My Wife Snaps and Project Conversion Reaches the Edge…Or does it?

Yesterday, after 10 months and 3 days, my wife snapped. Since many monastic Jains do not typically bathe and I have opted to observe the monastic vows this month, this means I would not bathe either. The idea stems from strict ahimsa (non-violence). Because water itself has life and the surface of our skin as well, the act of washing harms life. Agree with it or not, this is the reasoning behind the practice.

Jain monks are also constantly on the move in very small groups (5 to 10) and stay at temples or meditation halls only a few days at a time before walking to the next. If there is any body odor, no one can tell because the monks themselves are never around long enough.

But that isn’t the case in my home.

I have no choice; I cannot be truly homeless this month and therefore my family is subjected to whatever practices I adopt. Some work, some do not. After three days of not bathing, Heather cracked, threatened to kick me out of the house, and basically turned into someone I’ve never seen before. Even the Congregation was stirred over the issue.

And it was all part of the plan.


That’s right, I set this up. I never intended to go a whole month without bathing. If I were single and had no other interactions with people, sure I could pull it off. But I have a family which requires daily interaction regardless of my practice. I actually predicted that my wife and Congregation would snap after a week, but the tensions boiled over in only three days.

Now I’ll tell you my motivation.

This is the first month where I’ve given my wife posting powers on the Facebook page (the Congregation). I wanted everyone to see what it’s like from her point of view, living with one of the most extreme monastic orders on the planet. She brought a perspective and nuance to the updates that folks had never seen before. This got everyone talking about the lengths Jain monks take in practicing ahimsa (non-violence), and it was more than just a conversation. Because I let Heather post whatever she wished, many Congregation members became concerned about my practice, and as tensions rose, we saw lines being drawn in the sand.

“Has Andrew gone too far?”
“This is all spectacle.”
“These are unnecessary practices.”

Just as the Congregation seemingly had enough, just as Heather emotionally cracked and had had enough of Project Conversion, I calmly asked her to listen. She did, and I told her my plan.

Lesson One: Jain practice and philosophy teaches us to detach ourselves from the slavery of emotional and physical stimuli. This process is called samvara. According to the teachings of the Jinas (those who have reached a perfected state of knowledge and liberation), karma accumulates on our soul and blurs the soul’s perfect perception, bliss, knowledge, and power. Because Heather and some Congregation members allowed their emotions and bias cloud their judgement, the process of karma accumulation snowballed out of control.

Some of us need to learn how to become masters of our thoughts and emotions…not the other way around.

Lesson Two: Some have said (including myself) that Jain monasticism is extreme and even unnecessary. One supreme quality Jains strive for is a perfect state of equanimity. That is, a state of absolute centered thought and presence. My first question to those who believe the Jain monastics are extreme is why? I noticed that those who think this live in a society of plenty where we can consume what we want, when we want, and in any quantity. It is a society of “more is better” and having “stuff” is the true bliss–even at the expense of others(including other forms of life). Perhaps you believe having absolutely nothing is an extreme because this station inhabits the far end of the spectrum you occupy.

But what if we approached everything in life, viewed everything in life, without a context?

What if we saw things exactly as they are and not through the fog of our own karma–our own emotional, cultural, religious, or political cloud?

If we could do that…oh if we could do that…

Lesson Three: There is a reason monastic life is separate from the laity. The lifestyles just do not mix. A monk cannot operate within a householder’s context. But here’s what I want you to really look at. What I did, what I chose to do, was not an individual choice that I had to personally live with. It was a corporate choice that affected everyone around me. That, in my opinion, is the damage of extremism. We should not judge those who have made choices that only affect themselves. This includes monastics or folks who have chosen a personal religion or philosophy. As my dad used to tell me, “My rights end where yours begin.”

But when our spiritual or philosophic choices negatively affect others is where we have a problem. My situation of forcing a monk’s lifestyle on my family illustrated this point. Politicians who want to make laws in favor of one faith at the expense of another, one religious group wiping out a rival faith’s population, bullies at school teasing someone of a minority faith, judging someone’s personal religious practices (who affect no one else) as silly or unnecessary…these are ways in which we encroach upon others. This is the extreme we should concern ourselves with.

That being said, I will still practice closely as a Jain monk this month, however I will not do anything that hinders my family (including washing).

I hope this post gives you some pause and reflection today. Sure, it might have been harsh, but sometimes we have to be part of the experiment to fully appreciate the outcome.

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  • Jon

    I think you went a step in the right direction with this post, brother. I know your family will appreciate it.

    • abowen


      Thanks bro. Sometimes we have to push buttons to teach hard lessons. As a leader in your faith, I know you understand.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Art Sherwood

    I think your decision to consider your family’s situation is perfectly in line with the principle of ahisma. Your efforts to prevent harm to the water by not washing was actually causing harm to those who had to live within smelling distance of you.

    It seems to me that the committment required to truly be a Jain monk necessecitates a single lifestyle. It seems you cannot be a husband, father and a Jain monk at the same time. Not only that, once a person makes the marriage committment and especially once one has had children, you couldn’t really abandon them to go and live the monastic lifestyle without causing tremendous harm to your family.

    So, while you certainly can explore main aspects of the Jain way of life, I don’t think it is really possible for you to fully be a Jain monk without violating the principle of ahisma. I think compromise is certainly the best option here.

    • abowen


      Indeed, compromise was and many times is the best way.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mrs. DarlaG

    “But here’s what I want you to really look at. What I did, what I chose to do, was not an individual choice that I had to personally live with. It was a corporate choice that affected everyone around me. That, in my opinion, is the damage of extremism. We should not judge those who have made choices that only effect themselves. This includes monastics or folks who have chosen a personal religion or philosophy. As my dad used to tell me, “My rights end where yours being.”

    Brilliant, Andrew, just brilliant.

  • Editor B

    Why you cold calculating son of a —

    Just kidding. Well played. Might make a good sitcom, in some alternate universe. Scratch that, it’s perfect for reality television. I can only assume you already have something in the works.

    • abowen


      Television? Oh no, not this household… ; )

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Nick

    Art said: “while you certainly can explore main aspects of the Jain way of life, I don’t think it is really possible for you to fully be a Jain monk without violating the principle of ahisma.” I don’t think it is possible for anyone. Do Jains stop drinking water entirely. If not, say goodbye to absolute ahimsa.

    I agree with the Buddha’s assessment. He supposedly practiced asceticism to an extreme that amazed fellow ascetics and pushed the limits of human endurance, only to leave that path saying it is not the way.

    But this month is Jain philosophy, not Buddhist, so I appreciate what you are doing here. Bust of luck with the rest of the month.

    • abowen


      Jain monks actually filter their water to ensure minimal harm. That’s the idea: as little harm as possible. It’s tough, but that’s how they roll.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mrs. DarlaG

    I agree with Nick- Is it even possible or worthwhile to live as an ascetic? We are social organisms, symbiotic in many ways, how can we live or love without harming something. And really, when we’re upset about even the bacteria (esp. the kind that will kill you if it gets half a chance! :)), perhaps we are focusing too keenly on the minutiae and not enough on the big picture of life.

    • abowen

      Mrs. Darla G,

      It’s worthwhile to them, so what does it matter what someone else thinks? Jain monks and Jains in general simply want to reduce harm to life around them. Regardless of their ways, I cannot see fault in that. Then again, this isn’t about whether or not we agree with them, but what we can learn from them.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Meeta Gajjar Parker

    I really enjoyed this post Andrew!

    Namaste, Meeta

  • Sam Karvonen

    Well done, Andrew! Without commenting on the ethical paradox inherent in your experiment, let it be said its intended moral was indeed profound. The experiment actually worked. I hope the missus is happier now! Regards to Heather and peace!

    You know Andrew, I am a Bahá’í (BTW I noticed we are over-represented on these boards given our small numbers!). Whilst we are known for our tolerance towards other religions, there are also aspects in which we are somewhat critical. One of the aspects of almost all religions which Bahá’u'lláh condemned quite strongly (and forbade His followers to practice) is asceticism and monasticism. Whether living as a monk in the wilderness or secluding oneself in a cloister. Improving ourselves in spirit and detachment is ultimately important as long as it profits others and mankind as a whole. Otherwise it only becomes a selfish exercise masquared under the false facade of holiness. Also detachment does not equal severance. One can avoid attachment to hamburgers without having to stop eating them.

    Here’s what Bahá’u'lláh wrote to the Christian monks:

    “Say: O concourse of monks! Seclude not yourselves in churches and cloisters. Come forth by My leave, and occupy yourselves with that which will profit your souls and the souls of men. Thus biddeth you the King of the Day of Reckoning. Seclude yourselves in the stronghold of My love. This, verily, is a befitting seclusion, were ye of them that perceive it. He that shutteth himself up in a house is indeed as one dead. It behooveth man to show forth that which will profit all created things, and he that bringeth forth no fruit is fit for fire. Thus counseleth you your Lord, and He, verily, is the Almighty, the All-Bounteous. Enter ye into wedlock, that after you someone may fill your place. We have forbidden you perfidious acts, and not that which will demonstrate fidelity. Have ye clung to the standards fixed by your own selves, and cast the standards of God behind your backs? Fear God, and be not of the foolish.” (Bahá’u'lláh, The Promised Day Is Come, p. 165)

    Having said that, the universalism, tolerance, spirituality and moral teachings of Jainism is something we as Bahá’ís can identify very strongly with. The world would be a better place if there were more (married) Jainists.

    Best regards from across the Atlantic,


    • abowen


      The Baha’i perspective is always welcome. Jains (both laity and monks) are well-known for their contributions to society by way of promoting non-violence and even animal rights. It would be inaccurate to view the monastic life of the Sadhus and Sadhvis as individualistic or selfish, as these folks are the spiritual teachers and preceptors of the laity. They exist to cross the sea of samsara themselves and lead others to come with them. Of course, such a path doesn’t work for everyone (Baha’u'llah included), but for others, it is their way.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment urmil shah

    when living in a family ,the person does not really leads a life like that of a monk .Otherwise family life will get into trouble.The best way to live would be to live like a family person. eg a jain monk has no monitary or other possessions ,but a jain ,living within a family has to provide for a family like any ordinary worldly person. Renouncing the world is a different way of life. Jains dont brush their teeth during fasts .Your spouse will definately react to that .So one must make changes according to requirements and personal beliefs.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment aka Cookie

    Hi Andrew…I give you so much credit on this journey…having said that…I empathize with your wife…can’t you go live in the garage or a nearby cave? and when this is all over with and you write your book, I hope you take your family on a nice vacation…come to Hawaii. Would to meet you. Big Island..volcanos and snow on the mountain…whales are coming in…aloha

    • abowen


      Funny you should mention that. If I had a cave or garage to chill in or could go homeless for the month, I would have, but my wife’s objections and a pretty nasty inner-city problem stands in the way. Hawaii doesn’t sound bad, actually. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mrs. DarlaG

    Oh, of course it doesn’t! just to one trying to understand their faith & the philosophy of it.

    I know this year is about overcoming preconceived ideas & meeting faiths on their own terms. You are doing an admirable job with the whole process.

    I think one of the most difficult things for me, in pondering the different faiths, is comprehending a faith that does not seek to build up both the believer and the community in which the believer resides. If I’m reading it correctly, the monastics (Jains and others) focus more on the individual overcoming things, particularly passions, a very noble cause, and less on them accomplishing that and bringing a larger community in with them. I’m hanging with the Bahá’ís on this one: Better you and the world; bring along others in your spiritual journey…even the bugs and microbes, if you must :)

    I look forward to what the rest of the month holds for you, and us!

    • abowen

      Mrs. DarlaG,

      On the contrary, the monks and nuns are the spiritual leaders of their communities, helping with personal challenges within the laity and serving as an example for them to emulate. Jain philosophy teaches harmony and awareness of all life around them, and so the laity often confide in the monastics to help resolve business matters involving harm reduction to the environment. The monks extends a hand to anyone with the courage to take the plunge.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mrs. DarlaG

    Oh, of course it doesn’t! Absolutely not. I just find myself hanging with the Bahá’ís on this one. Trying to wrap my head around a faith that is not BOTH personal and social- bringing other believers along on the journey. However, to some degree, your posts do just that, and do it quite well.

    I look forward to seeing what the rest of the month holds for you, yours, and us!

  • Sam Karvonen


    Thanks for the clarification. It seems the Jain monks are genuinely service-oriented.


    • abowen


      Sorry it wasn’t clearer. But yes, that is certainly my impression of them thus far.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mrs.DarlaG

    Ah, lovely! Thank you for the info.

    And sorry for the double post. My computer ‘glitched’ after I hit enter on the initial post & I thought it got engulfed by cyberspace.