Friday, October 9, 2009

Jainism, The Ford Makers and the Ford

Ford-maker, one who leads the way across the stream of rebirths to salvation. --Jainist belief

Writing about a central belief of Jainism, Paul Dundas, in his book, The Jains, writes that while Jainism is not to be mis-taken for a sect of either Buddhism or Hinduism, it shares a recognizable cosmology with both. And while permitting the reader a broad overview of the faith, Dundas does go into some detail in regard to the notion of the "Ford Maker."

The Ford Maker and the Ford, writes Dundas is, in "western-style histories of religion, Mahavira, generally treated as the founder of Jainism in the same way Christians regard Jesus as the founder of Christianity. For the Jains, however, Mahavira is merely one of a chain of teachers who all communicate the same truth broadly in similar ways... part of the total of the Universal History, through the continuing dynamic of re-birth, and the lives of participants within it." Indeed, the Sanskrit poet, Asaga, writes of Mahivira without exception as one of the many who, like other Ford Makers, guide, leading believers to other shores.

Time, in the Jain view, is represented as a series of "continual up and down motions of a wheel," called respectively the ages. In this view, there are ages of progress, and ages of declines; there are ages of uneven progress, and an age, the sixth age, when Jainism is thought to die out. This wheel is believed to be without beginning or end; the Universal history is only concerned with this current age, the age of now, 'where human life is enacted.'

During each "motion of the wheel 24 teachers, the Ford Makers, appear[ing] in succession, who activate the Three Jewels, the uncreated Jain teachings of: Right Faith, Right Knowledge and Right Practice." These serve as a spiritual fords, to be traversed, if you will; believers who navigate these fords are like others, Jainists believe, subject to cause and effect, to Karma; thus Dharma isn't just about time, but has a relationship to the experiences of Cause and Effect.

The life pattern of the Ford Makers, according to tradition is always the same: born into great warrior families, they wander about as ascetics, found communities, generally they are awakened by the gods to their destiny as great spiritual teachers. Ford Makers renounce their status, wealth and material comforts in favor of wandering as mendicants, begging for their basic needs and in doing so, they adhere to a strict practice which "burns" away previous Karmic debts until they attain full omniscience. Ultimately a Ford Maker is freed from his body, travels to the top of the universe to abide with other freed souls.

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