Bedbugs, Organ Failure, Testicles & Starvation: Say Hello to Jainism

Dick and Jain: Some Jainists live naked for God. Which is, well, kinda hot.

Fasting Defines Family's Faith

from News Journal-Online

SOUTH DAYTONA - A 10-year-old boy ate nothing and drank only water for 16 days, not even brushing his teeth after sunset.

Bursting with pride over his accomplishment, family members showered Bhavya Sheth with cards, money, and electronics like a laptop computer and a flat-screen TV.

The Sheth family practices Jainism, an ancient religion from India that professes non-violence and renunciation of bodily pleasure. They abstain from meat and alcohol. Some brush their sheets at night to make sure they don't crush bedbugs.

Bhavya's fast - which allowed not even water from 7 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. - coincided with Paryushana, an eight-day festival when Jainists pray and ask for forgiveness.

"It's like Christmas (in importance)," said the boy's great uncle, Paresh Shah. "Instead of going shopping, we make sacrifices."

The South Daytona Elementary fifth-grader said he fasted "because of my religion and to break records in my family."

"I wanted to do it at a younger age, basically to be the youngest," said Bhavya. He said he missed several days of school because he felt too weak to leave the house. His father also took him home during lunch periods.

Jainists are famous for self denial. One group of monks, the Digambaras, does not wear clothes.

Jains follow five ethical vows: nonviolence, truth, nonstealing, chastity and nonpossessiveness. The religion's central belief is that every living thing consists of an eternal soul called the jiva and a temporary physical body. The jiva is freed by avoiding worldly activities through many reincarnations, leading to an eternal existence of perfect knowledge and bliss.

But Leena Taneja, professor of religious studies at Stetson University, said "it's unusual (in Jainism) for children under 12 to fast."

Ketu Sheth, the boy's father, said the fast was his son's idea. The boy could have stopped his fast at any time. In a show of support, his mother, Urvi, fasted for 16 days, too.

Maria Cannarozzi, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of South Florida medical school in Tampa, said fasting can be especially dangerous for children, leading to malnutrition, dehydration, organ dysfunction and possibly initiating an eating disorder. The child might feel like he has to fast for approval.

"The general feeling among pediatrics is that fasting is never good for children or teenagers," Cannarozzi said. "It's very dangerous for a body that's trying to grow."

Questions from the Audience: Yes? No, Jane Wiedlin is not the Jainist Messiah, a common misperception (that's "Janism"). Yes, you over there. No, not Jane Pauley, either. Yes, you in the back. No, despite the obvious physical evidence, Calista Flockhart and Karen Carpenter are and were not Jainists. Just really, really skinny. One final question. Why thank you! But no, I'm not a Jainist. Just nude. This press conference is over.


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November 28, 2009 5:19 AM  

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