Jainism and Mental Health: How my Renewed Faith Made Me Stronger

by Dhvani Mehta

“I don’t know if I am Jain anymore,” I tearfully confided to a close friend. It was late 2016 when I explained to him how my depression and anxiety had gradually eroded any semblance of faith that I had left in my religion. Over the past few months, I had stopped reciting the Namokar Mantra at night, lied to my parents about praying and truly began to believe that my spirituality was no longer a part of my existence. I’m not sure if I thought I had failed Jainism or if I believed Jainism had failed me, but I felt lost and abandoned, not knowing if I would be able to overpower my inner demons without my faith keeping me strong. The road ahead now seemed impossible to navigate without the divine light that had been present my entire life, guiding me forward.

Unfortunately, I had to hit rock bottom to finally realize that Jainism hadn’t abandoned me; my mental health issues had just blinded me to its presence in my life. Once I made up my mind to work towards regaining inner peace and happiness, I focused on actively applying Jain principles to my life whenever possible to help accelerate my progress. Within Jainism, I discovered the three traits I desperately needed to cope with my mental health issues — serenity, discipline, and knowledge. With these tools, I now feel empowered by my faith to tackle any worldly challenges that may lay ahead of me.

[Read More: ‘Being Jain-American: How Faith Fuels my Activism’]

Serenity: Whenever I find myself lost in a moment of extreme uncertainty and stress, I close my eyes and slowly recite the Namokar Mantra, taking deep breaths until I find myself calming down. Not only does this recital give me the clarity I need to accomplish my task, it also rekindles my faith in the Panch Parmeshti and serves as a reminder that all my problems are ultimately infinitesimal and transitory. Doing Kayotsarg (meditation) every night before sleeping further aids the mind in concentrating on the soul instead of losing itself in worldly attachments and anxieties.

Discipline: Practicing the Jain lifestyle gave me the willpower I needed to combat my lethargic behavior when I was depressed. During my darkest days, I found it hard to get out of bed to shower or even drink water regularly, and I would eat unhealthy snacks as meals at irregular times. Since Jainism is a practical religion centered around determination and self-control, its disciples can avoid unhealthy indulgences by practicing it as faithfully as possible. By following common Jain practices such as observing a healthy vegetarian diet, doing Samayik regularly, and practicing Chauvihar (no food or water after sunset) when possible, one can ensure a continued exertion of self-discipline in their daily lives.

Knowledge: When dealing with mental health issues, it is easy to lose faith in your beliefs and to fall prey to negative/self-harming thoughts and actions as a result. To avoid succumbing to such undesirable behaviors, it is important to keep reminding yourself that you are much more than the chatter in your brain–you are a powerful and pure soul. Simple tasks such as watching satsangs online, going to the derasar regularly, and attending local religious gatherings can reawaken your spirituality and give you the strength and wisdom needed to overcome your mental obstacles.

Today, although I continue to struggle with my mental health at times, I no longer lose sight of the everlasting hope and faith that the Jain way of life provides me. My religion even served as the source of my inspiration for naming the mental health organization on behalf of which I wrote this article: MannMukti, which translates to “liberation of the mind and soul.” Our mission is to encourage healthy, open dialogue of South Asian mental health to remove stigma, improve awareness, and promote self-care. And as someone who strongly believes in what this organization stands for, I feel honored to be able to share my story on this platform to let other young Jains know that they are not alone in their battle against mental illness.

Raised in a tiny Middle Eastern country whose name no one ever knows (it’s Oman, in case you were wondering), Dhvani is currently pursuing a marketing career in the great state of Texas. As someone who grew up masking her mental health issues using a heavy dose of sarcasm and denial, she finally realized that she needed to reach out for support in order to be happy and now aims to help others do the same as the vice-president of design at MannMukti. In her spare time, Dhvani enjoys writing poetry, painting, and binge-watching The Office. Follow her on Instagram @dhvani35 and @365daysofmentalhealth.
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