A successful fashion graduate with a highflying career in New York has converted into a nun and living a nomadic life in India.
Nisha Kapashi, 30, was renting an apartment on Manhattan’s Herald Square before she decided to give it all up and convert into a Jain nun in January this year.
Now, Nisha has no money – not even a bank account – no home or permanent address and no shoes. She’ll never step foot on a plane again and she’s committed to a life of celibacy and simplicity for the rest of her life. But she’s never been happier.
She said: ‘I had a good life and a good status but I wasn’t fulfilled. There was something missing. And now I have nothing, but I’ve never been so happy.’
Nisha grew up in Walkeshwar, the more affluent part of South Mumbai, in India, with her mother Manjari, 55 and father Manoj, 59, and brother Rushabh, 32.
When she was 18 she got a place at the Fashion Institute of Technology, in New York, and spent one year at its sister campus the Polimoda International Institute of Fashion Design & Marketing, in Florence.
She successfully graduated and quickly got an internship at Kate Spade before she was offered the job at J.Crew concentrating on merchandise and sales.
I have nothing, but I’ve never been so happy
She lived in a one-bed apartment on Herald Square, on Sixth Avenue and 34th Street, with popular Macy’s nearby and she was living the dream – eating at some of the top restaurants at night with friends and shopping for her favourite top brands and designer handbags at the weekend.
‘I’d wake up every morning and I knew I was fortunate but I wasn’t fulfilled,’ she said. ‘I had a good job, god status, friends, money but I was empty. There was a feeling of discontentment inside of me that I couldn’t ignore. I was living my dream – everything I had wanted and worked towards. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t the happiest person in the world.’
Nisha had been raised within the Jain religion. Along with Hinduism and Buddhism, Jainism is one of the most ancient Indian religions still in existence. Her parents and brother were followers and had spent many years looking up to a guru in India and practicing nonviolence, believing that self-control can obtain liberation and true happiness.
Even though Nisha’s career was flourishing and she was living a life she had dreamed about since she was a child, a feeling of empiness gnawed at her.
She began visiting Jain lectures in nearby Queens, read Jain books and slowly she found herself beginning to change.
Nisha said: ‘I was living 80pc of my life in work. I was surrounded by money, goals and high achievers. I had a good job and a good status but I wasn’t complete. I was giving myself the wrong goals. I was trying to be fashionable and successful but the more I did so, the emptier I felt so I stopped. I first turned totally vegan and stopped eating after sunset so I stopped eating out in the evenings.
I had a good job and a good status but I wasn’t complete
‘Then, I stopped caring so much about how I looked. I chose simple outfits and no make up. I wanted to stop using my looks to determine how I felt. The more changes I made the better I was feeling. It made me want to continue.’
Nisha closed all her social media accounts, stopped buying leather, and she binned all her Prada and Fendi handbags.
And in 2010 she handed in her notice at J.Crew.
‘I had nothing to go to, there was no plan, I was just didn’t want to work like that anymore,’ she added.
Understanding, her parents supported her and they accompanied Nisha to India in 2011 to meet with a Jain Guru, Prasha Mita Shirji, 65, in Mumbai, for some more enlightenment.
She said: ‘I talked to her about my unfulfilled life and my emptiness. It was a very cleansing experience and a huge turning point in my life. I looked at her and I wanted the same peace.’
Over the next four years Nisha travelled between New York and India visiting the guru.
‘My guru made me understand life in different ways,’ she said. ‘She explained to me that those people who seek help and enlightenment through attachments and desire will feel pain and suffering. The less we want and the less expectations we have the happier we are. I knew my future happiness was with the Jain Nuns and Monks in India.’
But in order to become a Jain Nun Nisha had to have a ceremony called Diksha, and take five vows – I will not hurt anyone, I will not lie, I will not steal, I will remain celibate, and I will have no possessions.
She explained to me that those people who seek help and enlightenment through attachments and desire will feel pain and suffering
But only a Jain Guru can determine if a Jain follower is ready to take the Diksha and become a nun. And last year Nisha’s guru thought she was ready.
‘I was overwhelmed when my guru told me I could take diksha,’ she said. ‘It’s a huge occasion and I felt very privileged that she believed in me and trusted me to take this step.’
When Nisha told her parents, and her brother Rushabh, who works at McKinsey management consulting firm, she was going to become a nun there was mixed feelings.
She said: ‘They were proud that a member of their family was committing to such a huge responsibility but they were also sad, because ultimately they were losing me. I would move to India and never be able to leave. They would never be able to call me on the phone or email me because I’d have no possessions, and they could never hug me again as I wouldn’t be able to touch them. If they wanted to see me or speak to me they’d have to travel to India.’
Three months before the Diksha ceremony in January this year, the Jain community all over the world celebrated the news that a new nun would be born.
‘It’s a huge joyous occasion for our community and Jain followers take it very seriously,’ Nisha said. ‘It was a very nervous time for me. While I had faith in what I was doing I was very scared of taking such a big step. I had visitors from all over the world, they wanted to bless me, wish me luck and just be apart of the process in some way. I had a gathering in Chicago, Delaware and New York, then I stopped in London and met with the 1000 people from the British Jain community where I gave a speech, until eventually I landed in India.’
The ceremony in Jharkhand, north eastern India, included a huge procession along the streets where Nisha was sat in a chariot while people threw money into the air as she passed – a symbol of giving up wealth for happiness.
The ceremony felt like a wedding, I was getting married to the Jain Nun philosophy
‘The ceremony felt like a wedding, I was getting married to the Jain Nun philosophy and I was treated like a bride,’ she added. ‘I had my last bath and I had my hair shaved off as a symbol of renouncing my old life. And I was renamed Sadhavi Samveg Pragnya Shriji.’
Nisha – now Samveg – spends her life travelling around India with approximately 100 other Jain nuns. They sleep for six hours a night, meditate for 90 minutes a day and study the Jain philosophy for 15 hours a day. They live a nomadic life, so always travelling from one place to the next and depend on well-wishers for food and shelter.
They have no possessions, only a walking stick, a water holder and bowls made out of pumpkin for food, a Ogho which is a brush they use to wipe away any living being as they walk to ensure they do not kill anything, and white material for clothes and bedding.
‘I know this step in life takes courage but my Guru helped me have fearlessness,’ she insisted. ‘I wish people could experience what I am feeling. I wish they could experience the peace I feel within. Yes, I’ve given up my family. But now, the whole world is my family.’
Her father Manoj Kapashi, who also works in finance, said: ‘She was such a loveable child, so caring. We were surprised when she told us she wanted to change but also happy. We knew it was a good path in life but we were sad also. The Diksha ceremony was very emotional. The atmosphere was of joy and celebration but it was mixed feelings for us.
‘We will now travel to see her as often as we can now. All our vacations will now have to be one destination – India.’