Religions of India
JAINISM. Jain is derived from jina, which means 'one who conquers
enemies like attachment, passion and jealousy'. The religion of the Jains is
called Jainism. It is a religion of love and compassion, the basic tenet being
ahinsa, or non-violence. The religion does not postulate a leader and its
followers worship no deity. Jainism is said to be a shamanic religion. The
modern founder of Jainism is accepted as Mahavira, who existed over 2500 years
ago in Kundapuranear Vaishali (present-day Bihar). According to Jain tradition
however, the religion has existed since time immemorial. During this time, there
have been 24 tirthankaras, whose teachings from the basis of Jainism.
The religion itself emerged as are action to the rigidity of Hinduism. By the
sixth century BC, when Jainism emerged as an alternative, the Brahmins had
reinterpreted traditional Vedic beliefs and customs to their own advantage.
Jainism arose as a protest against the ritualism and rigid social divisions that
marked Hinduism at the time.
The Vaishya community was economically powerful but
had neither the power of the ruling Kshatriyas nor the respect reserved for the
priestly Brahmins. In revolt against this apparent injustice, they began, in
huge numbers, subscribing to Jain beliefs. The most important teaching in
Jainism is respect for life, therefore the stress on ahinsa or non-violence. Not
just death, but even causing pain to a life form is considered violence, as is
showing anger. Their highest law of duty is to not hurt a living creature.
sweep the ground before them as they walk, lest an animate thing is destroyed.
They wear a veil over their nose and mouth lest they inhale, and therefore harm,
a living organism. They strain water before drinking it, and avoid not only meat
but also honey and various fruit believed to house certain worms. According to
Jain principles, knowledge, faith and virtue result in man becoming more
tolerant and forgiving. The ultimate goal for every individual is to become a
perfect soul or paramatma. This is accomplished when all the layers of karma,
which is viewed as a substance, are removed, leading the soul to rise to the
ceiling of the universe, beyond the gods and all currents of transmigration,
where the soul abides forever in the solitary bliss of salvation or moksha. As
defined by Jainism, moksha is liberation, freedom from action and desire, and
freedom from karma and rebirth. Moksha is attainable in this world or at the
time of death. When it is reached, the individual has fulfilled his destiny.
the Jains, there is no Creator god and therefore no communion with him. The
nature of the soul is pure consciousness, power, bliss and omniscience. The
Jains believe that the soul passes through various stages of spiritual
development, called gunasthanas. Souls attain better births according to the
amount of personal karma they are able to eliminate during life. Between births,
souls dwell in one of the seven hells, the 16 heavens or the 14 celestial
regions. Liberated souls abide at the top of the universe.
All Jains take five vows, of penance or tap, of charity or dana, of honesty
or arjavam, of non-violence or ahinsa, of truth or satyavachana. But only the
monk practises celibacy and poverty. Jainism places great importance on ahinsa,
asceticism, yoga and monasticism as the means of attaining moksha. Jainism
teaches that the tirthankaras share nothing in common with normal human beings.
They wear no clothes or ornaments, show no emotions, eat no food, do not sleep,
but just mediate.
They are pure of mind, body and thought and free from all
human desires and emotions. In other words, they are in a position to be
elevated to the status of god and hence worthy of being worshipped. Praying to
them does not affect the mind any way. It is the devotee who attains salvation.
The first tirthankara was Adinatha Rishbhadeva. His name is also mentioned in
Modern-day historians however, can trace only the23rd and the 24th tirthankaras, who are Parshvanatha and Mahavir are respectively. The last,
Mahavira, is the most significant. He, as well as all the previous tirthankaras,
went through various purificatory phases in previous births, before acquiring
the ability to become a tirthankara. The sacred symbol of the Jains consists of
the palm of a hand with the figure of a chakra inset a half moon, three dots,
and the svastika. The chakra or the wheel of law in Jainism has 24 spokes, each
representing a specific virtue, with ahinsa or non-violence being the most
prominent. The svastika was a special graphic visualised to represent the sun's
energy and munificence. It is used for meditation. The three dots symbolise
knowledge, law and character. The moon is godliness, the perfect state of being,
and the dot inside is Siddha Bhagwan or god. The significance of the entire
symbol is that all people can find bliss by following the path of law or dharma.
Iconography images of the 24 tirthankaras are also a very popular symbol. The
Jain scripture is known by different names, as Ganipidaga, or basket of the
Gandharas (teachers who have attained perfect knowledge)', as Shrutagyana or the
'scriptural knowledge', as Siddhantas, 'settled opinion or doctrine', and Agamas
or' doctrine'. Written in Prakrit it is a compilation of the tenets of the
religion, the various rules and the teachings of the tirthankaras and has 45
sections. The first section is called Anga, which is the most important and is
again, divided into 11 parts. The Acaranga Sutra is the first part of the Anga.
It deals with Jain philosophy and rules of conduct for members of the order,
especially monks and nuns. The work was compiled in 460 AD.
Jain temples are noted for the large number of similar buildings, which are
often erected at one place. Their temples also have many columns, no two of
which are identical. These temples are usually spotless and very well
maintained. Jain temples are built in honour of their tirthankaras. An idol of
the tirthankaras, like Mahavira or Parshvanatha, is placed inside and people
come to worship it. The ideologies of the tirthankaras are also read out to the
assembly. There are two sects in Jainism: the Svetambaras and the Digambaras.
Both believe in the same basic tenets and worship images of the tirthankaras.
The Digambaras are the older and more conservative sect. A Digambara saint does
not wear any clothes and leads an extremely austere life. The Svetambaras are a
newer school. They believe in the same goal of moksha but their way of attaining
that goal is not as rigid as the Digambaras. The Svetambaras wear white clothes
and always cover their nose and mouth with a white cloth. Both sects prohibit
the use of leather because Jainism advocates non-violence. It also prohibits
footwear, since shoes underfoot can kill tiny organisms but not by the bare
foot. Food is permitted only once a day before sunset and only enough to ensure
survival. They are not permitted to use any form of transport and must always
There are an estimated 4 million Jains in India today, mostly in Gujarat and
Karnataka. Jainism has remained a particularly Indian religion, unlike others
that have traversed beyond the frontiers of the country because it is not a
missionary faith. Although Jain festivals should be solemn affairs marked by
austerity, prayer meetings, and donations, over the centuries this has changed.
Today, Jains, like Indians of any other faith, like to celebrate their festivals
with pomp and show. Temples are elaborately decorated for all festivals. Since
Jainism has a lot of Hindu influence, many customs and festivals are common,
like Diwali. Jain mythology too is somewhat similar to that of the Hindus.
Om Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavanthu
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
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