Part of the Thelema & Religion series
Jainism, traditionally known as Jain Dharma, is an ancient religion known since early recorded times as an independent faith and philosophy. It is based more immediately upon the teachings of Mahavira (599 - 527 BC), or Lord Mahavira to Jains. According to belief, Jain philosophy is an understanding and codification of eternal universal truths which at times lapse among humanity, but later reappear through the teachings of human beings who have gained enlightenment or omniscience (Keval Gnan). In this part of the universe, in the present half cycle of time, the philosophy is believed to have first been given to humanity by Lord Rishabha. Evidence from the Indus Civilization (c. 3000 - 1500 BC) seems to attest to its early existence as shown through seals and other artifacts unearthed since the civilization's discovery in 1921.
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Overview of Jainism
Jainism teaches that every single living thing is an individual and eternal soul which is responsible for its own actions. Jains see their faith as teaching the individual to live, think and act in ways that respect and honor the spiritual nature of every living being to the best of one's human abilities. Jains view God as the unchanging traits of the pure soul, chief among them being Infinite Knowledge, Perception, Consciousness, and Happiness (Ananta Gnana, Darshan, Chaitanya, and Sukh). The universe itself is eternal, having no beginning and no end. (Hence, it is said that Jainism is a religious path which does not include the a concept of a creator God).
The primary figures of Jainism are the Tirthankaras. Jainism has two main variants: Digambar and Shvetambar. Jains believe in ahimsa, asceticism, karma, sansara, and the jiva. Jain philosophy has many scriptures written over a long period of time. Many Jains consider the primary scripture to be the Tattvartha Sutra, or Book of Realities written over 18 centuries ago by the monk-scholar Umasvati.
As part of its stance on nonviolence, Jainism goes beyond vegetarianism in that the Jain diet also excludes most root vegetables and certain other foods believed to be unnecessarily injurious. Observant Jains do not eat, drink or travel after sunset and always rise before sunrise.
At approximately 8 to 10 million adherents, Jainism is among the smallest of the major world religions. There are 6000 Jain nuns, and 2500 Jain monks—most of the monks and nuns are members of the Shvetambar. In India, Jains are said to be disproportionately represented in positions of economic and political power. Jains have been an important presence in Indian culture, contributing to Indian philosophy, art, architecture (a Jain temple or derasar), sciences and last but not least the politics of Mohandas Gandhi which led to Indian independence.
Jainism has a large following in the Indian region of Punjab, especially the town of Ludhiana. There were many Jains in Lahore (Punjab's historic capital) and other cities before the Partition of 1947. Many then migrated to the Indian section of Punjab.
Digambaras and Shvetambaras
The two major sects of Jainism trace their origin to events that occurred ~200 years after the death of Mahāvīra. Bhadrabahu, chief of the Jain monks, foresaw a period of famine and led all who would follow him (~12,000 people), to southern India. Twelve years later, they returned to find that Svetambara sect had arisen. The followers of Bhadrabahu became known as the Digambaras.
According to Jain beliefs, the universe was never created, nor will it ever cease to exist. It is eternal but not unchangeable, because it passes through an endless series of alternations or swings. Each of these upward or downward swings is divided into four world ages (yugas). The present world age is the fifth age of one of these "swings," which is in a downward movement. These ages or "swings" are known as "AARO" as in "Pehelo Aaro" or First Age, "Beejo Aaro" or Second Age and so on. The last one is the "Chhatho Aaro" or Sixth Age. All these ages have fixed time durations of thousands of years.
When this reaches its lowest level, even Jainism itself will be lost in its entirety. Then, in the course of the next upswing, the Jain religion will be rediscovered and reintroduced by new leaders called Tirthankaras (literally "Crossing Makers" or "Ford Finders"), only to be lost again at the end of the next downswing, and so on.
In each of these enormously long alternations of time there are always twenty-four Tirthankaras. In the current world age, the twenty-third Tirthankar was Parshva, an ascetic and teacher, whose traditional dates are 877-777 BC, i.e., 250 years before the passing of the last Tirthankar Mahavira in 527 BC. Jains regard him and all Tirthankaras as a reformer who called for a return to beliefs and practices in line with the eternal universal philosophy upon which the faith is said to be based.
The twenty-fourth and final Tirthankar of this age is known by his title, Mahāvīra, the Great Hero (599-527 BC). He too was a wandering ascetic teacher who attempted to recall the Jains to the rigorous practice of their ancient faith.
Jains believe that reality is made up of two eternal principles, jiva and ajiva. Jiva consists of an infinite number of identical spiritual units; ajiva (that is, non-jiva) is matter in all its forms and the conditions under which matter exists: time, space, and movement.
Both jiva and ajiva are eternal; they never came into existence for the first time and will never cease to exist. The whole world is made up of jivas trapped in ajiva; there are jivas in rocks, plants, insects, animals, human beings, spirits, et cetera.
Any contact whatsoever of the jiva with the ajiva causes the former to suffer. Thus the Jains believed that existence in this world inevitably means suffering. Neither social reform nor the reform of individuals themselves can ever stop suffering. In every human being, a jiva is trapped, and the jiva suffers because of its contact with ajiva. The only way to escape from suffering is for the jiva to completely escape from the human condition, from human existence.
Karma and transmigration keep the jiva trapped in ajiva. Achieving release from the human condition is difficult. The Jains believe that the jiva continues to suffer during all its lives or reincarnations, which are of an indefinite number. They believe that every action that a person performs, be it good or evil, opens up channels of the senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell), through which an invisible substance, karma, filters in and adheres to the jiva within, weighing it down and determining the conditions of the next reincarnation.
The consequence of evil actions is a heavy karma, which weighs the jiva down, forcing it to enter its new life at a lower level in the scale of existence. The consequence of good deeds, on the other hand, is a light karma, which allows the jiva to rise in its next life to a higher level in the scale of existence, where there is less suffering to be endured. However, good deeds alone can never lead to release.
The way to moksha (release or liberation) is withdrawal from the world. Karma is the cause-and-effect mechanism by virtue of which all actions have inescapable consequences. Karma operates to keep the jiva chained in an unending series of lifetimes in which the jiva suffers to a greater or lesser extent. Thus the way of escape must involve an escape from karma, the destruction of all karma and the avoidance of new karma.
Then, at death, with no karma to weigh it down, the jiva will float free of all ajiva, free of the human condition, free of all future embodiments. It will rise to the top of the universe to a place or state called Siddhashila, where the jiva, identical with all other pure jivas, will experience its own true nature in eternal stillness, isolation and noninvolvement. It will be totally free. The way to burn up old karma is to withdraw from all involvement in the world as much as possible, and close the channel of the senses and the mind to prevent karmic matter from entering and adhering to the jiva.
Beliefs and practices
Jain society is as dualistic as the Jain universe. On the one hand, there are the monks, who practice severe asceticism and strive to make this birth their last. On the other hand, there are the lay people, who pursue less rigorous practices, striving to attain rational faith and do good deeds in this birth. Due to the strict ethics embedded in Jainism, the laity must choose a profession and livelihood that does not involve violence to self and other living beings.
In their effort to attain their highest and most exalted state of beatification (Siddhatva), which is the permanent release of the jiva from all involvement in worldly existence, the Jains believe that no spirit or divine being can assist them in any way. From this viewpoint, Jainism may be termed a non-theistic religion. The Jains consider that gods cannot help the jiva to obtain release. This has to be achieved by individual through their own efforts. In fact, the angels cannot even gain their own release until they are reincarnated as humans and undertake the difficult life of a Jain monk.
The ethical code of Jainism is taken very seriously. Summarized in the Five Vows, they are followed by both lay people and monastics. These are:
- non-injury (ahinsa, or ahimsa)
- non-lying (satya)
- non-stealing (asteya)
- chastity (brahmacharya)
- non-possession (aparigrah)
For lay people, chastity means confining sexual experience to the marriage relationship. For monks, it means complete celibacy. Non-injury involves being strictly vegetarian. The Jain is expected to follow the principle of non-violence in all his thoughts, words and deeds. There are some Jains who wear masks over their mouths and noses to avoid any possibility of breathing in tiny insects.
Mahatma Gandhi, the great son of India, was deeply influenced by the Jain emphasis on a peaceful, non-harming way of life which is common to the Jain philosophy of ahinsa and made it an integral part of his own philosophy.
The Jain rituals for marriage and other family rites are distinct and uniquely Indian. Jains have built temples where images of their Tirthankaras are venerated. Jain rituals are elaborate, and include offerings of symbolic objects, with the Tirthankaras being praised in chant.
There are many Jain symbols. One Jain symbol incorporates a wheel on the palm of the hand. Another incorporates a svastika.
Every day Jains bow their heads and say their universal prayer, the Namokar-mantra. All good work and events start with this prayer of salutation and worship.
Namo Arihantanam: I bow to the Arahantas, the perfected human beings, Godmen.
Namo Siddhanam: I bow to the Siddhas, liberated bodiless souls, God.
Namo Aariyanam: I bow to the Acharyas, the masters and heads of congregations.
Namo Uvajjhayanam: I bow to the Upadhyayas, the spiritual teachers.
Namo Loe Savva Sahunam: I bow to the spiritual practitioners in the universe, Sadhus.
Eso Panch Namoyaro: This fivefold obeisance mantra,
Savva Pavappanasano: Destroys all sins and obstacles,
Mangalanam ca Savvesin: And of all auspicious repetitions,
Padhamam Havai Mangalam: Is the first and foremost.
These five salutations are considered to be capable of destroying all the sins and this is the first happiness among all forms of happiness.
In the above prayer, Jains salute the virtues of their five benevolent. They do not pray to a specific Tirthankara or monk by name. By saluting them, Jains receive the inspiration from the five benevolent for the right path of true happiness and total freedom from the misery of life. Jain prayers do not ask for any favors or material benefits from their Gods, the Tirthankaras or from monks and nuns.
Ahinsa is not only the foundation of Jain morality, but also Jain epistemology. Jainism asserts that absolutism (especially moral absolutism) leads to fanaticism and violence, so Jain epistemology supports tolerance amongst beliefs, claiming that no single belief holds truth exclusively. Anekantavada -- literally Nonsingular Conclusivity or Non-one-ended-ness -- is the foundational epistemological belief that all non-omniscent truth claims are partial based on the fact that all observations derived from inherently limited and biased viewpoints.
Relations with other faiths
It has been advanced that the pervasive influence of Jain culture and philosophy in ancient Bihar gave rise to Buddhism.
The Buddhists always maintained that by the time Buddha and Mahavira were alive, Jainism was already an ancient and deeply entrenched faith and culture in the region. Buddhist scriptures record philosophical dialogues between the wandering seeker Buddha and Jain teachers such as Udaka Ramaputta. Early Buddhists posited the existence of 24 previous Buddhas (Buddhas who walked the earth prior to Gautama Siddhartha) many of whose names are identical to those of the 24 Jain Tirthankaras and other traditional Jain figures. Buddhist scriptures attest that some of the first Buddhists were in fact Jains (Nirgranthas as they were then called, meaning "the unbonded ones") who "converted", whom Buddha encouraged to maintain their Jain identity and practices such as giving alms to Jain monks and nuns. The famous ancient parable of the blind men and the elephant illustrates the Jain science of Anekantavada, and is found in the Buddhist Pali text called Udana. Like any other splinter group, writers of the ancient Pali texts clearly rejoiced in criticizing (and at times ridiculing) the Jains and celebrating the conversion of another Jain to Buddha's path. The texts show that Buddha vigorously appealed to the Nirgranthas that his path was nothing different from that with which they were already familiar, simply better.
The Buddhist formulation of the "Middle Way" was a post-Buddha response by the Buddhist monastic community to criticism by the Jains (as seen in Jain texts such as the Sutrakritanga Sutra and Acharanga Sutra) that the Buddhist Bhikkhus (mendicants) were lax and not living the rigorous life of a true ascetic or Shramana (Samana in Prakrit). In defining the Middle Way, Buddhist scholars branded their faith with a unique identity that distanced itself from Jain tradition by provided an alternative to "extreme asceticism" (i.e., Jainism) on one hand and Buddha's own princely hedonism on the other. In describing Buddha's six-years of spiritual searching after leaving his family, Buddhist scriptures from the early post-Buddha period detail certain fasts, penances and austerities which Buddha undertook whose descriptions are elsewhere found only in the Jain tradition (for example, the penance by five fires and the consumption of food using only one's cupped hands). To this day, many Buddhist teachings, principles and terms remain identical to Jain ones. In short, a large body of evidence suggests strongly that, in large measure, Buddhism is an offshoot of Jainism.
Mahāvīra was a senior contemporary of the Buddha, however there is no evidence the two teachers actually met.
Jainism as a religion was at various times found all over South Asia including Afghanistan, Nepal, Burma, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Additionally, it is practiced by adherents in all the metropolitian cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. The religion has its presence even in the other prominent cities of India, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Hyderabad.
Partly due to historical biases within some academic fields related to the study of religion and culture—namely, (i) a greater emphasis placed on the demographically larger Hindu and Buddhist faiths, and (ii) a tendency to employ historical paradigms peculiar to Judaeo-Christian history—Jainism has been variously labeled an "offshoot" or "reform movement" of Hinduism, and anti-Brahmin social movement, a lesser twin of Buddhism, a religion of "extreme asceticism", a pacifist creed, and other tableaus at odds with both historical evidence and modern reality.
In fact, Jain philosophy and culture have been a major cultural, philosophical, social and political force since the dawn of civilization in South Asia, and its ancient influence has been traced beyond the borders of modern "India" into the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean regions.
- Jaina Sutras (http://www.sacred-texts.com/jai/index.htm), Translated from the Prakrit by Hermann Jacobi, 1884
- Jain Samaj Europe (http://www.shubhlabh.net)
- Wikipedia. (2005). Jainism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jainism). Retrieved on 02/25/2005.