsa and Compassion, a high international profile in the study of world religions.
The Board of Directors of the Institute of Jainology are proud and feel honoured that Professor Padmanabh Jaini has agreed to accept the Ahimsa Award for 2009.
Nemu Chandaria OBE, then presented the Ahimsa Trophy to Professor Padmanabh Jaini who was then requested to address the audience.
Professor Jaini began his address with utmost humility, with hopes to live up to the standards of previous winners of the Ahimsa Award, who have included the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Acharya Mahapragyaji.
He started his address about Jainism and the alleviation of poverty by quoting from the Dasavaikalika Sutra “Knowledge first and then compassion.” He then quoted Dr. Samuel Johnson who had said “A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization”. He explained that poverty is a form of himsa, violence, because it is not voluntary and therefore it is our duty to remove this himsa. Very interestingly, he explained that poverty can be good when it is voluntary poverty as it induces spiritual insight, as is evidenced by the materially renounced state of saints, monks and nuns. However, whilst voluntary poverty is regarded as a virtue and blessing, involuntary poverty is considered a curse.
Professor Jaini then moved from discussing material poverty to discussing spiritual poverty, which is all too often forgotten. It is a type of poverty from which we all suffer, indeed the materially rich acutely suffer from spiritual poverty. This poverty is partly due to a sense of dissatisfaction with what we have and constant desire to possess and acquire more. In this sense, Professor Jaini said that one interpretation of Ahimsa can be putting internal concerns above our external, material concerns. He spoke of the damaging affects of murchha parigraha, meaning deluded possession, which is a form of himsa. According to scriptures, one of the reasons for a rebirth in hell is due to excessive possession whereas contentment can lead to rebirth as a human. Professor Jaini then moved on to discuss in particular the damaging effects of waste, which is also the result of possession. He spoke about how, with increasing technology, our means of himsa have also increased and so must be carefully scrutinised.
In concluding his presentation on the alleviation of poverty, Professor Jaini explained the very important role that peace plays in achieving this aim. He spoke extensively about the specific and powerful role of forgiveness in generating peace. One must forgive and persuade others to forgive; be pacified and make it possible for others to be pacified. One who is pacified then leads a spiritual life and can make progress. One who is not pacified cannot attain peace and therefore cannot make progress. Ultimately, peace is at the centre of spiritual life and Ahimsa is the means to this peace.
He concluded his address by quoting verse 286 from Kalpa Sutra:
One should forgive (khamiyabbam), And ask others for forgiveness (khamāyiyabbam),
One should pacify oneself (uvasamiyabbam), And help others pacified (uvasamāyiyabbam),
For him who is pacified, there is success (in control) (jo uvasamai, tassa atthi ārahānā),
For him who is not pacified, there will be no success (jo na uvasamai, tassa natthi ārahānā),
‘Why has this been said, Sir?’ (tam ken’tthennam, bhante?)
‘Peace is the essence of monsticism.’ (uvasamasāram khu sāmannam).
Dr Mehool Sanghrajka then gave a brief update on the Jainpedia project. He promised an exhibition of the work being done currently with King’s College’s world renonwed CCH Department early in the new year.
Miss Rajul Dilip Shah then called out the vote of thanks to everyone who had help to make this event successful.
The photographs in the gallery below tell the story of the evening.