It is said that Jainism is a religion that originated in India, possibly before Hinduism. Today, there are still about 4-5 million practitioners, but they mostly live in India. It is said that it originated at about the 7th-5th century BCE in the Ganges basin where Buddhism also appeared. The religion doesn’t have a historical founder. The first significant Jain figure is Parshva, who was a teacher that founded a community based on the abandonment of worldly concerns. Jainism regards him as the 23rd “Tirthankara” who leads to the rebirth of salvation in the current age. The 24th Tirthankara was the final one named Vardhamana, who was regarded as the last teacher of “right” knowledge, faith, and practice. He was known to be a close friend of the Buddha.
Vardhamana was a prince of the Kshatriya class in India. At age 30, he gave up this status to follow a life of asceticism. He converted 11 disciples, and two of them went on to become the founders of the Jain monastic community. A third disciple was believed to be the last person to gain enlightenment. This community grew quickly, and within a few years, there were 14,000 monks and 36,000 nuns, although the community had many schisms due to debates over doctrine. This eventually led to a division between white-robed monks and monks who believed they should be naked (but not nuns).
Jainism spread westward, and many followers of Jainism started living in central and western India. Many monarchs followed Jainism and aristocrats became monks, spiritual teachers, and advisors. They contributed to the construction and upkeep of temples. During the medieval era, many writers produced philosophical treatises, commentaries, and poems about Jainism.
Eventually a caste system appeared, though Vardhamana had rejected the caste system previously. By the middle of the 19th century, many monks had disappeared, and control of temples was given to clerics known as “yati.” Today, many monastic communities devote their time to temple preservation and publishing Jainist materials. They assist with welfare programs, natural disaster relief, and assisting the poor. Now, the religion is worldwide and hosts several international publications to discuss the beliefs of Jainism.
Jainism is one of the only religions that falls under the category of being transtheistic, meaning that while they do believe in gods, they believe that gods are irrelevant, although they are not atheistic. They do not believe that the universe was created, and they believe it will exist forever. It has no creator, juge, governor, or destroyer, although it does have the ideas of heaven and hell. Jainists believe that souls can live in the body of a god if they have positive karma and possess a more transcendent knowledge about material things than humans can. Once their karma expires, their souls are reborn as humans or other living creatures. Sometimes there can be perfect souls with a body that are called victors, and perfect souls without a body that are called liberated souls.
They believe that the universe is made up of six eternal substances: souls, non-sentient substances or matter, the principle of motion, the principle of rest, space, and time. The last five are regarded as the non-living components, and they believe that the soul is indestructible, while the others can be destroyed.
In Jainism, the truth or reality is the framework for salvation. They believe that having faith in the eight tattvas are important, and that departing from worldly wants and possessions, along with acquiring good karma, leads to liberation. The eight tattvas include the sentient living, the insentient non-living, the karmic influx to the soul, the mix of living and non-living, the bondage of karmic particles to the soul, stoppage of karmic particles, wiping away of past karmic particles, and liberation.
Souls are believed to have consciousness, bliss, and vibrational energy. The vibration draws karmic particles to the soul and creates bonds that either add merit or demerit to the soul. Karma is viewed as being a material substance that binds to the soul, travels with the soul between rebirths, and affects the amount of happiness experienced by the individual. Souls will continue to pass through 8,400,000 rebirths in five different types of bodies: earth bodies, water bodies, fire bodies, air bodies, and vegetable lives. They will either evolve to a higher state or revert to a lower state depending on their amount of karma. Harming any life form gives way to negative karma. If a soul commits a completely evil act, they will never attain liberation, and unlike other Indian religions, souls can be good or evil.
Jain texts also state that the universe has many realms of existence. They believe that the universe, body, matter, and time are separate from the soul, and so the universe has three parts: the upper, middle, and lower worlds. Time is without beginning and eternal, but there are six periods of time within which the universe generates and degenerates. After the final period, the universe will begin a new cycle.
Purification of the soul and liberation can be achieved through the path of four jewels: the “Correct View,” proposing faith and acceptance of the truth of the soul; the “Correct Knowledge,” undoubting the knowledge of the tattvas; the “Correct Conduct,” which means that an individual has correct behavior; and “Correct Asceticism,” emphasizing ascetic practices.
One of the most well-known beliefs about Jainism is their belief in non-violence. They believe that people must abandon all violent activity and that religion without doing this is worthless. They cannot kill another living being, despite the circumstances. They must display non-violence in speech and thought, but rather help all other creatures. Harming other creatures negatively affects karma.
Jainism also teaches five ethical vows that followers must follow: non-violence, to always speak the truth, not stealing, celibacy or chastity and faithfulness to one’s partner, and non-possessiveness to the physical world. Jain monks and nuns must belong to nobody and they do not own anything.
Many followers of Jainism must practice asceticism. Sometimes this includes nakedness, fasting, body mortification, and penance in order to burn away past karma and to create new karma. There are six outer and six inner practices of Jainism. Outer practices include complete fasting, eating limited amounts, eating restricted items, abstaining from pleasing foods, mortifying the flesh, and guarding the flesh from temptation. The inner practices include expiation, confession, respecting beggars, studying, meditation, and ignoring bodily wants in order to abandon the body.
Jain people also practice being vegetarians. Some even practice lacto-vegetarianism as long as no harm was brought to a cow in obtaining their milk. Some monks and nuns even avoid root vegetables because tiny organisms are harmed when the plant is pulled up. Monks also only eat once a day. Jains fast during their festivals. Most fasting lasts about thirty-six hours, starting at sunset before the day of the fast and ending 48 minutes after sunrise the day after. It is more commonly observed by women. One of the greatest rituals is to die religiously through “ascetic abandonment of food and drink.”
Meditation is also a practice that Jainism deems necessary. In Jainism, meditation stops karmic attachments and activity, rather than providing insights or self-realization. It is a period of voluntarily assuming temporary ascetic status.
Sometimes Jains worship different deities called the Jinas. They are not entities as much as they are the highest states of omniscience that a tirthankara achieved. Therefore, they worship several of their tirthankaras. They remember the life events of the tirthankaras. This is done by a Jain layperson entering a Jain temple in simple clothing and bare feet, filling a plate with offerings, bowing down, and completing their prayers. Then, they leave the offerings and leave. Some offerings include rice, fruits, flowers, coconut, sweets, and money.
The most important Jain festival is called the Paryushana. It is celebrated from the 12th day of the waning moon in the month of Bhadrapada in the Indian calendar, which is around August or September on the Gregorian calendar. It lasts for eight days. During this time, people fast, pray, and emphasize their five vows. People may recite their holy texts or read their own texts. They use this time to emphasize humane treatment of animals and other life forms. On the last day, there is a prayer and meditation session where Jains grant forgiveness to others, themselves, and seek forgiveness from all beings.
On the 13th day of the month of Chaitra, Jains celebrate Mahavir Janma Kalyanak. It includes visiting Jain temples, pilgrimages, shrines, and reading Jain texts. Jain temples and homes are decorated with lights and small oil lamps.
Jain scriptures are called “Agamas.” They were verbally transmitted and originated from the sermons of the tirthankaras. There are about 45 to 50 original Jain scriptures that some Jains believe they still have, while others believe that all Jain scriptures were lost. Some of the oldest Jain scriptures have been recreated. Digambara Jains created another canon that contains history, cosmography, philosophy, and ethics.
Some influential literature has been Jain’s non-canonical literature, particularly the Kalpa Sutras. Some Sanskit text that has been written is considered authoritative by all Jain traditions.
Jains worship in temples. They contain images of the tirthankaras inside the inner sanctum, which is one of their two sections. The other section is the main hall. In front of Jain temples, there is usually a column of honor. This can display the primary deity at that temple.
There are two major denominations, called the Digambara and Svetambara. The Digambara monks don’t wear clothing, while Svetambara monks wear white clothing. They differ in practices, dress code, and interpretations of teachings. Svetambara has many more female nuns than monks, while Digambara believes that males are closer to the soul’s liberation.