Jainism in America

1893 CE V.R. Gandhi at World’s Parliament of Religions

Virchand R. Gandhi (1864-1901), a Bombay lawyer, was the sole Jain at the Parliament in Chicago. Following the World’s Parliament of Religions, he stayed in the U.S. for two years to give some 535 lectures on such topics as Jainism, Yoga, Hindu culture, and Indian philosophy.

1893 CE Shri Lalan Comes to U.S.

A Jain scholar named Shri Lalan came to the U.S. and stayed four and one half years. Inspired by the Jain teachings of Shri Lalan, an American woman, Mrs. Howard, became a disciple and a vegetarian.

1896-97 CE V.R. Gandhi Helps Organize Famine Relief

On a second trip to the U.S. and England in 1896-1897, V.R. Gandhi joined with Charles C. Bonney, who had been President of the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, to organize a Famine Relief Committee for India. This committee sent about $10,000 and a steamer full of corn to India. 

1904-05 CE Jain Temple at St. Louis World’s Fair

A replica of the Jain temple at Palitana in Gujarat was sent by the British government of India to the St. Louis Exposition. After being in storage for several decades, the temple was purchased by the Summa Corporation, which placed it in their Castaways Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. In 1995, the hotel donated the temple to the Jain Center of Southern California.

1919 CE Life and Stories of Parsvanatha

Maurice Bloomfield, Professor of Sanskrit at The Johns Hopkins University, published Life and Stories of the Jaina Savior Parsvanatha, one of the first Jain texts published in the U.S.

1933 CE Jain at World Fellowship of Faiths in Chicago

Champatrai Jain, a lawyer from India, presented a talk on “Ahimsa as the Key to World Peace” at the World Fellowship of Faiths meeting in Chicago.

1959 CE Formation of Jain Groups

Jains in New York City organized an informal society. A second group was formed in Michigan.

1966 CE First American Jain Center 

The first Jain Center in the U.S. was established in New York City by a small group of Jain immigrants. Three years later, another Jain center was established in Chicago.

1971 CE Gurudev Chitrabhanu First Visits U.S.

Gurudev Chitrabhanu was the first Jain monk to part with monastic traditions restricting travel and visit the U.S. in order to spread the message of Jainism and non-violence. Later, having left the traditional monkhood, he returned to the United States and became one of the most important religious leaders of the American Jain community. He established the Jain Meditation International Center in New York City in 1974.

1973 CE Jain Center of Greater Boston Established

Since its founding in 1973, the Jain Center of Greater Boston has made a strong contribution to Jainism in the U.S. In 1979 it began publishing the Jain Study Circular, which has developed nationwide circulation. The Center’s Directory of Jains in North America first appeared in 1979 and is regularly updated. Since 1983, the Center has been located in its own temple in suburban Norwood, first in a former Swedish Lutheran church, and then, starting in 2010, in a former synagogue.

1975 CE Acharya Sushil Kumar First Visits U.S.

Sushil Kumar became a monk in the Shvetambar Sthanakvasi sect of Jainism at the age of 15. He was the first Jain monk to travel abroad regularly while remaining a monk, an unprecedented and controversial move. He traveled extensively throughout the world and was an active participant at world conferences on peace and interreligious cooperation. Acharya Sushil Kumar passed away in 1994, at the age of 68. 

1975 CE Jain Society of Greater Detroit 

The Society began with about 50 families. By the early 1990s it had over 250 families. The Society operates a Jain study class for 100 children, has a summer camp, sponsors visiting lectures, and celebrates the Jain festivals. It has designated Thanksgiving Day as Ahimsa Day, a day of non-violence. In 1991, construction began on a million-dollar temple in Farmington Hills, a Detroit suburb.

1980 CE Sushil Kumar Founds International Mahavir Jain Mission

The International Mahavir Jain Mission (IMJM) was founded in Cleveland, Ohio. Until his death in 1994, Acharya Sushil Kumar was the chairperson of IMJM. The society headquarters later moved to Siddhachalam in New Jersey.

1981 CE April 26 Proclaimed as a Day of Ahimsa in Cleveland 

The mayor of Cleveland and the city’s Jain Society proclaimed April 26, 1981 as a Day of Ahimsa (non-violence) in Cleveland.

1981 CE Federation of JAINA Organized

The Jain Center of Southern California voted in 1980 to host a conference that would bring together representatives of all the Jain centers in North America. The conference took place over Memorial Day weekend of 1981. During this three-day meeting, the Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA) was created, and a constitution for the new organization was drafted. JAINA continues to hold national conventions every other year, having convened in New York City (1983); Detroit (1985); Chicago (1987 and 1995); Toronto (1989); Stanford, California (1991); and Pittsburgh (1993).

1983 CE Siddhachalam Established in New Jersey

This rural ashram and temple complex, established by Acharya Sushil Kumar on 108 acres in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains, was established as the first Jain tirtha or pilgrimage place outside India. The rural center is a resident community for Jain monks and nuns and a retreat center for laity.

1985 CE Jain Digest Begins Publication 

The Jain Digest, a quarterly publication of the Jain Associations in North America, was launched. The digest contains news from Jain societies throughout the U.S. and Canada. After 10 years of circulation, Jain Digest has a readership of more than 6,000. 

1986 CE First Public Exhibit of Jain Paintings

The New York Public Library organized “The World of Jainism,” the first public exhibition of Jain paintings in the U.S. Paintings from the manuscript Kalpa Sutra and other scriptures from the 15th to the 19th centuries were featured. The exhibition of Jain paintings was part of the library’s participation in the Festival of India, a two-year-long celebration of Indian culture in the U.S. 

1986 CE Indo-American Jain Conference 

The Indo-American Jain Conference of the World Jain Congress was convened at Siddhachalam on September 26-28, 1986. The theme of the conference was Jain unity. Twelve hundred participants came from India, Europe, the U.S., Canada, and Africa. The construction of temples, literature, and world peace were among the topics discussed at the conference. 

1987 CE Jain Study Circle Established

The Circle was established to promote study and understanding of the Jain tradition. It organized study groups and took over responsibility for publishing the Jain Study Circular, which had been originated by the Jain Center of Boston.

1988 CE Jain Temple Opens in Los Angeles

1991 CE Images Installed at Siddhachalam

From August 2-11, several thousand Jains came to the hilly countryside near Blairstown, New Jersey, to witness the installation of images of the Tirthankaras in the newly completed temple at Siddhachalam, the first Jain ashram and tirtha in the U.S. The event, called a Pratishta Mahotsav, was overseen by the founder of Siddhachalam, Acharya Sushil Kumar.

1992 CE Acharya Sushil Kumar to Rio

Sushil Kumar represented American Jains and participated in several interreligious events held in conjunction with the U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. 

1992 CE Foundation Stone Laid in Detroit

On July 5, the foundation stone was laid for a Jain temple in Detroit.

1992 CE First Chaturmas in California 

The Jain Center of Northern California organized for a four-month stay of two Jain monks called Samans, an order of monks and nuns created by Acharya Tulsi in India specially to be able to travel and teach abroad. During their visit, the two gave lectures in Gujarati, Hindi, and English and provided instruction in Preksha meditation.

1993 CE Dedication of the Jain Temple in Chicago 

The Jain Society of Metropolitan Chicago dedicated a new temple, the largest Jain temple in the U.S., in Bartlett, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago. It contains both Shvetambar and Digambar images.

1993 CE – Present Jainism on the Internet 

The Jain Bulletin Board System was launched on the Internet in 1993 to provide online information about Jainism. Jain presence online only continued to expand during the following decades, connecting Jains around the world, but also providing a platform through which American Jains and Jains in America to engage with one another and with the wider American community.

2001 CE 9/11 Attacks Cause Backlash Against Muslims and Those who “look Muslim”

While many Muslims were often the target of post-9/11 hate crimes, those who happened to “look Muslim”, including individuals of South Asian and Arab descent, were “accidental” victims. Along with many communities whose members fit a similar racial profile, Jains collaborated to clarify their religious and cultural traditions to an American audience.

2010 CE Growth and Expansion of Jain Communities

The Jain community of Boston, among others throughout the U.S., experienced so much growth that a larger building was required for the Jain Center of Greater Boston (JCGB). In 2010, community members processed through the suburban streets of Norwood, moving to a former synagogue that now houses classrooms for Jain education, a large event space, and a purpose-remodeled temple. The center in Norwood now boasts a membership of several hundred individuals, many of whom are families and whose parents were among the founding members of the community. The growth and formalized establishment of Jains in the U.S. is visible through much of the U.S., though it is especially apparent in such national groups as JAINA and the conferences, youth programs, and scholarships that are overseen by the Association.

 


With Thanks to JAINA, Dr. Surendra Singhvi and Dr. Noel King for assistance in compiling this timeline.