- A look at Jainism
Jainism is a religion
that flourished in ancient India during a time when there was a lot of discontent
with the ritualistic sacrifices and the caste system of the Vedic religion
known today as Hinduism. There was a time when Jainism and Buddhism together
threatened the very existence of the Vedic religion as it was practiced then.
And though Hinduism did manage to survive and gain back the widespread acceptance
it once enjoyed, Jainism still retains some strongholds in parts of Northwestern
and Southern India. The Jain population worldwide is estimated to be around
The essence of
Jainism is captured in the phrase Ahimsa parmo dharma,
which means Non-violence is the supreme religion. At the foundation
of Jain philosophy is a respect and love for all of life in its myriad shapes
and forms. It considers all creatures equal and respects their right to exist.
It aims at working towards the welfare of all and urges its followers to
rise above ignorance and inaction to reach complete knowledge and bliss -
called Moksha, or freedom from the cycle of life, death and
Jains believe their
religion has always existed, just like the Universe, which they believe has
no beginning and no end. As such, they do not have the concept of a Creator
God. They believe each individual can attain perfect knowledge and reach
a stage wherein all personally accumulated karma has been worked off. In
achieving this, one attains Godliness. Such souls are called Siddhas
and are revered as role models by the Jains. Jains believe that even the
lowliest being can become a Siddha and that Moksha is not
restricted to any particular class of people. Each soul has immense potential
for infinite knowledge, infinite cognizance and infinite power, waiting to
be released. The only thing holding back the realization of this potential
is the karma accumulated by the individual.
In Jainism, the
Universe is seen as self-regulated according to eternal cosmic law. It consists
of six Dravyas - substances or universal entities - that can be broadly
classified into living and non-living beings. Five of the Dravyas
are non-living beings: Pudgal, which is matter; Akaash, which
is space; Dharmastikaaya, the medium of motion;
Adharmastikaaya, the medium of rest; and Kaal or Samaya,
A detailed explanation
about the non-living Dravyas can be found at here.
called Jiva, make up the sixth Dravya. Living beings are further
classified on the basis of the number of senses they possess. Creatures that
possess only the sense of touch are categorized by their medium of existence.
Prithvikaaya is the category of souls that exist in the form of earth,
Apakaaya is a soul that exists in the form of water, Agnikaaya
is a soul that exists in the form of fire, Vayukaaya is a soul that
exists in the form of air, and Vanaspatikaaya is a soul that exists
in the form of vegetation.
Then there are
the creatures that possess more than one sense. Creatures such as worms and
leeches possess two senses: touch and taste. Creatures that perceive the
three senses of touch, taste and smell are another grouping and include ants
and lice. Beyond that, there are creatures like bees and flies that possess
not only touch, taste and smell, but also sight. Finally, there are those
creatures that possess all five senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and
hearing - creatures like human beings, animals and birds, as well as heavenly
and hellish beings.
Each of these realities
is said to have an existence known as Sat. Each entity or reality
undergoes continuous changes, like creation and destruction. This is called
its Paryaya. In the midst of these changes its basic qualities remain
unchanged. These attributes are called its Gunas. Thus, each
Dravya has three aspects: Utpada (origin), Vyaya
(destruction) and Dhrauvya (permanence).
This can be illustrated
with the example of gold. A gold bangle can be melted (destruction) and used
to make a pair of earrings (origin). However, whatever form it exists in,
the qualities of gold remain the same (permanence). A similar process takes
place in living beings with the various stages of life: birth, childhood,
youth, old age, death, rebirth. Yet, through it all, the basic qualities
of the soul remain the same.
also enumerates nine fundamental truths, or Tatvas:
2. Ajiva (non-living matter)
3. Punya (results of good deeds)
4. Paap (results of bad deeds)
5. Asrava (influx of karmas)
6. Samvar (stoppage of karmas)
7. Bandh (bondage of karmas)
8. Nirjara (eradication of karmas)
9. Moksha (liberation)
A very good
illustration and explanation of these Tatvas is
There is also the
philosophy of Syadvada (relativity). Syadvada is also known
as Anekantvada, or the Doctrine of Manifold Aspects. It describes
the world as manifold; an ever-changing reality, an infinity of viewpoints
depending on the time, place, nature and state of the viewer and that which
is viewed. What is true from one point of view is open to question from another.
Absolute truth cannot be grasped from any particular viewpoint alone. Absolute
truth is the sum total of all the different viewpoints.
of Syadvad is the art of picking the right angle to view something
at the right time and the right place. At the same time, other viewpoints
are also to be taken into consideration in their due importance. Relativity
is considered a form of mental non-violence.
Maha-vratas: The Five Great Vows
Right Faith and Right Conduct are considered the three-fold path to liberation.
In order to achieve Right Conduct, the five Maha-vratas are to be
This is considered the highest principle in Jainism. Jainism strictly prohibits
causing any kind of harm to any other creature, whether it is by deeds, words
or even thoughts. It encourages harmonious and peaceful co-existence with
other living creatures. It believes that if one feels compassion and love
for other creatures, one cannot remain indifferent to their suffering. Jains
are strictly vegetarian. In addition, they avoid foods whose consumption
could lead to harming other creatures. For example, tubers and roots, like
carrots, potatoes and garlic, grow under the ground and might have minute
organisms living on them. The same goes for curds that have live bacteria.
The Jain monks and nuns even go to the extent of pulling out their hair with
bare hands instead of shaving with a razor to cause minimum damage to the
organisms living in the hair. They are also advised to walk and move carefully
so as to avoid killing tiny creatures like ants. A minimum of movement is
recommended. They usually cover their noses and mouths with a piece of cloth
to avoid breathing in organisms in the air. It is practically impossible
to avoid harming all creatures in the course of daily activities, hence the
rules are a little more lax for laypeople. However, intentional killing or
injury is still prohibited. Harsh and hurtful words are to be avoided and
thinking evil of another is also considered a form of violence.
Satya (Truth): Jains
are advised to speak the truth at all times. The idea is to overcome greed,
fear, anger, jealousy, ego, frivolity, etc., which are considered breeding
grounds of falsehood. Only a person who has controlled these emotions and
desires has the moral strength to speak the truth at all times. However,
in keeping with the principle of non-violence in speech, if a truth is likely
to cause pain, sadness, anger or the death of any living creature, then a
Jain is advised to remain silent.
(Refraining from Theft): A Jain must not take anything that does not belong
to him without the prior permission of its owner. This includes any unclaimed
articles he may find lying on the street or even a blade of grass from
anothers garden. Jain monks and nuns who survive by begging for food
from laypersons are advised not to acquire more than a few mouthfuls of food
Jain monks and nuns are required to take a vow of celibacy. Adultery among
laypeople is prohibited and they are required to be chaste in their deeds
and thoughts. This is because sensual pleasure is considered an infatuating
force that sets aside all virtues and reason at the time of indulgence.
(Non-possession/Non-attachment): This is based on the belief that desire
for material wealth can lead a person to commit sin by giving rise to negative
emotions like greed, anger and jealousy. Desires are ever-growing and they
form a never-ending cycle. A person who wishes to achieve liberation from
the cycle of life and death must acquire control over his senses and avoid
attachment to material things, places or persons. Monks and nuns are required
to give up attachment to material things (wealth, property, grains, house,
books, clothes, etc.), relationships (father, mother, spouse, children, friends,
enemies, other monks, disciples, etc.) and feelings (pleasure and painful
feelings towards touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing).
Jains are required
to refrain from committing the acts forbidden by these vows. This means that
they should neither commit such acts themselves, nor have them done by someone
else, nor encourage such acts.
Tirthankaras are individuals who acquired enlightenment through penance,
meditation and following the Maha-vratas. These individuals then went
on to preach the knowledge they acquired to the laypeople. They organized
their followers into four categories:
Sadhus (monks), Sadhvis (nuns),
Shravaks (laymen) and Shravikas (laywomen). Mahavir (599-527
B.C.), the 24th and last Tirthankara, was responsible for popularizing
Jainism during the period when Jainism was gaining favour with people throughout
statues representing the Tirthankaras can be found in Derasars
(Jain temples). The statues are identical because they represent the qualities
and virtues of the spiritual leaders rather than their physical bodies. The
only way to differentiate between these statues is a unique symbol at the
bottom of each statue representing each of the 24 Tirthankaras. These
statues are not meant for idol-worship but to serve as role models for Jains
visiting the Derasar to pray and ask forgiveness for their sins. Jains
do not ask for favours when they pray, nor do they pray to any specific
Tirthankara or God or monk or nun. Penance is a very important part
of Jain philosophy, and holy fasts form a major part of the Jain religious
and social calendar. In addition to these, monks, nuns and sometimes even
laypeople undertake their own individual patterns of fasting.
Jainism is a unique
philosophy not only because of its insistence on non-violence and harmony
and open-minded viewing of various aspects of truth, but also because it
believes that each person is the master of his or her own fate. Liberation
is the responsibility of each individual, and Jains are urged to take the
necessary actions to achieve this lofty goal.