Some Basic Facts
Jainism means “Religion of the Conquerors”
Prince Vardhamana, known to his followers as Mahavira, the Great Hero (540 468 BC)
Place of Origin:
Siddhanta (of the “sky clad” Jains) Angas (of the “white clad” Jains)
Pajjasama, a festival held for eight days at the close of the Jain year.
Divali, originally a Hindu festival but celebrated by the Jains in honour of Mahavira.
The Jain religion was founded by Prince Vardhamana who lived in northern India from 540 to 468 BC. He was a contemporary of Buddha and, like him, was born into a Hindu family and studied Hindu religion in his early years. Prince Vardhamana was given the title of Mahavira by his followers which means the Great Hero. The followers of this religion are called Jains, meaning Conquerors who had conquered their own selves.
While both Buddhism and Jainism rebelled against the Hindu caste system and the authority of the Vedas, they both accepted Hinduism’s Law of Karma and the belief in Reincarnation and Nirvana. But at this point the two new faiths parted company. Buddhism followed the “Middle Way” of moderation while Jainism followed the way of self denial and asceticism.
There are only about three million Jains living today, almost all in India. But these followers have retained a degree of influence out of proportion to their numbers and the Jain philosophy has played an important role in the history of Indian religions.
Essential Beliefs of Jainism
The two essential beliefs in Jainism which set this religion apart from traditional Hinduism or contemporary Buddhism, relate to the conquering of one’s self and the sanctity of all living things.
1. Conquest of Self
In Jainism, the self can only be conquered by self denial, renunciation of worldly pleasures, asceticism and giving up of all desires and ambitions.
2. Principle of Ahimsa
By far the most important tenet of Jainism is the principle of Ahimsa or “non injury”. The Jains accord great reverence to all living things and killing of any form of life is strictly forbidden.
3. The Law of Karma
Jainism believes in the Hindu Law of Karma that from good must come good and from evil, evil. The Law also determines the conditions of each rebirth according to the acts performed in the previous life.
Jainism also believes in the Hindu principle of Samsara or the endless cycle of births and rebirths. This process of reincarnation continues till the soul finally attains liberation.
Moksha or salvation in Jainism can only be achieved by the conquest of one’s own self and by practicing the principle of Ahimsa.
The Does and Don’ts In Jainism
There are five important commandments in Jainism:
Do not kill or hurt any living thing
Do not steal
Do not lie
Do not covet or desire anything
Do not live an unchaste life.
Do not become intoxicated
The Worship in Jain Religion
The Jains worship many Hindu gods and also their own saints. Jains believe that Mahavira was the 24th saint and that twenty three saints had passed away before him. Jain temples are filled with images of these twenty four saints called Tirthankaras, who are the object of worship by the followers.
Aside from the temple worship, Jains spend about an hour every day in unbroken meditation in which they try to be at peace with the world and contemplate on spiritual heights. If possible, this meditation is carried out three times a day, in the morning, afternoon and the evening.
The Jains also devote their time to temporary monkish living at least six times a month. The Jains have a well developed ethical system in which gambling, eating of meat, drinking, adultery, hunting, stealing and speaking ill of others, are strongly forbidden.
Similarly the concept of charity is a very important part of the Jain religion and is widely practiced. In fact the religion demands that at least one act of charity be carried out each day. Jains today are very active in promoting public welfare and building schools and hospitals.
Jain Philosophy of Life
The Jains believe in the principle of Samsara, the endless cycle of births and rebirths. According to Jains it happens only rarely that a soul is born in the human body. Man, therefore, should use every opportunity to obtain moksha or salvation. The path to achieving salvation lies in acquiring the Three Jewels:
- Right Knowledge
- Right Faith
- Right Conduct
Right knowledge comes through knowing the Jain principles, right faith through believing in them and the right conduct through following them.
The Wisdom of Jainism
- “All living things hate pain; therefore do not hurt them”
- “No man should seek fame and respect by his austerities”
- “There are three ways of committing sin: by our actions, by authorizing others, and by approval”
- “Knowing the truth one should live up to it”
- “A blind man, though he may carry a light, still does not see”
- “A man should treat all creatures in the world as he himself would like to be treated”
- “He who is carried away by passion will not get very far”
Jainism, very much like Buddhism, developed as an offshoot of the Hindu religion. It maintained many of the Hindu beliefs such as Samsara, Karma and Nirvana. The only two beliefs that are new to Jainism relate to extreme self denial and the sanctity of life. Basically, both these concepts exist in the other major religions of the world but are not taken to the degree practiced in Jainism. Islam and the other religions also de emphasize worldly pleasures and comforts but do not go to the extreme of giving them up completely. Similarly, all religions teach sanctity of human life and kindness to animals but do not carry this teaching to such extremes that one is forced to give up ploughing the land for fear of killing the rodents or insects. Although the principle of Ahimsa, as taught by Jainism, is not really practicable, it has highlighted the fact that all living things suffer pain and should not be needlessly hurt.