The Jain Path: Ancient Wisdom for the West (O Books, 2006)
The Jain Path is the first of Aidan’s three books on Jainism, published in 2006. It introduces a philosophy that has not until now been well-known in the West, but is one of the world’s oldest continuous faith traditions. As an ancient wisdom tradition, it is rooted in the earliest expressions of Indian spirituality, reflecting an intuitive understanding of the environment and the universe. At the same time, Jainism has developed a highly literate, rationalist and scholarly tradition, open to and compatible with the most radical speculations of modern science. The Jain path is equally respectful of reason and intuition, intellect and emotion, concepts usually regarded as separate or opposed in the Western world-view.
Words such as ‘religion’, ‘faith’ or even ‘philosophy’ are Eurocentric terms that do not fully describe the Jain tradition. Even the suffix ‘-ism’ can be misleading, with its implication of a doctrinaire theory or closed, exclusive system. The culture of the Jains is better described in Indian terms as a ‘dharma’ (cosmic order) or in western terms as a ‘path’. The better-known Chinese concept of Tao (Dao) or Way is also a helpful point of reference. ‘Jainism’ and ‘Jain Dharma’ are terms used interchangeably in the book, so that ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ approaches are fairly balanced. The Jain community, or sangha, now numbers between 5 and 10 million people in India and the Diaspora (the Victoria and Albert Museum estimates 6 million).
Despite (or because of) its overt differences with Western ideologies, political or religious, Jainism is far from irrelevant to both Western and global concerns. The Jain Path examines ways in which the Jain concepts of Ahimsa (non-violence, or more accurately ‘non-injury’), Anekantavada (‘many-sidedness’, ‘multiple viewpoints’, pluralism), Aparigraha (non-possessiveness, non-materialism) and Irya-samiti (careful action) can inspire a change in thinking or paradigm shift. Many of these precepts at first glance appear ‘negative’, but they should not be seen as implying narrow prohibition or censorship. Anekantavada, for example, literally means ‘non-one-sidedness’, but this suggests the absence of dogma or the opening of the mind to infinite possibilities.
The Jain Path also explains the distinctive Jain view of karma and discusses the powerful ecological or ‘green’ undercurrent in Jain thought which challenges prevailing assumptions about the relationship between humanity and nature and the need for continuous ‘growth’.
The Jain community, or sangha, now numbers between 5 and 10 million people in India and the Diaspora (the Victoria and Albert Museum estimates 6 million). Jainism differs culturally from the Hindu Dharma in features such as absence of a ‘caste’ system. It is also, unlike many branches of Hinduism, a non-theistic religion, viewing the universe as eternal but constantly renewing itself in cycles.
Praise for The Jain Path
‘The Jain Path is the best introduction to Jainism available. It is at once very topical, clear and engaging.’
David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri), Director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies
‘Jainism is one of the forgotten jewels of the world’s faiths. Aidan Rankin introduces us to the essence of this spirituality in a book that is full of wisdom and intelligence.’
William Bloom, Director of The Holism Network and author of Soultion: The Holistic Manifesto and The Power of Modern Spirituality
The Jain Path is published in India by Pentagon Press as The Jain Path: Ancient Wisdom for an Age of Anxiety (2008)