Jainism is an Indian religion devoted to the practice of Ahimsa, self-control, and self-discipline and teaches that these are the pathways to liberation. Jainism is non-theistic, and modern Jainism is divided into two sects, Digambara and Svetambara. Jainists are renowned for their literacy and education and have the highest degree if literacy of any religious community in India and their manuscripts are the oldest in the country. Jain’s do not believe in a creator god, rather view the universe as eternal and self-sustaining; their proofs use logic and syllogism to refute creationist theories which have been used as examples in science and literature even in recent times. The goal of the religion is to achieve Moksha, liberation from the cycles of rebirth, where one is no longer interested in the functionings of the universe and attains nirvana.
A long time ago, Jainism was one of the most popular religions in India. Jains trace their lineage through a succession of twenty-four tirthankaras who created the religion, with Rishabha being the first and Mahavira the last. The religion has been in decline since the 8th Century because of the expansions of Hinduism and Islam and their oppression over the Jain religion.
Jainism is derived from the Sanskrit word Jin which means ‘to conquer’. This is a conquest over the desires, passions, and pleasures of the senses to win liberation, a victor is known as a Jina, or conqueror. Jaina Dharma (जैन धर्म) is another name for the religion which prescribes equality for all of life, a path of complete ahimsa, and emphasizes spiritual independence, intelligence, and exploration of subjective truth.
There is a body of wisdom taught by all Tirthankara known as the purvas. Due to the exclusively oral tradition of these teachings, they were lost during the ages due to famine that caused the death of many of the Jainist saints. The Jain Agamas are the canonical texts of the religion, comprised for forty-six works based of Mahavira’s teachings, who was the last Tirthankara. Jains encourage higher education their philosophy has had great impact on Indian culture.
The fundamental doctrines of Jainism are revolutionary: The Jain’s call the universe ‘Loka’ meaning world and say that it was not created, but has existed since infinity and has neither beginning nor end; Jains also believe that the universe is made up of six dravya, or substances called Jiva, Pugdala, Dharma-dravya, Akasa, and Kala; the Kalacakra or spinning wheel of time is eternal and beginningless; there are three dimensions of the universe, Urdhva Loka, upper world, Madhya Loka, middle world, and Adho Loka, lower world; Their concept of truth is called anekantavada, referring to the idea of subjective truths and that life is viewed with very limited perception which humans may have in much more limited quantities than we normally consider. These are only a few of the philosophical subjects that Jainism tackles with its theoretic metaphysics. I will be writing another article on them shortly, check back in a couple weeks.
Jain’s believe strongly in the cultivation of wisdom, knowledge, and education. They believe in five core principles: ahimsa, non-violence; satya, truth; asteya, non-taking; brahmacharya, refrain from sexual activity; and aparigraha, non-possessiveness. Worshippers of Shiva and the Buddha are the main reasons for Jainism’s decline, they were violent and contemptuous towards the Jain ascetics. The Vaishnava sects of Hinduism and the growth of Hinduism itself are what drove the decline of Jainism. Today, there are about 4.2 million around the world, spread throughout mostly Asia.
The Jains primary mantra is that of a prayer towards the good qualities of the gods, monks, and towards their spiritual teachers throughout the universe, praising and respecting their good qualities. The prayer is recited as follows:
Namo Loe Savva sahunam
Mangalanam e savvesim, padamama havai mangalam
Jains fast and meditate often; monasticism is encouraged and respected deeply. Followers have neither possessions nor homes, but wander from place to place traveling barefoot without using any services and only accept food that is offered to them. Jains spend four months not traveling and wandering, known as Chaturmas when they teach the communities they join about religion and observe the rules from the Kalpa Sutra.
Jainism is one of the most interesting and unique religions in the world, currently it is making a resurgence in eastern Europe and various places in Asia. Its concepts are fascinating and I haven’t even gotten to half of them yet, stay tuned for my next article on Jain philosophy and probably another on Jain cosmology. I am really hoping that I can find more information when I get to India, although I don’t know how much of an influence Jainism will have in Mysore.