Friday, May 1, 2009

Jains dedicate new temple

Jains dedicate new temple

James D. Davis | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Swamiji Devendrakeerty visited Weston in mid-April to help dedicate the Jain Center of South Florida. (James D. Davis)

Pausing during a recent tour of the new Jain Center of South Florida, K. Depika Dalal gleefully showed off the gleaming white marble idols. Here, a Hindu deity. There, a statue of a Jain master.

"The divisions are like Catholic and Protestant, but not here," Dalal, vice president of the Jain Center, said with a smile. "Here, all souls are equal."

With dedication ceremonies April 17-19, the Jains of South Florida dedicated the only center of its kind south of Tampa.

Taking up 4,000 square feet, the center sits in an office park in Weston, within sight of I-75. The Indian-style interior is covered in white marble from India. Along with its land, the project cost $1.45 million.

Centerpiece is a Gabhara, a covered sanctuary housing three Thirthankars, or enlightened teachers: Adinath, the first; Mahavira, the 24th and most recent, who lived in the sixth century B.C.; and Simandhar, whom Jains foresee as the next Thirthankar.

Another section is for Jains who also honor other streams of the faith. A floor-to-ceiling plaque bears a mantra called Navakar, which believers chant to shed karma and move toward enlightenment. Finally, there's a large photo of Shrimad Rajchendra, a 19th century monk who translated Jain scriptures into the Gujarati language.

At the dedication ceremonies, Jain leaders prayed special mantras over the idols and applied a special saffron paste. Then the idols absorbed spiritual energy and became worthy of worship.

Among the visiting leaders was Swamiji Devendrakeerty, who has helped dedicate 54 temples in a half-dozen countries since 1974. He says it's a measure of the spread of Jains.

"It is important for people to have a place to gather and spend time in holy activities," Devendrakeerty said in an interview. "It builds spirituality and peace of mind."

Like many others from India, the 120 families of the Jain Center work as doctors, engineers, CPAs and businessmen. They are among an estimated 5-6 million believers worldwide, 100,000 in the United States.

Jainism is also among the oldest spiritual heritages, believers say. The religion gained a broader following in the sixth century B.C. under the leadership of Mahavira; but some historians and archaeologists say the Jain approach may go back to prehistoric times.

Dalal, also an associate professor of anesthesiology at the University of Miami, said Hindu and Jain beliefs are similar about matters like reincarnation, but differ on how to reach enlightenment.

For one, she said, Jains don't believe in a supreme being. "There are gods, but there is no creator," she said. "We believe every soul has the potential to reach nirvana."

Another distinction: The path is for all to learn, without a mediator like a god. Even when Jains pray before the idols, they are simply communicating with themselves, said Dr. Mayur Maniar, a board member of the Jain Center.

"Mahavira has become a god, but he cannot give us anything," added Maniar, a neurologist who works in Sunrise and Hollywood. "We are telling our soul that we want to be like him."

Jains live by a strict ethical code dominated by ahimsa, practicing nonviolent deeds, words, even thoughts. They also believe in truthfulness, sexual modesty (or celibacy among monks), avoiding theft or cheating, and detachment from wealth and possessions.

Many Jains are vegetarians; some don't eat root vegetables like potatoes, fearing that digging up the foods will kill small creatures in the soil.

Although the Weston center is new, the congregation goes back to 1980. That year, it helped form the Indian Religious and Cultural Center, including Hindu, Jain and Sikh groups. As the groups grew, though, they divided into congregations.

In 1984, the Jains bought 20 acres on Griffin Road, but ran up against a law in Southwest Ranches that said houses of worship had to be more than 1,000 feet apart. They had better luck in Weston, where they moved in 2006.

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