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Nov 18, 2007

Cathars and Jains

By Amar Salgia

There was another religious sect that existed in Western Europeuntil about 750 years ago, which was perhaps more similar to Jainism than any other religion -- Indian or otherwise -- that has ever existed.

The religion of the Cathars, also known as the Albigensianists (for their early geographical situation in and around the city of Albi, France) also were also divided into a lay class and a monastic class, th elatter of which were termed the "perfecti". They were strict vegetarians and held numerous philosophical views, pertaining to the nature of theself, the understanding of other living beings, and the means and purpose to salvation, which parallel no other system of thought but that of the Jain tradition.

The fate of the Cathars and their beautiful way of life setinthe middle of Europe is an unfortunate one. The very first of theCrusades, which were sanctified by the Roman Catholic Church, completelywiped out the Cathars over a period of thirty years. They were clearly not Christians, and refused to accept biblical, let alone papal authority. However, their philosophical views and asceticism did influence, thoughrather ironically, the Troubador poets who corrupted their doctrinesinto"The Art of Courtly Love" (which is the title of an important book --paralleling, in some respects, the "Kama Sutra" among the Hindus --by acertain famous Troubador).

The few European orientalists who both studied and respected the Jain tradition enough to perceive its uniqueness, took notice of the glaring similarities between the Cathars of Europe and the the Jains of India. Both groups pose themselves as brazen anomalies to the perceptive scholar, since their doctrines and lifestyle seem to differ quiteradically from those of their respective surrounding populations. The theory that the Cathars had actually come into contact with Jains,which was first advanced by European scholars, therefore needs to be taken seriously, and be thoroughly pursued.

Given the evidence, if no connection between the Jains and Cathars can be established, then the resultant documentaion of the striking similarities between them can single-handedly break the patronizingIndological hypothesis that Jain renunciation, Jain nonviolence, and Jain soteriology came not from actual Shramana renunciants, but were instead born of primitive anxieties that India's geography and climate supposedlyf orce its in habitants to maintain.

And, if some historical connection between the Jains andCatharscan be drawn and defended, it shall strenghten and further factualize the traditional conception of Jainism's grand universality: the view thattrue Jainism can, and in fact has been systematically practiced outside of Indian cultures and societies.

It will be a momentous and exciting endeavor for us WesternJainsto collect and scrutinize the surviving historical/literary evidences, in asystematic and disciplined manner, to identify the numerous historical linkeages and perhaps establish the plausibility of some Jain influences on both Hellenistic and later non-Christian, European religion and thought. Modern Jain scholarship has long suspected it.

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