Jainism

Jainism is an ancient religion that prescribes a path of peace and non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice rely mainly on self-effort in progressing the soul on the spiritual ladder to divine consciousness. Any soul which has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state of supreme being is called jina (Conqueror or Victor). Jainism is often referred to as Jain Dharma or Shraman Dharma or the religion of Nirgantha by ancient texts.

Jainism was revived by a lineage of 24 enlightened ascetics called tirthankaras culminating with Parshva (9th century BC) and Mahavira (6th century BC). In the modern world, it is a small but influential religious minority with as many as 4.2 million followers in India, and successful growing immigrant communities in North America, Western Europe, the Far East, Australia and elsewhere.

Jains have sustained the ancient Shraman or ascetic religion and have significantly influenced other religious, ethical, political and economic spheres in India. Jains have an ancient tradition of scholarship and have the highest degree of literacy in India; Jain libraries are the oldest in the country. Tamil Jains and Tulu Jains who are native to their region residing in places of TamilNadu and Karnataka early since 1st century BC. Even though South Indian Jains are distinguishable in some of their routines and practices from North Indian Jains, the core philosophies and belief systems are the same for both cultures.

Main points

  • Every living being has a soul.
  • Every soul is potentially divine, with innate qualities of infinite knowledge, perception, power, and bliss (masked by its karmas).
  • Therefore, regard every living being as yourself, harming no one and be kind to all living beings.
  • Every soul is born as a celestial, human, sub-human or hellish being according to its own karmas.
  • Every soul is the architect of its own life, here or hereafter.
  • When a soul is freed from karmas, it becomes free and attains divine consciousness, experiencing infinite knowledge, perception, power, and bliss.
  • Right View, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct (triple gems of Jainism) provide the way to this realization. There is no supreme divine creator, owner, preserver or destroyer. The universe is self-regulated and every soul has the potential to achieve divine consciousness (siddha) through its own efforts.
  • Navakar Mantra is the fundamental prayer in Jainism and can be recited at any time of the day. Praying by reciting this mantra, the devotee bows with respect to liberated souls still in human form (Arihantas), fully liberated souls (Siddhas), spiritual leaders (Acharyas), teachers (Upadyayas) and all the monks. By saluting them, Jains receive inspiration from them for the right path of true bliss and total freedom from the karma of their soul. In this main prayer, Jains do not ask for any favours or material benefits. This mantra serves as a simple gesture of deep respect towards beings who are more spiritually advanced. The mantra also reminds followers of the ultimate goal, nirvana or moksha.
  • To be in soul consciousness rather than body consciousness is the foundation of right view, the condition of right Knowledge and the kernel of right Conduct. It leads to a state of being unattached to worldly things and being nonjudgmental and non-violent; this includes compassion and forgiveness in thoughts, words and actions toward all living beings and respecting views of others (non-absolutism).
  • Jainism stresses on the importance of controlling the senses including the mind, as they can drag one far away from true nature of the soul into being increasingly addicted to the material world leading into the tunnel of darkness filled with violence, deceit, greed and pride.
  • Limit possessions and lead a pure life that is useful to yourself and others. Owning an object by itself is not possessiveness; however attachment to an object is. Non-possessiveness is the balancing of needs and desires while staying detached from our possessions.
  • Enjoy the company of the holy and better qualified, be merciful to those afflicted and tolerate the perversely inclined.
  • Four things are difficult for a soul to attain: 1. human birth, 2. knowledge of the law, 3. faith in the law, and 4. practicing the right path.
  • It is important not to waste human life in evil ways. Rather, strive to rise on the ladder of spiritual evolution.
  • The goal of Jainism is liberation of the soul from the negative effects of unenlightened thoughts, speech and action. This goal is achieved through clearance of karmic obstructions by following the triple gems of Jainism.
  • Jains mainly worship idols of Jinas, Arihants and Tirthankars, who have conquered the inner passions and attained divine consciousness. Jainism acknowledges the existence of powerful heavenly souls (Yaksha and Yakshini) that look after the well beings of Thirthankarars. Usually, they are found in pair around the idols of Jinas as male (yaksha) and female (yakshini) guardian deities. Even though they have supernatural powers, they are also wandering through the cycles of births and deaths just like most other souls. Over time, people started worshiping these deities as well.

Principles and beliefs

Mahavir

Jainism regards every living soul as potentially divine. When the soul sheds its karmic bonds completely, it attains divine consciousness. It prescribes a path of non-violence to progress the soul to this ultimate goal.

Jainism is therefore often described as one of the most peaceful religions. A Jain is a follower of Jinas (“conquerors”).[20][21] Jinas are spiritually advanced human beings who rediscover the dharma, become fully liberated and teach the spiritual path to benefit all living beings. Practicing Jains follow the teachings of 24 special jinas who are known as Tirthankaras “(‘ford-makers”, or “those who have discovered and shown the way to salvation”). Tradition states that the 24th, and most recent, Tirthankar is Shri Mahavir, lived from 599 to 527 BC. The 23rd Tirthankar, Shri Parsva, lived from 872 to 772 BC.

Sculpture representing two founders of Jainism: left, Rushabha first of the 24 tirthankara, a legendary personality, unconfirmed history; right Mahavir, the last of those 24, who consolidated and reformed the religious and philosophical system. Position of the characters is typical in Jain iconography. Body idealized, almost devoid of detail reveals the effect of yoga exercises, immobility and rigidity suggests his "revocation of flesh" (Kayotsarga) the materiality

Jainism encourages spiritual development through reliance on and cultivation of one’s own personal wisdom and self-control (व्रत, vrata). The goal of Jainism is to realize the soul’s true nature. “Samyak darshan gyan charitrani moksha margah”, meaning “true/right perception, knowledge and conduct” ( known as the triple gems of Jainism) provides the path for attaining liberation (moksha) from samsara (the universal cycle of birth and death). Moksha is attained by liberation from all karma. Those who have attained moksha are called siddha (liberated souls), and those who are attached to the world through their karma are called samsarin (mundane souls). Every soul has to follow the path, as explained by the Jinas (and revived by Tirthankaras), to attain the ultimate liberation.

Jaina tradition identifies Rishabh Bhagwan (also known as Adhinath) as the First Tirthankar of this declining (avasarpini) time cycle (kalachakra). The first Tirthankar, Rushabhdev/ Adhinath, is believed by Jains to have appeared six trillions of years ago. The swastika symbol and naked statues resembling Jain monks, which archaeologists have found among the remains of the Indus Valley Civilization, tend to support a claim of some antiquity.

Jains hold that the Universe and Dharma are eternal, without beginning or end. However, the universe undergoes processes of cyclical change. The universe consists of living beings (“Jīva”) and non-living beings (“Ajīva”). The samsarin (worldly) soul incarnates in various life forms during its journey over time. Human, sub-human (animal, insect, plant, etc.), super-human (deity or devas), and hell-being are the four macro forms of the samsari souls. All worldly relations of one’s Jiva with other Jiva and Ajiva (non-living beings) are based on the accumulation of karma and its conscious thoughts, speech and actions carried out in its current form.

The main Jain prayer (navkar Mantra) therefore salutes the five special categories of souls that have attained divine consciousness or are on their way to achieving it, so as to emulate them and follow their path to salvation.

Another major characteristic of Jain belief is the emphasis on the consequences of not only physical but also mental behaviours.

Jain practices are derived from the above fundamentals. For example, the principle of non-violence seeks to minimize karmas which may limit the capabilities of the soul. Jainism views every soul as worthy of respect because it has the potential to become Siddha (Param-atma – “highest soul”). Because all living beings possess a soul, great care and awareness is essential in one’s actions in the incarnate world. Jainism emphasizes the equality of all life, advocating harmlessness towards all, whether these be creatures great or small. This policy extends even to microscopic organisms. Jainism acknowledges that every person has different capabilities and capacities and therefore assigns different duties for ascetics and householders. The “great vows” (mahavrata) are prescribed for monks and “limited vows” (anuvrata) are prescribed for householders.

There are five basic ethical principles (vows) prescribed. The degree to which these principles must be practiced is different for renunciant and householder. Thus:

  • Non-violence (Ahimsa) – to cause no harm to living beings.
  • Truth (Satya) – to always speak the truth in a harmless manner.
  • Non-stealing (Asteya) – to not take anything that is not willingly given.
  • Celibacy (Brahmacarya) – to not indulge in sensual pleasures.
  • Non-possession (Aparigraha) – to detach from people, places, and material things.

Ahimsa, “Non-violence”, is sometimes interpreted as not killing, but the concept goes far beyond that. It includes not harming or insulting other living beings, either directly, or indirectly through others. There can be even no room for thought to injure others, and no speech that influences others to inflict harm. It also includes respecting the views of others (non-absolutism and acceptance of multiple views).

Satya, “truthfulness”, is also to be practiced by all people. Given that non-violence has priority, all other principles yield to it, whenever there is a conflict. For example, if speaking truth will lead to violence, it is perfectly ethical to be silent. Thiruvalluvar in his Tamil classic devotes an entire chapter clarifying the definition of ‘truthfulness’.

Asteya, “non-stealing”, is the strict adherence to one’s own possessions, without desire to take another’s. One should remain satisfied by whatever is earned through honest labour. Any attempt to squeeze others and/or exploit the weak is considered theft. Some of the guidelines for this principle are:

  • Always give people fair value for labor or product.
  • Never take things which are not offered.
  • Never take things that are placed, dropped or forgotten by others
  • Never purchase cheaper things if the price is the result of improper method (e.g. pyramid scheme, illegal business, stolen goods, etc.)

Brahmacarya, “monastic celibacy”, is the complete abstinence from sex, which is only incumbent upon monastics. Householders practice monogamy as a way to uphold brahmacarya in spirit.

Aparigraha, “non-possession”, is the renunciation of property and wealth, before initiation into monkhood, without entertaining thoughts of the things renounced. This is done so one understands how to detach oneself from things and possessions, including home and family, so one may reach moksa. For householders, non-possession is owning without attachment, because the notion of possession is illusory. The reality of life is that change is constant; thus, objects owned by someone today will be property of someone else in future days. The householder is encouraged to discharge his or her duties to related people and objects as a trustee, without excessive attachment.

Tirthankaras

The statue of Gomateshwara of Digambar tradition in Shravanabelagola, Karnataka is regarded as one of the tallest monoliths of its kind in the world.

Jains believe that knowledge of the truth (dharma) has declined and revived cyclically throughout history. Those who rediscover dharma are called Tirthankara. The literal meaning of Tirthankar is ‘ford-builder’. Jains, like Buddhists, compare the process of becoming a pure human to crossing a swift river, an endeavour requiring patience and care. A ford-builder has already crossed the river and can therefore guide others. One is called a ‘victor’ (Skt: Jina) because one has achieved liberation by one’s own efforts. Like Buddhism, the purpose of Jain dharma is to undo the negative effects of karma through mental and physical purification. This process leads to liberation accompanied by a great natural inner peace.

Having purified one’s soul of karmic impurities, a tirthankar (who has attained arihant status) is considered omniscient, and a role model. Identified as divine, these individuals are called bhagavan, lord (e.g., Bhagavan Rishabha, Bhagavan Parshva, etc.). Tirthankar are not regarded as gods in the pantheistic or polytheistic sense, but rather as examplars that have awakened the divine spiritual qualities which lie dormant within each of us. There have been 24 Tirthankaras in what the Jains call the ‘present age’. The last two Tirthankaras: Parsva and Mahavira are historical figures whose existence is recorded.

Mahavira established the fourfold community (chaturvidhi sangha) of monks, nuns, and male and female laypersons.

The 24 Tirthankaras, in chronological order, are Adinath (Rushabhnath), Ajitnath, Sambhavanath, Abhinandan Swami, Sumatinath, Padmaprabhu, Suparshvanath, Chandraprabhu, Pushpadanta (Suvidhinath), Sheetalnath, Shreyansanath, Vasupujya Swami, Vimalnath, Anantnath, Dharmanath, Shantinath, Kunthunath, Aranath, Mallinath, Munisuvrata Swami, Nami Natha, Neminath, Parshvanath and Mahavir (Vardhamana).

According to Jain Scriptures, Bahubali (also known as Gommateshvara) was the second of the one hundred sons of the first Tirthankara, Lord Rishabha and king of Podanpur. A statue of Lord Bahubali is located at Shravanabelagola in the Hassan district of Karnataka State. Shravanabelagola is a sacred place of pilgrimage to Jain with a splendid and lofty statue of stone on top of a hillock there. When standing at the statue’s feet looking up, one sees the inspiring vision of the saint against the vastness of the sky. The figure is lofty like the sky, and the serenity of the face is unique and incomparable in its beauty. This statue of Gommateshwara Bahubali is carved from a single stone fifty-seven feet high. The giant image was carved in 981 A.D., by order of Chavundaraya, the minister of the Ganga King Rachamalla. Bahubali is another name for Gommateshwara.

Emphasis on non-violence in thought and practice

Jains praying at the feet of a statue of Lord Bahubali.

Jains believe that every human is responsible for his/her actions and all living beings have an eternal soul, jīva. Jains believe all souls are equal because they all possess the potential of being liberated and attaining moksha. Tirthankaras are role models only because they have attained moksha. Jains insist that we live, think and act respectfully and honor the spiritual nature of all life. Jains view divinity as the unchanging traits of the pure soul of each living being, described as Infinite Knowledge, Perception, Consciousness, and Happiness (Ananta Jnāna, Ananta Darshana, Ananta Cāritra and Ananta Sukha). Jains do not believe in an omnipotent supreme being, creator or manager (kartā), but rather in an eternal universe governed by natural laws.

Jains hold that this temporal world inflicts much misery and sorrow. Thus, to attain lasting bliss, one must transcend the cycle of transmigration, lest one remain eternally trapped in its never-ending repetition. The only way to break out of this cycle is to practice detachment through rational perception, rational knowledge and rational conduct.

Jain scriptures were written over a long period of time, but the most cited is the Tattvartha Sutra, or “Book of Reality”, written by the monk-scholar, Umasvati (aka Umāsvāmi) almost 1800 years ago. The protagonists of this sutra are Tirthankaras. The two main sects of Jainism are called Digambar and Svetambar. Both sects affirm ahimsa (or ahinsā), asceticism, karma, sanskār, and jiva.

Though practice differs between the two sects, Jain doctrine is uniform, with great emphasis placed on rational perception, rational knowledge and rational conduct. {“samyagdarśanajñānacāritrāṇimokṣamārgaḥ”, Tattvārthasūtra, 1.1}

Compassion for all life, both human and non-human, is central to Jainism. Human life is valued as a unique, rare opportunity to reach enlightenment. To kill any person, no matter their crime, is considered unimaginably abhorrent.

History suggests that various strains of Hinduism became vegetarian due to strong Jain influences.[29]. Jains run animal shelters all over India. For example, Delhi has a bird hospital run by Jains. Every city and town in Bundelkhand has animal shelters run by Jains where all manner of animals are sheltered, even though the shelter is generally known as a Gaushala (“sacred cow”).

Jainism’s stance on nonviolence goes far beyond vegetarianism. Jains refuse food obtained with unnecessary cruelty. Many practice a lifestyle similar to veganism, due to the violence of modern dairy farms, and others exclude root vegetables from their diets to preserve the lives of these plants, since they are often uprooted during the harvest.[30] Potatoes, garlic and onions in particular are avoided by Jains. Traditionally oriented Jains do not eat, drink, or travel after sunset, and prefer to drink water that is boiled and then cooled to room temperature. The purpose of these practices is to minimise the harm that may otherwise be caused to living organisms inadvertently.

Anekantavada, a foundation of Jain philosophy, which literally means search of truth from different points of view, is the application of the principle of equality of souls in the sphere of thought. It is a jain philosophical standpoint just as there is the Advaitic standpoint of Sankara and the standpoint of the Middle Path of the Buddhists. This search leads to understanding and toleration of different and even conflicting views. When this happens prejuidices subside and tendency to accommodate increases. The theory of Anekanta is therefore unique experiment of non-violence at the root.

A derivation of this principle is the doctrine of Syadvada that highlights every view is relative to its view point. It is a matter of our daily experience that the same object which gives pleasure to us under certain circumstances becomes boring under different situations. Nonetheless relative truth is undoubtedly useful as it is a stepping stone to the ultimate realization of reality. The theory of Syadvada is based on the premise that every proposition is only relatively true. It all depends on the particular aspect from which we approach that proposition. Jains therefore developed logic that encompasses sevenfold predication so as to assist in the construction of proper judgment about any proposition.

Syadvada provides Jainas with a systematic methodology to explore the real nature of reality and consider the problem in a non-violent way from different perspectives. This process ensures that each statement is expressed from seven different conditional and relative viewpoints or propositions, and thus it is known as theory of conditioned predication. These seven propositions are described as follows:

  • 1.Syād-asti — “in some ways it is”
  • 2.Syād-nāsti — “in some ways it is not”
  • 3.Syād-asti-nāsti — “in some ways it is and it is not”
  • 4.Syād-asti-avaktavyaḥ — “in some ways it is and it is indescribable”
  • 5.Syād-nāsti-avaktavyaḥ — “in some ways it is not and it is indescribable”
  • 6.Syād-asti-nāsti-avaktavyaḥ — “in some ways it is, it is not and it is indescribable”
  • 7.Syād-avaktavyaḥ — “in some ways it is indescribable”

Jains are usually very welcoming and friendly toward other faiths and often help with interfaith functions. Several non-Jain temples in India are administered by Jains. A palpable presence in Indian culture, Jains have contributed to Indian philosophy, art, architecture, science, and to Mohandas Gandhi’s politics, which led to the mainly non-violent movement for Indian independence. Though Mohandas Gandhi states clearly in his Autobiography that his mother was a Vaishnava, Jain monks visited his home regularly. He spent considerable time under the tutelage of Jain monks, learning the philosophies of non-violence and doing good always.

Creation and cosmology

Bhaktamara Stotra and 10th couplet in Thirukural, a Tamil classic: A Tirthankara is a shelter from ocean of rebirths.

According to Jain beliefs, the universe was never created, nor will it ever cease to exist. Therefore, it is shaswat (infinite). It has no beginning or end, but time is cyclical with progressive and regressive spirituality phases.

Rishi divide time into Utsarpinis (Progressive Time Cycle) and Avsarpinis (Regressive Time Cycle). An Utsarpini and an Avsarpini constitute one Time Cycle (Kalchakra). Every Utsarpini and Avsarpini is divided into six unequal periods known as Aras. During the Utsarpini half cycle, humanity develops from its worst to its best: ethics, progress, happiness, strength, health, and religion each start the cycle at their worst, before eventually completing the cycle at their best and starting the process again. During the Avsarpini half-cycle, these notions deteriorate from the best to the worst. Jains believe we are currently in the fifth Ara of the Avsarpini phase, with exactly 18,463 years until the next Ara. After this Ara we will enter the sixth phase, which will last for approximately 21,000 years. After this, the Utsarpini phase will begin, continuing the infinite repetition of the belief that at the upswing of each time cycle, people will lose religion again. All wishes will be granted by wish-granting trees (Kalpavrksa), and people will be born in sets of twins (Yugalika) with one boy and one girl who stay together all their lives. This symbolizes the fully integrated human with male and female characteristics in balance.

Jain philosophy is based upon eternal, universal truths. During the first and last two Aras, these truths lapse among humanity and then reappear through the teachings of enlightened humans, those who have reached moksha or total knowledge (Kevala Jnana), during the third and fourth Aras. Traditionally, in our universe and in our time, Lord Rishabha (ऋषभ) is regarded as the first to realize the truth. Lord Vardhamana (Mahavira) was the last Tirthankara to attain enlightenment (599-527 BC). He was preceded by 23 others, making a total of 24 Tirthankaras.

It is important to note that the above description stands true “in our universe and in our time”, for Jains believe there have been infinite sets of 24 Tirthankaras, one for each half of the time cycle, and this will continue in the future. Hence, Jainism does not trace its origins to Rushabh Deva, the first, or finish with Mahavira, the 24th, Tirthankara.

According to Jainism, the universe consists of infinite amount of Jiva (life force or souls), and the design resembles a man standing with his arms bent while resting his hands on his waist. The narrow waist part comprises various Kshetras, for vicharan (roaming) for humans, animals and plants. Currently we are in the Bharat Kshetra of Jambu Dweep (dweep means island).

The Deva Loka (Heavens) are at the symbolic “chest” of Creation, where all devas (gods) reside. Similarly, beneath the “waist” are the Narka Loka (Hell). There are seven Narka Lokas, each for a varying degree suffering a jiva has to go through to face the consequences of its paap karma (sins). From the first to the seventh Narka, the degree of suffering increases and light reaching it decreases (with no light in the seventh Narka).

The sidhha kshetra or moksha is situated at the symbolic forehead of the creation, where all the jivas having attained nirvana reside in a state of complete peace and eternal happiness. Outside the symbolic figure of this creation nothing but aloka or akaasha (sky) exists.

Jain monks and nuns (Sadhu or Muni Maharaj)

In India there are several Jain Monks, in categories like Acharya, Upadhyaya and Muni. Trainee ascetics are known as Ailaka and Ksullaka in the Digambar tradition.

There are two categories of ascetics, Sadhu (monk) and Sadhvi (nun). They practice the five Mahavratas, three Guptis and five Samitis:

Five Mahavratas

  • Ahimsa: Non-violence in thought, word and deed
  • Satya: Truth which is (hita) beneficial, (mita) succinct and (priya) pleasing
  • Acaurya: Not accepting anything that has not been given to them by the owner
  • Brahmacarya: Absolute purity of mind and body
  • Aparigraha: Non-attachment to non-self objects

Three Guptis

  • Managupti: Control of the mind
  • Vacanagupti: Control of speech
  • Kayagupti: Control of body

Five Samitis

  • Irya Samiti: Carefulness while walking
  • Bhasha Samiti: Carefulness while communicating
  • Eshana Samiti: Carefulness while eating
  • Adana Nikshepana Samiti: Carefulness while handling their fly-whisks, water gourds, etc.
  • Pratishthapana Samiti: Carefulness while disposing of bodily waste matter

Male Digambara monks do not wear any clothes and are nude. They practice non-attachment to the body and hence, wear no clothes. Shvetambara monks and nuns wear white clothes. Shvetambaras believe that monks and nuns may wear simple un-stitched white clothes as long as they are not attached to them. Jain monks and nuns travel on foot. They do not use mechanical transport.

Digambar followers take up to eleven Pratimaye (oath). Monks take all eleven oaths. They eat only once a day. The Male Digambar monk (Maharajji) eat standing at one place in their palms without using any utensil.

Jain Festivities (Parva)

  • Paryushan Parva, 10/8 (Digambar/Svetamber) day fasts, and for observe, 10/8 important principles.
  • Mahavir Jayanti,[34] Lord Mahavir’s birth, more properly known as Mahavir Janma Kalyanak because the term ‘jayanti’ is inappropriate for a Tirthankar, as this term is used for humans still in the cycle of life and death.
  • Kshamavaani, The day for asking everyone’s forgiveness.
  • Diwali, the nirvana day of Lord Mahavira
  • astami/ Chaturdashi, The day to learn the eight karmas. To release from the four gathis or bhava, Manushya, triyancha, Nariki, deva
  • Veerashasana jayanthi, The day divya dvani of lord mahaveera was heard from the samvathsarana.
  • Shrutha panchami, The completion day of the first grantha of shatkandagama. On this day the we do the jinavani pooja or stuti and read the granthas or Aagamas. i,e Davala, Jayadavala, Mahadavala ( 39 volumes ).

Apart from these above festivals, which are less common among Native South Indian Jains (expect for Mahavir Jayanti and Diwali), the Tamil Jains of Digambara sect also celebrate Ugadi,Tamil New Year,Pongal,Avani Avittam similar to Tamil Hindus, but for distinct jainist reasons.

Karma theory

Karma in Jainism conveys a totally different meaning than commonly understood in the Hindu philosophy and western civilization.[35] It is not the so called inaccessible force that controls the fate of living beings in inexplicable ways. It does not mean “deed”, “work”, nor invisible, mystical force (adrsta), but a complex of very fine matter, imperceptible to the senses, which interacts with the soul, causing great changes. Karma, then, is something material (karmapaudgalam), which produces certain conditions, like a medical pill has many effects.[36] According to Robert Zydendos, karma in Jainism is a system of laws, but natural rather than moral laws. In Jainism, actions that carry moral significance are considered to cause consequences in just the same way as physical actions that do not carry any moral significance. When one holds an apple in one’s hand and then let go of the apple, the apple will fall: this is only natural. There is no judge, and no moral judgment involved, since this is a mechanical consequence of the physical action.[37]

Customs and practices

The hand with a wheel on the palm symbolizes the Jain Vow of Ahimsa, meaning non-violence. The word in the middle is "Ahimsa." The wheel represents the dharmacakra, to halt the cycle of reincarnation through the pursuit of truth.

Jain monks and nuns practice strict asceticism and strive to make their current birth their last, thus ending their cycle of transmigration. The laity, who pursue less rigorous practices, strive to attain rational perception and to do as much good as possible and get closer to the goal of attaining freedom from the cycle of transmigration. Following strict ethics, the laity usually choose professions that revere and protect life and totally avoid violent livelihoods.

Jains practice Samayika, which is a Sanskrit word meaning equanimity and derived from samaya (the soul). The goal of samayika is to attain equanimity. Samayika is begun by achieving a balance in time. If this current moment is defined as a moving line between the past and the future, samayika happens by being fully aware, alert and conscious in that moving time line when one experiences atma, one’s true nature, common to all life forms. Samayika is especially significant during Paryushana, a special period during the monsoon, and is practiced during the Samvatsari Pratikramana ritual.

Jains believe that Devas (gods or celestial beings) cannot help jiva to obtain liberation, which must be achieved by individuals through their own efforts. In fact, devas themselves cannot achieve liberation until they reincarnate as humans and undertake the difficult act of removing karma. Their efforts to attain the exalted state of siddha, the permanent liberation of jiva from all involvement in worldly existence, must be their own.

The strict Jain ethical code for monks/nuns is:

  1. Ahimsa (Non-violence)
  2. Satya (truth)
  3. Achaurya or Asteya (non-stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (Celibacy)
  5. Aparigraha (Non-attachment to materialistic things)

Common men and women also have the five vows of non-violence, truth, non-stealing, celibacy and non-possession. It is not possible to observe these vows completely in day-to-day life and therefore followed to a limited extent. As these vows are limited in their scope, they are called ‘Anuvratas’. Apart from these, additionally there are seven vows designed to assist the householders in their spiritual journey.

Nonviolence includes vegetarianism. Jains are expected to be non-violent in thought, word, and deed, both toward humans and toward all other living beings, including their own selves. Jain monks and nuns walk barefoot and sweep the ground in front of them to avoid killing insects or other tiny beings. Even though all life is considered sacred by the Jains, human life is deemed the highest form of life. For this reason, it is considered vital never to harm or upset any person.

For laypersons, brahmacharya means either confining sex to marriage or complete celibacy. For monks and nuns, it means complete celibacy.

While performing holy deeds, Svetambara Jains wear cloths, muhapatti, over their mouths and noses to avoid saliva falling on texts or revered images. It is not the case, as is sometimes believed, that this is to avoid accidentally inhaling insects. Many healthy concepts are entwined. For example, Jains drink only boiled water. In ancient times, a person might get ill by drinking unboiled water, which could prevent equanimity, and illness may engender intolerance.

True spirituality, according to enlightened Jains, starts when one attains Samyak darshana, or true perception. Such souls are on the path to moksha, striving to remain in the nature of the soul. This is characterized by knowing and observing only all worldly affairs, without raag (attachment) and dwesh (repulsion), a state of pure knowledge and bliss. Attachment to worldly life collects new karma, and traps one in birth, death, and suffering. Worldly life has a dual nature (for example, love and hate, suffering and pleasure, etc.), for the perception of one state cannot exist without the contrasting perception of the other.

Jain Dharma shares some beliefs with Hinduism. Both believe in karma and reincarnation. However, the Jain version of the Ramayana and Mahabharata is different from Hindu beliefs, for example. Generally, Hindus believe that Rama was a reincarnation of God, whereas Jains believe he attained moksha (liberation)

Jain sadhvis meditating

Along with the Five Vows, Jains avoid harboring ill will and practice forgiveness. They believe that atma (soul) can lead one to becoming parmatma (liberated soul) and this must come from one’s inner self. Jains refrain from all violence (Ahimsa) and recommend that sinful activities be avoided.

Mahatma Gandhi was deeply influenced (particularly through the guidance of Shrimad Rajchandra) by Jain tenets such as peaceful, protective living and honesty, and made them an integral part of his own philosophy.[38] Jainism has a distinct idea underlying Tirthankar worship. The physical form is not worshiped, but their Gunas (virtues, qualities) are praised. Tirthankaras remain role-models, and sects such as the Sthanakavasi stringently reject statue worship.

Jain fasting

Fasting is a tool for doing Tapa and to attach to your inner-being. It is a part of Jain festivals. It is three types based on the level of austerity; Uttam, Madhyam and Jaghanya; first being the most stringent:

1. Uttam: Renounce all worldly things including food & water on the day of fasting and eat only once on the eve & next day of fasting.

2. Madhyam: water is taken on the day of fast, but not the food.

3. Jaghanya: Eat only particular time on the day.

During fasting a person immerses himself in religious activities (worshiping, serving the saints & be in their proximity, reading scriptures, Tapa, and donate to the right candidates – Supatra). But before starting the fast Jains take a small vow known as pachkaan. A person taking the vow is bound to it and breaking it is considered to be a bad practice.

Most Jains fast at special times, like during festivals (known as Parva. Paryushana and Ashthanhika are the main Parvas which occurs 3 times in a year), and on holy days (eighth & fourteenth days of the moon cycle). Paryushana is the most prominent festival, lasting eight days for Svetambara Jains and ten days for Digambars, during the monsoon. The monsoon is considered the best time of fasting due to lenient weather. However, a Jain may fast at any time, especially if s/he feels some mistake(negative karma generally known as paap has been committed. Variations in fasts encourage Jains to do whatever they can to maintain self control.

A unique ritual in this religion involves a holy fasting until death; it is called sallekhana. Through this one achieves a death with dignity and dispassion as well as no more negative karma. When a person is aware of approaching death, and feels that s/he has completed all duties, s/he willingly ceases to eat or drink gradually. This form of dying is also called Santhara / Samaadhi. It can be as long as 12 years with gradual reduction in food intake. Considered extremely spiritual and creditable, with all awareness of the transitory nature of human experience, it has recently led to a controversy. In Rajasthan, a lawyer petitioned the High Court of Rajasthan to declare santhara illegal. Jains see santhara as spiritual detachment, a declaration that a person has finished with this world and now chooses to leave. This choice however requires a great deal of spiritual accomplishment and maturity as a pre-requisite.

Jain worship and rituals

Every day most Jains bow and say their universal prayer, the “Namokara Mantra”, a.k.a. the Navkar Mantra, Parmesthi Mantra, Panch Namaskar Mantra. Jains have built temples, or Basadi or Derasar, where idols of tirthankaras are revered. Rituals may be elaborate because symbolic objects are offered and Tirthankaras praised in song. But some sects refuse to enter temples or revere images. All Jains accept that images of Tirthankaras are merely symbolic reminders of their paths to attain moksha. Jains are clear that the Jinas reside in moksha and are completely detached from the world.

Jain rituals include:

  • Panch-kalyanak Pratishtha, Installation with five auspicious events.
  • Pratikramana, Repentance of sins.
  • Samayika, Meditation
  • Guru Vandana, Chaitya Vandana, and other sutras to honor ascetics.

Over time, some sections of Jains also pray deities, which are yakshas and yakshinis.

Jain cuisine

Jains practice a unique concept of restricted vegetarianism. They do not consume root vegetables such as potatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, radishes, cassava, sweet potatoes, turnips, etc. However, they consume rhizomes such as turmeric and ginger. The reason behind this restricted diet is that vegetables grown underground or kundmul are believed to contain far more bacteria, and thus life, than other vegetables. Brinjals are also not consumed by some Jains owing to the large number of seeds in the vegetable, as a seed is taken to be a form of life. Strict Jains do not consume food which has been left overnight, such as yogurt which may have been set overnight, and have their meals before sunset because large amounts of bacteria grow overnight when there is no ultraviolet light from the sun to kill them. Most Jain recipes substitute potato with Plantain.

Denominations

It is generally believed that the Jain sangha divided into two major sects, Digambar and Svetambar, about 200 years after Mahāvīra’s nirvana.  S. Gopalan asserts that, “[i]t seems certain that even at the time of Mahāvīra the two sects were in existence, though he was able to maintain at least a semblance of unity between them. The final ‘parting of ways’ came much later.”  According to the Svetambara version of the split between the two sects, the chief Jain monk, Acharya Bhadrabahu, foresaw a 12-year famine and led about 12,000 Digambar followers to southern India. Twelve years later they returned to found the Svetambara sect, and in 453 the Valabhi council edited and compiled the traditional Svetambara scriptures.

With one major exception, the differences between the two sects are minor and relatively obscure. The one major difference between the sects is that Digambars believe that women cannot attain moksha in the same birth, while Svetambars believe that women may attain liberation and that Mallinath, a Tirthankar, was a woman. This difference is rooted in the requirement in Digambar asceticism for nudity in order to attain moksha. Digambar Jain monks do not wear clothes because they believe clothes, like other possessions, increase dependency and desire for material things, and desire for anything ultimately leads to sorrow. Svetambar Jain monks, on the other hand, wear white, seamless clothes for practical reasons, and believe there is nothing in Jain scripture that condemns wearing clothes. Sadhvis (nuns) of both sects wear white. In Sanskrit, ambar refers to a covering generally, or a garment in particular. Dig, an older form of disha, refers to the cardinal directions. Digambar therefore means “covered by the four directions”, or “sky-clad”. Svet means white and Svetambars wear white garments. As nudity is impractical for women, it follows that without it they cannot attain moksha.[50] This is based on the belief that women cannot reach perfect purity (yathakhyata), “Their lack of clothes can, therefore, be a hindrance to their leading a holy life”. The earliest record of this belief is contained in the Prakrit Suttapahuda of the Digambara mendicant Kundakunda (c. second century A.D. ). This of course has severe consequences for women and effectively polarises the two sects in this regard.

Digambars believe that Mahavir remained unmarried, whereas Svetambars believe Mahavir did marry a woman who bore him a daughter. The two sects also differ on the origin of Mata Trishala, Mahavira’s mother.

Digambars believe that only the first five lines are formally part of the Namokara Mantra (the main Jain prayer), whereas Svetambaras believe all nine form the mantra. Other differences are minor and not based on major points of doctrine.

Excavations at Mathura revealed many Jain statues from the Kushana period. Tirthankaras, represented without clothes, and monks with cloth wrapped around the left arm are identified as Ardhaphalaka and mentioned in some texts. The Yapaniya sect, believed to have originated from the Ardhaphalaka, follows Digambara nudity, along with several Svetambara beliefs.

Svetambaras are further divided into sub-sects, such as Sthanakavasi, Terapanthi and Deravasi. Some are murtipujak (revering statues) while non-Murtipujak Jains refuse statues or images. Svetambar follow the 12 agam literature (voice of omniscient).

Most simply call themselves Jains and follow general traditions rather than specific sectarian practices. In 1974 a committee with representatives from every sect compiled a new text called the Samana Suttam.

Jain symbolism

The swastika is among the holiest of Jain symbols. Worshippers use rice grains to create a swastika around the temple altar.

The holiest symbol is a simple swastika. A Jain swastika is normally associated with the three dots on the top accompanied with a crest and a dot. Another important symbol incorporates a wheel on the palm of a hand, symbolizing Ahimsa. Other major Jain symbols include:

  • 24 Lanchhanas (symbols) of the Tirthankaras
  • Triratna and Shrivatsa symbols
  • A Tirthankar’s or Chakravarti’s mother dreams
  • Dharmacakra and Siddha-chakra
  • Eight auspicious symbols (The Asta Mangalas). Their names are (in series of pictures)
  1. Swastika -Signifies peace and well-being
  2. Shrivatsa -A mark manifested on the centre of the Jina’s chest, signifying a pure soul.
  3. Nandyavartya -Large swastika with nine corners
  4. Vardhamanaka -A shallow earthen dish used for lamps, suggests an increase in wealth, fame and merit due to a Jina’s grace.
  5. Bhadrasana -Throne, considered auspicious because it is sanctified by the blessed Jina’s feet.
  6. Kalasha -Pot filled with pure water signifying wisdom and completeness
  7. Minayugala -A fish couple. It signifies Cupid’s banners coming to worship the Jina after defeating the God of Love
  8. Darpana -The mirror reflects one’s true self because of its clarity

Culture

Jain contributions to Indian culture

A Jain temple in Kochi, Kerala, India.

While Jains represent less than 1% of the Indian population, their contributions to culture and society in India are considerable. Jainism had a major influence in developing a system of philosophy and ethics that had a major impact on all aspects of Indian culture in all ages. Scholarly research and evidences have shown that philosophical concepts considered typically Indian – Karma, Ahimsa, Moksa, reincarnation and like – either originate in the sramana school of thought or were propagated and developed by Jaina teachers.

Jains have also wielded great influence on the culture and language of the south Indian state Karnataka, India and Gujarat most significantly.In the early period and beginning of the medieval period, between the 9th and 13th centuries, kannada writers were predominantly of the Jain and Veerashaiva faiths. Jains were the earliest known cultivators of Kannada literature, which they dominated until the 12th century. Jain authors wrote about Jain Tirthankars and other aspects of the Jain religion. Pampa (born 902 C.E.), also known as Adikavi Pampa, is one of the greatest Kannada poets of all time. He was born either in Annigeri or Banavasi, in modern Karnataka state, and was the court poet of Chalukya King Arikesari, a Rashtrakuta feudatory. The works of Jain writers Adikavi Pampa, Sri Ponna and Ranna, collectively called the “three gems of Kannada literature”, heralded the age of classical Kannada in the 10th century. The earliest known Gujarati text, Bharat-Bahubali Ras, was written by a Jain monk. Some important people in Gujarat’s Jain history were Acharya Hemacandra Suri and his pupil, the Chalukya ruler Kumarapala.

Doorway detail of a Dilwara Temple.

Jains are among the wealthiest Indians. They run numerous schools, colleges and hospitals and are important patrons of the Somapuras, the traditional temple architects in Gujarat. Jains have greatly influenced Gujarati cuisine. Gujarat is predominantly vegetarian (see Jain vegetarianism), and its food is mild as onions and garlic are omitted. Though the Jains form only 0.42% of the population of India, their contribution to the exchequer by way of income tax is an astounding 24% of the total tax collected.[54]

Jains encourage their monks to do research and obtain higher education. Jain monks and nuns, particularly in Rajasthan, have published numerous research monographs. This is unique among Indian religious groups and parallels Christian clergy. The 2001 census states that Jains are India’s most literate community and that India’s oldest libraries at Patan and Jaisalmer are preserved by Jain institutions.

Jain literature

Sanskrit manuscript about dreams of Mahaviras' mother Trishla

Jains have contributed to India’s classical and popular literature. For example, almost all early Kannada literature and many Tamil works were written by Jains.

  • Some of the oldest known books in Hindi and Gujarati were written by Jain scholars. The first autobiography in Hindi, Ardha-Kathanaka was written by a Jain, Banarasidasa, an ardent follower of Acarya Kundakunda who lived in Agra.
  • Several Tamil classics are written by Jains or with Jain beliefs and values as the core subject.
  • Practically all the known texts in the Apabhramsha language are Jain works.

The oldest Jain literature is in Shauraseni and Ardha-Magadhi Prakrit (Agamas, Agama-Tulya, Siddhanta texts, etc). Many classical texts are in Sanskrit (Tatvartha Sutra, Puranas, Kosh, Sravakacara, mathematics, Nighantus etc). “Abhidhana Rajendra Kosha” written by Acharya Rajendrasuri, is only one available Jain encyclopedia or Jain dictionary to understand the Jain Prakrit, Sanskrit, and Ardha-Magadhi and other Jain languages, words, their use and references with in oldest Jain literature. Later Jain literature was written in Apabhramsha (Kahas, rasas, and grammars), Hindi (Chhahadhala, Mokshamarga Prakashaka, and others), Tamil (Jivakacintamani, Valayapathi and others), and Kannada (Vaddaradhane and various other texts). Jain versions of Ramayana and Mahabharata are found in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Apabhramsha and Kannada.

Jainism and other religions

Jains are not a part of the Vedic Religion (Hinduism). Ancient India had two philosophical streams of thought: The Shramana philosophical schools, represented by Jainism, and the Brahmana/Vedic/Puranic schools represented by Vedanta, Vaishnava and other movements. Both streams are subsets of the Dharmic family of faith and have existed side by side for many thousands of years, influencing each other.

The Hindu scholar, Lokmanya Tilak credited Jainism with influencing Hinduism and thus leading to the cessation of animal sacrifice in Vedic rituals. Bal Gangadhar Tilak has described Jainism as the originator of Ahimsa and wrote in a letter printed in Bombay Samachar, Mumbai:10 December, 1904: “In ancient times, innumerable animals were butchered in sacrifices. Evidence in support of this is found in various poetic compositions such as the Meghaduta. Swami Vivekananda also credited Jainism as influencing force behind the Indian culture and said:

“What could have saved Indian society from the ponderous burden of omnifarious ritualistic ceremonialism, with its animal and other sacrifices, which all but crushed the very life of it, except the Jain revolution which took its strong stand exclusively on chaste morals and philosophical truths? These [same] ascetic ideas prevailed at that time. These Jains were the first great ascetics; but they did some great work. “Don’t injure any and do good to all that you can, and that is all the morality and ethics, and that is all the work there is, and the rest is all nonsense. Throw it all away.” And then they went to work and elaborated this one principle all through, and it is a most wonderful ideal: how all that we call ethics they simply bring out from that one great principle of non-injury and doing good.”

  • Relationship between Jainism and Hinduism – According to the Encyclopædia Britannica Article on Hinduism,”…With Jainism which always remained an Indian religion, Hinduism has so much in common, especially in social institutions and ritual life, that nowadays Hindus tend to consider it a Hindu sect. Many Jains also are inclined to fraternization…”
  • Independent Religion – From the Encyclopædia Britannica Article on Jainism: “…Along with Hinduism and Buddhism, it is one of the three most ancient Indian religious traditions still in existence. …While often employing concepts shared with Hinduism and Buddhism, the result of a common cultural and linguistic background, the Jain tradition must be regarded as an independent phenomenon. It is an integral part of South Asian religious belief and practice, but it is not a Hindu sect or Buddhist heresy, as earlier scholars believed.” The author Koenraad Elst in his book, Who is a Hindu?, summarises on the similarities between Jains and the mainstream Hindu society.
  • Monier Williams, in his article of Jainism, mentions that Jains outdo every other Indian sect in carrying the prohibition of himsa to the most prosperous extremes.

Source

Text and images slightly adapted from wikipedia.

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