Thousands of Jain devotees from around the United States and the world met in the massive Ontario Convention Center, Ontario, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, July 4-7, to celebrate their religion, observe its tenets, enjoy entertainment, listen to experts and professionals, and explore modern Jainism.
The very successful Convention was not phased by the July 4 earthquake that shook the building where it was being held. Sadhvi Sanghamitraji began reciting prayers leading the crowd of attendees, and organizers assured the crowd, “The show will go on,” Dr. Navin Shah, co-convenor of the Convention, told Desi Talk.
Every two years JAINA, which was founded in 1981, works along with a local Sangh, hosts a biennial convention, this year with 3,450 attendees and 600 volunteers, 90 speakers, including 22 sadhu/sadhvis, organizers told Desi Talk.
The theme for this convention was “Celebrating Jain Religion in 21st Century” where people shared how values of this ancient religion work in today’s volatile society to promote values of ahimsa, anekantavada, and aparigraha, and have a positive impact in their communities.
The organizers strove to deliver a “well-rounded” experience to attendees, according to the website jainaconvention.org.
In addition to sessions on ‘Jain Philosophy’ and ‘Jain Virtues’, there were panels on ‘Devotion’, Compassion’, ‘Transformation of Our Lives’, as well as on current events in Jain communities and current world challenges.
These themes were incorporated in youth programming as well.
Pre-recorded speeches were played from renowned Jain gurus like Acharyas Shri Yashovijayji Maharaj, Shri Ratna Sundar Maharaj among others.
Numerous dignitaries of multiple faiths delivered keynote speeches that highlighted the themes of the convention. Among them were Yogi Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev who is involved in social and environmental initiatives; U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, the first Hindu to be elected to Congress, sent a three-minute video blessing the event and expressing her sadness at not being able to attend despite giving a commitment; Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); animal rights activist Philip Wollen; ISKCON Monk Motivational speaker, life coach and engineer, Monk Gaur Gopal Das of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON); and Nipun Mehta, founder of Servicespace.org, a volunteer-based non-profit.
Newkirk urged those present to spread their values to others. “There’s nothing more wonderful than Jain values, so please press them on everyone you meet without any excuse, unfailingly and always,” Newkirk said.
The convention featured five distinct tracks of learning about Jain principles and practices during the afternoon sessions — Seva, Satsang, Samarpan, Sadhana, and Self-Realization — representing the steps in a path of the spiritual journey towards achieving moksha, the final liberation.
For the first time in its history, the JAINA Convention held a seva health camp morning on the first day, treating many for dental and eye conditions. Fifty eye-glasses were handed out and 52 dental treatments given free of charge, sponsored by Dr. Atul Karia who gave his clinic space for free, Dr. Nitin Shah, co-convenor of the Convention told Desi Talk.
Seva activities also included preparing 1,008 backpacks put together by Jain youth, with basic essentials, for distribution at three homeless shelters in Annaheim, Santa Ana, and San Diego through the organization You Turn Lives. This was sponsored by the Sarva Mangal Family Trust.
On the first night Parth Doshi, Kalpesh Kharwa and Shilpi Paul sang
and led the traditional Raas-Garba.
Multiple speakers and dignitaries shared examples to demonstrate how a ‘Jain Way of Life’ could make a profound impact on an individual and allows them to influence those around them.
Several awards were handed out during the Convention. Among them was the JAINA President’s Award from current president Gunvant Shah, which was presented to Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold; and Purvin Vakharwala. The two institutions that received this award included Jaya Rehab Institute of Bidada Sarvodaya Trust, and Ratnanidhi Charitable Trust.
Gunvant Shah described Dr. Parikh’s achievements and awards and recognitions when announcing the JAINA President’s Award. “I would like to give one of the JAINA President’s Award to Dr. Sudhir Parikh and Dr. Sudhaben Parikh,” Shah said. Dr. Parikh said he was very touched by the affection and love. “But more important, you have recognized the work of Life Global which is really helping the poorest of poor women to make them self-sufficient,” Dr. Parikh, who is president of Life Global USA, said in his speech, thanking all those who support activities of Life Global, a non-profit based in India and reaching out to North America.
The JAINA Executive Committee also gave out four awards to Acharya Chandanaji, late Gurudev Chitrabhanuji, Acharya Lokesh Muniji, and Gurudev Rakeshbhai.
The JAINA Ratna Award went to Minnesota-based mechanical engineer who founded the Jain Center of Minnesota, Rama Gada.
Speakers included not only Jain sadhu-sadhvis, but also professors, doctors, scientists, authors, swadhyaykars, Jain scholars, and spiritual guides. They included Acharya Shri Chandanaji, founder of Veerayatan and first Jain Sadhvi to receive the title of Acharya; Acharya Dr. Lokesh Muni, social reformer, thinker, writer, poet; Acharya Namra Muniji (via live video conference) – considered by Jains as a ‘revolutionary saint with extraordinary dynamism’; Gurudev Shri Rakeshbhai Jhaveri, spiritual leader and founder of Shrimad Rajchandra Mission in Dharampur, India.
The BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir of Los Angeles helped at the event with all of the food services, covering 10 freshly prepared meals for thousands of attendees during the Convention.
A ‘Grand Procession’ featuring colorful artifacts and represented by all Jain Sangh’s of North America, was held on July 4. The procession was followed by an unveiling ceremony of a model of a Jain Temple that covered more than 5,000 square feet of prime floor space of the convention center.
The competitions held included the Jain Academic Bowl (JAB), launched a decade ago, a jeopardy style vocabulary game in which young Jains compete with other teams. The Jain Center of Metropolitan Chicago and the Houston Jain Society were the winners.
Evening entertainment included a Jain’s Got Talent (JGT) competition, a Jain Cultural show, and a Bollywood concert. The JGT competition participants showcased their special performances on July 6 night, followed by a “Bollywood Night” show conducted by Rex D’Souza, Mauli Dave, and Sunny Jadhav. “That Bollywood entertainment literally brought the house down,” Dr. Nitin Shah said, adding, “I don’t even like dancing, and I joined it.”
The Cultural Program “One World, One Rhythm” included non-stop music, dance, and drama performances by artists of all ages on July 5. It featured 19 dances from countries across the world.
The special Jain Connect program also featured, allowing youth aged 21 to 42, to build networks and form genuine connections, organizers said.
For the first time in its history the JAINA Convention featured Shatavdhan. Jaynesh Jain demonstrated his ability to memorize scores of questions (cut to 45 due to sheer interest of time, organizers said), from a live audience. Kartik Trivedi, whose impressionist paintings are hanging in well-known galleries offered a hands-on 3-hour art workshop. Shanti Parakh and Arun Yogi, morning Yoga sessions on July 5 and 6.