Jainism is a religious-philosophical system rooted in ancient India with diaspora communities around the world. One of the tradition’s hallmarks is the philosophical commitment of nonviolence (ahiṃsā) toward all living beings. In this study I explore how Jains enact new transnational modes of “being Jain” in response to COVID-19. Drawing upon multimedia Jain resources created from March 2020 through July 2021, I argue that North American Jains approach the pandemic as an opportunity to reinterpret the “practical” value of the Jain commitment to nonviolence by (1) giving epistemic primacy to medical knowledge, complemented with spiritualized narratives of healing; (2) admitting a diversity of Jain philosophical perspectives on the present pandemic; (3) identifying the positive potential of the pandemic for personal and social development; (4) promoting sectarian unity and intergenerational adaptability among Jains; and (5) fostering public service and charitable work as a form of transcultural social-political belonging.

Recent analyses of religious communities’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have focused little on immigrant communities with non-monotheistic views. My analysis addresses this gap by exploring the responses of North American Jains to the pandemic. I will orient readers to Jainism as a nontheistic Indian tradition with a unique worldview centered on nonviolence, or ahiṃsā, and describe the lay community of Jains in North America.

Due to its antiquity, Jainism cannot be considered a new religious movement in the sense often addressed within this journal, at least not in the sense of being a newly emergent community. Neither does Jainism meet certain features of a “new religion,” defined by J. Gordon Melton, as that which is unacceptable to, or in tension with, the dominant religious communities of a given place.1 Rather, diaspora Jainism refers to a minority religious community that now exists outside India. These communities consist of laypeople who must translate the tradition’s worldview and practices within populations who are unfamiliar with the tradition’s heritage, external and internal debates, linguistic diversity, and cultural presence. Indeed, North American Jainism better exemplifies Melton’s category of “ethnic religion,”2 and more specifically, an ethnic religion whose members are actively developing fresh “expressions of older faiths in new contexts.”3 Not only have scholars identified unique features of diasporic Jainism as “neo-orthodox,” the responses of North American Jains to a worldwide pandemic further exemplify innovative features and practices of this ancient Indian tradition during a global health crisis. By exploring several resources created by Jains throughout 2020–21, I argue that North American Jains view the pandemic as an exceptional opportunity to reinterpret the “practical” value of Jain nonviolence to unify the diasporic Jain community, proliferate transnational collaborations through fundraising with Jains in India and abroad, and translate Jain ideals to non-Jains using epistemic frameworks of medicine, ecological well-being, self-development, and social equity.

Specifically, I will show how North American Jains (1) give epistemic primacy to medical knowledge complemented with spiritualized narratives of healing, (2) admit a diversity of Jain philosophical perspectives on the pandemic, (3) identify the potential of the pandemic for personal and social development, (4) promote sectarian unity and intergenerational adaptability among Jains, and (5) foster public service and charitable work as a form of transcultural sociopolitical belonging.

Jainism is a religious-philosophical system that has been present in India for over 2,500 years. The Jain universe (loka) is described as eternal and packed full of infinite living beings, each with its own core life force (jīva) on a journey across innumerable lifetimes toward the goal of individual liberation (mokṣa) from a continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, known as saṃsāra. There is no transcendent deity in the Jain worldview. Rather, natural and personal phenomena are understood through the causality of karma, which is systematically theorized throughout Jain texts. Moreover, Jainism posits twenty-four human teachers, called Jinas, or “victors” (from which the word “Jain” derives) who exemplified the mental and physical restraints needed to reduce their karmic bondage, teach others, and eventually free themselves from the karmic realm.

The twenty-fourth and last teacher of our current era, Mahāvīra, meaning “great hero,” lived in the fifth century BCE and is considered a contemporary of the Buddha. Both figures were affiliated with śramaṇa, or wandering “striver,” communities that rejected, or at least diverged from, the authority of the Vedas and Brahmin priests, fixed birth caste, and the efficacy of Vedic rituals.4

Mahāvīra oversaw a fourfold community of mendicant monks and nuns, and laymen and laywomen, which still makes up the wider Jain community. Mendicants are known for stringent austerities centered on five great vows (mahā-vrata). The first and most central of these vows is ahiṃsā, or nonviolence, in one’s thoughts, speech, and actions, toward all life forms, including microorganisms, insects, fish, birds, mammals, and people. Many outsiders may be familiar with Jainism through the austerities of its mendicant community, such as wearing mouth shields to prevent disturbing airborne beings, walking barefoot to avoid injuring earthbound beings, eating once-daily vegetarian food, and sweeping the ground clear of living beings when walking and sitting.

Unlike mendicants, lay Jains—who comprise the majority of the Jain community—participate in work, homelife, and families. They live toward minor vows (aṇu-vrata), or a weaker version of mendicants’ vows. For most contemporary Jains, the five vows are not taken formally5 but offer an approach toward daily life—sometimes called the “Jain Way of Life”—characterized by certain habits of mind, buying practices, or dietary rules such as vegetarianism (or veganism among some Jains6), though some may occasionally take more stringent vows such as fasting or meditation.

Jainism has two main sects differentiated by their clothing: the Śvetāmbara, or white clad, monks and nuns wear simple white fabric; the Digambara, or sky clad, monks wear no clothing at all and, thus, present a path to liberation only available to males for whom public nudity is acceptable. Lay Jains are also distinguished by sect and lineages (gaccha) traced back to Mahāvīra’s early disciples, and by a merchant caste structure distinct from the Vedic structure.7 Today in India, owing to several factors including high levels of education and literacy and historic participation in less violent urban vocations such as engineering, medicine, banking, among others, Jains are the wealthiest religious community with nearly three-quarters of the population in the top wealth division8 and the highest levels of literacy9 and education, factors that contribute to their diaspora success.10

Jains in North America

Sizeable Jain populations were established in the United States and Canada largely due to liberalizing immigration laws. In the early twentieth century, both countries had tightly restricted South Asian migration. In the early 1960s, Canada passed policy reforms prohibiting the denial of prospective immigrants based on color, race, or nationality. The 1967 Points System further lifted Canadian restrictions, but required applicants to pass a points test to increase entry of skilled migrants. Likewise, the United States’ Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished immigration quotas and prioritized professional skills and family reunification.11 Lay Jains, many of whom were members of the merchant caste in India and held certain “nonviolent” jobs such as engineering, medicine, and banking, often met these new criteria.12

The New York Jain Center opened in 1966 as the first United States temple, while the first Canadian Jain society opened in Toronto in 1974. By the 1980s, the lay Jain community was sufficiently established in urban North America to support additional societies and temples, and today there are over 60 temple communities in the United States and five in Canada. Unlike in India, where Jains often have local temples based on sect, region, and language, Jains in diaspora coexist in shared temples.

In 1981 Jains founded a unifying body known as JAINA, or the Federation of Jain Associations in North America, serving Jains “irrespective of their languages, regions, and traditions” through a biennial convention, social and professional networks, community publications, and education.13 JAINA estimates that there are 150,000 lay Jains in North America at present.14 The World Religions Database at Boston University15 estimates the 2020 population of Jains in the United States at 97,000 and Canada at 17,000.

In March 2020, North American Jains began formulating community-wide responses to the emerging pandemic. Like the diaspora community itself, these responses represented multiple views coexisting in multi-media Jain publications.

Resources created, shared, and reproduced in bi-weekly JAINA newsletters and issues of Jain Digest from March 2020 through July 2021, along with official communications from Young Jains of America (YJA), reveal several trends in the Jain response to COVID-19, beginning with the authority of medical knowledge and Jain spiritual resources to foster health and healing.

Critical Engagement with Medical and Clinical Knowledge

While some religious communities in the United States defied the early Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stay-at-home orders,16 the Jain community complied quickly. On 23 March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, a JAINA newsletter posted the CDC guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19, encouraged communities to share them with their members, and recommended that temples close until the end of March.17 YJA canceled regional retreats and local events for the same period. This newsletter included a podcast by Dr. Gita Shah, a member of the Jain Society of Metropolitan Washington, an infectious disease specialist with 45 years of experience, who provided preliminary insights into the coronavirus and its spread.

The Jain deference to medical authority could be attributed to the fact that North American Jains have high representation in medical fields. As noted above, national immigration policies privileged the entry of workers skilled in science, medicine, and allied fields. As of 2017, JAINA reported a partial directory of nearly 600 Jain medical professionals.18 Beyond this, lay Jains have a complex history of medicine as an acceptable occupation producing less violence. While this history has been explored elsewhere,19 it suffices to say that medieval Śvetāmbara and Digambara texts offer short lists of less-violent permissible occupations, including merchant trade, agriculture, crafts, and medicine, reflective of the Jain ethical outlook and caste status.20

As more knowledge about the virus became available in late April, Dr. Manoj Jain, a Tennessee-based infectious disease specialist, offered the “Understanding and Containing Coronavirus” webinar sponsored by JAINA, the Jain Center of Southern California, and two other Jain organizations.21 This statistic-based presentation targeted a Jain and non-Jain audience and included no Jain-specific information. In May, one local Jain community also made a Jain physician available, along with a Certified Public Accountant, at a food distribution drive, making clear that the Jain sense of service extended beyond basic food needs to include free economic and medical guidance for Jain and non-Jain community members.22

Additionally, individuals associated with JAINA conducted two medical surveys with Jains in North America and other countries. The first survey, released in May 2020, measured the incidents of COVID-19 among Jain vegetarians.23 Of the 819 respondents from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, India, Kenya, and Singapore, only 5.7 percent of individuals had been tested at that time, though the study made tentative correlations between testing positive for coronavirus among those with lower incomes, as well as those with preexisting conditions, urging community members to be tested to further aid Jain-specific studies.24 The second survey investigated the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of Jains in the United States. Of the 109 respondents, there was a low incidence of anxiety and depression symptoms, though female populations had a slightly higher occurrence as did respondents under the age of 26.25

Beyond compliance with medical authority and harnessing the knowledge of Jain medical professionals and researchers in the early weeks of the pandemic, some Jains sought to think biologically and clinically about a Jain response to the virus. In a podcast called “Aneka” (a unique Jain philosophical term meaning “not one,” or “many,” usually referring to a multifaceted view on reality), the two YJA hosts, one of whom is a practicing physician, explored “The Pandemic Problem.” In this episode, the hosts primarily sought to define a virus within modern biology and Jain taxonomy and discuss various ethical dilemmas such as ventilator and resource allocation in the event of hospital overload.26 To provide additional context for the Jain view and response to COVID-19, it’s worthwhile to address the first question here.

Defining a Virus in Jain Scriptures

Jain scriptures, which include texts ranging from the sixth century BCE to the early medieval period, do not define a virus. However, they do pay considerable attention to living beings, including minute living beings, which are said to exist in a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.27 These beings are categorized by the number of senses they possess, and through which they experience pleasure or pain. Microorganisms and plants possess the single sense of touch. Two-, three-, and four-sensed beings, including mollusks, worms, spiders, and moths, have the additional senses of taste, smell, and sight, respectively. Five-sense beings also possess hearing, and include mammals, birds, fish, humans, and divine and infernal beings, the latter of which I will forego for the present discussion; many five-sensed beings are also said to possess mind.28

In the absence of any transcendent deity, every living being possesses its own core life force called jīva, an eternal substance characterized by changing qualities of consciousness (upayoga; with two aspects of pure knowledge and pure perception), energy (vīrya), and bliss (ānanda), each on its own journey toward liberation. Karma accrues to every being in proportion to the harms they cause to self and others through mind, speech, and bodily actions. Nonviolence, or ahiṃsā, emerges logically as a moral guide to minimize interference with all beings generally, and higher-sensed beings specifically.

Early Jain manuals emphasize nonviolent action toward eight kinds of subtle one-sensed beings and plants of which mendicants should be aware.29 Additionally, Jain texts assign the term nigoda to the most rudimentary form of one-sensed beings that possess touch. Unlike other one-sensed beings that have a separate body, nigodas have no individual body; they exist only in clusters that live and die as a group, and often live upon host organisms such as the skin of people and animals, and certain root vegetables.30

Some contemporary Jains attempt to account for these minute beings in light of modern science, which defines a virus as microscopic parasites, generally smaller than bacteria, which must live inside a host to reproduce. Drawing on Jain canonical accounts of living beings, J. C. Sikdar classifies bacteria as one-sensed beings—namely “earth” and “subtle plant” life—suggesting some ambiguity in Jain texts.31 Sikdar compares bacteria to other plants and animals insofar as they are comprised of metabolizing cells (arbuda), but differentiates them by their inability to produce food through other beings or from decaying matter.32 Surendra Bothra, in his manual for modern Jains, Ahimsa: The Science of Peace, describes bacteria as immobile beings (sthāvara), which could include nigodas, claiming that, “in modern terminology the [sthāvara] category of life forms would probably be termed as mono-cellular organisms…[such as] bacteria and virus[es].”33

Thus, from the view of Jain biology, a virus would likely be considered a form of one-sense organism, whether single or in a collective group of nigodas, that requires a host environment, often within a two- through five-sense being such as an insect, animal, or human. While none of the Jain analyses of COVID-19 I reviewed explicitly defined a virus according to this Jain taxonomy, the above background sheds light on a virus as a form of living being entangled with humans and other life forms to whom nonviolence is due.

Jain Scriptural Healing Narratives

Alongside this engagement with medical knowledge and biological definitions, Jains also engaged spiritual narratives of healing. This epistemic multiplicity is not uncommon for diaspora Jains whom scholars have noted frequently hold social, scientific, and cultural knowledge regimes in one hand and orthodox scriptural and/or spiritual practices in the other.34

As details of the pandemic unfolded in early March 2020, the JAINA newsletter invited readers to “Be wise and be safe and pray for all those who are suffering.”35 Although Jainism is a karma-based tradition in which one’s actions neither benefit nor transfer merit to another,36 scholars have identified holistic approaches to “well-being”37 and technical Jain terms, such as compassion,38 that provide a foundation for supporting social health.

A JAINA newsletter early in the pandemic included a translation of the Uvasaggaharaṃ Stotra, one of several ancient hymns common to all branches of Jainism.39 The verses describe a healing mantra known as the “antidote from plague” (viṣahara phuliṅga40) associated with the twenty-third Jina Pārśvanātha; according to the second verse, the mantra “is considered effective against all types of pain and affliction.”41 An April 2020 newsletter described how the Jain Center of Las Vegas recited daily prayers (jāpa) through Zoom as a way to “fight the virus while maintaining the social distance.”42 Likewise, the Jain Center of Greater Phoenix invited members to offer twenty minutes of synchronized prayers at home to commemorate Mahāvīra’s birth (Mahāvīra janma kalyāṇaka) and “to spread love to all who are impacted due to this disturbance, heal the ones who are suffering, and support everyone who is helping fight this pandemic.”43 Later newsletters describe the Jain Center of Alberta, Canada, reciting mantras each evening44 and the Center of Greater St. Louis organizing virtual recitations of prayers, including the Uvasaggaharaṃ Stotra described above and the Laghu Shanti hymn associated with the sixteenth Jina Śāntinātha, meant to increase calm and protection.45

Significantly, in May 2020, JAINA featured a video of the mask-clad Chief Minister of Gujarat—an Indian state with a large population of Śvetāmbara Jains—inviting global Jains to recite the Ṇamōkāra mantra 99,99,99,99946 (just under one billion) times on 31 May 2020.47 This ancient Prākrit mantra is the most central and auspicious ritual prayer among Jains. It pays homage to five types of reverence-worthy persons in the Jain worldview, and its recitation is thought to offer protection and success, destroy karma, and cure illness for those who speak it and hear it.48 Described as an “unprecedented digital mega event,”49 over 1.7 million individuals were reported to have signed up to recite a portion of the mantras, meaning that over a quarter of the nearly 6 million50 global Jains participated in this prayer for health.

As a nontheistic tradition, Jains have no recourse to a divine controller or transcendent source during a crisis. Commentaries instead focus on the authoritative teachings of the Jinas, multiple causation, and self-efforts that Jains should commit for the well-being of self and other, both human and nonhuman.

The JAINA newsletters included two primary philosophical commentaries over the duration of my analysis. The first, “Perspective on COVID-19 through the Jain Philosophy” was authored by Jain layman Dharmaraja Khot of the Jain Center of Greater Boston,51 and the second was an essay titled “Jainism Says: Spiritually Navigating the Current COVID-19 Pandemic,” authored by several lay Jain educators52 associated with the popular “Jainism: Know It, Understand It and Internalize It” blog examining Jain responses to contemporary issues.53 It is significant that these authors are lay Jains rather than initiated mendicants in India who are typically considered to have a higher degree of authority, but who are absent from diaspora contexts due to the austerities preventing them from taking mechanized transport. Nevertheless, there is textual precedent for all individuals to test the veracity of insights—their own and even those of the Jinas’—through their own experience, as stated in an oft-referenced passage in the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, that “One comprehensively sees dharma, the true ascertainment of things, with wisdom (if one looks on one’s own)” (pannā samikkhae dhammaṃ-tattaṃ tatta-viṇicchayaṃ).54 Likewise, scholars have noted that lay Jains in diaspora typically adopt flexible approaches to authority, including looking to one’s own reason and that of family, peers, or temple education teachers to offer Jain interpretations of contemporary problems applicable to their own contexts.55

Authority of the Jinas

Khot explicitly grounds his philosophical approach in the soteriological insights of the Jinas, including the “right view” (samyak-darśana) that saṃsāra is characterized by inevitable suffering, origination, decay, and impermanence.56 According to Khot, accepting these realities enables one to maintain equanimity amidst fear through restraints and to cultivate attitudes of friendship toward living beings and compassion for the downtrodden,57 which Khot extends to frontline health and emergency personnel.58 It is important to note that appealing to the Jinas is not a request for “divine intervention,” as Jinas are largely understood to be non-transactional.59 Nevertheless, Jain lay rituals include attitudes and practices centered on admiring and emulating the characteristics of Jinas, especially in times of distress, fear, or illness.60

Multiple Sources of Causation

The “Jainism Says” authors take a more systematic philosophical approach, interpreting the pandemic in light of a five-fold causation (samavāya; “aggregate; coming together,”, etc.) including time (kāla), the intrinsic nature of all substances and beings (svabhāva), predestination (niyati; meaning those phenomena that cannot be stopped such as aging, illness, etc.), external causes (nimitta) or internal causes (karma), and self-effort (puruṣārtha).61 This five-fold framework—which the authors link to various canonical sources—parallels the Jain concept of anekāntavāda, or non-one-sided view,62 explaining COVID-19 as the result of innumerable factors. Some of the identified causes are beyond the control of individuals and society, such as the sequential action of time, beings’ intrinsic and biological nature, and our inability to control certain events once put in motion; other causes, however, are attributed to the actions of individuals and society, such as external and internal causes.63 Here, the role of self-effort is paramount, both in understanding possible causation and one’s response to the pandemic.

Readers are encouraged to keep their physical and mental faculties strong, not blaming others for the virus, but recognizing a collective neglect of the ecological world.64 One should, according to the authors, take the opportunity to turn from the continuous consumption of material goods—likely a reference to COVID-19’s origin as a disease born from animals used for food65—and cultivate habits and relationships that nurture mutual growth in the face of adversity. The authors assert: “As the human race, we share this planet with other living beings, we don’t own it. We must protect our environment and natural resources. We should go back to basics—compassion for all living beings, not hoarding more than what we need and not wasting, abusing, or overusing our natural resources.”66 According to these authors, karmic causation, which is a comprehensive material theory of self-inflicted consequences in Jainism, plays only one part in the emergence of a global virus.

Moral Responsibility of Self-Effort

So, while one’s own karma is not sufficient to account for COVID-19, controlling one’s response to the pandemic is under one’s control, in keeping with the wider śramaṇa emphasis on self-striving. The authors state, “When we understand the importance of self-effort and free will, we can face any situation with courage, growth mindset, and focus on things that we can control.”67 The authors implicitly recognize the authority of the Jina teachings, but seem to privilege contextual re/interpretation. For example, one should renew the right view (samyak-darśana) of one’s own power as an existent jīva with innate technical qualities; as such, per the authors, “We trust in our inner strength and [do] not follow anything blindly. Power and strength are within us and nowhere outside.”68 While such claims of subjective evaluation are implied within the history of śramaṇic striving, its practice and realization is certainly aided by economic independence and class privilege within India that carry over into diaspora contexts.

This nod to the authority of the Jinas’ teachings alongside self-effort in the present moment is further exemplified in a humorous song featured in a March 2020 JAINA newsletter.69 The song, “Don’t Fear Corona” (corona se darona), recorded in Hindi by Jain vocalists Vicky D. Parekh and Sunny Jain asserts, “The world has been shaken / by one virus whose name is Corona. / The true Jaini says don’t be afraid of it.”70 The singers enumerate many aspects of the Jain tradition to inspire positive practice, “Our civilization is the oldest. / Its glory is now awakening.” These practices include increased use of the contactless, palms-together Jain greeting “Jai Jinendra,” the restraint from consuming meat and alcohol, and the reminder to be patient and “Let all beings live [and] you live calmly as well.” These lyrics echo similar forms of evangelism among Hindu nationalists, such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s uplift of vegetarianism and the “Namaste” greeting as valuable ancient purity practices, seemingly equating them as both Hindu and “Indian” and in effect subordinating other diverse cultural greetings or diets in the subcontinent.71 Though more work needs to be done on how Jain responses to COVID-19 overlap or differ with such nationalist endeavors, one cannot help but hear a gentle evangelism threaded through Parekh and Jain’s lyrics that celebrates the antiquity of Jain wisdom in the face of the pandemic: “Adopt these courtesies / understand this [fearlessness to corona] on your own / [and] help others understand.”72

Many of the responses recorded in the North American Jain sources I explored describe COVID-19 as an opportunity for a global “moral reset” centered on nonviolence to human and nonhuman beings. Some of these suggestions are Jain-specific. For instance, a late May 2020 newsletter repurposed well-known Jain confessional sūtras for the pandemic. A verse was included from the Pratikramaṇa-sūtra, a central text used for the highest Jain holiday of repentance, Paryuṣaṇa (described below). The verse reads, “I ask pardon of all creatures, may all creatures pardon me. May I have friendship with all beings and enmity with none” (verse 49).73 The introductory remarks for these repurposed sūtras capture this sense of a moral reset for Jains:

Today, when the entire world is suffering from COVID-19, we shall think about our actions towards other living beings and the environment. It’s time we should change our actions for the betterment of ourselves and the whole ecosystem. Let’s go back to our Jain roots reciting and understanding Universal Forgiveness and Friendship Sutras…confessing our sins, requesting forgiveness from others, and desiring peace over the entire universe to all living beings…[and] to not doing, consuming, [or] having anything at the cost of other living beings.74

This approach deals less with providing a technical foundation, whether medical or philosophical, and instead focuses on repentance and tangible change for Jains and non-Jains.

Some of these responses include universal suggestions for self-development, such as a list of “Things You Can Consider Doing During Quarantine” that includes reading, yoga, exercising, relaxing, “get[ting] in touch with your spiritual side,” spending time with family and pets, getting creative, or learning a new skill.75

Other responses envision a more comprehensive social overhaul. The essay “Corona Virus in a Global Village,” authored by layperson Sulekh Jain stresses the universal vulnerability of all people, plants, and animals, implicitly gesturing toward the presence of jīva within all living beings while avoiding specialized terminology.76 The concept of a “global village” is not altogether foreign to Jainism. In 1949, Ācārya Tulsī of the Śvetāmbara Terāpanthī sect established the Aṇuvrat Movement to revive the practice of restraints for self and society, based on a “spirit of universalism and nonsectarian inclusivity.”77 Sulekh Jain describes the “global village” as an “inter-dependent and co-dependent” multiplicity exemplified in the myriad examples of “people helping people” in the wake of the virus.78 Similarly, United States layperson Parveen Jain authored a blog post titled “The Remedy for Deadly Pandemics” in which he indicts global food systems that lead to zoonotic diseases and recommends a new ecological outlook for Jains and non-Jains:

We need to understand and follow the fundamental universal principle taught for millennia by the Jain thinkers that all living entities – human and non-human – and environment are interdependent and we all must live in harmony with each other. Humans must stop violating this principle and eliminate cruelty towards all other living species and end misadventures against the environment. This would ensure not only a healthy human survival, but also will create pervasive universal peace and love – the inherent desire of all living beings. Humanity can and will win, [we] just need to reconsider how we approach life.79

Marcus Banks has described a “neo-orthodox” tendency among diaspora Jains to recast mendicant orthodoxy, centered on renunciation, as a universal mode of personal and social improvement removed from sectarian ascetic roots, which can be seen in these lay Jain recommendations pertaining to coronavirus.80 Other scholars have explored these universalizing trends of multiculturalism in order to show how South Asian communities, including Jains, both retain and blur their identities to communicate their ideals in diaspora contexts.81 In the “global village,” contends Sulekh Jain, Jains find common cause with anyone pursuing local or transnational cooperation.82 According to the author, COVID-19 has provided an unparalleled opportunity for ecological restoration as river and air pollution have decreased and meat and milk consumption have been interrupted; further, overt violence has declined as military conflicts, robberies, arson, and people-smuggling are disrupted, and bars and nightclubs are shuttered.83 Also, opportunities for self-development and relationship-building have proliferated as people work from home and have more time to engage in self-study, cooking, walking, meditation, and family time; technological advances have emerged for globalizing education, telemedicine, and personal communication worldwide.84

In a similar aim at universalization, young Jain professional Mayuri Bhandari produced a spoken-word video, included in a May 2020 JAINA newsletter, called “Thank you COVID-19,” personifying the earth as a powerful force rebalancing ills caused by social and ecological neglect.85 “Thank you COVID-19 for giving mother nature a chance to breathe / A much needed pause from the damage human existence has caused / She hasn’t been able to gasp for centuries…/ Corona is simply her responding.”86 The writer, a resident of southern California, shares the aspirational view of a reset, “In just a few days of transport stopping / In Venice canals dolphins returning / Parades of animals rejoicing / Streets empty from noise pollution / Waters serene as they are meant to be in just a week”; she concludes, “Yes, this is a new revolution for all other living beings.”87 The descending time cycle of the Jain universe is exchanged in Bhandari’s version for an ecological revolution and social reprimand, “[T]hanks to the scare Corona has brought about / True character of human behavior is called right out / Hogging useless items from stores to protect individually / Groceries having to limit buyers / Used to endless availability / Even when the wealth to go around is plenty / It’s not distributed evenly.”88

Another post by three YJA authors also depicts the earth as “resort[ing] to a worldwide pandemic” to unmask structural and ecological harms.89 Referencing ahiṃsā briefly as a core Jain principle expressed as equal compassion (karuṇa) for all, the authors focus on the “hidden effects” of COVID-19, such as illuminating persistent cultural patriarchy in spikes of domestic violence, ongoing structural racism revealed in the drop in criminal arrests, and continuous ecosystem damage revealed in reduced emissions. “The planet has been trying to tell us for decades that we need to fix these issues, but we didn’t listen,” state the authors, “The only way through is together and as equals. Now more than ever, it’s up to humanity to maintain and improve balance in the world.”90

The universal moral reset is exemplified by non-Jains as well. Jain Digest, for example, included a list titled “Humanity around the Globe: Inspiration Amid Pandemic,” featuring positive actions taken by non-Jains: a caravan of teachers driving past students’ homes in Santa Clara, California; the grocery chain Winn Dixie giving free food to first responders; an anonymous person leaving bagged lunches daily at a park table in Maryland; or Yale students creating a network to run errands for elderly neighbors at risk for COVID-19.91 Similar activities were highlighted in Australia, India, Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom. The inclusion of non-Jain examples suggests that certain universal qualities of nonviolence and compassion persist in the world even among those who do not share the Jain worldview.

The pandemic gave North American Jains many opportunities to participate in diverse spheres of relations. This included blurring sectarian identities among Jains, building intergenerational connections through technology and service, facilitating high-value charitable giving among global Jains, and fostering a sense of belonging with the people of India generally, and the non-Jain community of their present countries. In 2021, these features were especially visible in collaborative vaccine efforts and international fundraising for India’s second COVID-19 surge.

Sectarian Unity

In India, Jains are often identified through sect-based temples and ritual practices that reflect mendicant lineages and merchant caste.92 Moreover, Indian Jains are distinguished through regional languages such as Gujarati, Hindi, and Tamil. In diaspora countries, these differences often give way to a more universal presentation of Jainism due to the need for unity among a minority population, the absence of fully ordained mendicants, a common diasporic language, and the pressures to streamline the tradition for external consumption by non-Jains.93 JAINA is a prime example of this nonsectarian effort, as a single coalition of North America Jains. Individual temples, on the other hand, including temple education curriculums for youth and adults,94 become the locus for addressing internal diversity, creating space for sectarian rituals, practices, regional language classes, and other distinctions between the Śvetāmbara majority and Digambara minority.

The North American Jain responses to COVID-19 foster a universal Jain identity that downplays, if not disappears, sectarian and caste differences. Sectarian titles rarely appear in any of the pandemic resources I evaluated. One exception was the repeated mention of the Shrimad Rajchandra Mission located in Dharampur in Gujarat, which oversaw a variety of pandemic outreach services.95 Based on the life and vision of the Jain mystic-philosopher Śrīmad Rājacandra (1867–1901), this organization is itself considered a nonsectarian movement within Jainism devoted to self-development and social service.96

JAINA’s nonsectarian orientation was demonstrated in the resources and services provided to any Jain or Indian American expat in need of repatriation to North America in lieu of travel restrictions due to COVID-19.97 Moreover, the “Jain Centers News” section of each JAINA newsletter reiterated the collective identity, pride, and shared momentum of what we as North American Jains are doing, without mention of sect. This segment featured multiple temples’ efforts to adapt to social distancing guidelines while developing creative modes of service and education. As stated in an April 2020 newsletter, “JAINA is proud of the efforts of Jain Centers in coming together to fight the virus while maintaining the social distance. JAINA encourages all the Jain Centers in North America to do similar activities.”98 Although each center could respond in its own way, none of these responses focus explicitly on sect. Nevertheless, the inclusion of certain figures, such as the Gujarati minister in India described above calling for face coverings and unity, is reflective of the Śvetāmbara majority in diaspora. Likewise, caste is never mentioned in any Jain publications I found. However, the public display of wealth in charitable giving events, detailed below, subtly illuminates both the economic caste and class history of merchant Jainism as a whole, and income disparities among Jains in diaspora.

Intergenerational Technology

North American Jain communities adapted quickly to online activities, including rituals, temple education, self-help services, and charity. The use of technology by diaspora Jains is already well-established,99 and a recent analysis by Tine Vekemans also explores how Jains in the United Kingdom have deployed technology for COVID-19 responses.100 JAINA and YJA, for example, have many digital programs that keep their North American communities linked through large biannual conventions and more frequent regional retreats, speaker series, online commentaries, and temple education resources. Jains also launched two online repositories for Jain literature: the Jain eLibrary in 2008 and Jain Quantum in 2020.101 The new “Jainism: Know It, Understand It and Internalize It” blog, launched in 2019 prior to the pandemic, features United States and Canadian members of the JAINA Educational Committee providing Jain views on modern social issues. Jains have also used online resources for national and international matchmaking102 and for addressing social and ecological issues, such as the United States-based Vegan Jains.103

During COVID-19, technology use proliferated among individual temples that closed their physical buildings. Three examples are noteworthy. First, there were significant intergenerational efforts to move temple education (pāṭhaśāla; hereafter pathshala) classes online. In April 2020, YJA—which already had a strong online presence—coordinated with nine temple communities to conduct classes through Google Meet, and several other temples developed their own internal platforms for this purpose.104

Second, there were efforts to create online intergenerational activities. Between the virtual pūjās and prayers that catered to older Jains and YJA’s typical fare for younger Jains—such as a book club, a college lifestyle and admissions webinar, and a virtual game night—other activities were developed to unify these groups. For instance, YJA hosted a Mother’s Day Bollywood and Family Dance workshop, a “Gains with Jains” online workout, and a “Discussion on the Future of Jainism” for parents.105 The Jain Society of Greater Detroit held a Bollywood trivia night,106 and the Jain Center of Columbus arranged a phone tree to set up grocery and medicine delivery for Jain seniors.107

Third, JAINA undertook, for the first time, the immense task of hosting the community’s largest annual ritual known as Pratikramaṇa, or forgiveness recitation, which characterizes the highest holiday period for Jains known as either Paryuṣaṇa (for Śvetāmbaras; 8 days long) or Daśa-lakṣaṇa-parvan (for Digambaras; 10 days long).108 Although this ritual of repentance is formally conducted in Prākrit, ten online sessions led by thirteen community members were offered over two days in Prākrit, Gujarati, and English.109 According to organizer Nitin Shah of the Jain Center of Southern California, approximately 8,000 people joined (from 3,300 devices) for this annual recitation; importantly, the number of individuals who joined the English sessions was approximately 1,750 (from 737 devices), a ten-fold increase from the typical attendance for the center’s in-person English Pratikramaṇa. Shah promises to continue offering at least one online English session even after in-person gatherings resume, allowing for a new virtual experience of this communal holiday moving forward that has historically been divided by language, age, and location.110

Global Charity and Transcultural Belonging

Almsgiving is a central facet of lay Jain practice, stemming from their merchant history. The highest form of such charity, according to Jain manuals for householder conduct, is to provide food and water to Jain mendicants following ritual rules of purity and piety.111 Although ahiṃsā often depicts negative practices of restraint, or not doing, positive actions such as compassion and the pursuit of well-being named above also find expression in the Jain concepts of charitable gifting (dāna), service (seva), and care for living beings (jīva-dāya).112 Vekemans has previously explored how diaspora Jains variously orient toward charitable giving, noting that JAINA has sought to expand the humanitarian role of Jains in the world, a trend followed by North American Jains throughout the pandemic.113

In late March 2020, JAINA launched the World Community Service (WCS) COVID humanitarian relief fund,114 and in April, the WCS appeal published the names of donors and donation amounts, akin to the public auction practices that characterize Jain temple fundraising.115 By the end of 2020, the WCS reported that North American Jains raised $234,000 in direct gifts and pledges primarily for assisting non-Jains with groceries, educational supplies, and medical support.116

Likewise, in an attempt to “show our karuṇa (compassion) for the needy,” JAINA partnered with the Gujarati community of North America to host a “Jain Cultural Show for Humanity,” promising individual donors of $10,000 or more a video spot to make a fundraising appeal, and to publish the names of anyone giving more than $1001.117 This 2.5 hour cultural program (prerecorded at the 2019 JAINA convention) featured folk singing, dancing, and Jain songs “to benefit the needy people of USA-India.”118 In late May 2020, JAINA reported over 350,000 TV and online viewers of this program who together raised $225,000 for hunger relief, medical aid, personal protective equipment, and educational technology.119

Other North American Jain temples and non-profit organizations also ran independent donation programs to help their non-Jain communities. This included launching a nationwide matching Chromebook project wherein a temple community bought thirty computers that were then matched with an additional twenty.120 At least nineteen temples committed to this program,121 and as of July 2021, the Chromebook project has donated over 5,000 refurbished computers to local schools.122

When India experienced its second COVID-19 surge in April 2021, the North American Jain community again mobilized, fundraising to send oxygen concentrator machines to India, of which at least 12,000 machines were sent as of 1 July 2021.123 These efforts expanded to funding oxygen-generator plants that ensure a more stable air supply for hospitals. At the cost of $30,000 USD per plant, JAINA sponsored an online Bollywood song and dance performance in June 2021 to raise funds. Donations in any amount were matched by a gift of $700,000 offered by three Jain families, with the assurance that donors giving $250 or more would have their names displayed on the screen during the show. To date, JAINA reports raising a total of $1 million from this matching pledge program, funding eleven oxygen plants,124 with hopes of sponsoring more.125

Beyond the monetary aspect, these donations signify a mode of transcultural belonging through service. Though it is impossible to include all such efforts, an incomplete list follows. The Shrimad Rajchandra Mission, known for local and global philanthropy, instituted a coronavirus relief program including meals for frontline workers, monthly rations for day laborers, hospital equipment, medical staff training, and fodder for animals and birds.126 North American Jain temples also partnered with local organizations. The Jain Center of North Carolina made and sent cards of support to health workers at the regional hospital, the Jain Society of Metropolitan Washington began a “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” food box program with their county government, the Jain Society of Toronto provided meal services to three elder care facilities, the Jain Center of Central Ohio raised funds for the Mid-Ohio Food Collective, and the Jain Society of Greater Cleveland donated over $71,000 to the regional food bank for which they received a personal thank you video from the CEO.127 The Jain-run Anekant Community Center of southern California also joined with United Sikh Mission, another national South Asian service organization, to serve vegetarian meals for regional hospitals and seniors, with a goal of delivering 100,000 meals per month.128

As the pandemic extended into 2021, Jains engaged the ethical significance and aided the distribution of vaccines as they became available. Dr. Jina Shah, who heads the JAINA Ahimsak Eco-Vegan Committee, wrote an online evaluation of both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines according to their specific animal-derived ingredients, animal testing requirements, efficacy in protecting recipients, and the need for less-violent alternatives. Shah argued that the benefits of vaccination during a pandemic outweigh the costs, although from a Jain perspective it should be viewed as “morally excusable though not justifiable,” due to the harms caused in vaccine production.129 She called the Jain community into new terrains of application, extending ahiṃsā beyond “our traditional comfort zone of home and temple” to “apply our extraordinary professional and entrepreneurial success into development of ahimsak alternatives in all fields, including science.”130

Regional Jain organizations also collaborated to offer vaccination clinics for the wider community. Jain Digest described a vaccine partnership between four organizations in southern and northern California,131 aimed to offer services and linguistic support for the South Asian community and wider public. The clinics administered over 10,000 vaccine doses at a large Hindu temple, a local community college, high schools, and to unhoused residents at Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles.132

Finally, in a unique expression of politicized transcultural belonging, the JAINA newsletter offered a solidarity statement toward African American communities after the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.133 Though not expressly related to COVID-19, this statement reflects a growing sense of identity with fellow non-Jain citizens emergent in previous weeks due to the pandemic. The statement reads, in part: “JAINA along with its youth wing—Young Jains of America—stands in solidarity and support with our friends of the minority community nationwide. All people of faith and conscience must stand up against violence, terrorism, extremism, racism, and hate. We stand with those in government, institutions, and corporations, who are seeking lasting solutions to these societal challenges.”134 Nearly a year later, a JAINA newsletter featured the theme “Freedom from Prejudice” with a reflection authored by Rakesh Jhaveri, the founder of the Shrimad Rajchandra Mission, exploring prejudice relating to (1) preconceived notions, (2) injustice, (3) incorrect conclusions, (4) baseless assertions, (5) being deaf to reality, and (6) avoidance of clinging to past perceptions.135 Although much more research is needed regarding the Jain community as it relates to North American racial history and politics, this statement of solidarity and evaluation of prejudice can be viewed in light of the Jain perspective that crises, whether of COVID-19 or widespread civil rights violations, provide an opportunity for moral reflection and action as a preeminent expression of Jainism in the world, beyond only the existential path toward self-liberation.

The responses recorded in this analysis during the initial fifteen months of the COVID-19 pandemic reveal an engaged North American Jain community reinterpreting the tradition’s ancient worldview and practices for novel contexts. As an immigrant community with a nontheistic worldview, Jain pandemic activities enrich the overall picture of religious responses to a global health crisis. Although Jainism is not a new religious movement by any means, Jains’ pandemic responses provide a fresh context for evaluating “neo-orthodox” Jain practices in diaspora. For example, the central Jain ethical principle of nonviolence, or ahiṃsā, along with positive concepts of service, well-being, and compassion for all living beings takes on “practical” expressions that unify the diaspora community beyond sect or caste identities, reiterate strong connections to India through fundraising and service, and foster a sense of belonging with non-Jains in diaspora countries. North American Jains use their expertise in medicine to empower their community to follow national guidelines, safeguard the health of the wider community through education and clinics, and spearhead local and global philanthropy. Furthermore, they offer diverse philosophical interpretations of a pandemic that explore self-restraint and multiple causation to see the pandemic as an opportunity for personal, social, and ecological moral reset. Finally, they capitalize upon their online fluency to proliferate creative and adaptive responses for community-building, among Jains and non-Jains in India and in their diasporic homes, as a novel and essential way to enact “being Jain” in North America during a pandemic.


J. Gordon Melton, “Perspective: Toward a Definition of ‘New Religion,’” Nova Religio 8, no. 1 (2004): 73–87. See especially pp. 79, 81.


Melton, “Perspective,” 79–80.


Melton, “Perspective,” 77.


Paul Dundas, The Jains 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2002): 16; Padmanabh S. Jaini, The Jaina Path of Purification (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass 2001 [1979]): 2, fn 2.


Dundas, The Jains, 189–91; James Laidlaw, Riches and Renunciation: Religion, Economy, and Society Among the Jains (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 173–75; Jaini, Jaina Path, 160.


Veganism, or the practice of avoiding all animal and animal-derived products, extends general prohibitions already present in Jain canonical texts to new concerns such as dairy products and wearing fur. Practicing Jains in diaspora have started informational websites such as the United States.-based Vegan Jains (https://veganjains.com/) or United Kingdom-based Jain Vegans (http://www.jainvegans.org/). See also Christopher Jain Miller and Jonathan Dickstein, “Jain Veganism: Ancient Wisdom, New Opportunities,” Religions 12, no. 7 (2021), 512.


See John E. Cort, “Jains, Caste and Hierarchy in North Gujarat,” Contributions to Indian Sociology 38, 1–2 (2004): 77–78. Cort asserts that Jain caste divisions were less determined by a purity/impurity hierarchy as in the Vedic structure than by levels of wealth, right means of (less violent) livelihood, distinction between rural life (associated with the Vedas) and urban life of Jains, and a high regard for merchant values of independence and credit-worthiness. See also, Dundas, The Jains, 7–8; Jaini, Jaina Path, 75–76, 288–90.


“National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), 2015–16.” Government of India, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (Mumbai: International Institute for Population Sciences), accessed 1 June 2018: https://dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR339/FR339.pdf, 31; men (97.1%), women (97.5%).


“National Family Health Survey.”


Jains who had completed at least twelve years of education: women, 55.8%; men, 57.6%. See “National Family Health Survey,” 61–62.


Raymond Brady Williams, “South Asians in the United States—Introduction,” The South Asian Religious Diaspora in Britain, Canada, and the United States, eds. Harold Coward, John R. Hinnells, and Raymond Brady Williams (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000), 213.


Robert Williams, Jaina Yoga: A Survey of the Mediaeval Śrāvakācāras (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1991), 122.


“About JAINA,” Yatra: Jain Temples of India, accessed 12 November 2020: https://www.jainatemples.org/articlepages/AboutJaina.aspx.


“JAINA in Action,” Jaina.org, accessed 12 January 2020: www.jaina.org/page/jaina_in_action.


Todd M. Johnson and Brian J. Grim, eds., World Religion Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2020): https://worldreligiondatabase.org/. The WRD data can be found by selecting “All religions global totals” on the WRD home page; the database estimates that Jains make up 0.42 percent (5.85 million) of the Indian population, with approximately 285,000 Jains living in diaspora abroad.


Maggie Siddiqi, Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, and Eva Gonzalez, “Religious Exemptions During the Coronavirus Pandemic Will Only Worsen the Crisis,” Center for American Progress, 27 March 2020: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/religion/news/2020/03/27/482359/religious-exemptions-coronavirus-pandemic-will-worsen-crisis/.


“JAINA Newsletter,” Jaina.org, 23 March 2020: https://www.jaina.org/page/03_21_2020_ENewsletter.


Manoj Jain, Personal communication through email, 21 December 2017.


See Brianne Donaldson and Ana Bajželj, Insistent Life: Foundations for Bioethics in Jainism (Oakland: University of California Press, 2021), especially Bajželj’s analysis of Jain medical history in Chapter 4, which includes an overview of current literature and textual analysis.


Williams, Jaina Yoga, 122, for example, the Śvetāmbara Śrāddhavidhi by Ratnaśekhara (15th c. CE) and the Digambara Traivarṇikācāra by Somasena (17th c. CE).


“JAINA Newsletter,” 2 May 2020.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 2 May 2020.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 30 May 2020.


“A Study of COVID-19 In Global Jain Populations,” Jaina.org, 15 August 2020: https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.jaina.org/resource/resmgr/08152020_enewsletter/COVID-19_in_Global_Jain_Popu.pdf. See also “JAINA Newsletter,” Jaina.org, 15 August 2020: https://www.jaina.org/mpage/08152020_ENewsletter.


Pranav Mehta, Morish Shah, Sneh Shah, and Nitin Shah, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health of South Asian Jain Faith Practitioners,” unpublished study, 30 December 2020, summary shared through email communication with Pranav Mehta, 19 January 2021.


“The Pandemic Problem,” Aneka: A YJA Podcast, 29 July 2020: https://open.spotify.com/episode/4p3jnohQXfG4or1gJmLF6d?si=1dg6Z8eQTGisFdb6Rz6pSQ. I was invited to speak on this particular podcast episode as a scholar having worked on the topic of Jainism and bioethics.


Brianne Donaldson, “Jainism and Darwin: Evolution Beyond Orthodoxy,” Asian Religious Response to Darwinism, ed. C. McKenzie Brown (New York: Springer, 2020), 185–208; Donaldson and Bajželj, Insistent Life.


Nathmal Tatia, trans., That Which Is [Umāsvāti, Tattvārtha-sūtra] (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), 2.8–2.25.


Surendra Bothra, trans., Illustrated Dashavaikalik Sutra: The Basic Compendium of Shraman Conduct [Daśvaikālika-sūtra, Pkt. Dasaveyāliya-sutta] (Delhi: Padma Prakashan, 1997), 8:13–15; Donaldson and Bajželj, Insistent Life, Chapter 6, § Vaccines and Antibiotics.


Jaini, Jaina Path, 127.


J. C. Sikdar, Studies in the Bhagavatī Sūtra (Muzaffarpur: Research Institute of Prakrit Jainology and Ahimsa, 1964), 354–55; J. C. Sikdar, “The World of Life According to the Jaina Literature,” Sambodhi 4, no. 1 (1975): 12–14. Thanks to Ana Bajželj for bringing Sikdar’s view to my attention.


Sikdar, “The World,” 13–14.


Surendra Bothra, Ahimsa: The Science of Peace (Jaipur: Prakrit Bharati Academy, 2004): 17.


Marcus J. Banks, “Orthodoxy and Dissent: Varieties of Religious Belief Among Immigrant Gujarati Jains in Britain,” The Assembly of Listeners: Jains in Society, eds. Michael Carrithers and Caroline Humphrey (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 247; Brianne Donaldson, “Transmitting Jainism in U.S. Pāṭhaśāla Temple Education Part 1: Implicit Goals, Curriculum as ‘Text,’ and Authority of Teachers, Family, and Self,” Transnational Asia 2, 1: 1–45; Bindi V. Shah, “Religion in the Everyday Lives of Second-Generation Jains in Britain and the USA: Resources Offered by a Dharma-Based South Asian Religion for the Construction of Religious Biographies, and Negotiating Risk and Uncertainty in Late Modern Societies,” The Sociological Review 62, no. 3 (2014): 512–29; Bindi V. Shah, “Religion, Ethnicity, and Citizenship: The Role of Jain Institutions in the Social Incorporation of Young Jains in Britain and the United States,” Journal of Contemporary Religion 32, no. 2 (2017): 299–314; Anne Vallely, “From Liberation to Ecology: Ethical Discourses among Orthodox and Diaspora Jains,” Jainism and Ecology: Nonviolence in the Web of Life, ed. Christopher Key Chapple (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002): 193–216; Anne Vallely, “Moral Landscapes: Ethical Discourses among Orthodox and Diaspora Jains,” A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion, 2nd Edition, ed. Michael Lambek (Malden MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2008), 560–72.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 23 March 2020.


John E. Cort, “Doing for Others: Merit Transfer and Karma Mobility in Jainism,” Jainism and Early Buddhism: Essays in Honor of Padmanabh S. Jaini, ed. Olle Qvarnström (Fremont, CA: Asian Humanities Press, 2003), 129–50.


John E. Cort, Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 29–30, 140–200.


Kristi Wiley, “Ahiṃsā and Compassion in Jainism,” Studies in Jaina History and Culture: Disputes and Dialogues, ed. Peter Flügel (New York: Routledge, 2006), 438–55.


John E. Cort, “The Intellectual Formation of a Jain Monk: A Śvetāmbara Monastic Curriculum” Journal of Indian Philosophy 29, no. 3 (2001): 331; “JAINA Newsletter,” 30 March 2020.


Phuliṅga can also be translated as syphilis; See Monier Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European Languages (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1899).


“JAINA Newsletter,” 30 March 2020.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 4 April 2020.


“JAINA Newsletter,” Jaina.org, 13 April 2020: https://www.jaina.org/page/04_11_2020_ENewsletter.


“JAINA Newsletter,” Jaina.org, 18 April 2020: https://www.jaina.org/page/04_18_2020_ENewsletter.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 18 April 2020.


In the Indian numeric system, this would be said as “99 crore, 99 lakh, 99 thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine.”


“JAINA Newsletter,” 30 May 2020; The video from the Chief Minister of Gujarat (29 May 2020) can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnUYgLF1Og4&feature=youtu.be.


Caroline Humphrey and James Laidlaw, The Archetypal Actions of Ritual: A Theory of Ritual Illustrated by the Jain Rite of Worship (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 44–45; M. Whitney Kelting, Singing to the Jinas: Jain Laywomen, Maṇḍaḷ Singing, and Negotiations of Jain Devotion (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 95; M. Whitney Kelting, Heroic Wives: Rituals, Stories and the Virtues of Jain Wifehood (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 46.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 30 May 2020.


Johnson and Grim, World Religion Database.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 13 April 2020.


The eleven education blog committee members can be found here: https://www.jaina.org/page/JainaEducationBlogCommittee.


Find the blog site here: https://jainism-says.blogspot.com/. The COVID-19 philosophical responses were featured in “JAINA Newsletter,” Jaina.org, 4 July 2020: https://www.jaina.org/mpage/07032020_ENewsletter.


Hermann Jacobi, Gaina Sûtras, Part 2, The Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 45 [Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, Pkt. Uttarajjhayaṇa-sutta] (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1895), 23–25. This sentence is often colloquially stated as Mahāvīra saying, “Test out my claims with your own experience.” I’ve strayed from Jacobi’s translation (“Wisdom recognizes the truth of the Law and the ascertainment of true things”) in order to capture the optative quality of samikkhae (if one looks on one’s own) following Nalini Balbir, “À Propos du Rapport à la Raison Dans la Tradition Jaina,” ThéoRemès 11 (2017), fn 15: https://doi.org/10.4000/theoremes.1134. Wisdom (panna; Skt. prajñā) can be nominative or instrumental here as “One comprehensively sees (samikkhae) dharma (dhammam), the ascertainment of things, (if one looks on one’s own),” (pannā samikkhae dhammaṃ-tattaṃ tatta-viṇicchayaṃ) (US 23.25).


Donaldson, “Transmitting Jainism: Part 1”; Shah, “Religion in the Everyday Lives”; Shah, “Religion, Ethnicity, and Citizenship”; Vallely, “Moral Landscapes.”


Dharmaraja Khot, “Perspective on COVID-19 through the Jain Philosophy,” Jaina.org, 13 April 2020: https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.jaina.org/resource/resmgr/04112020_enewsletter/Update_Perspective_on_COVID-.pdf.


The appeal to friendship and compassion echoes a verse in the Tattvārtha-sūtra: “The observer of vows should cultivate friendliness towards all living beings, delight in the distinction and honour of others, compassion for miserable, lowly creatures and equanimity towards the vainglorious” (TS 7.6, trans. Tatia).


Khot, “Perspectives,” 1–2.


Dundas, The Jains, 209–10; Jaini, Jaina Path, 193–94. Some scholars have explored, however, trends in Jain worship that seem to venerate the Jinas in ways that may border on transactional. See Humphrey and Laidlaw, Archetypal Actions, 43–44.


Humphrey and Laidlaw, Archetypal Actions, 39–46.


“Jainism Says: Spiritually Navigating the Current COVID-19 Pandemic,” Jainism: Know It, Understand It and Internalize It, 26 May 2020: https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.jaina.org/resource/resmgr/07052020_enewsletter/Jainism_Says__Spiritually_Na.pdf.


Melanie Barbato, Jain Approaches to Plurality Identity as Dialogue (Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2017).


“Jainism Says.”


“Jainism Says.”


John S. Mackenzie and David W. Smith, “COVID-19: A Novel Zoonotic Disease Caused by a Coronavirus from China: What We Know and What We Don’t,” Microbiology Australia, MA20013, 17 March (2020).


“Jainism Says.”


“Jainism Says.”


“Jainism Says.”


“JAINA Newsletter,” Jaina.org, 16 March 2020: https://www.jaina.org/page/03_14_2020_ENewsletter.


Vicky D. Parekh, “Corona Se Darona: Jainism on Corona Virus,” YouTube.com, 11 March 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bcw06pwUp08; I’ve provided https://www.indiawest.com the English translation, with assistance from Saadullah Bashir.


Pranav Kohli and Prannv Dhawan, “Dissecting the Hindu Chauvinism in India’s COVID-19 Response,” The Oxford University Politics Blog, 13 April 2020: https://blog.politics.ox.ac.uk/dissecting-the-hindu-chauvinism-in-indias-covid-19-response/.


Parekh, “Corona Se Darona.”


Williams, Jaina Yoga, 207.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 30 May 2020.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 23 March 2020.


Sulekh Jain, “Corona Virus in a Global Village,” India West, 31 May 2020: https://www.indiawest.com/letters_to_editor/coronavirus-in-the-global-village/article_ef941e9e-a316-11ea-8fb5-57056a856998.html. See also “JAINA Newsletter,” Jaina.org, 27 April 2020: https://www.jaina.org/page/04_25_2020_Enewsletter.


Michael Reading, “The Anuvrat Movement: A Case Study of Jain-inspired Ethical and Eco-conscious Living,” Religions 10, no. 11 (2019), 636.


Jain, “Corona Virus in a Global Village.”


Parveen Jain, “The Remedy for Deadly Pandemics: Nonviolence and Ecological Harmony,” ParveenJain.com, 21 April 2020: https://www.parveenjain.com/blog/the-remedy-for-deadly-pandemics.


Banks, “Orthodoxy and Dissent,” 252–57. See also Miller and Dickstein, “Jain Veganism,” wherein the authors revise Banks’ notion of “neo-orthodoxy” to address how some diaspora Jains—especially second- and third-generation Jains—expand the very sense of what is considered “orthodox” by adding new and adapted practices that may also (in some cases) be connected with mendicant teachings in India.


Brianne Donaldson, “Transmitting Jainism in U.S. Pāṭhaśāla Temple Education Part 2: Navigating Non-Jain Contexts, Cultivating Identity Markers and Networks, and Analyzing Truth Claims,” Transnational Asia 2, no. 1 (2019): 1–41; Prema Kurien, A Place at the Multicultural Table: The Development of an American Hinduism (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2007); Shah, “Religion in the Everyday Lives”; Vallely, “Moral Landscapes.”


Jain, “Corona Virus in a Global Village.”


Jain, “Corona Virus in a Global Village.”


Jain, “Corona Virus in a Global Village.”


“JAINA Newsletter,” 2 May 2020.


Mayuri Bhandari, “Thank You COVID-19,” YouTube, 22 April 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eH9_GHaOZlE.2020.


Bhandari, “Thank You.”


Bhandari, “Thank You.”


Rahi Shah, Atishi Porwal, and Vidhi Piparia, “Hidden Effects of the Novel Coronavirus,” Medium, 13 July 2020: https://medium.com/@YoungJains/hidden-effects-of-the-novel-coronavirus-69ce2f608425.


Shah et al., “Hidden Effects.”


Reena Shah and Dilip Parekh, “Humanity Around the Globe: Inspiration Amid Pandemic,” Jain Digest 14 (June 2020): 32–35: https://issuu.com/jaindigest/docs/jain_digest_june_2020.


Marcus J. Banks, “Defining Division: An Historical Overview of Jain Social Organization,” Modern Asian Studies 20, no. 3 (1986): 447–60. See also Cort, “Jains, Caste and Hierarchy.”


Banks, “Defining Division,” 448; Peter Flügel, “Jainism,” Encyclopedia of Global Studies, Vol. 3, ed. Helmut K. Anheier and Mark Juergensmeyer (Thousand Oakes: Sage, 2012): 975–79.


Donaldson, “Transmitting Jainism: Part 1”; Donaldson, “Transmitting Jainism: Part 2.”


“JAINA Newsletter,” 4 April 2020.


Nalini Balbir, “Non-sectarian Movements,” Jainpedia, accessed 1 January 2021: http://www.jainpedia.org/themes/principles/sects/non-sectarian-movements.html#c2495.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 18 April 2020.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 4 April 2020.


Tine Vekemans, “Double-clicking the Temple Bell: Devotional Aspects of Jainism Online,” Online Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet 6 (Dec 2014): 126–43; Tine Vekemans, “Roots, Routes, and Routers: Social and Digital Dynamics in the Jain Diaspora,” Religions 10, no. 4, 252 (2019): 1–18; Tine Vekemans, “From Self-learning Pathshala to Pilgrimage App: The Expanding World of Jain Religious Apps,” The Anthropological Study of Religious and Religion-themed Mobile Apps, ed. Jacqueline H. Fewkes (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2019): 61–82; Tine Vekemans and Iris Vandevelde, “Digital Derasars in Diaspora: A Critical Examination of Jain Ritual Online,” Religion and Technology in India: Spaces, Practices and Authorities, ed. Knut Axel Jacobsen and Kristina Myrvold (New York: Routledge, 2018): 183–200.


Tine Vekemans, “Crisis and Continuation: The Digital Relocation of Jain Socio-Religious Praxis during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Religions 12 (2019): 342.


Pravin Shah, Personal communication through email, 24 January 2021. See Jain eLibrary: www.jainelibrary.org; Jain Quantum: www.jainqq.org.


Jain Society of Metropolitan Chicago, Jain Center of America, Jain Society of Houston, Cherryhill Jain Sangh (of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware), Jain Society of Greater Detroit, Jain Center of Cincinnati-Dayton, Jain Society of North Texas, Jain Samaj USA, Jain Center of New Jersey, in “JAINA Newsletter,” 13 April 2020.


“JAINA Newsletter,” Jaina.org, 9 May 2020: https://www.jaina.org/page/05_09_2020_ENewsletter.


“JAINA Newsletter,” Jaina.org, 25 May 2020: https://www.jaina.org/page/05_23_2020_ENewsletter.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 23 March 2020.


Brianne Donaldson, “Chicago Jains Celebrate Ancient Ritual of Repentance and Non-Harm,” Patheos, 22 September 2015: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionnow/2015/09/chicago-jains-celebrate-ancient-ritual-of-repentance-and-non-harm/.


Nitin Shah, Personal communication through email, 25 January 2021.


N. Shah, Personal communication.


Nalini Balbir, “Giving Alms,” Jainpedia, accessed 3 January 2021: http://www.jainpedia.org/themes/practices/monks-and-nuns/giving-alms/contentpage/7.html.


Tine Vekemans, “The Gift of Giving: Changing Practices of Charity Work and Donation in the Contemporary Jain Diaspora: A Case Study,” Jainism on Modern Issues: Proceedings of National Seminar of Engaging Jainism with Modern Issues, February 24–26, 2017, eds. Samani Chaitanya Prajna and Narayan Lal Kachhara (Ladnun: Jain Vishva Bharati, 2019): 142–43: https://biblio.ugent.be/publication/8549891/file/8549893.pdf.


Vekemans, “The Gift,” 145.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 23 March 2020.


Dundas, The Jains, 198–99; “JAINA Newsletter,” 13 April 2020; M. Whitney Kelting, “Tournaments of Honor: Jain Auctions, Gender, and Reputation,” History of Religions 48, no. 4 (2009): 284–308.


“World Community Service,” Jaina.org, accessed 12 January 2021: https://www.jaina.org/page/WorldCommService.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 9 May 2020.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 9 May 2020.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 25 May 2020.


The Chromebook project evolution is documented in several newsletters: “JAINA Newsletter,” 23 March 2020; “JAINA Newsletter,” 30 May 2020; “JAINA Newsletter,” Jaina.org, 6 June 2020: https://www.jaina.org/page/06_06_2020_ENewsletter.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 6 June 2020; “JAINA Newsletter,” Jaina.org, 1 August 2020: https://www.jaina.org/mpage/07312020_ENewsletter.


Nitin Shah, Personal communication by phone, 8 July 2021.


Nitin Shah, Personal communication through email, 7 July 2021.


The announcement of reaching the $1 million milestone can be found in “JAINA Newsletter,” Jaina.org, 19 June 2021: https://www.jaina.org/mpage/06192021_ENewsletter. https://www.jaina.org/page/04_18_2020_ENewsletter.


Nitin Shah, Personal communication through email, 7 July 2021.


“Coronavirus (COVID-19) Relief Activities by Shrimad Rajchandra Love and Care,” Shrimad Rajchandra Love and Care, accessed 21 January 2021: https://www.srloveandcare.org/coronavirus-relief. See also “JAINA Newsletter,” 4 April 2020.


See also “JAINA Newsletter,” 9 May 2020; “JAINA Newsletter,” 2 May 2020; “JAINA Newsletter,” 30 May 2020; “JAINA Newsletter,” Jaina.org, 7 August 2020: https://www.jaina.org/mpage/08072020_ENewsletter; “JAINA Newsletter,” Jaina.org, 16 June 2020: https://www.jaina.org/mpage/06_12_2020_E_Newsletter.


“Food Drive to Help Californians Affected by Coronavirus,” Anekant Community Center, accessed 28 June 2021: https://anekant.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Anekant.pdf.


Shah, Jina, “Choose Least Harm, and Work to Widen the Choices: A Jain Position on Acceptability of COVID-19 Vaccines Developed with Animal Byproducts and Testing,” Vegan Jains, 28 December 2020: https://veganjains.com/2020/12/28/a-jain-position-on-acceptability-of-covid19-vaccines-that-contain-animal-ingredients/.


Shah, “Choose Least Harm.”


Shrenik Shah, “Southern California Organizations Come Together to Conduct Vaccine Drives,” Jain Digest 17 (June 2021): 10: https://www.jaina.org/mpage/Jain_Digest_June_2021.


Parth Parikh, Personal communication through phone, 8 July 2021.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 6 June 2020.


“JAINA Newsletter,” 6 June 2020.


Rakesh Jhaveri, “Freedom from Prejudice,” Jaina.org, 22 May 2021: https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.jaina.org/resource/resmgr/05222021_enewsletter/Freedom_From_Prejudice.pdf