Leaving It All Behind

May 17, 2015 · 34 comments
David (San Francisco)
Whoa! Quite a number of derogatory comments -- suggesting, in particular, a pro-secular bias so strong it might be a conceptual straightjacket. There are multiple paths to the well-lived life, and evidence suggesting that disdain and dismissiveness are among them is pretty darn thin. What would it be like to live in a society that offered people "careers" such as the one described here? Would we in the US feel less or more free than we do now, living, as we do, in a society where everybody's more-or-less obligated to make money and shop?
seattle expat (Seattle, WA)
Perhaps if her parents had not put pressure on her to become a doctor, she would not have felt the need to escape into the fantasy world of wishful thinking (e.g., that "by abstinence one can help all the living beings in the universe), religious superstition, and supernatural beliefs. It is a pity that this ancient nonsense will prevent her from accomlishing anything with her life.
Sanjay Tiwari (Cape Cod, Massachusetts)
The young lady seems like a latter day Robinson Crusoe determined to go on her voyage despite the parental preference for the "middle station in life." I pray that there are no shipwrecks, but if there are, that she be equally resourceful.
d-funkt (maryland)
i have been a strict lacto-ovo vegetarian for twenty years now, almost half my life. i endeavor to look out for all fellow travelers through this existence, big or small...but i cannot accept all this ridiculous spiritual hokum. just live simply, and considerately, and spare everyone (including yourself) the ostentatious abstemiousness.
Janna Stewart (Anchorage, Alaska)
So the food and shelter that other people work for, pay for, struggle for, are somehow available to you? In other contexts that's not sainthood, that's a parasitic relationship, even if it's nonpathogenic.
R Murty K (Fort Lee, NJ 07024 / Hyderabad, India)
Jains are anything but parasites on the society. Jeweler community in India is populated by Jains. So, with handful of their possessions (gemstones), they can buy a fleet of Rolls-Royces.

March on Washington on April 28, 1963 is distinctly American with a quarter million people assembling "peacefully" demand civil rights. But that march has Jain origins. Actually, I should say "Jainfully" in place of "peacefully". Surprised! Martin Luther King Jr was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi's non-violence (Ahimsa). Mahatma was influenced by his mother's extreme non-violence (Ahimsa) in her daily life which she picked up from Jain neighbors. Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world. Older than Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism. Jains have survived onslaught by every religion while still preserving their tenets. At Archaeological Museum at Hyderabad, India, Jain artifacts are more numerous than Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, or Christian suggesting Jainism was more prevalent in that region than others at one time. You can go and see for yourself. When were the Jains parasites on the society? Never in history.
Sanjay Tiwari (Cape Cod, Massachusetts)
Janna Stewart did not say that Jains are parasitic, only that their renunciants are.
R Murty K (Fort Lee, NJ 07024 / Hyderabad, India)
In my last post, I forgot to mention that you do not know the difference between parasitism and commensalism. Malaria is a parasite which eats our blood and flesh no matter we live or die. Gut bacteria are commensals which eat only what we did not digest and absorb, but do not interfere with our life. Jain life is not parasitism. It is commensalism.
Communal Award (Tokyo)
I'd verify with fMRI;
karen (Hoboken)
Thanks for this glimpse into a tradition I knew nothing about. I am sympathetic to people who ask the "big" questions and accept hardship and renunciation for a goal bigger than themselves. That is no small feat. (I couldn't do it.)

I am struck by the comment section. Everyone is thoughtful and open. If the article were about (say) a young man entering the Roman Catholic priesthood, I fear the comments would be steaming with scorn and vitriol. Ah well.
Janaki (NY)
Advaita (nonduality) Vedanta states that here not one God, there is only God (the entire universe is Brahman), Buddhism talks about the absence of a solid individual and modern biology research shows that an individual human's behavior is influenced by that person's gut bacteria. So, who is running the show? What is there to run away from? And where is one running to? Who is the one running? I do not know.

Reducing one's consumption of material goods is a very good thing, in deed.
Guji2 (Renton, WA)
Is gut bacteria responsible for empathy and compassion?

Or could it be that empathy and compassion are the natural attributes of the soul of each living being?

Jainism believes each living being, even a bacteria, has a soul and all souls are equal. A human can be reborn as a gut bacteria and vice versa. Once you accept this premise, then you begin to understand why Jains do what they do.
KS (Cypress, CA)
A Hindu Advaitha monk of non-Indian origin once told me the following. "You (an Advaithic lay Hindu but not a renunciate ) have to live with the choices you make; I have to live with the ones I did not make" . For the adherents of either way who have understood the purpose of their existence, both are hard paths.
Gangulee (Philadelphia)
At least a physician at the end of the day can be confident of helping a limited number of people, even curing a few people, can Rajesh Muni Ji be equally confident of "helping all the living beings in this universe"?
Nathan an Expat (China)
Life is full of pressure and choices. Some options appeal others do not and often you change your mind. Choosing to remove yourself from the daily getting and selling essential to everyday life is not necessarily the most praiseworthy or difficult option. It's just another option. If part of the appeal of to you of your chosen option is its perceived "saintly" nature as opposed to what your chosen option actually entails you are going to have problems. To many dealing with your fellow humans and trying to improve our collective lot requires a lot more effort and forbearance than finding some bee glad glade in which to peacefully meditate and contemplate life. I had a friend who worked his whole life in the medical field building, improving and administering large health organisations filled with doctors, nurses, administrators and all the human agony of office politics that goes with any such organisation regardless of the humanity of its mission . One day while expressing his sheer frustration with dealing with other sentient beings he half-jokingly revealed his choice for a new career and business model -- vending machines! All he would have to do is stock them then return to pick up the cash. The sweet bonus would be minimal human interaction. Maybe I should have suggested Jainism.
F T (Oakland, CA)
This reminds me that there's all kinds of thinking in the world; and we all have our place. Diversity! May we learn to respect each other.

And may this one find her way.
EJCooper (Texas)
This path is not so different from that of Catholic nuns in centuries past.
hewil klippram (pacific northwest)
being quiet, feeling the sacredness of all things, your commitment serves to remind us to be there with you, thanks
taopraxis (nyc)
Mobile phone?
I thought that term was out of fashion, but what do I know?
I'm in my sixties and I've never used a cell phone.
My wife has one, though.
Taoists sometimes say, "Seek the middle".
Extreme asceticism is, of course, one valid path, but the number of valid alternative paths to enlightenment is beyond counting.
Each may choose his or her own way.
Follow your heart when seeking harmony with nature and the world.
No true path is short but a long journey need not be a hard, unpleasant journey. I try to take it easy, sometimes. If you're in a big hurry, you'll never seem to get there, so relax and enjoy the trip.
Sanjay Tiwari (Cape Cod, Massachusetts)
In America, the collocation of choice for the product sold by Apple, Nokia, Samsungs, and other direct descendants of Alexander Graham Bell, is "cell phone;" in India (and England) it remains "mobile phone."
Mike (Portland, Oregon)
Children are very vulnerable to cults at this crossing from primary school to "what's next." This is why ISIS is capturing so many young people. They want fame, glory, to be remembered forever and ever.
While I agree with your premise that children are vulnerable, your suggestion that this move to an ascetic life as in Jainism was equivalent to brainwashing and killing by ISIS defies logic. The "cult" you refer to could not be more different.
R Murty K (Fort Lee, NJ 07024 / Hyderabad, India)
Mike in Portland, Oregon,
In principle I agree with you that this girl is in her formative years and seems to be attracted by exaggerated claims of benefits of renunciation. As she grows up, she is going to find out that India is not going to feed her, she has to feed herself unless she develops oratory skills which mesmerize people into feeding her.

You need to read more about Jainism before you call it a cult, To give you a perspective, Mahavir Jain, the last and 24th Guru of Jains was 42 years old when Buddha was born. Jains have recently donated money to start a center of Jain studies at one of the universities in the U.S. One of the famous converts to Jainism is Chandragupta Maurya, the first Mauryan Emeperor about 320 B,C,, who ruled most of current India, Pakistan, Afghanistan with iron fist and along with his prime minister Chanakya practiced statecraft which showed no mercy on human life, only to renounce his empire and become a Jain monk.
Wordsmith (Buenos Aires)
La Rochefoucauld said, "Where you find two men who agree, you find only one thinking." You have disagreed that vulnerable people attracted to a religious life are no different than those attracted to war. But the difference between Mike (object of your disagreement) and you, is the positions each of you has chosen to see from: comparison versus contrast. Your position affirms his.
Anne (NYC)
This is a hard path to walk even for those with an aesthetic inclination. She is young and will either thrive and grow spiritually or decide to renounce this life of a nun at some later stage.
Either choice will be a learning experience.
David Isenbergh (Washington, DC)
Pain, loss and oblivion are the price we pay for being alive. Also, life must feed on life. Without suffering and destruction, life could not exist. Jainism would seem to reject life in favor of the peace of death.
Guji2 (Renton, WA)
Your comment implies that life ends at death. But from the Jain perspective, life has no beginning and no end. One dies and is reborn in another life. One million years from now, humans won't exist but the life will continue to exist.
W. H. Post (Southern California)

Practices that minimize consumption and maximize care are noble.

So is active participation in the creative process that is life, and in the amelioration of suffering that is inherent in living.

Love expresses itself in a myriad of ways. May we value them all.
Guji2 (Renton, WA)
Active participation in the creative process that is life implies attachment to life. Attachment causes happiness, sorrow, and violence.

And one must view the suffering and happiness in life through the lens of karma. People suffer because of their past actions. People are happy because of their past actions.

That's why Jain monks practice equanimity and non-attachment. They see a suffering person and they have compassion for this person. They see a happy person and they also have compassion for this person. Both the suffering and the happy person are enjoying the fruits of their past karma. And karma is not something to enjoy - it should be destroyed through the practice of non-attachment, non-violence, and equanimity.
Wandering mystic (Houston, Texas)
Welcome to the way of the ancients. Farewell to the world of Maya. Hoping you will move beyond the concern from insects and bugs to true enlightenment and bliss
Guji2 (Renton, WA)
It is not a concern for insects and bugs. It is the concern for the purity of one's soul. Violence/attachment of any form makes the soul impure.

It matters not whether it is an insect or an elephant - one simply does not commit violence to living beings. It is much easier to avoid harming an elephant but much more difficult to avoid harming an insect and so one takes more care in avoiding harm to insects. Violence is violence.
michael sowder (logan, utah)
This is immensely admirable, and I came close to becoming a yogic renunciate, a sanyassi, myself, after college. Decades later, today, as a lay practitioner, I also rise at 4:00 and meditate at 4:30 and live a yogic lifestyle that has some parallels to the Jain life. The Jain focus on not harming is a beautiful sadhana or practice. However, I wonder about its practical effects. Our bodies are constantly "killing" things: bacteria, viruses, etc., through our immune system, even in simple breathing. Living with the intention of ahimsa, non-harming, is a wonderful ideal, but killing seems to be an inevitable part of being alive, tragic as that may seem.
JR (Providence, RI)
Consumption -- and therefore destruction -- is inescapable for any living thing. Ahimsa is an admirable goal, something to strive for in all our actions, but is impossible to realize fully in this world. And maybe that knowledge is a part of enlightenment.

I hope Ms. Golecha finds what she is looking for.
Guji2 (Renton, WA)
Yes, the very act of living results in violence. However, one must minimize the violence to the maximum possible extent short of committing suicide.

Where do you draw the line? The Jain monks draw the line at suicide but even then, they cross this line when their bodies fail them (through sickness or injury) and under these circumstances, they commit themselves to fasting unto death.

Is that extreme? Yes, only if you do not believe in reincarnation and the immortality of the soul.
See also