REVIEW by ReadTheSpirit
Editor DAVID CRUMM
Jainism may be a small in numbers, but it is one of the oldest and most influential of the world’s great faiths. ReadTheSpirit online magazine and our books division both include Jain voices. Among our books: Our popular cross-cultural guidebook, called 100 Questions and Answers about Indian Americans, includes some information about the Jain faith—and we also included a Jain story in our collection of real-life friendship stories, called Friendship and Faith. Plus, our magazine’s Religious Holidays department covers the major Jain holiday, each year, known as Mahavira Jayanti (or the birthday of the Jains’ most famous sage Mahavira). Occasionally we cover other Jain festivals as well.
What we have never seen since our founding in 2007 is a Jain picture book for children, published for American readers. Thanks to our friends at Wisdom Tales Press in Bloomington, Indiana, we now have this gorgeous book by Jain physician, writer and peace activist Dr. Manoj Jain. The title is simply the name of the sacred sage Mahavira: The Hero of Nonviolence.
Why should non-Jains care about this figure? As the storybook points out, we all should be aware of the origins of spiritual teachings on nonviolence that would later influence Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As journalists covering world religions for many years, our staff might respectfully quibble with some details in this book. The book estimates the world’s Jain population at “over 10 million;” most other sources estimate the total at less than 5 million. The book says that Mahavira and the Buddha lived at the same time in India; many historians questions whether the two lives overlapped. But these are minor points and these judgments are debatable.
What’s most important is the sheer WOW factor of opening these pages with a curious child. The book’s illustrations are colorful and are full of beautiful, exotic plants and animals. Just as important, the book does a masterful job of distilling Jainism’s complex teachings to core principles. One page summarizes three main beliefs of Jainism this way:
“The first belief is nonviolence or love. It is not to cause harm to any living being. It is to have love and compassion for all living things. To do this, a person must avoid anger and learn to forgive.
“The second belief is non-absolutism or pluralism. It is to tolerate and accept another person’s view, to keep an open mind. And if there are disagreements, to understand that the truth has many sides. To do this, a person must avoid pride and learn to be humble.
“The third belief is non-possessiveness or detachment. It is to separate true needs from false desires. To do this, a person must avoid greed and learn to be charitable.”
Not bad for a very short summary! Reading those lines, you may wonder about the age level for this storybook. We say: It’s great for kids. Most of this story is short and exciting and, in this case, the real enjoyment for younger children will be the expansive illustrations. They’re delightful!
We highly recommend this book for your family, school or community reading program.