A SPIRITUAL PARADOX: JAINISM AND THE ARMY
We as Jains mostly associate the Army and Armed Forces with violence, death, and destruction. But, you will be surprised to know that despite many of the negative and violent stereotypes, The Army has taught me how to become more in touch with my own spirituality and the Jain Religion. Hence, a true paradox.
The theme of this article will revolve around how Jainism has allowed to me to become a better leader in my organization and how The Army has allowed me to harness the fundamentals of the Jain Religion and apply them to everyday leadership challenges. From a cadet at West Point to the second-in- command of a Bridge Company, the fundamental principles of Jainism have allowed me to create a personal ideology to achieve success as a Soldier and as a leader.
The first phase of leadership starts with YOU! In order to become a successful leader, you must look within yourself and constantly analyze, “how can I improve myself?” When new cadets first enter the doors of West Point on “Reception Day”, they are stripped of their possessions, shaved bald, and stripped of their individuality with the goal of full indoctrination. There are very specific rules for eating, walking, and behaving that remind young new cadets that they are no longer individuals, but part of a much larger and greater team, The United States Army. This was the crucible moment where learned why the Jain Religion preaches Non-attachment (Aparigraha) to living and non-living entities. I came to realize very quickly that my own being as a human is of very little significance in the larger universe, leading me to find my own greater purpose on Earth, which was in the service of the nation. As time continued to pass, I became more and more unattached from material possessions and began to focus on more important aspects of life, like what I could do to become a better, more efficient, and knowledgeable leader for my troops. I also began to introspect; at West Point, first year cadets are forbidden from speaking outside of the classroom or dorm rooms for the entirety of the school year, the result of this is a developed ability to contemplate and analyze one’s own self and allow the fusion of mind and body. We Jains practice what is known as “moan-vrat”; a few minutes of internal reflection in silence will allow you to listen to the world. People have a lot to say and there are many problems that need solutions! With self-improvement comes self-discipline or “samyama”. This important Jain principle teaches us to control our urges and exercise the mind and body daily. Once you’ve taken control of all self-pleasing desires, you can discern needs from wants and begin the process of becoming a true leader.
The next phase of leadership affects those that we come in direct contact with on a daily basis. Once you’ve realized your own self-being, you can begin to change your surroundings and give back. One of my biggest reasons for attending West Point and joining The Army was my genuine intrinsic desire to serve the nation. I’ve been granted the privilege of being an American citizen and have enjoyed the privileges and luxuries therein. The people I serve and come in direct contact with on a daily basis are the men and women assigned to my platoon. As a platoon leader, I’m given charge of a sizeable force of 40-50 Soldiers of all races, religions and ethnicities. As their leader, I’m responsible for their welfare before my own. I am accountable for their training, discipline, equipment, and general well- being. This opportunity was given to me at a very early stage in my life and by age 25 I’ve had to deal with such issues as DUIs, public intoxication, unpaid child support, domestic violence, drug use, marital problems, health problems, and suicide within my unit. At such a young age, I haven’t had the experience to deal with such issues, so I fell back upon what Jainism had taught me. The most important Jain principle that allows us to deal with and solve problems relating to others is that of “Anekantvad”. “Anekantvad” is the theory of multiplicity of views that states, “no single point of view is the complete truth, yet when taken together, they comprise the complete truth”. How then, as leaders do we develop the ability to view problems from multiple angles? We care of others and empathize by understanding and sharing in their feelings. Over time this develops into the ability to see situations from several points of view to make the best decisions. In order to develop a strong sense of “Anekantvad” we must realize that every situation and problem will have many different views and angles, and we must be able to analyze and examine every single one. We must also develop a strong sense of compassion, known as “Daya”, which entails universal friendliness (“Maitri”), universal forgiveness (“Kshama”), and universal fearlessness (“Abhaya”). Applying these fundamental principles to everyday occurrences allows us to make a positive impact in our surroundings and in the lives of the people we work with every day.
The final phase of my leadership model is the transformation from a leader in the community or the workplace to a global agent of change. My experience in this final phase is limited to my experience as a platoon leader deployed to the Republic of Korea, but the fundamental lessons I’ve learned are very applicable. To make any sort of difference or change outside of our community and circles we must gain a certain degree of credibility. Credibility is derived from character; develop your character by finding a unique set of values that defines YOU. My values have stemmed from those taught to me as a disciple of Jainism, and as a Soldier and leader in the Army. My unique set of values have allowed me to become a leader, yet maintain a strict adherence to the fundamental principle of Ahimsa or non-violence. This has allowed me to develop credibility. The U.S. Army is as successful and sought after for assistance because it has gained a great amount of credibility in the world by adhering to a stringent set of values and ethics. We as Jains have gained credibility by strictly adhering to Ahimsa; we are known as a benevolent group of people that will never seek to harm anyone. Ahimsa is the baseline characteristic of a Jain and it’s the underlying value that gives us and our religion credibility. The bottom line is that people who don’t know you personally will only trust you once you’ve developed the right amount of credibility, which stems from character, which further stems from the values, ethics, and morals that define you as a person.
In conclusion, these are the lessons that I’ve learned and adopted that have allowed me to become a successful person, successful leader in my organization, and to some degree, a global agent of change. This is not an end-all, be-all solution for becoming a successful leader, but rather fundamental truths that guide us. You must do your own personal self-reflection and examine what works best for YOU.
1LT Raj Kankaria is a native of Houston, TX. He attended the United States Military Academy from 2009 to 2013 and graduated with a B.Sc. in Civil Engineering. He then commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Army Engineer Regiment. 1LT Kankaria was then posted to Fort Leonard Wood, MO to attend the Engineer Basic Officer Leadership Course.
In April 2014, 1LT Kankaria was posted to Fort Hood, TX and assigned to the 74th Multi-Role Bridge Company where he was given charge of a 53 man Engineer Support Platoon. He has served a tour of duty in the Republic of Korea from 2015-2016 as a bridge platoon leader, participating in various combined exercises with the Korean Army. Upon return to Fort Hood, 1LT Kankaria was reassigned as the Company Executive Officer or second-in-command of the 183-man bridge company. 1LT Kankaria, along with his Army duties, teaches Patshalah to 11th and 12th grade students at the Jain Society of Houston, and has given a presentation at YJA 2016 about his experiences as a Jain serving in the U.S. Army. Jain values and fundamentals have played a huge role in his success as a leader in the Armed Forces, and he uses Jainism as a guide for leading a well-balanced and disciplined