Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Class Struggle

Unlike our guest rooms, our classrooms have turned out to be pretty modern. Frosty air conditioning, speaker systems and regular chai delivery makes it all quite civilized.

About 75% of our learning takes place in a classroom. The rest is considered observation or field work. Little did I know that, in many cases, the two would inadvertently take place at the same time. It would appear that those lectures that lack academic credibility end up serving as deeper anthropological lesson.

Time and time again we’ve watched our lectures deteriorate into propaganda. Did you know that non-vegetarianism breeds criminality, for example? (ps: I love that meat eating is called non-vegetarianism here by default.)

We’ve also watched as lecturer after lecturer refuses to give us a consistent stance on some controversial issues. Popular moot points include:

- The Jain emphasis on equality of souls but unequal treatment of women.
- Their emphasis on compassion but inconsistent view on social responsibility.
- Their emphasis on non-possession in spite of their statistical position atop India’s wealth calculations.

My current (if perhaps overly optimistic) hypothesis to explain all the contradictions is that what we might be observing is ANEKANTVAD in action. Anekantvad, or “many-sidedness” is one of the driving principles of the religion (along with Ahimsa which is non-violence and Aparigrah which is non-possessiveness). It encourages autonomous thought for individuals and respect for opposing viewpoints.

It’s a noble concept. But to effectively sell an idea, you have to focus your message. I fear that the religion’s popularity will continue to suffer if they can’t get their story straight.

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