When success in business is a matter of religion
NEW DELHI--Jainism is one of the world's most ancient religions, originating in India in the fifth or sixth centuries B.C. Its believers are also helping to bring about the modernization of its homeland, with many Jains leading the explosion in information technology that is driving India's economic growth.
Jainism's requirement that followers practice rigorous honesty has proved to be a crucial advantage. Such discipline is apparently helping them obtain trust in the business community.
About 30 minutes from central New Delhi by car is a center for Jains to worship and study their faith. Four women live in the 8,000 square-meter compound.
The women wear white masks over their mouths. Sadhvi Sadhna, 60, who has lived in the facility for 16 years, explained that the masks are part of Jain commitment not to harm any living creature. They prevent people from swallowing living things, even those so tiny they aren't discernible to the naked eye.
In the facility, all the faucets are covered with gauze so that the residents do not swallow minute creatures contained in the water.
They do not eat meat or fish. They refuse to eat even root vegetables, such as potatoes, because people could hurt creatures in the soil when they harvest the vegetables.
Devendra Kumar Jain, 64, is one of the most famous entrepreneurs in India. He is also a devoted adherent of Jainism. The religion inspires him, he said, because "Jainism is unrelated to killing and wounding or drinking alcohol."
When Devendra was 19, he started a company to manufacture and sell stationery. He started the enterprise with two friends and 5,000 rupees in seed money from his father.
He has since expanded his business and now runs more than 10 companies. They include not only a hotel operator but also a firm that is engaged in telecommunications and broadband businesses.
"The teachings of our religion prohibit us from telling a lie. Therefore, we keep promises at any cost. Such a practice has led me to obtain trust and success," Devendra said.
About 30 years ago, he embarked on a new business and failed. As a result, he had fallen into a serious financial situation. To solve the problem, he borrowed a total of about $4 million from about 50 acquaintances, promising that he would pay back the money in a year.
With the borrowings, he secured the funds for the operation of his primary business and escaped bankruptcy.
He returned the debts to the 50 acquaintances just one year after as he had promised. He also presented gifts to them in lieu of interest.
Since then, he has stuck to a policy of never borrowing money exceeding 25 percent of the funds on his hand when he starts a new business.
A 35-year-old entrepreneur, Bhanu Pratap Jain, who runs a cloth manufacturing company, said, "If you are a believer in Jainism, you have advantages in your business."
If someone has the word "Jain" in his name, it is likely he is a follower of the religion. Therefore, even if he meets other people for business for the first time, he can obtain their trust just on the strength of his name.
Bhanu himself has tried to stick to strict Jain principles of honesty in his business practices.
In the cloth manufacturing industry, many companies refuse to pay raw material suppliers when their clients go bankrupt and cannot pay for their orders.
In the past 10 years, two large clients of Bhanu went bankrupt, and he did not get paid by them. However, he made payments to his raw material suppliers by selling his own assets, he said.
"We also have an established reputation that believers in Jainism sell good products at fair prices," Bhanu said. "That business method has also helped us obtain trust. It may have something in common with the conduct of Japanese businessmen, who are said to be honest."
Jains also are expected to make charitable contributions to their society. For example, many of them use their money to build hospitals.
According to the 2001 national census of India, the number of believers in Jainism stood at about 4.2 million, accounting for only 0.4 percent of the entire population of the country.
Representatives of the religion say, however, that Jains pay about 20 percent of all income tax paid by individuals in India.
One Jain group, Jain International Trade Organization (JITO), helps young Jains to start their own businesses. It also offers education to children of those believers.
JITO, whose headquarters are located in Mumbai, has its networks not only in India but also abroad. It has a temple in Silicon Valley in the United States for Jain expats.
Hemant M. Shah, 53, chairman of JITO, said, "There is a growing demand for re-strengthening networks of believers. We are planning to increase overseas offices from the current seven to 40 by the end of 2008."
As for Jainism, Ravindra K. Jain, a former professor of sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said that Jains believe that good and bad acts carried out during life on earth are measured like credits and debts in an account book after they die. The final balance sheet will determine their fates in the afterlife.
As they contemplate the hereafter, Jains strive to lead good lives, Ravindra said.
Jainism requires believers to pursue two things, Ravindra said. They must practice penance to try to attain the deliverance of their souls. They must also work to maintain economical and physical health.
Jainism repudiates the accumulation of wealth and wasteful spending of money. However, it allows believers to make investments for the future so that their children may live in peace.
"As a result of the teachings, I think that many believers are succeeding in their businesses," Ravindra said.(IHT/Asahi: October 4,2007)