Religions: Jainism

Let’s see how people think about religion in different parts of the world. This is all a précis taken from from the Wikipedia article on Jainism, which I urge you to read in its entirety.

Jainism, traditionally known as Jain Dharma (जैन धर्म), is a religion and philosophy originating in ancient India. It sustains the ancient Shraman (श्रमण) or ascetic tradition. [Asceticism describes a life characterized by abstinence from worldly pleasures.]

Jains have significantly influenced life in India for about 3000 years. Jainism stresses spiritual independence and equality of all life with particular emphasis on non-violence. Self-control (व्रत, vratae) is vital for attaining Keval Gyan and eventually moksha, or realization of the soul’s true nature.

Truths may reappear through the teachings of enlightened humans…. Lord Vardhaman (Mahavira, महावीर) was the last Tirthankar to attain enlightenment (599-527 BCE). Jains believe there have been infinite sets of 24 Tirthankars, and this will continue in the future….. In Jainism, a Tirthankar (“Fordmaker“) (also Tirthankara or Jina) is a human who achieves enlightenment (perfect knowledge), through asceticism (after totally conquering anger, pride, deceit, desire, etc.). A Tirthankar is the founder of a “Tirth”, a Jain community which acts as a “ford” across the “river of human misery”.

The physical form is not to be worshipped, but it is the Gunas (virtues, qualities) which are praised. Tirthankars are only role-models, and sub-sects, like Sthanakvasi, refuse to worship statues.

Scriptures: 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 almost 1800 years ago.

Cosmology: According to Jain beliefs, the universe was never created, nor will it ever cease to exist.

Principles: Jains believe all souls are equal because they all possess the potential of being liberated and attaining Moksha (Nirvana, enlightenment, freedom from the cycle of birth and death).

Compassion for all life, 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 what crime he may have committed, is considered unimaginably abhorrent. It is the only religion that requires monks and laity, from all its sects and traditions, to be vegetarian…. Jainism’s stance on nonviolence goes much beyond vegetarianism…. The Jain diet excludes most root vegetables, as they believe this destroys entire plants unnecessarily.

The Jain ethical code is taken very seriously. Five vows are followed by both laity and monks or nuns. These are:

  1. Ahimsa (Non-violence)
  2. Satya (truth)
  3. Asteya (non-stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (Chastity)
  5. Aparigraha (Non-possession or Non-possessiveness)

Along with the Five Vows, Jains avoid harboring ill will towards others and practise forgiveness. Jains have named 18 activities, called Päpsthänaks, that should be eradicated:

  1. PranatipaatViolence
  2. MrushavaadUntruth
  3. AdattadaanTheft
  4. Maithun — Unchaste behaviour
  5. Parigraha — Possessiveness
  6. KrodhAnger
  7. MannArrogance
  8. MayaGreed
  9. LobhDeceit
  10. RaagAttachment
  11. DveshHate
  12. Kalaha — Arguing
  13. Abhyakhyan — Accusation
  14. PaishoonyaGossip
  15. Par-parivadCriticism
  16. Rati-Arati — Likes and Dislikes
  17. Maya-mosoMalice
  18. Mithyya Darshan ShalyaWrong belief

Karmic Theory: The Jain religion places great emphasis on the theory of Karma. Essentially, it means that all jivas (souls) 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 play a role in future situations

Beliefs and Practices: Jain monks practice strict asceticism and strive to make this, or one of the coming births, their last. The laity, who pursue less rigorous practices, strive to attain rational faith and to do as much good as possible. Following strict ethics, the laity usually choose professions that revere and protect life and totally avoid violent livelihoods.

Fasting is common among Jains and a part of Jain festivals. Most Jains fast at special times, during festivals, and on holy days. A Jain may fast at any time. Some Jains also revere the practice of Santhara, where a person who has completed all duties in this life ceases to eat or drink unto death.

Worship and rituals: Every day most Jains bow and say their universal prayer, the Navkar Mantra. Jains have built temples where images of Tirthankars are venerated. Jain rituals may be elaborate because symbolic objects are offered and Tirthankars praised in song. But some Jain sects refuse to enter temples or venerate images, considering them simply guides. Sadhumargi Svetambara Jains, such as the Terapanthi, regard holy statues or temples as totally unnecessary.

Digambar and Shvetambar traditions

It is generally believed that the Jain sangha divided into two major sects, Digambar and Shvetambar, about 200 years after Mahāvīr‘s nirvan. Some historians believe there was no clear division until the 5th century. The best available information indicates that the chief Jain monk, Acharya Bhadrabahu, foresaw famine and led about 12,000 Digambar followers to southern India. Twelve years later, they returned to find the Shvetambar sect and in 453, the Valabhi council edited and compiled traditional Shvetambar scriptures.

  • Digambar monks do not wear clothes because they believe clothes are like other possessions, increasing dependency and desire for material things, and desire for anything ultimately leads to sorrow. Shvetambar monks 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. These differing views arise from different interpretations of the same holy books. There are minor differences in the enumeration and validity of each sect’s literature.
  • Digambars believe that women cannot attain moksha, while Shvetambars believe that women may certainly attain liberation and that Mallinath, a Tirthankar, was female.
  • Digambars believe that Mahavir was not married while Shvetambars believe the princely Mahavir was married and had a daughter.
  • Apart from doubts about women attaining moksha, another difference is in the first Jain prayer, the Navkar Mantra. Sthanakvasis and Digambars believe that only the first five lines should be recited, whereas Svetambaras believe all nine should be.
  • Other differences are minor and not based on major points of doctrine.

Excavations at Mathura revealed many Jain statues from the Kushana period. Tirthankars are represented without clothes and monks, with cloth wrapped around the left arm, are identified as ‘ardha-phalak’ and mentioned in some texts. The Yapaniaya sect, believed to have originated from the Ardha-phalak, follows Digambar nudity, along with several Shvetambar beliefs.

Both groups are subdivided into sects, such as Sthanakvasi, Terapanthi, Deravasi, and Bisapantha. Some are ‘murtipujak’ (image worshippers) while ‘non murtipujak’, refuse statues or images. Most simply call themselves Jains and follow general traditions rather than specific sectarian practice.
The ahimsa is the symbol of non-violence.

See also: Vedic Creationists. Next: Zeus makes a comeback.

2 Responses to “Religions: Jainism”

  1. To what extremes, O vegan? (part 2) « Christopher Schwartz’s Weblog Says:

    […] historical backdrop to veganism in the West, in particular that most ruthless of vegan religions, Jainism.  Today, I now turn to the question of vegan extremism itself.  Specifically, I’m curious […]

  2. To what extremes, O vegan? (part 4) « Christopher Schwartz’s Weblog Says:

    […] part 1 I explored the historical backdrop to veganism in the West (Jainism); in part 2, the logical problems inherent in the absolute equality between the species; and in […]


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