Jainism on The Internet
By Mr. P. L. Jain & Mr. Anil Kumar Jain, Ahimsa Foundation
Unlike other religions, namely Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, shintoism etc., Jain religion, its principles and philosophy are very little known outside this country. The philosophy of Jaina culture propounded by Bhagwan Rishabh Dev and propagated by next 23 Tirthankaras, including Bhagwan Mahavir, remained restricted geographically within Indian boundaries for several centuries. Strict observance of rules like prohibition on the use of communication and transport media and several other rigidities prescribed for saints and others not only prevented acceptance and recognition of this religion in other parts of the world but also eroded its base within India.
The lack of knowledge about Jainism can also be attributed to poor media exposure and presentation in different parts of the world. Even the word 'vegetarianism' is very little understood and most people take it as eating vegetables and nothing else. Even in our own country, the picture is unfortunately very dismal and more and more people are turning away from the very basics of religion.
The fundamental principles of Jainism are preserved in our ancient texts compiled by Acharyas, which incorporate the teachings of Lord Mahavira and the kevalis of his sangha. They were transmitted orally through the shruta-kevalis and the acharyas. When writing techniques became common, the Jain epics were gradually written down by our Acharyas much later, about 2,000 years ago. One can see the figures of monks carved under the Jina idols holding books in their hands. The idols found in Mathura bear inscriptions from Shaka and Kushan period. By 10th century, all the shruta (oral tradition) had been written down. The next transition in technology came with printing, which made Jains books widely available in the early 20th century. But, in last three or four decades, several religious leaders and saints, for example, Acharya Vidyanandji, Shri Chitra Bhanu, Acharya Sushil Kumar Ji, Samanis from Terapanth order, and others have achieved remarkable success in presenting Jain philosophy around the globe and seeking its due place amongst other world religions. But the efforts were generally made at individual level and no common platform was created to spread the philosophy of Jainism with the required vigor and force.
The arrival of internet technology in 1995 in India provided the fastest and cheapest mode of communication and means of collecting information. Through this technology millions of pages of reading material are stored on various web sites from where it can be downloaded on the one's own computer and studied according to convenience. One can open any religious web site sitting in any part of the world. The internet offers us a channel, which can potentially allow the message of Jainism to reach every corner of the world. Just as Jains had embraced the technology of writing very early 2000 years ago, they have enthusiastically welcomed the Internet.
The resources presently available on Jainism can be reached through hundreds of search engines i.e. yahoo, google, altavista, alltheweb, lycos, rediff, indiatimes and several others (about ten thousand search engines exist on internet). There are many excellent sites available on Jainism but this should not dissuade anyone from creating a new web presence. Simple and personal web sites of individuals and organisations on Jainism can also serve as a powerful testimony. In fact, more and more Jain institutions and individuals should go ahead and establish their presence on this information network without worrying about possible overlap. Unique materials will make the reading and viewing much more interesting. A few prominent Jain web sites/ portals currently available for viewing are listed below.
Whereas most of the websites identify themselves with some particular sect, jainsamaj.org, cs.colostate.edu and jainworld.com are the only sites which represent the entire Jain community irrespective of the sect, gachha, group or pantha and which have maintained their unbiased approach. There are several individual websites too, mostly devoted to our eminent saints, such as:
Similarly, there are several web sites now available made on individual institutions or temples, such as:
There are several discussion groups available for discussions on Jainism related subjects. The prominent among these groups are:
From overseas, the Jains in America have very prominently displayed their presence through internet. Some of the important overseas web sites concerning Jainism are named below:
For current affairs and news related topics the following sites offer regular updates:
A list of vegetarian restaurants outside India can be found at www.jainsamj.org The other web sites related to vegetarian food and vegetarianism are:
The viewers and users of internet contents can be classified under four heads:
1. Committed Staunch Jains.
2. Jains who are not especially committed.
3. Friends of Jainism, who know a little about Jainism, but want to know more.
4. Non-Jains, who have not come in contact with Jain society yet.
We need a variety of materials for each of the above categories, not just only scholarly work. Some of the material should be relatively easy to understand and appreciate. Often things that are plain and easy are absorbed best. The medium should be not just text but should include images, figures, photographs and sound effects and perhaps even animation. Techniques for making some of the contents interactive or dynamic should be contemplated. When a web site is created, often it reflects the interests of the builder. Attempt should also be made to take into account the interests of potential visitors.
Due to the initiatives by many devoted individuals extensive work has been done and several sites have been placed on the internet but still the available technology offers ample scope for further development. So far hardly any work has been carried out on the audiovisual facilities. Addition of audio and visual information will make the web content much more effective and interesting. Similarly the live coverage of events is also possible through the available technology. A lot of research material and translation of old literature can be added. Simply placing material on the web will make it static. It should be updated time to time so that visitors keep coming back. But for a few websites, none others are being updated once the information is placed on them. Today more than ten thousand active search engines enlist the working websites for the convenience of the users. But most of the websites are not listed on search engines and therefore difficult to locate. These sites should make necessary efforts for search engine listings.
The major websites which host Jain literature section need to employ Jain scholars on regular basis. These scholars will be very helpful in collection and editing of the literature received from multiple sources. In fact it is extremely hard to find employment for scholars and research workers of Jainism. If these scholars can join the web development work not only better sites will be available but also increase the opportunities for Jain scholars. Institutions like Parshwanath Vidhyapeeth, Varanasi and Bhogilal Leharchand Institute Delhi, Acharyashri Kailas Sagar Suri Jain Gyanmandir, Koba (Gandhi Nagar) and others can encourage scholars to work on web development activity. Leading Jain organisations can lend supporting hands for the employment of scholars with major sites / portals.
The development of a website can cost anything from one thousand rupees a year to a few lakhs depending on the contents and programming required. Simple websites just contain few html pages but the portals require regular software and hardware support besides a working team for collection and editing and uploading of information. The requirement of servers (host computers) also depends on the contents. In most cases, the expenditure is one time but for major sites the expenditure is regular and recurring in nature. Large sites need to be hosted on commercial servers, simpler sites can be hosted on free or low-cost servers as well. Jain societies or Jain organisations can come forward and sponsor these projects. Content collection on regular basis is also a rigorous exercise for website developers. To encourage the development of websites, volunteers can come forward and become information feeders. If the volunteers scattered all over the world can collect and feed the information to some existing websites the collection work will become much less cumbersome.
It will be of great use to create a worldwide directory of Jains and their business. This gigantic task can be undertaken with the help of web technology. The www.jainsamaj.org is the first and the only website at present, which has placed these directories on the network and regular updating the information. At the moment about twenty thousand Jain families have entered their particulars from all over the world. This work can be further expanded manifolds. It can be debatable whether the websites should generate revenues to sustain the recurring expenses. The revenue can be generated in several ways. The easiest could be the donations from individuals and Jain institutions. Revenue can also be generated through sponsorship, advertisements, banner exchange programs and lastly through some paid services like matrimonial directories, business directories, sale of certain ethical products etc.
It can thus be observed that internet can play an effective role in propagating the Jainism and its impact can be very far reaching on the minds of viewers. We can take advantage of this modern facility and utilize it as much as possible for making the Jainism known in every corner of the world. It would be highly inspiring for the developers if our leading business houses belonging to Jain community get conscious about their responsibility towards the common cause of spreading and popularizing Jainism and they come forward to sponsor such projects.