Jainism

Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world. The name comes from jiva (soul or life force but, capitalized, is also given as Spiritual Conqueror) as it maintains that all living things possess an immortal soul which has always and will always exist and that one's soul may be liberated from suffering by self-discipline in adhering to Jain tenets. It originated in Northern India and spread from there to the south, but how it began is unclear.

Its founder is often, inaccurately, identified as the sage Vardhamana (better known as Mahavira, l. c. 599-527 BCE), but he is actually only the 24th tirthankara (“ford builder”) of Jainism. Just as Hindus believe the Vedas have always existed and were only “heard” at a certain point in the past and written down, so Jains maintain that their precepts are eternal, recognized by 23 sages down through time, to finally be established by Mahavira in its present form.

It is a nontheistic religion in that it does not advocate a belief in a creator god but in higher beings (devas), which are mortal, and in the concept of karma directing one's present life and future incarnations; the devas have no power over a person, however, and are not sought for guidance or assistance in freeing one's self from karmic bondage. In Jainism, it is up to each individual to attain salvation – defined as release from the cycle of rebirth and death (samsara) - by adhering to a strict spiritual and ethical code of behavior. This code is based on the Five Vows (articulated in the foundational work, the Tattvartha Sutra):

  • Ahimsa (non-violence)
  • Satya (speaking the truth)
  • Asteya (non-stealing)
  • Brahmacharya (chastity or faithfulness to a spouse)
  • Aparigraha (non-attachment)

The Five Vows direct one's thoughts and behavior since it is believed that, as one thinks, so will one do. It is not enough, therefore, to simply abstain from violence or lying or stealing; one must not even think of such things. If one adheres to this discipline, one will escape the cycle of samsara and achieve liberation. Once one has accomplished this, one becomes a tirthankara, a “ford builder” (as in, one who builds a ford or bridge over a river) who can show others how to securely cross the currents of life by shedding desire, freeing one's self from ignorance, and refusing the temptations of the world. In Jainism, suffering is caused by ignorance of the true nature of reality, and liberation is achieved through spiritual awakening and then living the truth one has realized.

Mahavira's development of the faith was in response to a general movement in India in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE of religious reform in response to Hinduism, the dominant faith at that time, which some thinkers felt was out of touch with the people's spiritual and physical needs. Besides Jainism, there were many other philosophies or religious systems developed at this time (including Charvaka and Buddhism) which flourished for a time and then either gained ground or failed. Jainism was able to survive and attract adherents through royal patronage of political powers such as the Mauryan Empire (322-185 BCE), later survived persecutions under various Muslim rulers from the 12th-16th centuries CE, and also resisted efforts of Christian missionaries in the 19th century CE to continue as a vibrant faith up through the present day.

Origins & Development

According to Jain belief, Mahavira was not the founder of the faith, only another in a long line of enlightened sages who realized the true nature of reality & the soul.

The belief system which would eventually develop into Hinduism (known as Sanatan Dharma, “Eternal Order”, to adherents) arrived in the Indus Valley sometime prior to the 3rd millennium BCE when a coalition of Aryan tribes migrated to the region from Central Asia. Aryan referred to a class of people, not a nationality, and meant “free” or “noble”. The term had no association with Caucasians until the 19th and 20th centuries CE, and claims regarding an ancient “Aryan Invasion” of light-skinned peoples have long been discredited. These Aryans brought with them the Sanskrit language and, after assimilating with the indigenous people, this became the language of their sacred texts, the Vedas, which inform Hinduism.

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An early version of Hinduism was Brahmanism, which claimed that the universe and world operated according to eternal rules set in motion by a being they called Brahman who not only caused everything to function as it did but was absolute reality itself. This reality – the Universe - “spoke” certain truths which were eventually “heard” by ancient sages and written down in Sanskrit, becoming the Vedas, set down sometime between c. 1500 - c. 500 BCE. The Vedas were chanted by the Hindu priests, who interpreted them for the people, but the majority could not understand Sanskrit, and this practice – and perceived problem – gave rise to religious reform movements.

The philosophical/religious belief systems which resulted fell into two categories:

  • Astika (“there exists”) which accepted the Vedas as the highest spiritual authority
  • Nastika (“there does not exist”) which rejected the authority of the Vedas and of the Hindu priests

The three nastika schools which continued to develop from this period were Charvaka, Buddhism, and Jainism. Jainism was championed by the spiritual ascetic Vardhamana who came to be known as Mahavira (“Great Hero”) but the events of his life, aside from this, are little known. His birthplace, sphere of influence, and death site are all disputed. It is said that he grew up the son of affluent parents who died when he was either 28 or 30 years old and, at that point, he renounced his wealth and all worldly possessions and lived the life of a religious ascetic for the next twelve years. Upon realizing the true nature of the soul and attaining omniscience (kevalajnana) he was recognized as a spiritual conqueror (Jina) and tirthankara, after which he began preaching the Jain vision.

According to Jain belief, however, Mahavira was not the founder of the faith, only another in a long line of enlightened sages who had shed their ignorance and realized the true nature of reality and the soul. The precepts of Jainism, it is claimed, are eternal; they were never initiated by any mortal but only “received” by the 24 enlightened sages who transmitted them to others. As noted, this is the same claim made by Hindus regarding the Vedas. Scholar Jeffrey D. Long comments:

Perhaps both traditions emerged simultaneously and interdependently, initiating from points of origin centered in different regions of the sub-continent, through a process of dialogue and mutual transformation and synthesis that continues to the present. (Jainism, 56)

Although it is commonly thought that Jainism developed from Hinduism, this claim is rejected by Jains themselves though maintained by Hindus and various scholars of religion.

Beliefs

Jainism holds that all living things are animated by an immortal soul caught in the cycle of rebirth and death caused by karmic matter which has accumulated through one's past actions. One's initial spiritual state attracted this karmic matter in the same way a bookshelf collects dust. Once the matter attaches to the soul, one is bound to incarnation after incarnation on the wheel of samsara which blinds one to the actual nature of the soul and reality. Scholar John M. Koller comments on the Jain vision of the soul:

The essence of the soul (jiva) is life and its chief characteristics are perception, knowledge, bliss, and energy. In its pure state when it is not associated with matter, its knowledge is omniscient, its bliss is pure, and its energy is unlimited. But the matter that embodies the soul defiles its bliss, obstructs its knowledge, and limits its energy. This is why matter is seen as a fetter binding the soul. The word for matter, pudgala (mass-energy) is derived from pum, meaning “coming together” and gala, meaning “coming apart”, and reveals the Jain conception of matter as that which is formed by the aggregation of atoms and destroyed by their disassociation. Matter refers both to the mass of things and to the forces of energy that structure this mass, making and remaking it in its diverse forms. The word “karma” means “to make”, and in Jainism it refers to the making and remaking of the karmic matter that embodies the soul…This view of karma as a material force distinguishes the Jain view from other Indian views that take karma to be only a psychological or metaphysical force. (33)

In Hinduism and Buddhism, karma is understood as action – which either encourages liberation or ties one more closely to samsara – whereas in Jainism it is a natural function of the soul's interaction with reality. The soul becomes clouded, again as with dust obscuring an object, cannot recognize its true nature, and, through this ignorance, accepts the illusion of life instead of its reality and condemns itself to suffering and death.

An interesting aspect of the faith is an emphasis on the limitations of perspective & the inability of anyone to state a completely objective truth.

An interesting aspect of the faith – also held by Charvaka – is an emphasis on the limitations of perspective and, so, the inability of anyone to state a completely objective truth. The Jains use the parable of the elephant and the five blind men to illustrate this problem. Each of the blind men, summoned by the king to define an elephant which stands before them, touch different parts of the animal and come to their own conclusions. To one, who touches the ears, an elephant is a large fan; to another who touches a leg, it is a stout post; to another, who touches the side, it is a wall, and so on. Each blind man is limited by perspective and individual interpretation in the same way each human being is by the limits of what they can understand in their dreaming state of subjective values, ignorance, and illusion.

In order to awaken and achieve liberation from matter, one must take the Five Vows and then follow through with actions which proceed from them. These actions lead one on a 14-stage path from ignorance and bondage to enlightenment and freedom.

Scriptures, Sects, & Practices

This path is suggested by the Jain scriptures – the Agamas and, according to some, Purvas – believed to have been “heard” from the universe and transmitted orally from generation to generation by the tirthankaras. Besides the Tattvartha Sutra (composed 2nd-5th centuries CE) there are also other scriptures, not accepted by all Jains, such as the Upangas, Chedasutras, Mulasutras, Prakinasutras, and Culikasutras passed down by oral tradition until committed to writing. Long comments:

The problem with oral transmission is that, if those who carry the knowledge of a text in their minds die before passing that knowledge on to others, or after passing it on only partially, that knowledge is forever lost. It is not unlike a situation in which every copy of a particular book is destroyed…This seems to have been the situation of the early Jain community and the reason the decision was finally taken to put their textual tradition into a written form [during the time of Chandragupta, r. 321 - c. 297 BCE, of the Mauryan Empire]. (Jainism, 64)

Jains are divided into two primary sects (though there are others), the Digambara (“sky-clad”) and the Svetambara (“white-clad”) whose views of the faith differ significantly in that the Digambara are more orthodox, reject the authoritative Svetambara canon of scripture, believe that only men can attain liberation and that women must wait until they are incarnated as a male to do so, and their monks go naked, rejecting even the need for clothing in keeping with the tradition that Mahavira and his first 11 disciples owned nothing and wore nothing. The Svetambara clergy wear white, seamless clothing, believe they have retained most of the original scriptures transmitted by Mahavira, and recognize that women can attain liberation as well as men.

This liberation, as noted, is achieved in 14 steps which are based on the scriptures and the Five Vows:

  • Stage 1: The soul languishes in darkness, ignorant of its true nature, and a slave to passions and illusion.
  • Stage 2: The soul catches a glimpse of truth but is too mired in illusion to retain it.
  • Stage 3: The soul recognizes its own bondage and tries to break free but is still bound to attachments and illusion and falls backwards to Stage 1.
  • Stage 4: The soul, having recognized its bondage, yearns to break free again but is suppressing, rather than eliminating, its attachments and so remains bound.
  • Stage 5: The soul has a flash of enlightenment and understands it must take the Five Vows and adhere to them in order to free itself from bondage.
  • Stage 6: The soul is able to restrain its attachments and passions to a degree through the discipline of the Five Vows.
  • Stage 7: The soul overcomes spiritual lethargy and is strengthened through meditation and observance of the Five Vows. Self-awareness grows as well as a grander vision of the nature of the soul itself and reality.
  • Stage 8: Hurtful karma is discarded, self-control perfected, and deeper understanding achieved.
  • Stage 9: More karmic debt is eliminated through conscious living and greater spiritual insight is attained.
  • Stage 10: At this stage, one has eliminated attachments almost completely but is still attached to the concept of one's body-as-one's-self. This is understood as “greed for a body”, which one must overcome in order to progress.
  • Stage 11: Here, one works on eliminating the identification of the self with the body and releasing all other attachments. One recognizes the transient nature of those people and objects one is attached to and releases them.
  • Stage 12: All of the karma-producing passions have been eliminated at this point, including one's attachment to the body.
  • Stage 13: Recognizing fully the nature of reality and of the soul, one engages in deep meditation to withdraw from all activity which might result in karma-producing passions and backsliding to an earlier stage.
  • Stage 14: As one approaches death, one is freed from all karmic debt and experiences the liberation of moksha, complete understanding, wisdom, and total freedom from bondage. The soul is freed and will never be incarnated again on the earthly plane to experience suffering and death.

For some people, like the tirthankaras, Stage 14 is reached long before death (when they attain nirvana, release) and they are recognized as Spiritual Conquerors (they have completely mastered themselves) and “ford builders” who then teach others how to do as they have done. The key to this mastery is the combination of faith, knowledge, and action known as the Ratnatraya or Three Jewels:

  • True Faith
  • Right Knowledge
  • Pure Conduct

True Faith, of course, is belief in the validity of the Jain vision; Right Knowledge is the understanding of the actual nature of the soul and reality; Pure Conduct is acting faithfully on the first two. This includes a respect for all living things and the natural world, which informs Jain vegetarianism. Jains, especially Jain monastics, will gently sweep the path before them so they do not inadvertently step on an insect and will wear face masks to prevent themselves from inhaling any so that not even the smallest of living things is harmed by them. A deep respect for nature and the lives of all animate and inanimate beings and aspects of life is integral to the Jain vision.

Jain Symbol

This vision is illustrated in the Jain symbol of the image of the urn-shaped form with one dot at the top, three beneath, the swastika, and the hamsa (upraised palm of the hand) with the mandala in the center and the inscription. This symbol is not ancient but was created in 1974 CE, on the 2,500th anniversary of Mahavira's nirvana, to represent the fullness of the Jain belief system.

The urn-shaped image represents the universe, the dot at the top symbolizes liberation from bondage, the three dots beneath represent the Three Jewels, the swastika – an ancient symbol of transformation before its appropriation by the Nazi Party of Germany in the 20th century CE – symbolizes the four states of existence: heavenly spirits, humans, demonic spirits, and subhuman spirits such as plants and insects, all on the wheel of samsara.

The swastika has also been interpreted to represent the true character of the soul: boundless energy, boundless happiness, boundless knowledge, and boundless perception and insight. The hamsa-image symbolizes the courage and commitment of non-violence and the mandala suggests samsara while the inscription in the palm of the hand is translated as “Souls provide service to one another” or “Life is joined by mutual support and interdependence” as the Jains believe that all of life is sacred and every aspect of the natural world is deserving of the utmost respect, love, and nurture.

Conclusion

Jain tradition holds that Chandragupta Maurya became a disciple of the sage Bhadrabahu (l. 367 - c. 298 BCE), who was the last monk to retain full oral knowledge of the scriptures before they were written down. Chandragupta patronized Jainism in Bhadrabahu's honor and helped to establish the religion just as his grandson, Ashoka the Great (r. 268-232 BE), would do for Buddhism. Later Hindu monarchs supported Jainism, even commissioning temples, and Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha (l. 563-483 BCE), a younger contemporary of Mahavira, practiced Jain asceticism before attaining enlightenment and forming his own belief system.

Between the 12th-16th centuries CE, the Jains were persecuted by the invading Muslims who destroyed their temples or turned them into mosques and murdered Jain monks. Even the long-held value of Jain non-violence was suspended in cases where one had to defend one's self, one's family, or a sacred site from Muslim attacks. In the 19th century CE, British missionaries interpreted Jainism as a sect of Hinduism (which gave rise to the claim, still repeated today, that Jainism developed out of Hinduism) and attempted to convert the Jains with the rest of the population without much success.

Jainism survived both of these attempts at eradication and continued to thrive in India, eventually spreading to other nations around the world. Although most Jains still reside in India, there are about 5 million adherents worldwide from Australia to Europe, Japan, and the United States. Most of the famous Jain temples are still found in India such as Ranakpu Temple or Dilwara Temple in Rajasthan or the grand Gomateshwara Temple in Karnataka – which features the largest monolithic statue in the world – or the Hanumantal Temple in Jabalpur, where the celebration of the birthday of Mahavira is launched every year. Jains honor the tirthankaras or acharya (one of the five supreme devas and, incarnated, the founder of a monastic order) at regular worship services and encourage each other in the faith.

Many of the temples in India are famous pilgrimage sites for Jains owing to their various associations, but temples elsewhere in the world also serve an important function. The Jain Center of America, in Queens, New York, houses the Mahavir and the Adinath Temples and is a focal point of worship for the local Jain community. Through these sites, and others, Jainism continues its vision of non-violence, self-discipline, and respect for all living things in the present day just as in the ancient past.


The Origin of Jainism | Indian History

The origin of Jainism is shrouded in obscurity. The followers of Jainism believe that their religion is as old as the Vedic religion. In fact, we have reference to Rishabha and Arishtanemi, two of the Jain Tirthankaras in the Vedic literature. The former is considered to be the founder of Jainism. In the Vishnu and Bhagvata Puranas also Rishabha is depicted as an incarnation of Narayana.

On the basis of these references it can be said that the Jain religion is as old as Vedic religion. According to the followers of Jainism the teachings of their religion are the work of twenty-four Tirthankaras and as Mahavira was their last Tirthanakara. They further say that the first Tirthankara was a king who renounced his kingdom in favour of his son Bharata and became an ascetic.

Accord­ing to them our country is named after this Bharata. Certain scholars hold that though there are scanty references about the earlier Tirthankaras, in the Vedic literature but they bear no historical foundation. They accept only Parsva Nath and Mahavira as true historical figures.

According to Prof. Jacobi. Parsva Nath was the real founder of Jainism and has been described in the Puranic texts as one of the twenty-four incarnations of God. Parsva Nath was the son of Asvasena, the King of Kashi.

He became an ascetic at the age of 30. After performing a penance for 84 days he was enlightened. He died at the ripe age of hundred years. He devoted the last 70 years of his life to the service of Jainism. Parsva Nath was not in favour of Yojnas or worship of gods and goddesses. He was also opposed to caste system and animal sacrifices and held that every person could attain salvation in spite of his caste.

He stood for an equal status for women in the religious sphere. In the main he insisted on four vows, non-injury to the living beings, truthfulness, non-stealing, and non-possession. He also established an organisation for preaching principles.

Mahavira was greatly influenced by the doctrine of Parsva Nath during his youth and became one of the reformers of this reli­gion. He devoted his life to the popularization of Jainism in Magadha and Anga.


Little known outside India, Jainism spreads at colleges amid calls to ‘decolonize’ studies

Cerritos College in Norwalk — where the majority of students are Latino and the first in their families to attend college — is a stone’s throw from Southern California’s famed “Little India,” a stretch of clothing and jewelry shops, groceries and restaurants in Artesia.

Not far away, in Buena Park, the temple at the Jain Center of Southern California draws legions of followers of Jainism, a little-known, millenniums-old Indian religious and philosophical tradition.

So when retired gastroenterologist and Jain devotee Jasvant Modi sought to spread knowledge of the faith, Cerritos College seemed like the perfect fit. He and his wife Meera, along with donors Harshad and Raksha Shah, last month pledged $1 million to fund an endowed scholar of Jain studies at the community college.

They are among a small but dedicated group of American Jain donors who are seeking to expand U.S. awareness of this ancient belief system and its teachings beyond an estimated 5 million to 10 million mainly Indian followers. And they think academia is the best place to do so, especially at a time of increasing calls to move away from Eurocentric perspectives in education.

Modi hopes to reach more people with the Jain teachings of ahimsa, or nonviolence in thought, word and deed nonpossessiveness and acceptance of multiple viewpoints.

“Those are really the fundamental building blocks of modern society and a democracy, which kind of fits well into our centuries-old teaching,” he said. “If we can spread that word out … to students from high school to the undergraduate and graduate level, we can build a society that is more tolerant.”

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In the last decade, donors have funded endowed positions in Jain studies at a dozen universities, including UC Davis, Irvine, Riverside and Santa Barbara the Cal State campuses of Northridge and Long Beach and Loyola Marymount University. They have also sponsored lectureships and postdoctoral fellowships at other universities. They estimate they have reached hundreds of students directly but that the ripple effects will extend to thousands.

Jainism, which derives its name from the Sanskrit word jina, meaning “a victor” — referring to one who has overcome attachments to worldly things and passions — has been a part of religious studies in the West for decades. But its place has been at the margins or as part of broader scholarship on Asian religions or philosophies, in part because there were so few specialists.

“Jainism is a very old tradition with a very rich history of nonviolence, ecology, environment, respect for women, business ethics…. I could go on,” said Sulekh Jain, a retired engineer and leader in the American Jain community. “But many of these things were not being represented.”

About two decades ago, he and a handful of others set out to expand scholarship on Jainism. They established the International School for Jain Studies in India, offering programs for overseas scholars. Some 800 students have attended, with many going on to pursue graduate-level study.

“Now we have scholars who could be employed in universities — previously we didn’t have any,” Jain said. “We had to start finding the donors, the promoters, and . universities that were interested.”

In 2010, Jain donors established the first endowed professorship of Jain studies at Florida International University. In the years that followed, they cultivated partnerships with more universities, particularly in Southern California.

Their goal is not to proselytize Jains don’t practice conversion. But along the path of learning, some have come to believe as well.

Christopher Miller, who became the Bhagwan Mallinath assistant professor of Jain studies at Loyola Marymount University in January, was first introduced to Jainism in an undergraduate class at LMU on religions of India.

“It just blew my mind,” he said. “The idea of being nonviolent not just to other human beings but to all forms of life was so new and fascinating to me.”

Miller, who was studying accounting, went on to earn a doctorate in religious studies and now teaches about Jainism and yoga. To implement nonviolence in his own life, he became a vegan and stopped killing ants and spiders that invaded his home. He grows his own vegetables without pesticides and drives an electric car to minimize harm to the environment. And his family scaled back their consumption, forgoing furniture and sleeping on mattresses on the floor.

“In the way that I live and the way that I interact with the world, I do consider myself a Jain,” he said.

Like Miller, the vast majority of individuals teaching in these positions — as well as their students — grew up in the West as non-Jains. Although the idea of predominantly white American and European professors teaching a South Asian philosophy and religion raises questions about cultural appropriation, donors say they see just the opposite.

“The impact will be greater to non-Indian students,” said Nitin Shah, an anesthesiologist who has facilitated some of the relationships between donors and universities.

Ana Bajzelj, the Shrimad Rajchandra endowed chair in Jain studies at UC Riverside, teaches courses on Indian religions, Jainism and death. She said students often react strongly to the more ascetic parts of Jainism, especially as practiced by monks and nuns — for example, wearing masks and sweeping their paths to avoid killing any insect, renouncing all possessions and attachments, and completely abstaining from sex.

“Just reading a line about it somewhere is something that can alienate Jainism,” Bajzelj said. “But learning about it . in its historical complexity, in its spiritual complexity — that’s exactly the opposite. It brings it closer.”

Melissa Wilcox, chair of the religious studies department at UC Riverside, said that permanently endowed chairs, which come with an important title and research funds, help to recruit and pay for top-notch specialists like Bajzelj.

They also broaden the scope of what gets taught. Religious studies departments tend to focus on the “big five” religions of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, Wilcox said.

As many educators strive to “decolonize” course curricula that have emphasized Eurocentric narratives, Jain studies offer a way to amplify Asian philosophies and traditions.

“Students are quite starved for non-Western content. There’s a void in the canon,” said Brianne Donaldson, who has leveraged her position as the Shri Parshvanath presidential chair in Jain studies at UC Irvine to bring Jainism into courses on Asian philosophies, medical ethics and animal ethics.

“I’m really interested in what can these ideas do in the world,” Donaldson said. “At UCI, especially for people who are not going to be focused solely on Jain studies as scholars . it allows me to bring these less expected connections” — for example, to medicine, health, engineering, law and gender studies.

The Jain community is also active outside the religion. In Southern California amid the pandemic, members have distributed thousands of free vegetarian meals, donated tablets and administered COVID-19 vaccines. This week, as the coronavirus crisis surges out of control in India, they are mobilizing to procure and send nearly 6,000 oxygen concentrators there in coming days.

Makayla Rabago, a UCI alumna who graduated in 2020 with degrees in criminology and philosophy, was a devout Christian in high school. She said learning about Jainism opened her eyes to the relativity of any particular belief system.

“I realized people could go to extremes in any religion,” she said. "[Jainism] is just a different philosophy and way of thinking about life.”

Alba Rodríguez Juan, an incoming UC Riverside doctoral student from southern Spain, became interested in Jainism by way of yoga and mindfulness studies, which she found lacking in historical and religious context.

“Jainism is one of the most important traditions in yoga, but . many people practice yoga and have never heard of Jainism,” Rodríguez said.

She believes a presence in higher education will increase awareness.

“The Jain tradition has a lot to offer the world. It’s focused on nonviolence, it’s focused on tolerance, on pluralism, on compassion — so many good values that are positive for society,” she said. “In a more general sense, we are living in a world where every day . religions, traditions, languages are slowly, slowly dying. It’s important that we keep this richness of different communities.”

To the donors, that a student like Rodríguez would articulate the value of Jainism this way is proof their strategy is working.

“This is more beneficial than putting money into Jain centers — they become parochial,” said Mohini Jain, who endowed a presidential chair of Jain studies at UC Davis. “Education seems the best way to invest.”


Jainism - History

I have divided the time-scale into seven periods so that we can correlate the events within the Jain history, and can also relate the history of Jainism with other events in India and outside of India. You will note that several famous philosophers were contemporary of Lord Mahavira, and that 13-15th century was the age of reform in India as well as in Europe.

I t should be recognized that as we go back in time, it becomes harder and harder to date events exactly. The dates I have given below, have been taken from several different sources.

I n many cases, the historians do not accept a tradition until supporting evidence becomes available. For example, the Kalpa-Sutra gives a list of ancient orders (Ganas etc.) Many historians were not convinced of the historicity of this information until the excavations at Mathura un-earthed many inscriptions mentioning the very same orders. Several archaeological discoveries and studies of the Buddhist and Vedic/Puranic literature has confirmed the antiquity of the jain tradition. I will gradually add additional items and links to detailed information. The outline below will serve as an index.


Key Facts & Information

HISTORY OF JAINISM

  • Jainism has no single founder. The Jains called their founders tirthankaras, which means a teacher who makes a way. They believe that about 24 tirthankaras existed who reached and taught the way to liberation, or moksha.
  • Unlike many religions, these teachers are not an incarnation of God, but rather ordinary souls who achieved the highest goal of existence through meditation, penance, and equanimity. Therefore, a tirthankara is the ultimate developed state of a soul.
  • Like Buddhism, tirthankaras are teachers, not god-incarnates. The present age tirthankaras are Adinatha, Ajita, Sambhava, Abhinandana, Sumati, Padmaprabha, Suparshva, Chandraprabha, Suvidhi, Shital, Shreyansa, Vasupujya, Vimala, Ananta, Dharma, Shanti, Kunthu, Ara, Malli, Muni Suvrata, Nami, Nemi, Parshva, and Mahavira.
  • There are two Jain sects: the Digambara, meaning sky clad, and the Svetambara, or the white clad. Both have the same basic teachings and principles of Jainism, but differ in beliefs regarding the life of Mahavira, spiritual roles, status of women, wearing of clothes for monks, rituals, and texts.
  • Digambara
    • They believe that women cannot achieve liberation and be a tirthankara unless they were first born a man.
    • They live completely naked and have no worldly possessions.
    • Images of tirthankaras have downcast eyes and are always presented naked.
    • Tirthankaras can be both men and women.
    • Monks wear simple white clothing and possess reading and writing materials.
    • Images have prominent eyes and are always overly decorated.

    BELIEFS, CUSTOMS, AND TRADITIONS

    • Among the basic principles of Jainism is to live without violence. They believe that their jiva, or soul, should not experience karma. Karma dictates the moral quality of a person’s life. They believe that to be able to attain liberation, a person should get rid of all their karma. Karma can be both destructive and non-destructive.
    • Mahavira particularly advocated strict asceticism and moral cultivation to attain the path to Dharma, or truth. His followers believe they can do so with the cultivation of the three jewels: right belief, right knowledge, and right conduct.
    • In order to attain the three jewels, every Jain should vow to five abstinences, including ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (no stealing), aparigraha (non-acquisition), and brahmacharya (chaste living).
    • These five vows are divided into two forms. The Mahavrata, which is followed by Jain monks and nuns, and the Anuvrata, which is followed by lay people, which is the less strict version.
    • Jains do not believe in any god. Furthermore, they suggest that there is no god to maintain the universe, make judgement, rule, demand worship, or help the people.
    • During festivals and holy days, Jains fast as part of attaining spirituality. It is an act of penance for monks and nuns. There are 5 forms of fasting, which include complete fasting, partial fasting, Vruti Sankshepa, Rasa Parityaga, and Santhara.
    • There are no compulsory pilgrimages for Jains, but monks and nuns do this spiritual activity as part of understanding the life and deeds of tirthankaras.
    • The holy place for Jains is called tirtha, which means a ford across a river. Despite the etymology of the term, most sacred places in Jainism are situated on top of hills or mountains, unlike in Hinduism, which is linked with bodies of water. Among their prominent places is Mount Shatrunjaya in Gujarat.
    • Jains believe in the existence of multiple universes which consists of two classes: jivas, or living souls, and ajivas, or non living objects.
    • For them, the universe is divided into five parts: (siddhashila) supreme abode, (devlok) upper world, (manushya lok) middle world, (naraka) lower world, and the base.
    • Siddhashila is the abode of the liberated beings.
    • Lokakash is equated with space.
    • Devlok is the abode of demigods.
    • The middle level is were humans and animals live.
    • Naraka is the abode of hellish beings tormented by demons.
    • Aloka is the space outside the universe.
    • The lowest form of life live at the base.
    • The raised hand in the center means stop. It is inscribed with a wheel called ahimsa, which means non-violence.
    • Above is the four arms of the swastika which represents the cycles of birth and death, and the possibilities of being born in one of the four destinies. The four destinies include the heavenly beings, human beings, animal beings, and hellish beings.
    • The four pillars of Jain Sangh symbolized through the swastika include sadhus, sadhvis, shravaks, and sharavikas.
    • Jains’ goal is to achieve liberation and not rebirth.
    • Above the swastika are the three jewels: Samyak Darshan (Right Faith), Samyak Jnana (Right Knowledge), and Samyak Charitra (Right Conduct) represented by three dots.
    • The final arch above is the abode of liberated souls known as Siddhashila. The dot in the middle stands for a siddha.
    • Among the foremost festivals celebrated by Jains is Diwali, the celebration of the life of Lord Mahavira and attaining nirvana. Another large festival is Paryushan, or self purification festival.
    • Diwali, also known as the festival of lights, is among the most popular celebrations in India. In Jain Dharma, this is a celebration of the life of Lord Mahavira, the last of the 24 tirthankaras.
    • This festival is usually celebrated during the month of Kartik, in October or November. Jains observe three days of fasting, singing, and chanting of hymns, and recitation of verses and prayers pertaining to the teachings of Mahavira.
    • Jain temples are decorated with bright lamps which stand for removal of ignorance and attainment of knowledge.

    Jainism Worksheets

    This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Jainism across 24 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Jainism worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Jainism which is a religion in India which emerged in 6th century BCE – the same time as Buddhism. Today, there are over 4 million Jains, or adherents, around the world. Their highest goal is to achieve and teach moksha, or liberation of the soul.

    Complete List Of Included Worksheets

    • Jainism Facts
    • Making Meaning
    • Religions in India
    • Jaintionary
    • The Jain World
    • Cycle of Life
    • Jain Universe
    • Jainism in Letters
    • Let’s Play Bingo!
    • In Two Forms
    • Celebrating Diwali!

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    Use With Any Curriculum

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    Mahavira

    Mahavira was born in a princely family which belonged to the Jnatrika clan. His original name was Vardhamana and his father's name was Siddhartha. Siddhartha was married to Trishala, daughter of king Chetaka whose other daughters were married into some prominent royal households of his time including that of king Bimbisara.

    There is no unanimity among historians about Mahavira's year of birth. According to Jain texts, he married Yashoda and had a daughter through her. After his parents died, he took permission of his brother and became an ascetic. He wandered for twelve long years from place to place, performing severe austerities and subjecting himself to rigorous discipline, before he received enlightenment and became an Arhat, under a Sal tree, in the vicinity of an old temple at a place called Jrimbhika grama. His personal charm and teachings attracted considerable following from all sections of society, especially in the urban areas where people were expecting more convincing solutions to the philosophical issues concerning death, aging and disease. It is believed that before his enlightenment Mahavira spent some time in the company of Gosala, the founder of Ajivkia sect, and the Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, before parting ways from both of them on account of doctrinal differences regarding some important beliefs about fate and free will. According to the most popular opinion based on historical accounts, he probably died in 468 BC.

    Jainism did not arise as some kind of a reaction of the princely classes against the Brahmanical society or as a revolt against Brahmanism. It existed for long on the Indian soil as a distinct sect, with a set of beliefs and philosophy of its own. We cannot say that the relationship between the followers of Hinduism and Jainism was all that cordial. Jainism's unequivocal emphasis on the non-existence of God made any possibility of reconciliation between the two remote. Although a difficult religion to follow, with its emphasis on karma and non-belief in the existence of God, Jainism enjoyed a distinct following of its own in various parts of Indian subcontinent, posing a stiff challenge to both Hinduism and Buddhism for long. Chandragupta Maurya was a convert to Jainism in the last part of his life. So were many kings and emperors in ancient India. In a way it played a crucial role in the transformation of King Asoka, who with an aim to expand his empire declared war against the mighty Kharavelas of Orissa, who were ardent followers of Jainism. The ensuing war between the two armies resulted in great bloodshed and loss of life on both sides, prompting victorious Asoka in the end to replace his policy of violent conquest with a new policy of peaceful conquest by spreading his Dhamma or law of piety.


    1. India

    India, the country where Jainism was founded, continues to have the largest population of Jains in the world. In addition to parents passing along the religion to their children, monks travel around the country educating the population about the ancient teachings and philosophy of the religion. The most important historic temples and other pilgrimage sites are also located here, including the Janma Bhumi Tirthankara. Estimates from 2005 show that over 5.14 million people practice Jainism in India today.

    2. United States

    The second-largest Jain population in the world can be found in the United States, although it follows behind India with a wide margin. Here, 79,459 people identify as practitioners of Jainism, a significant difference compared to the population in India. This number represents approximately 30% of the Jain population that lives outside of India. Jainism arrived in the US during the 20th century AD through a number of immigrants to the country. The largest wave of Jain immigrants occurred in the 1970s when Chitrabhanu arrived to give lectures at Harvard University and established a Jain center in New York City. Jainism continued to grow in the US over the following years and in the 1980s, the Federation of Jain Associations in North America was established. In addition to having the largest population of Jains outside of India, the US also has the largest number of Jain temples outside of India.

    3. Kenya

    Kenya has the world’s third-largest Jain population with 68,848 practitioners reported in the country. Jainism has existed in this country for around a century and is concentrated in major cities: Nairobi and Mombasa. The Jain community celebrates their religion by holding festivals, conventions, and other programs.

    4. United Kingdom

    The fourth-largest Jain population in the world is in the United Kingdom, where around 16,869 people identify as practitioners of the religion. Jainism first arrived to the UK in the 19th century AD, evidenced by Hermann Jacobi’s discovery of Jain texts in 1873. In 1930, a Jain library was established by Champat Rai Jain, a comparative religious scholar who studied law in England between 1892 and 1897. The Jain population began to take off in the 1960s when the remaining British colonies in East Africa gained their freedom. Jains belonging to the Gujarati origin left the prior colonies for life in the UK. During the following decade, Idi Amin (former President of Uganda) established a policy to remove Asians from Uganda. This political movement resulted in increased Jain immigration to the UK.

    The chart published below has more complete information about countries with the largest Jain populations in the world.


    The Origin Of Jainism

    The Jains believe that their religion is eternal and that Rishabhanatha, the founder of Jainism, lived for 8,400,000 Purva years. Historians believe that the twenty-four Tirthankaras are mythical figures. Different historians have different views on the exact origin of Jainism. According to Otto Max Helmuth, a German indologist and religious scholar, the source of Jainism can be traced to the twenty-third Tirthankara, Parshvanatha. He claims that the other twenty-two Tirthankaras are mythical figures.


    Mahavira

    Vardhamana Mahavira was the twenty-fourth and the last Tirthankara of Jainism.

    Mahavira was born about 540 B.C. in the village Kunda-grama near Vaisali. He was the only son of Siddhartha and Trisala. Siddhartha was the head of famous kshatriya Jnatrika clan and Trisala was the sister of Chetaka, an eminent Lichchhavi noble of Vaisali. Chetaka's daughter was married to the king of Magadha, Bimbisara.

    Mahavira was married to Yasoda and lived a life of a householder. After the death of his parents, Mahavira left his home at the age of thirty, and became an ascetic.

    Mahavira had practiced most rigorous asceticism for the next twelve years and attained kaivalya at the age of 42 years.

    As per the Jainism, Kaivalya is the supreme knowledge and final liberation from the bonds of pleasure and pain.

    After attaining Kaivalya, Mahavira came to be known as Mahavira and Jina or the conqueror and spent his remaining life in preaching. His followers came to be known as Jainas. Initially, they were designated as Nirgranthas, which means free from fetters.

    In 468 B.C., Mahavira passed away at Pawapuri at the age of 72 years. He spent 30 years of his life in preaching his teachings.

    Four doctrines of Parsvanath are &minus

    Non-injury to living beings,

    Non-possession of property, and

    Vardhaman Mahavira accepted four doctrines of Parsvanath and added Celibacy as a fifth one to them.

    Celibacy is the complete renunciation and free from any possessions. Mahavira asked his followers to discard even their clothes.


    Introduction

    Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world. The name comes from jiva (soul or life force but, capitalized, is also given as Spiritual Conqueror) as it maintains that all living things possess an immortal soul which has always and will always exist and that one’s soul may be liberated from suffering by self-discipline in adhering to Jain tenets. It originated in Northern India and spread from there to the south, but how it began is unclear.

    Its founder is often, inaccurately, identified as the sage Vardhamana (better known as Mahavira, l. c. 599-527 BCE), but he is actually only the 24th tirthankara (“ford builder”) of Jainism. Just as Hindus believe the Vedas have always existed and were only “heard” at a certain point in the past and written down, so Jains maintain that their precepts are eternal, recognized by 23 sages down through time, to finally be established by Mahavira in its present form.

    It is a nontheistic religion in that it does not advocate a belief in a creator god but in higher beings (devas), which are mortal, and in the concept of karma directing one’s present life and future incarnations the devas have no power over a person, however, and are not sought for guidance or assistance in freeing one’s self from karmic bondage. In Jainism, it is up to each individual to attain salvation – defined as release from the cycle of rebirth and death (samsara) – by adhering to a strict spiritual and ethical code of behavior. This code is based on the Five Vows (articulated in the foundational work, the Tattvartha Sutra):

    • Ahimsa (non-violence)
    • Satya (speaking the truth)
    • Asteya (non-stealing)
    • Brahmacharya (chastity or faithfulness to a spouse)
    • Aparigraha (non-attachment)

    The Five Vows direct one’s thoughts and behavior since it is believed that, as one thinks, so will one do. It is not enough, therefore, to simply abstain from violence or lying or stealing one must not even think of such things. If one adheres to this discipline, one will escape the cycle of samsara and achieve liberation. Once one has accomplished this, one becomes a tirthankara, a “ford builder” (as in, one who builds a ford or bridge over a river) who can show others how to securely cross the currents of life by shedding desire, freeing one’s self from ignorance, and refusing the temptations of the world. In Jainism, suffering is caused by ignorance of the true nature of reality, and liberation is achieved through spiritual awakening and then living the truth one has realized.

    Mahavira’s development of the faith was in response to a general movement in India in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE of religious reform in response to Hinduism, the dominant faith at that time, which some thinkers felt was out of touch with the people’s spiritual and physical needs. Besides Jainism, there were many other philosophies or religious systems developed at this time (including Charvaka and Buddhism) which flourished for a time and then either gained ground or failed. Jainism was able to survive and attract adherents through royal patronage of political powers such as the Mauryan Empire (322-185 BCE), later survived persecutions under various Muslim rulers from the 12th-16th centuries CE, and also resisted efforts of Christian missionaries in the 19th century CE to continue as a vibrant faith up through the present day.


    Have you ever tried explaining Jainism to friend, but struggled to convey the basic principles of the religion? Introducing Jainism 101, a series of videos explaining the fundamental concepts of Jainism in a simple way!

    The first in the Jainism 101 series, this video explains the origin and basic principles of Jainism, ranging from the existence of the soul to non-violence to vegetarianism.

    The Soul

    The soul is an integral concept in Jainism that is intertwined with karma theory, reincarnation, and more. Our second video in the Jainism 101 series explains how Jainism’s concept of the soul differs from that of other religions.

    Karma Theory

    Karma determines the soul’s destination as it makes its way through the cycle of life and death. Our third video in the Jainism 101 series explores the karma theory in the context of Jainism.

    The Five Vrats

    The five vrats, or vows, are centered around five main principles that Jains work to uphold. Our fourth video in the Jainism 101 series explores these five vows and examples of how one might follow them.

    Maharaj Sahebs

    Maharaj Sahebs are ascetics in the Jain community. Our fifth video in the Jainism 101 series highlights the values, lifestyles, and importance of Maharaj Sahebs.

    Paryushan and Das Lakshan

    Paryushan and Das Lakshan are extremely significant festivals for Jains. Our sixth video in the Jainism 101 series gives more insight into these festivals, as well as how they are observed.

    Tirthankars

    Tirthankars are important figures whose teachings form the foundation of Jain principles. Our seventh video in the Jainism 101 series further expands on their role and qualities, while also touching on Mahavir Swami, who was the last Tirthankar in the descending half of the current time cycle.

    Places of Worship

    From ornate Mandirs to simple Upashrays, Jains pray and perform religious activities in a variety of spaces. Our eighth video in the Jainism 101 series describes a few of these places of worship.

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