Jain Religion Center of Wisconsin

Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 28 September 2018.

Phone: 262-242-0245
Email: Jaintemplewis@hotmail.com
Website: http://www.jainwi.org
[flickr_set id="72157621942627314"] The research was conducted by student research affiliate Tejas Mehta. History For a community of only about 35 families to construct a temple that would eventually cost over $450,000 is incredible enough, but the manner in which it happened, and the way various people and forces came together to help build the Jain Religion Center of Wisconsin (JRCW) is possibly an even more unlikely story. The Milwaukee Jain community used to meet under the name ‘Jain Social Group of Wisconsin’ for plays, children’s programs, religious discourses, and festivals like Diwali. Meetings often began with a puja, and were held in churches or rented out halls. Though sometimes these gatherings were more social than religious, each helped create a sense of community among the Jain families living so far from their native India. Among the families, a number of language groups are represented. Gujaratis and Marwadis comprise the majority and Punjabi is spoken by some as well. There are about twenty children in the community. As such a small minority in the broader Milwaukee area, the group may have continued to meet in the same way for many more years, but a tragic turn of fate precipitated the desire for something more. In 1996, one of the youngest members of the group, an 8-year-old boy, was killed in a garage door accident. The community was shaken, and Samanis Smit Pragnaji and Mudit Pragnaji, religious leaders who were visiting the U.S. and had left the Milwaukee area only a few days earlier, were requested to return to bless the dying boy. Kamal Shah, president of the JRCW, writes in the Pratishtha Mahotsav souvenir booklet, “The leadership and philosophical discourses by the Samanijis during their second visit lit a spiritual spark in the Jain community in Wisconsin. Since then, several spiritual leaders have provided their guidance and encouragement to this community to strengthen our faith... This faith has become the foundation of our temple.” The Samanijis would speak in the homes of different community members on Jain philosophical themes. The discussions drew the community closer together and prompted the idea that such activities should be a permanent and regular part of their lives. The idea of constructing a permanent center was discussed. “A little hall was all we wanted...” confessed Kamal Shah in our November 2001 telephone interview, “a place where people could meet and discuss religion.” But quite beyond any of the community members’ wildest hopes, the project turned into something much larger. Shah spoke on a variety of topics, including how the center got off the ground, the challenges they faced, the current status of community, and plans for the future. He explained that there are four main ingredients for a project like this to work. “First, you have to have some people with a strong desire. A dream has to be there. Second, you have to have a core group of people who are determined and willing to follow through. Third, you have to have support from the community – not only from within but from the broader community.” He put the relative importance of each of these at 10 %. The fourth ingredient, the one which accounts for 70 % of the total, he said, is “the blessing of faith.” The blessing of faith helped the community through many a difficulty, the most significant of which was financing the project. The executive committee originally believed the total cost would be no more than $100,000 to $150,000. Shah stated, “had we known what it would cost to eventually build the temple, we would not have done it... It cost three times what we thought it would cost.” In the end, the expenses totalled about $410,000 for the construction of the building and about $60,000 more for the murtis (Tirthankara statues) and other necessities of the temple interior. For such a small community to raise these amounts seemed like an impossible task, and on a few occasions, the situation looked particularly bleak. Shah narrated one such incident, during which Sadhavi Shubhamji happened to be in the area. Her advice was simple: “stop, sit down for a few minutes, close your eyes, and do not worry. With God’s blessing, it will happen.” Armed with this support and constant encouragement from spiritual leaders, the community remained hopeful. And eventually, somehow, the money came. Donations were received from Jain centers all across the country; from Pennsylvania to California, Ohio to New Jersey and New York. Financial support also came from the nearby Chicago community, which helped considerably in advising on other aspects of the project, including fundraising and logistics. Significantly, many of the contributions were between $250 and $5000, and the largest single donation was $30,000, so rather than coming from a small group of wealthy financiers, the funds were drawn from a truly broad base. Leadership The next great challenge came in the securing of the temple statues (which are called Pratimajis or murtis). Shah explained that the person who was originally in charge of acquiring the murtis was unable to do so because he had suffered a heart attack. The process is complicated by the spanning of continents (the statues would be made in India), and the difficulty of ensuring that the images would be made according to religious guidelines. Shah explained that sometimes lesser quality marble is substituted, or murtis with cracks are given, so it is extremely important to have a contact in India who is willing to spend large amounts of time following up on all the details. The Prathistha booklet states: "A temple cannot be a temple without guidance from a spiritual leader. We were in dire need of someone who could not only help us in our effort to secure the Pratimajis according to religious guidelines, but also to help us through the process of the Pratishtha. With our great fortune Mr. Nirmalbhai Doshi entered into our lives. He has an in-depth knowledge of Jainism, has performed several Pratishthas all over India, has an open mind about all sects of Jain religion and was willing to take the necessary time to take on the responsibility. He supervised the project from the mining of the Makarana marble to examining the various stages of the carvings of the statues and also assisted in the final shipment. His commitment included several personal visits to Jaipur, constant communication with us during the process and he is now here to perform the Pratishtha." Doshi was once a Jain monk who gave up this status to become a layperson. As Jain monastics are enjoined from performing many worldly activities like wedding ceremonies and temple openings, Doshi is a much needed, and rare, resource: he has the religious knowledge that an ascetic would and the layperson status which allows him to help communities in situations where an ascetic would not be able to. For a period of over six months, e-mails and responses were sent back and forth between India and Wisconsin. And when all the planning culminated into the Pratishtha, Doshi was the one officiating the various ceremonies. The Hindu Community Help also came from other unexpected places. The much larger Hindu community (Shah estimated about 1200 Hindus in the area) provided an incredible amount of support and encouragement, which fructified in an agreement whereby the JRCW would be built within the grounds of the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin’s 22-acre property. Shah states, “Progressive members of the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin board invited the Jain group to become part of their project... The Jain temple could not have been built without the support and diligent efforts of the Hindu group. These steps have brought both the Hindu and Jain communities closer together than ever before.” The closeness of the two communities is exemplified by the closeness of their temples, whose entrances are only a few hundred feet apart. Indeed, many who visit the Hindu temple also pay a visit to the Jain temple as well, and vice versa. Even among those who are in positions of responsibility, help is not restricted to one’s own religious identity. Shah is on the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin’s fundraising committee and says that many Jains are quite active within the Hindu community. Again, the converse is also true; many Hindu community members expended extraordinary amounts of time and energy to make sure the Jain Pratishtha program was a success. Activities and Schedule The Pratishtha (dedication) ceremony was held from May 26 to May 28, 2001. Over 900 people attended, including a number of religious leaders from India. The ceremony itself was notable by the absence of a few standard practices. ‘Ghee boli’ is the name of one such practice, common in both India and America, whereby Jains bid for the opportunity to perform important temple rituals. Many Jain centers around the country hold a ghee boli during Mahavir Jayanti, Paryushana, and other important festival days. It is an accepted practice in part because it helps raise money for the temple. However, it also has drawbacks, most obviously, those who are financially better off have a far greater chance to participate in ceremonies than those who do not. Strikingly, it was the children of the Wisconsin community who first suggested that there be no ghee boli for the Pratishtha. Committee members weighed the pros and cons. By accepting it, they would potentially be losing much needed revenue, but would benefit by not creating an inferiority or superiority complex among community members. In the end, the organizing committee made the decision not to have a ghee boli. The various rituals were performed by community members chosen by lot, and everybody was given a chance to participate. Many who attended felt fortunate at being able to take part in the ceremony in a much more immediate and intimate way than they have been able to in the past. For the same reasons, the JRCW, unlike other Jain temples, does not have any nameplates or placards to commemorate large donations from benefactors or specific sources of charity. The organizing members were intent on creating an environment as inclusive and non-hierarchical as possible – they felt this would go against the idea that a temple should be a place where the ego is reduced, not aggrandized. They also felt such a display would diminish the original spirit of the temple as a community effort and also take away from those who gave sincerely, though according to their means. After a temple is opened and the Pratishtha completed, various other rites must be performed regularly. These include, for example, a ceremonial cleansing of the murtis and general upkeep of the temple grounds. Shah explained that because the community is so small, it would be impossible to perform these daily. They expressed this concern at the outset to Nirmalbhai and other religious leaders, and only went ahead with construction after having been assured that they would be able to conform to all of the prescribed religious injunctions. Currently, rites are performed twice weekly, on Saturdays and Sundays. About three times a year, each family takes a turn performing the rituals (35 families x 3 = 105 which is approximately the number of Saturday’s and Sunday’s in a year (52 x 2 = 104)). Shah narrates that most look forward to their few hours in the morning ‘alone’ in the temple, as it is a rare time of family togetherness and peaceful contemplation. It is also a great accomplishment that from all the expenses of the temple and Pratishtha ceremony, the community is financially out of the red completely. This allows all who would like to participate to attend temple activities without monetary obligations. They are now looking to the future, intending to use their yearly budget of about $15,000 to plan a few major programs (e.g. Diwali, Mahavir Jayanti, Paryushana) and to sponsor Jain religious leaders and scholars to the area for lectures and discourses. Over the past year, they have organized lectures and pujas at the temple, including inviting back Mr. Doshi and his wife. They are also in the process of organizing a bus trip for Chicago-area Jain senior citizens, who would otherwise be confined to their homes, to come to the Wisconsin temple and participate in a community puja. It would be their way of thanking the Chicago community for all their help. The hope, as expressed by Kamal Shah, is that “our next generations will cherish the rich legacy of religion we leave for them in the USA as our ancestors have done for us in India.” Description The inner sanctum includes three marble statues of Mahavir (37 inches tall, at center), Adinath (a Digambara figure, 33 in. tall, to Mahavir’s right), and Parshwanath (also 33 in. tall, to the left). On adjacent walls next to the statues, are two signs – one in English and one in Prakrit – of the Namokar Mantra, the most widely known and recited prayer of the Jains. Future plans include installing images of all twenty-four Tirthankaras around the main shrine.