Jainism, traditionally known as Jain Dharma,
is one of the most ancient religious
traditions of the Indian subcontinent with its origin rooted in
prehistoric times. Although it is now reduced to a minority religion
in India and elsewhere, there was a time when it dominated most parts
of India and enjoyed patronage from some of the most prominent rulers
of ancient India. Chandragupta Maurya, the first well known emperor of
India, became a followers of Jainism in the last phase of his reign
and ended his life by fasting in the true tradition of a Jain monk.
Although it yielded place to Brahmanism and Buddhism, it left an
indelible impression on the canvass of Indian religious life. There is
no exaggeration in saying that it was not Buddhism but Jainism which
lives in the core of Hinduism in the form of some vital concepts and
practices that are too difficult to ignore. According to Jain beliefs,
its doctrine is ancient and eternal. It is passed on to humanity in
each time cycle and becomes lost over a period of time. It reappears
again through the teachings of purified and enlightened beings known
According to Jain tradition,
the first to come upon earth in this time cycle to reintroduce the
ancient dharma was Rishabhanatha also known as Adinatha, the first in
the line of 24 thirthankaras who were destined to manifest upon earth.
Parshvanatha (877-777 BC) and Vardhaman Mahavira were the two in the
succession. Jainism played a significant role in the religious
tradition of India. Perhaps there is no other tradition in the country
that left its impression so much as Jainism upon the religious way of
life which we now distinguish as the Sanatana Dharma or more popularly
Hinduism. Jainism stresses the spiritual independence and equality of all life with a particular emphasis on
non-violence, which is now an essential component of Hindusim. Self-control (vrata) and vigorous asceticism are the means by which Jains attain moksha or liberation from the cycle of rebirth.
It is in the rigors of the practice and the degree of seriousness with
which the ideals of asceticism are followed where Jainism stands apart
from both Hinduism and Buddhism.
According to Jainism the destiny of every being is
a consequence of its actions. Souls are unborn and uncreated.
They are also eternal and equal. They exist in both animate and inanimate objects of
existence. They all are capable of become free or attaining Moksha,
through their personal efforts. The liberation of each soul depends
upon its own karma and purity of effort. There is no such thing as
divine intervention or grace of a guru. Jains venerate Tirthankaras as
a mark of gratitude for the teachings left by them. they are are pure beings, who
manifest upon earth from time to time according to an established
pattern to teach people the doctrine of liberation and show them the
way through their own example. Jainism views the
whole existence as sacred, since it is infused with innumerable souls,
some bound and some liberated. We should therefore, think and act
responsibly towards all existence. The pure soul of each living being
is looked upon as Infinite Knowledge, Perception, Consciousness, and
Happiness (Ananta Jnana, Ananta Darshana, Ananta Caritra, and Ananta
Sukha). In Jainism there is no place for an omnipotent Supreme Being,
Creator or Doer, but rather in an eternal universe governed by natural
laws and inhabited by innumerable souls in varying degrees of bondage
One of the distinguishing features of Jainism is
the concept of Tirthankaras or pure beings who have crossed the world
of bondage to the other side of eternal freedom. A thirthankara is not
a god but a pure soul who shows the way to liberation. The 24
tirthankaras in chronological order are - Adinath (or Rishabhnath),
Ajitanath, Sambhavanath, Abhinandananath, Sumatinath, Padmaprabh,
Suparshvanath, Chandraprabhu, Pushpadantanath (or Suvidhinath),
Sheetalanath, Shreyansanath, Vasupujya, Vimalanath, Anantanath,
Dharmanath, Shantinath, Kunthunath, Aranath, Mallinath,
Munisuvratanath, Neminath, Arishthanemi, Parshvanath and Mahavir (or
Compassion to all fellow living beings (along with humans) is central to Jain belief. Jainism is the only religion wherein all followers, both monks and practicing lay persons of all sects and traditions, are required to be vegetarian. In regions of India with strong Jain influence, often the majority of the population is vegetarian. In many towns, the Jains run animal shelters. In Delhi, there is a bird hospital run by a Jain temple. Many historians believe that various strains of Hinduism adopted vegetarianism due to the strong influence of Jainism and Buddhism.
Jains cover their mouths to prevent the possibility of inhaling
insects and small organisms, a practice associated with their belief in
non-violence and the possibility of unintentional bad karma. As a part of its stance on nonviolence, Jainism goes even
step beyond vegetarianism, in that the Jain diet also excludes most root vegetables, as Jains believe such vegetables have an infinite number of individual souls, invisible to the naked eye. Jains also do not eat certain other foods believed to be unnecessarily
injurious. Many Jains are also vegan, due to the cruelty, and violence inherent in modern dairy farms. Observant Jains do not eat, drink, or travel after sunset, and always rise before sunrise.
History suggests that various strains of Hinduism became
vegetarian due to strong Jain influences. 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
Jains hold that this temporal world is full of miseries and sorrow
and hence in order to attain lasting bliss one must transcend the
cycle of transmigration. Otherwise, one will remain eternally caught
up in the never-ending cycle of transmigration. The only way to break
out of this cycle is to practice detachment through rational
perception, rational knowledge and rational conduct.
The Jain religion places great emphasis on Karma. Essentially, it
means that all jivas reap what they sow. A happy or miserable
existence is influenced by actions in previous births. These results
may not occur in the same life, and what we sow is not limited to
physical actions. Physical, verbal, and mental activities affect
future situations. Karma has long been an essential component of
Jainism, and other Indian religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and
Sikhism. It is believed generally that an omniscient Tirthankar can
foresee all things, long before science.
The backbone of the Jain philosophy are seven fundamental concepts
(Tattvas). Please note that some Jain commentators include two more
additional concepts to the following seven namely merit (punya) and
demerit (papa) karmas. Without knowing these seven basic concepts, one
cannot progress towards liberation. They are:
Jiva - Souls and living things
Ajiva - Non-living things
Asrava - Influx of karma
Bandha - The bondage of karma
Samvara - The stoppage of influx of karma
Nirjara - Shedding of karma
Moksha - Liberation or Salvation
A simple example: A man rides a wooden boat to reach the other side
of the river. The man is Jiva, the boat is ajiva. Now the boat has a
leak and water flows in. That incoming of water is Asrava and
accumulating there is Bandha. When this man tries to save the boat by
blocking the hole, that blockage is Samvara and throwing the water
outside is Nirjara. Moksha is when this man crosses the river and
reaches his destination.
Fasting is common among Jains and a part of Jain festivals. Most
Jains fast at special times, during festivals, and on holy days.
Pajushan is the most prominent festival, lasting eight days in
Svetambara Jain tradition and ten days in Digambar Jain tradition
during the monsoon. The monsoon is a time of fasting. However, a Jain
may fast at any time, especially if he or she feels some error has
been committed. Variations in fasts encourage Jains to do whatever
they can to maintain self control
Some Jains revere a special practice, where a person who is aware
that he or she may die soon, and feels he has completed all his
duties, ceases to eat or drink until death. This form of dying is
called santhara. It is considered to be extremely spiritual and
creditable. This has recently led to a controversy in India, where in
Rajasthan, a lawyer petitioned the High Court of Rajasthan to declare
Sallekhana illegal. Jains see Sallekhana as spiritual detachment. It
is a declaration that a person has finished with living in this world
and now chooses to leave.
Jain worship and rituals
Every day most Jains bow and say their universal prayer, the
Namokara Mantra, aka the Navkar Mantra. Jains have built temples, or
Basadi or Derasar, where images of Tirthankars are worshiped. Jain
rituals may be elaborate because symbolic objects are offered and
Tirthankaras praised in song. But some Jain sects refuse to enter
temples or worship images. All Jains accept that images of
Tirthankaras are merely symbolic reminders of the path that they have
to take, in order to attain moksha. Jains are clear that the Jinas
reside in moksha and are completely detached from the world. Jain
rituals include: Pancakalyanaka Pratishtha, Pratikramana, Samayika,
Guru-Vandana, Chaitya Vandana, and other sutras to honor ascetics.
Anekantavada is one of the foundation pillars of Jain philosophy. Literally meaning "Non-one-endedness" or "Nonsingular Conclusivity", Anekantavada is a set of tools for overcoming the inherent bias in any one perspective on a given subject, object, process, state, or reality in general. One of these tools is known as The Doctrine of Postulation, i.e., Syadvada. Anekantavada is also define as multiplicity of views, and stresses looking at things from the other person's perspective.
Creation and cosmology
According to Jain beliefs, the universe was never created, nor will
it ever cease to exist. Therefore, history of the universe is shaswat
(infinite). It has no beginning or end, but time is cyclical in nature
with progressive and regressive spirituality phases. In other words
Jains divide time into Utsarpinis (Progressive Time Cycle) and
Avsarpinis (Regressive Time Cycle). An Utsarpini and a 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 approximately 19,000 years until the next Ara. After this
Avsarpini phase, the Utsarpini phase will begin, continuing the
infinite repetition of the Kalchakra.
Jains also believe that at the upswing of each time cycle, people
will lose religion again. All things people want will be given 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 can be seen as a symbol of an integrated human with male
and female characteristics balanced.
Jain philosophy is based upon eternal, universal truths, according
to its followers. 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 enlightenment or total
knowledge (Kevala Jnana), during the third and fourth Aras.
Traditionally, in our universe and in our time, Lord Rishabha is
regarded as the first to realize the truth. Lord Vardhamana Mahavira,
was the last Tirthankara to attain enlightenment (599-527 BCE), who
was himself preceded by twenty-three other Tirthankaras, thus making a
total of twenty-four 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 Rishabh Deva, the first, or Mahavira, the
According to Jainism, the Universe consists of Infinite amount of
Jiva'(life force or souls), and the design is similar to a form of a
man standing with his arms bent while resting his hands at his waist.
The narrow waist part comprises various 'Kshetras' which act as place
of 'vicharan' (roaming) for humans, animals and plants. Currently we
are in the Bharat Kshetra of 'Jambu Dweep' (dweep meaning Island) .
The Deva' Loka (Heavens) are situated at the symbolic chest part of
the Creation, where all the Devas (demi gods) reside. Similarly
beneath the waist part are the Narka Loka (Hell). There are such Seven
Narka Lokas, each for a varying degree suffering a jiva' has to go
through to face the consequences of its papa' karma (sins). From the
first to the seventh Narka, the degree of suffering increases and the
amount of Light reaching into it decreases (no light at all in the
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.
The Religious Tolerance of Jains
Jains can be remarkably welcoming and friendly toward other faiths. For example, several non-Jain temples in India are administered by Jain individuals. The Jain Heggade family has run the institutions of Dharmasthala including the Sri.Manjunatha Temple for eight centuries. There are examples of Jains donating money for building churches and mosques. In India, Jains have often helped organize multi-religious discussions and functions, and Jain monastic leaders such as the late Acharya Tulsi and Acharya Sushil Kumar, have also promoted harmony among followers of rival faiths to help defuse communal tensions.
Jains have been an important presence in Indian culture, contributing to Indian philosophy, art, architecture, sciences, and the politics of Mohandas Gandhi, which led to Indian independence.
Suggested Further Reading