With a Presentation by Raimon Panikkar Translated from the French by Mary Rogers
This book permits us to penetrate within one of the most ancient ascetic spirituality, that followed by some 6000 Jaina women ascetics.
Written with their collaboration, it presents to the reader their life of radical renunciation of which one of the hallmarks is incessant pilgrimage, a regular shifting from one place to the next in a sustained striving towards self-purification, a striving of which the final goal is Nirvana.
Here then we have before us the whole Jaina tradition, presented through scriptures, ancient texts, biographies, epigraphy and iconography. Here too we may observe it’s out workings in contemporary daily life and its contribution to inter-cultural and inter monastic encounter.
Furthermore, it is not without interest that this study finds its own proper place in an age which is rediscovering feminine values. At a time when so many people are taking a deep interest in Asian spiritualities we find here an original and strictly- defined spiritual path and also a spiritual teaching whose strength and subtlety merit our attention and invites us to embark on an authentic spiritual journey.
N. Shanta, of French origin, is settled in India for more than 40 years where she works for Prof. R. Panikkar in the field of Religion and Philosophy. Besides, her field of study and research is about the Women Monastic Traditions in Asia. She is presently doing a study on Buddhist Women Monasteries in Himalayan Countries.
One opens only with great respect such a book that reveals a rare harmonious combination of spiritual experience and rigorous scholarship, of heart and mind."
Armand Veilleux, in Aide Intermonastere.
There is much information in this book that has been unavailble to Western readers... She is the first Western author to pay adequate attention to the fundamental need always to distinguish among the four major sects of the Jainas."
John Cort, Harward University, in Journal of Asian Studies
Ananta krtajnata: infinite gratitude
During several years, on the track of the Sadhvis, I had to combine a life of study with a life on pilgrimage. My Masters were the Agamas and the works of the Sages, and gradually and as need required and as I little by little absorbed the ideas of the teaching, the rules of life and accounts of their tradition and history, I went to consult the Sadhvis and Aryikas upon these questions, as well as certain Munis and scholars. Before setting out to meet the Sadhvis I had to discover their whereabouts, which was only possible thanks to the kindness of lay members of the community, who helped me in this search. This done, I had to apply to the secretary of the local committee to ascertain the duration of their stay in such or such a place, and then find for myself a place to lodge. All these proceedings put me in touch with numerous Jainas. During my stays close to the Sadhvis hospitality was given to me either by a neighbouring family or by the committee in charge of a dharmashala of the town or pilgrim—place, or sometimes by friends of my own who happened to live within easy range.
I used to set off from Varanasi, where I lived up to 1979, for several months, armed with my notes and some of my books; I left the plains of the North where the summer is scorching to ‘repair to regions where I knew the Sadhvis would come to spend the monsoon months and where I was sure to find a good library. During these periods certain communities, some composed of friends already known to me and others of persons hitherto unknown, had the kindness to welcome me. Thus in the course of my wanderings, as well as meeting a large number of Sadhvis and also some Munis, I was given lodgement not only by Jaina families or dharmashalas, but also by members of Christian religious groups that I would not otherwise have had an opportunity to meet. My encounters with the Sadhvis gave me a chance to learn a lot from them, to experience a Jaina ecumenism while I lived among Jainas of different groupings and a still wider ecumenism when I was the guest of communities attached to different churches.
It was only possible for me to continue this task of assimilation, of deepening and unremitting concentration that a study like this, rooted as it is in the day to day life of its subjects, demands thanks to the sympathy, knowledge, support and welcome of many people. No word could possibly express fully my infinite gratitude. I cannot be content to record simply a list of names but prefer, rather, to try to stay as near as I can to the situation of these past years by recalling, if not all the names known to me, at least a great proportion of them and by stating the particular part they played in the accomplishing of this study (and sometimes, of course, one or other performed several functions therein).
Given the variety of places and the span of years involved, the simplest thing is to follow a geographical order. I must add that up till 1975, being fully involved in another project, I was able to give only a very limited amount of time to the present study. However, as my interest in the subject was already fully awakened and the subject so vast, I tried to work a little on it each day and to take eagerly every chance that Came my Way to make new contacts.
Instruction, Kindliness and general concern on the part of scholars At Varanasi: Professor M. Metha, during the course of many years, when he was director of the P.V. Institute, ungrudgingly answered my marry questions and gave me wise counsel; at the end of ‘79 he most kindly helped me to revise my first draft at the University of Pune where he is at present a Professor. I would like to express to him my warmest thanks.
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