The followers of this religion believe that its roots within India are even older than the Vedic Religion. The naked statues resembling the Jain monks amongst the remains of the Indus Valley Civilization, do substantiate some of the claims. However, there is no conclusive evidence.
According to Jain tradition, the first Tirthankar, Rishabhdev flourished prior to the Indus Valley Civilization and has been referred to as Lord Vishnu in the Puraanas. This name is also mentioned in the Vedas. This shows the inseparability of the two religions in the earlier times. His sons, Bharat and Bahubali (his 57 feet high statue at Shravanabelgo in Karnataka is quite famous) are well known in Jaina Tradition.
The ancient Indian script, Braahmi, is believed to be named after his (Rishabhdev’s) daughter. 23 other Tirthankars followed him. In Jainism, a Tirthankara signifies the founder of a tirtha, which means a fordable passage across the sea of interminable births and deaths (saṃsara). According to the Jain texts, twenty-four Tirthankaras grace each half of the cosmic time cycle. Mahavira was the last Tirthankara of avasarpani (present descending phase).
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Mahavira: 24th Tirthankara
Historically, Mahavira is the founder of Jainism, but Jaina Tradition considers him as 24th Tirthankara.
Mahavira was born into the royal family of King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala (sister of King Chetaka of Vaishali) of the Ikshvaku dynasty in 599 BC. He was born at Kundagrama, now Basokund in Muzaffarpur district in the state of Bihar, India. Jain traditions date Mahavira as living from 599 B.C. to 527 B.C.
According to Acharanga Sutra, both his parents were followers of Parshvanatha and his Nirgrantha Sect. According to the Digambara tradition, Mahavira’s parents wanted him to marry Yashoda but Mahavira refused to marry. According to the svētambara tradition, he was married to Yashoda at a young age and had one daughter, Priyadarshana. Jain texts discuss twenty-six births of Mahavira before his incarnation as a Tirthankara. As per Tri-shashti-shalaka-purusha-charitra, Mahavira was born as Marichi, the son of Bharata Chakravartin, in one of his previous births.
Renunciation & Kaivalya
At the age of thirty, Mahavira left his home and family in the pursuit of spiritual awakening. He underwent severe penances, meditated under the Ashoka tree and discarded his clothes. There is a graphic description of his hardships and humiliation in the Acharanga Sutra. After twelve years of rigorous penance, at the age of 43, Mahavira achieved the state of Kevala Jnana (omniscience or infinite knowledge) under a Sala tree. The Acharanga Sutra describes Mahavira as all-seeing.
After Kaivalya for the next thirty years, Mahavira travelled throughout in India to teach his philosophy.
According to the Jain tradition, Mahavira had 14,000 muni (male ascetics), 36,000 aryika (nuns), 159,000 sravakas (laymen) and 318,000 sravikas (laywomen) as his followers. Some of the royal followers included King Srenika (popularly known as Bimbisara) of Magadha, Kunika of Anga and Chetaka of Videha.
Jains believe Mahavira attained moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death) at the age of seventy-two and his soul is now resting in Siddhashila (abode of the liberated souls). According to Jain texts, Mahavira attained nirvana (final release) at Pawapuri (now in Bihar). On the same day, his chief disciple Gautama Swami attained omniscience. According to the Pravachanasara, only the nails and hair of Tirthankaras are left behind; the rest of the body is dissolved in the air like camphor.
Jain Texts- Agamas
Agamas are original texts of Jainism based on the discourses of the tirthankara. The discourse delivered in a samavasarana (divine preaching hall) is called shrut Jnana and comprises eleven angas and fourteen purvas. The discourse is recorded by Ganadharas (chief disciples), and is composed of twelve angas (departments). A tree with twelve branches generally represents it. The earliest versions of Jain Agamas known were composed in Ardhamagadhi Prakrit language. Agama is a Sanskrit word, which signifies the ‘coming’ of a body of doctrine by means of transmission through a lineage of authoritative teachers.
The Agamas consist following texts.
10 Prakirnaka Sutra
Acharangasutra, Sutrakrtanga, Sthananga, Samavayanga, Vyakhyaprajnapti or Bhagavati sutra, Jnatrdharmakathah, Upasakadasah, Antakrddaasah, Anuttaraupapatikadasah, Prasnavyakaranani, Vipakasruta, Drstivada (now extinct)
Acaradasah, Brhatkalpa, Vyavahara, Nisitha, Mahanisitha, Jitakalpa
Dasavaikalika, Uttaradhyayana, Avasyaka, Pindaniryukyti
Catuhsarana, Aturapratyakhyana, Bhaktaparijna, Samstaraka, Tandulavaicarika, Candravedhyaka, Devendrastava, Ganividya, Mahapratyakhyana, Virastava
In essence, Jainism addresses the true nature of reality. Mahavir explained that all souls are equal in their potential for perfect knowledge, perfect vision, perfect conduct, unlimited energy and unobstructed bliss. However, from eternity the soul is in bondage of karmic particles of matters and is ignorant of its true nature. It is due to karma that the soul migrates from one life cycle to another and seeks pleasure in materialistic belongings and possessions and suffers. It is due to ignorance that the soul continuously accumulates new karma as it feeds the passions such as anger, ego, deceit, greed, lust, hatred, and self-centered violent thoughts.
Detachment from Karma
One can detach from karma and attain liberation by following the path of Right Faith (Samyak-darshan), Right Knowledge (Samyak-jnän), and Right Conduct (Samyak-chäritra). This integrated trinity determines the spiritual path. Not one, not two but all three are needed to attain Moksha. The order of attainment is first Right Faith, second Right Knowledge and last Right Conduct. Right Faith and Right Knowledge are like light and heat of sun – they always happen together.
Quality, characteristic, energy, power, whose development brings about a realization of truth – that is, of the nature of things as they are – an inclination towards valid discrimination between what is worthy of rejection and what is worthy of acceptance is Right Faith.
A valid (true) comprehension of the fundamental verities (categories of truth, realities, fundamental truths, Nav-tattva) like soul etc. – a comprehension arrived at through the instrumentality of partial truths (Naya) and Complete truth (Pramän) – is Right Knowledge.
With Right Knowledge, one gets rid of all passions such as anger, ego, deceit, greed – all attachment & hatred – enjoys his /her own true nature, and that is the Right Conduct.
Right Conduct includes nonviolence, self-purification, compassion, austerity, penance, non-possessiveness, non-absolutism, and meditation.
The supreme ideals of the Jain religion are nonviolence (Ahimsä), equal kindness, reverence for all forms of life, non-possessiveness, and non-absolutism (Anekäntväd) in speech, thought, and action. Above all, it is a religion of love and compassion to all living beings.
Five Vows (Panch Vrata)
At the heart of Right Conduct for Jains are the following five great vows:
Ahimsä (Nonviolence / Compassion) – Not to cause harm to any living beings
Satya (Truthfulness) -To speak harmless truth only
Asteya (Non‑stealing) – Not to take anything not properly given
Brahmacharya (Chastity) – Not to indulge in sensual pleasure
Aparigraha (Non‑possession) -Complete detachment from people, places, and material things.
Mahavrata & Anuvrata
These vows cannot be fully implemented without the acceptance of a philosophy of non‑absolutism (Anekäntväd) and the theory of relativity (Syädvad). These concepts are fundamental to understanding the true nature of the universe, life, and reality. Monks and nuns practice these five vows with utmost dedication (called Mahävrat), while lay people follow the vows as far as their life styles and personal commitments permit (called Anuvrata).
Ahimsä (Compassion / Non‑violence)
The basic tenet of Jainism is “Ahimsä Parmo Dharmah” (Non-violence is the supreme religion).
From an ethical point of view Dharma means duty – Compassion is the supreme duty of an individual.
From a religious point of view, Dharma means the true nature of a substance – Compassion is the true nature of a human being. Also the Jain dictum “Parasparopagraho jivänäm” means, “Living beings (Souls) render service to one another”.
Ahimsä is a principle that Jains teach and strive to practice not only towards human beings but also towards all nature. The scriptures tell us: “Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any living being including plant and vegetables.”
The teaching of Ahimsä refers not only to the avoidance of wars and physical acts of violence but also to the avoidance of violence in the hearts and minds of human beings.
Ahimsä also refers to an active concern and compassion for fellow humans and other living beings. Ancient Jain texts explain that the intention to harm and the absence of compassion is what makes actions violent. Ahimsä also has a deeper meaning in the context of one’s spiritual advancement. Violence imposed upon others in any form by our body, mind, or speech leads to the acquisition of new karma, which hinders the soul’s spiritual progress.
In other words, violence towards others is violence to one’s own soul because it impedes one’s spiritual progress. The path of non-violence leads one to spiritual progress and liberation from karma.
In a positive sense, ahimsa means caring for and sharing with all living beings as well as tending to, protecting and serving them. It entails universal friendliness (Maitri), universal forgiveness (Kshamä), and universal fearlessness (Abhaya).
Anger, greed, fear, and jokes are the breeding grounds of untruth. To speak the truth requires moral courage. Only those who have conquered greed, fear, anger, jealousy, ego, and frivolity can speak the truth. Jainism insists that one should not only refrain from falsehood, but should always speak the truth, which should be wholesome and pleasant. One should remain silent if the truth causes pain, hurt, anger, or death of any living being. Truth is to be observed in speech, mind, and deed.
One should not utter an untruth, ask others to do so, or approve of such activities.
Jain authors have adopted different views on truth; the most prevalent is the system of anekantavada or “not-absolutism”. This idea of truth is rooted in the notion that there is one truth, but only enlightened beings can perceive it in its entirety. Unenlightened beings perceive only one side of the truth (ekanta).
Anekantavada works around the limitations of a one-sided view of truth by proposing multiple vantage points (nayas) from which truth can be viewed.
Recognizing that there are multiple possible truths about any particular thing, even mutually exclusive truths, Jain philosophers developed a system for synthesizing these various claims, known as syadvada. Within the system of syadvada, each truth is qualified to its particular viewpoint;
That is “in a certain way”, one claim or another or both may be true
Saptabhangi Naya(7 Basic Premises)
Given the multifaceted nature of reality, no one should take his or her own judgments as the final truth about the matter, excluding all other judgments. This insight generates a sevenfold classification of predications. The seven categories of claim can be schematized as follows, where ‘a’ represents any arbitrarily selected object, and ‘F’ represents some predicate assertible of it:
Perhaps a is F.
Perhaps a is not F.
Perhaps a is both F and not F.
Perhaps a is indescribable.
Perhaps a is indescribable and F.
Perhaps a is indescribable and not F.
Perhaps a is indescribable, and both F and not F.
Achaurya or Asteya: Non-stealing
Asteya consists of taking another’s property without his consent, or by unjust or immoral methods.
When accepting alms, help, or aid one should not take more then what is minimum needed. To take more than one’s need is also considered theft in Jainism. The vow of non-stealing insists that one should be very honest in action, thought, and speech. One should not steal, ask others to do so, or approve of such activities.
Jainism believes that the more worldly wealth a person possesses, the more he is likely to commit sin to acquire and maintain the possession, and in a long run, he may be unhappy. The worldly wealth creates attachments, which will continuously result in greed, jealousy, selfishness, ego, hatred, violence, etc. Lord Mahavir has said that wants and desires have no end, and only the sky is the limit for them.
An attachment to worldly objects results in the bondage to the cycle of birth and death. Therefore, one who desires of spiritual liberation should withdraw from all attachments to pleasing objects of all the five senses. Monks observe this vow by giving up attachments to all things such as:
Material things: wealth, property, grains, house, books, clothes, etc.
Relationships: father, mother, spouse, children, friends, enemies, other monks, disciples, etc.
Pleasure of Five Senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing
Feelings: pleasure and painful feelings towards any objects.
Total abstinence from sensual pleasure and the pleasure of all five senses are called celibacy. Sensual pleasure is an infatuating force, which sets aside all virtues and reason at the time of indulgence. This vow of controlling sensuality is very difficult to observe in its subtle form. One may refrain from physical indulgence but may still think of the pleasures of sensualism, which is prohibited in Jainism.
Jainism states that the universe is without a beginning or an end, and is everlasting and eternal.
Six fundamental entities (known as Dravya) constitute the universe. Although all six entities are eternal, they continuously undergo countless changes (known as Paryäy).
In these transformations, nothing is lost or destroyed.
Lord Mahavir explained these phenomena in his Three Pronouncements known as Tripadi and proclaimed that Existence or Reality (also known as Sat) is a combination of appearance (Utpäda), disappearance (Vyaya), and persistence (Dhrauvya).
Utpäda- Origination of a state
Vyaya- Cessation of a state
While Jainism does not believe in the concept of God as a creator, protector, and destroyer of the universe, the philosophical concepts of Utpäda, Vyaya, and Dhrauvya are consistent with the Trinity concepts of those religions believing in God.
The Six Universal Substances or Entities (Dravyas)
Jiva-Soul or Consciousness- Living substance
Pudgal- Matter- Non-living substance
Dharma- Medium of motion- Non-living substance
Adharma- Medium of rest-Non-living substance
Akash- Space-Non-living substance
Kal- Time-Non-living substance
The soul is the only living substance, which is consciousness and possesses knowledge. Similar to energy, the soul is invisible. An infinite number of souls exist in the universe. In its pure form, each soul possesses infinite knowledge, infinite vision, perfect conduct, unobstructed bliss, and unlimited energy. In its impure form (a soul with attached karma particles), each soul possesses limited knowledge, vision, conduct, energy, and bliss.
Matter is a nonliving substance, and possesses the characteristics such as touch, taste, smell, and color. Karma is considered matter in Jainism. Extremely minute particles constitute karma.
Even any microscopic equipment (similar to electrons) cannot see these particles. The entire universe is filled with such particles.
The medium of motion (Dharma) helps the soul and matter to migrate from one place to another in the universe. The medium of rest (Adharma) helps them to rest.
The space is divided into two parts. The space that provides the room to all substances is called Lokakash, and the remaining limitless space is called Alokakash, which is empty or void.
Time measures the changes in soul and matter. The wheel of time incessantly rolls on in a circular fashion. In the first half circle it revolves from the descending to the ascending stage (Utsarpini – progressive half cycle) where human prosperity, happiness, and life span increases. In the second half circle it proceeds from the ascending stage to the descending stage (Avasarpini – regressive half cycle) where prosperity, happiness, and life span decreases. Each half circle is further sub-divided into six zones known as six eras or Äras.
Theory of Karma (Seven or Nine Tattvas)
The doctrine of karma provides a rational explanation to the apparently inexplicable phenomena of birth and death, happiness and misery, inequalities in mental and physical attainments, and the existence of different species of living beings. It explains that the principle governing the successions of life is karma. The karma that bind our soul are due not only to the actions of our body, mind, and speech but more importantly, to the intentions behind them. Jainism strives for the realization of the highest perfection of the soul, which in its original purity is free from all pain, suffering, and the bondage of the cycle of birth and death.
The seven or nine tattvas or fundamentals
The seven or nine tattvas or fundamentals deal with the theory of karma, which provides the basis for the path of liberation. Without proper knowledge of these tattvas, one cannot progress spiritually.
Jiva – Soul or living being (Consciousness)
Äsrava- Cause of the influx of karma
Bandha- Bondage of karma
Samvara- Stoppage of the influx of karma
Nirjarä- Partial exhaustion of the accumulated karma
Moksha- Total liberation from karma
Tattva- 7 or 9?
Some scriptures define Punya (virtue) and Päpa (sin) as separate tattvas while others include them in Äsrava. In reality, Punya and Papa are the result of Asrava. Hence, truly there exist only seven tattvas.
Jiva and Ajiva
The first two tattvas Jiva and Ajiva comprise the physical reality of the universe. Jiva tattva refers to the soul. However, in this section Ajiva tattva refers to karma or karmic matter only. The remaining five tattvas explain the relationship between the soul and the karma.
Asrava (Cause of the influx of karma)
A person’s ignorance or wrong belief (Mithyatva), vowlessness (Avirati), spiritual-laziness (Pramäda), and passions (Kashäya) like anger, ego, deceit and greed, and activities of body, speech, and mind (Yoga) are the primary causes of the influx of karma. Collectively, these causes are called Äsrava.
Bandha (Bondage of karma)
Bandha is the attachment of karmic matter (karma pudgal) to the soul. The soul has had this karmic matter bondage from eternity. This karmic body is known as the karmana body or causal body or karma.Karmic matter is a particular type of matter, which is attracted to the soul because of soul’s delusion or ignorance, vowlessness, spiritual-laziness, passions, activities of body, mind, and speech.
The soul, which is covered by karmic matter, continues acquiring new karma from the universe and exhausting old karma into the universe through the above-mentioned actions (Äsrava) at every moment. Because of this continual process of acquiring and exhausting karma particles, the soul has to pass through the cycles of births and deaths, and experiencing pleasure and pain. Therefore, under normal circumstances the soul cannot attain freedom from karma, and hence liberation.
Four Forms of Bondage
When karma attaches to the soul, its bondage to the soul is explained in the following four forms:
- Prakriti bandha- Type of karma
- Sthiti bandha- Duration of attachment of karma
- Anubhava bandha- Intensity of attachment of karma
- Pradesa bandha- Quantity of karma
Samvara (Stoppage of Karma)
The method that stops fresh karma from attaching to the soul is called Samvara. This process is a reverse process of Äsrava. It can be accomplished by constant practice of: Right belief, Observance of vows, Awareness (Spiritual-alertness), Passionlessness and Peacefulness of vibratory activities
Nirjara or partial removal of past-accumulated karma is done by performing Tapa or rigorous penance (fasting, avoiding tasty food, etc.) and austerities (repentance, humility, selfless service, religious study, meditation, etc.). There are twelve types of Tapaä or austerities defined in the Jain scriptures.
They are divided into two groups; external Tapaä, which disciplines the human body against passions and desires, and internal Tapaä, which purifies the soul. The internal Tapaä is the true austerity because it exhausts the attached karma before their maturity from the soul.
The removal of all past accumulated karma is called Moksha or liberation. A liberated soul regains totally its original attributes of perfect knowledge, perfect vision, perfect conduct, unlimited energy and unobstructed bliss. It climbs to the top of Lokäkäsh and remains their forever in its blissful and unconditional existence. It never returns into the cycles of birth, life, and death. This state of the soul is the liberated or perfect state, and this is called “Nirvän.”
Schools & Sects
Jainism is divided into two major sects, Digambara and Svetambara. These are further divided into different sub-sects and traditions. While there are differences in practices, the core philosophy and main principles of each sect is same.
Digambara rejects the authority of the Jain Agama compiled by Sthulabhadra. They believe that by the time of Dharasena, the twenty-third teacher after Gandhar Gautama, knowledge of only one Anga was there. After Dharasena’s pupils Puspadanta and Bhutabali, even that was lost. According to Digambara tradition, Mahavira, the last jaina tirthankara, never married. He renounced the world at the age of thirty after taking permission of his parents. The Digambara believe that after attaining enlightenment, Mahavira was free from human activities like hunger, thirst, and sleep.
Monks in the Digambara tradition do not wear any clothes. They carry only a broom made up of fallen peacock feathers and a water gourd.
One of the most important scholar-monks of Digambara tradition was Acharya Kundakunda.
He authored Prakrit texts such as Samayasara and Pravachansara. Samantabhadra and Siddhasena Divakara were other important monks of this tradition. The Digambara are 90% in number and are present mainly in Southern India, Bundelkhand, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, etc. The oldest scripture that the digambara sect of Jainism believes is the Shatkhand-agama and Kasay-pahuda.
Svetambara is a term describing its ascetics’ practice of wearing white clothes, which sets it apart from the Digambara whose ascetic practitioners go naked. Svetambaras also believe that women are able to obtain moksha. Svetambaras maintain that the 19th Tirthankara, Mallinath, was a woman. The Svetambara tradition follows the lineage of Acharya Sthulibhadra Suri.
The ancient city Pithunda, capital of Kalinga (modern Odisha), is described in the Jain text Uttaradhyana Sutra as an important centre at the time of Mahāvīra, and was frequented by merchants from Champa. Rishabhanatha, the first tirthankara, was revered and worshiped in Pithunda and was known as the Kalinga Jina. Mahapadma Nanda (c. 450 – 362 BCE) conquered Kalinga and took a statue of Rishabha from Pithunda to his capital in Magadha. Jainism is said to have flourished under the Nanda Empire.
The first Mauryan emperor, Chandragupta Maurya (c. 322–298 BCE), became a Jain in the latter part of his life. He was a disciple of Bhadrabahu, the last srut-kevali (knower of all “Jain Agamas”), who migrated to South India. Samprati (c. 224–215 BCE) (grandson of the Maurya emperor Ashoka) is said to have been converted to Jainism by a Jain monk named Suhastin. After his conversion, he was credited with actively spreading Jainism to many parts of India and beyond.
In the 1st century BCE, Emperor Kharavela, of the Mahameghavahana dynasty of Kalinga, invaded Magadha. He retrieved Rishabha’s statue and installed it in Udaygiri, near his capital Shishupalgadh. There were numerous Jains present in Kalinga during his time. The Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves near Bhubaneswar, Odisha, are the only surviving stone Jain monuments in Orissa.
King Vanaraja (c. 720 – 780 CE) of the Chawda dynasty in northern Gujarat, raised by a Jain monk named Silunga Suri, supported Jainism during his rule.
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