Jainism in Greater Boston

JainismThe term Jain or Jaina refers to the tradition of the Jinas, the “victorious ones” who have won spiritual liberation, and to those who follow it. The Jain tradition as we know it dates back some 2500 years to the life of the teacher Mahavira, said to ... is one of India’s ancient traditions of life and practice. Jains affirm that each living being possesses a soulThe soul is the inner spirit, the life-essence of a person, regarded in many religious traditions as Divine. In the Hindu tradition, the atman or pure consciousness within is understood to be one with Brahman, the ultimate reality that pervades the entire... and, accordingly, the ethic of ahimsaAhimsa means non-violence and is a central ethical precept for Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists. For the Jain tradition ahimsa is especially important. It includes keeping a strict a strict vegetarian diet and avoiding occupations such as farming that may inv... or non-violence is central to the Jain tradition. Jains first came from India to America in the late 1960s, establishing the Jain Center of Greater Boston (JCGB) in 1973. Since 1981, members of the JCGB have gathered in a former Swedish LutheranLutheranism is a Protestant tradition following the theology of Martin Luther (1483-1546), the reformer who was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church and launched the German reformation. He emphasized the sole authority of the Bible, the priesthoo... churchThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church ... in Norwood; plans are now underway to develop a new, purpose-built derasar (templeA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref...). A second local organization, the Jain Sangh of New England (JSNE), formed in 2000. The JSNE is based in an office building in Woburn; they recently purchased a property in neighboring Burlington to establish a derasar. The JCGB and JSNE provide opportunities for worship and education for some 350 Jain families in Greater Boston.

Jainism in Greater Boston

The ancient Jain tradition traces its spiritual heritage to a series of teachers called tirthankarasIn the Jain tradition, a Tirthankara, literally a “ford-maker,” is a spiritual pioneer who has crossed beyond the perpetual flow of earthly life. In each cycle of time, there are twenty-four Tirthankaras. They differ from other Jinas in that, in addit... or “ford-makers,” those who spiritually crossed the river of this ever-changing life to become fully realized and liberated beings. One of the most important of the tirthankaras, MahaviraMahavira is the religious seer whose teachings of compassion and renunciation have formed the basis of the Jain tradition. Mahavira, regarded as the last of the 24 Tirthankaras of the present age, is said to have been born in the 6th century BCE in modern..., lived in India at about the time of the BuddhaBuddha means “awakened one” and specifically refers to Shakyamuni Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama (traditional date, sixth c. BCE), the historical founder of the tradition that became known as Buddhism. All Buddhist traditions agree that ther... in the 6th century BCE. Because each soul may become liberated, the Jains have always had a strong ethic of non-violence, which extends to a positive respect for all forms of life, including animal life. Not surprisingly, the Jains who have immigrated to the United States have become an important voice in discussions of vegetarianism and animal rights.

The Jain community first came to the United States in the late 1960s after the passage of Immigration and Nationality Act, which opened the door to wider immigration from Asia, and especially encouraged the immigration of “members of professions of exceptional ability and their spouses and children.” The first wave consisted primarily of Gujarati-speaking immigrants from Western India. Later, political turmoil in East African states resulted in a second wave of migration of people of Indian ancestry and Jain belief.

Many Jains came to Boston as students, meeting at the MIT Student Center and at the Rindge Tower apartments. Some stayed to raise their families in Greater Boston, and continued to gather in private homes and rented facilities. In 1973, the community established a formal organization, the Jain Center of Greater Boston (JCGB). In September 1981, the JCGB established the first Jain templeEach Jain temple is regarded as a replica of the assembly hall miraculously created by the gods for Mahavira upon his enlightenment. Hence, in entering a temple, a Jain has the sense of approaching the spot where a living Tirthankara sits in omniscient co..., or derasar, in the United States: it is located in a former Swedish Lutheran church on a quiet street in Norwood. For nearly twenty years, members of the JCGB have gathered monthly and observed annual festivals at the temple. The JCGB’s pathshalaPathshala means “learning place” is traditionally used to describe the religious classes conducted by traditional teachers or gurus. In the Jain tradition in America, this term has been used to describe the religious education classes conducted by Jai... programs, providing education in the Jain tradition, as well as the study of Hindi and Gujarati, are held off-site at a middle school in East Walpole, Massachusetts.

In 2000, the Jain Sangh of New England (JSNE) was founded by a group of Svetambar Jain families in the Greater Boston area who decided to separate from the JCGB. This new organization, JSNE, was established to promote “more traditional Jain practice for Svetambar Jains” in the Greater Boston area. The JSNE first established a temple in an office space in Burlington before relocating to a professional building complex in Woburn. Their pathshala programs, held at a Middle School in neighboring Burlington, provide religious education for ages four through adult.

Recently, both the JSNE and JCGB have made significant progress towards the development of new, purpose-built templesA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref...: at the July 12, 2009 meeting of the JCGB membership, the community voted overwhelmingly in support of the purchase of a former synagogueSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but ... in Norwood; on October 22, 2009, the JSNE purchased an office building in Burlington. Once constructed and consecrated, these new temples will provide a sense of permanence—as well as dedicated space for worship and education—for some 350 Jain families in Greater Boston.

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