Do you consider yourself to be of a specific faith?
Yes, I'm proud to be a Jain. I was born and brought up in a Jain family, and I've practiced Jainism all of my life. Jainism teaches compassion and respect for all living beings. There are three core principles of Jainism. Nonviolence is the heart of Jainism: not harming any form of life by deeds, words, actions or thoughts. The second principle is nonattachment, which basically teaches balancing our needs with desires while staying detached from any possession. We come into this world with nothing; we will leave this world with nothing. The illusion of ownership pollutes the consciousness. Attachment to the world is what causes karma accumulation. The third principle is nonabsolutism: respect for the views of others. You can only know the absolute truth by understanding different points of views. So we are open to discussion and dialogues to know more about the truth.
The Jain Society of Metropolitan Washington has plans to build a temple. What will it do for your community?
We bought the property last year. The new temple will be at 4241 Ammendale Road in Beltsville, very close the Interstate 495 and 95 corridor. When we started the Jain Society in 1989, we only had 35 families, and now we have more than 580. The facility we have now doesn't hold everyone, so we are planning an expansion. This new facility will have a beautiful Jain temple where services will be performed. It will also have a big community center, which will have classrooms and a lot of community activities, health fairs, coaching classes, outreach activities, interfaith activities, etc.
Tell me more about the Jain respect for all living things. Why is it so important not to eat meat?
The core of Jain belief is the existence of an eternal, divine soul in all living beings. Any living creature has the same soul that any other creature has. But the difference between these individual souls is basically their individually accumulated karmas. So the animals are animals because of their karmas. Internally, they have the same potential as you or I have. So hurting or killing any souls is bad karma. We believe in equality, and since they have the same soul or same potential, we have no right to kill any living being. All Jains are pure vegetarians and try to live without violence and with compassion.
Jainism remains rooted in India. Do you at times feel disconnected from your faith here in America?
I think at this point we have been successful in continuing to follow the Jain way of life. We do miss the country, but we do as much as possible here. We have preachers who travel from India. As a community we are very strongly attached together, and we participate in activities, discussion, dialogues and services. Sometimes we do feel that we are away from the country and if we lived in India we could have done much more, but we are also blessed with peace in this country and freedom to follow what we want to follow.
At your core, what is one of your defining beliefs?
I believe that we are certainly way more than our physical bodies. At core we are pure conscience and eternal divine souls, and all living beings possess the same soul. This body we have is just a transitional cover to the soul and will change as we move on with our journey towards liberation. Today we are in this form; tomorrow we might be in a different form. The concentration should be on the core -- the soul. We can purify our consciences by analyzing and eliminating our inner passions, anger, greed, deceit and ego. By practicing meditation and self-realization, we can get to a pure state of consciousness.
- Liz Essley