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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Kelly

Jain long haul standings

This ninth century copper alloy statue now in the Met in New York, looks like it’s standing in tadasana, but this is a sage engaged in the standing meditation called kāyotsarga (kāya + utsarga) ‘voiding the body.’  This standing meditation is a particular feature of Jainism, one of the most radical and radically non-violent of the south Asian religions (and one that has played a role in the development of yoga).  

We can note on the one that meditation does not have to be seated and on the other that our tadasana has some kind of relation with this other mode of ‘just standing.’

Another naked male statue in the same museum offers a series of contrasts: the archaic Greek kouros (’young man’) stands with one foot forward stepping into the world, but the Jain meditator does not take a step—because he might stand on an ant. He has immobilised himself from all possible violence down to the tiniest level possible. He refrains from every possible action. (In other examples of the type the body has creeper growing up its limbs to assert he has stood motionless for an impossibly long time.) While the kouros has elaborately braided and bound hair, the Jain has hacked his off (this is a more typically Buddhist style of hair removal: the full Jain method is to wrench it out), and he has long pendulous earlobes distended by the heavy earrings he no longer wears: he’s finished with wealth and adornment. Lastly, while both are naked these are different nudities: the kouros is stripped down to show he is an athlete of the elite gymnasium (literally ‘naked place’), while the ‘sky-clad’ Jain is naked because clothing is violence (sweatshops at one end, insects dying in the folds at the other) and all social roles are shed.


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