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Justin Lundeen: an American Convert to Jainism
Recently, I received an email from an American guy Justin Lundeen who has been converted to Jainism. He read my article How to Become a Jain? at Hubpages and sent me an email which reads as following:
I just wanted to say that I am an American convert to Jainism. When I first was interested in becoming a Jain, I wish I had found your article on converting at that time, but I did not. I just found it recently. I thank you for posting such an article. I think that if more people found out how to become a Jain, they would convert. I know that I personally have benefited tremendously from Jainism.
As this mail was interesting one for me, I wished to know more about Justin. There was exchange of several emails, which gave me a lot of information about Justin and his views. I wanted to write an article on Justin, but as he gave perfect and detailed answers to the questions I asked to him, it became an online interview with him. Here is the interview which you may find interesting:
Q. What was your original religion before converting to Jainism?
Me: Justin, you wrote in your first email that you are an American convert to Jainism. Before converting to Jainism, what religion did you follow?
Justin: My parents do not practice any religion, so I wasn't born into any specific faith. I got home Internet access for the first time when I was in junior high school. This opened up whole new worlds to me. I spent years studying all of the religions of the world, but never really studied Jainism. Then, after I graduated high school in 2003, I started reading more into Hinduism. I contacted a Hindu woman, of whose daughter I had known in school, and she and I discussed Hinduism at length. At that point in time, I decided I was a Hindu. I followed Hinduism up until about 2010, which is when I first looked more in-depth at Jainism. So, I guess you could say my original religion was Hinduism, although it wasn't from birth.
Q: When you first became aware of Jainism?
Me: When you first became aware of Jainism? When, How and why did you convert to Jainism?
Justin: In 2005, I went to a Hindu temple for the first time. It was 45 minutes from where I lived, and I went frequently. There was an idol of Bhagavan Mahavira Swami at the temple and at one of my first visits, I asked someone who the idol was, and they said it was a Jain idol. I had read about Jainism in the Hindu books I read. At first, I had the incorrect notion that Jainism, as well as Buddhism, were offshoots of Hinduism. There is also an incorrect belief that Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs are sections of Hinduism. This is also not true. Each of these four religions (Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism) are separate religions in and of themselves with their own unique identities, philosophies, world views, and practices. At first, I was not aware of these things. Then, in 2010, I started reading online about Jainism and realized the truth about those beliefs. So, that is how I first became aware of Jainism as a separate, unique religion unto its own.
I first converted to Jainism sometime in 2010. There was no ceremony, at least for me, since there are no monks near where I live. I have read that you can go to a monk (if you are a man) or a nun ( if you are a woman) and take the vows of a layperson, but this wasn't an option in my case. I just started reading and practicing on my own.
As to why I converted, well, Jainism just makes sense to me. For example, ahimsa (non-violence) and the vegetarian diet. Jainism stresses testing things for yourself to see if it applies to you. Looking at nature, when you observe a predator and its potential prey, the potential prey makes every attempt to make sure it is not killed and eaten. Also, the natural fear a lot of animals have for humans is because they don't want to be hurt by the human, so they run away. No living being wants to be hurt, including humans. So, it is natural to be vegetarian, if you look at things in this manner. Basically, Jainism is rational. This is just one example.
Q: Which Jain philosophical books you have read?
Me: Which Jain philosophical books you have read?
Justin: I have only read a few primers on Jainism at this point. I have read Jain Philosophy and Practice I, which is published by the Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA) and is a good book to start with. I have also read the Studies in Jainism series published by the Jain Study Circle in Flushing, New York. I also am currently reading Samman Suttam, and I have many other books to read, including the Tattvartha Sutra. Admittedly, some of the philosophical reading is above my head, but I have confidence that I will master it one day.
Q: Was there any difficulty in understanding Jainism?
Me: Was there any difficulty in understanding Jainism?
Justin: As far as understanding the religious aspects i.e., the antiquity of Jainism, the four-fold Jain Sangha, the devotional aspects, the six Avashyakas (daily essentials), vegetarianism, etc., no, there was no problem understanding those things. I think I have a pretty firm grasp of the Three Jewels, Nine Fundamentals, Six Universal Substances, Eight Types of Karma, etc. Some of the more detailed aspects of the philosophy are hard to understand, but I know I'll get it someday. I am interested in all aspects of Jainism and hope to one day be a pandit (scholar), even if only in my private life.
Q: Do you have any guide?
Me: Do you have any guide who tells you more about the Jain way of life?
Justin: I do have guides, but they are all through e-mail contact, being as I am the only Jain where I live.
Q: What benefits did you get by converting to Jainism?
Me: In your first email, you wrote that you personally have benefited tremendously from Jainism. What are the benefits you got by converting to Jainism?
Justin: I have had many benefits to becoming a Jain. I used to be a very angry and hateful person. That has pretty much vanished. I don't get as angry as I used to and I certainly don't hate anyone. Also, by being vegetarian, I know I'm not hurting any animals for my sustenance. I can also appreciate the philosophy of anekanatavada (multiplicity of viewpoints; truth is many sided) because of all of the different religions, cultures, etc., that I have studied. I know that one view may be true for one group, but not for another. If humanity could just learn to tolerate and respect this fact, it would go a long way in solving some of the worlds' problems.
Q: What were the reactions of your family members on your conversion?
Me: What were the reactions of your family members on your conversion to Jainism?
Justin: There were no objections. There wasn't really anything said at all. They were so used to me being Hindu, and a few of the practices are very similar, so there wasn't a whole lot to be said.
Have you learned Hindi Language?
Me: You have used many Jain terms from Indian languages in your answers. Have you learned Hindi? Are you planning to learn ancient Indian languages like Prakrits and Sanskrit?
Justin: No, I can't read or speak Hindi, or any other language other than English. I know these terms from studying English books and articles on Jainism, both online and off. I also am familiar with some terms from previous studies of Hinduism and Buddhism, even though certain terms may have slightly different meanings within each group. As to whether or not I will learn Prakrit, Sanskrit, or even Hindi, probably not. I know this may prevent me from becoming a pandit outside of my own personal life, but that's okay with me. If I ever do go to India, I would more than likely try to pick up the basics of Hindi, to at least be able to speak to the local population, even if only for simple and common ends.
Q: Do you have any local Jain Friends?
Me: Do you have any local Jain Friends? Do you have Jain Friends on net?
Justin: Unfortunately, no, I don't have any local Jain friends. I do have them online, however. They help me out a great deal, and I'm always looking for more.
Justin is 28, graduated high school, currently live in Galesburg, Illinois USA. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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