Introduction to Jainism

 

By Mr. R. K. Jain

 

Jainism, traditionally known as Jain Dharma, is a religion and philosophy originating in the prehistory of South Asia. Now a minority in modern India with growing communities in the United States, Western Europe, Africa, the Far East and elsewhere, Jains have continued to sustain the ancient Shraman or ascetic tradition.

Jainism has significantly influenced the religious, ethical, political and economic spheres in India for well over two millennia. Jainism stresses the spiritual independence and equality of all life with a particular emphasis on non-violence. Self-control (vrata) and vigorous asceticism are the means by which Jains attain moksha or liberation from the cycle of rebirth.

A lay Jain is termed a shravaka ) i.e. a listener. The Jain Sangha, or order, has four components: monks, nuns, lay men and women.
Overview of Jain Dharma.

Jain philosophy is a codification of eternal universal truths, which lapse among humanity over a period of time. These truths reappear through the teachings of human beings, who have gained enlightenment or omniscience (Keval Gnan). According to tradition, Lord Rishabha was the first to realize those truths in this place and time cycle. More recently were Lord Parshva (877-777 BCE) and Lord Vardhaman Mahavira (599-527 BCE).

Jainism teaches that every single living thing is an individual and eternal soul, called jiva, which is responsible for its own actions. Jains see this faith as teaching the individual to live, think and act in ways that respect and honor the spiritual nature of every living being to the best of one's human abilities. Jains view God as the unchanging traits of the pure soul of each living being, chief among them being Infinite Knowledge, Perception, Consciousness, and Happiness (Ananta Jnan, Ananta Darshan, Ananta Charitra and Ananta Sukh). Jainism does not include a belief in an omnipotent supreme being or creator, but rather in a universe regarded as eternal and governed by natural laws based on the interplay of the attributes (gunas) of the substances (dravyas) that make up the cosmos.

The primary figures of Jainism are the Tirthankaras. Jainism has two main variants: Digambar and Shvetambar. Jains believe in ahimsa (or ahinsa), asceticism, karma, samsara, and the jiva. Jain philosophy has many scriptures written over a long period of time. One of the most cited scripture among all Jains is Tattvartha Sutra, or Book of Realities written over 18 centuries ago by the monk-scholar Umasvati (also known as Umasvami).

Compassion to all fellow living beings (along with humans) is central to Jain belief. Jainism is the only religion wherein all followers, both monks and practicing lay persons of all sects and traditions, are required to be vegetarian. In regions of India with strong Jain influence, often the majority of the population is vegetarian. In many towns, the Jains run animal shelters. In Delhi, there is a bird hospital run by a Jain temple. Many historians believe that various strains of Hinduism adopted vegetarianism due to the strong influence of Jainism and Buddhism.

Jain layman worshipping at the temple at Rankapur. The mouth covering is to prevent him from inhaling any insects, a practice stemming from the Jain value of nonviolence. As part of its stance on nonviolence, Jainism goes even beyond vegetarianism, in that the Jain diet also excludes most root vegetables, as Jains believe such vegetables have an infinite number of individual souls, invisible to the naked eye. Jains also do not eat certain other foods believed to be unnecessarily injurious. Many Jains are also vegan, due to the cruelty, and violence inherent in modern dairy farms. Observant Jains do not eat, drink, or travel after sunset, and always rise before sunrise.

Anekantavada is one of the foundation pillars of Jain philosophy. Literally meaning "Non-one-endedness" or "Nonsingular Conclusivity", Anekantavada is a set of tools for overcoming the inherent bias in any one perspective on a given subject, object, process, state, or reality in general. One of these tools is known as The Doctrine of Postulation, i.e., Syadvada. Anekantavada is also define as multiplicity of views, and stresses looking at things from the other person's perspective.

Jains can be remarkably welcoming and friendly toward other faiths. For example, several non-Jain temples in India are administered by Jain individuals. The Jain Heggade family has run the institutions of Dharmasthala including the Sri. Manjunatha Temple for eight centuries. There are examples of Jains donating money for building churches and mosques. In India, Jains have often helped organize multi-religious discussions and functions, and Jain monastic leaders such as the late Acharya Tulsi and Acharya Sushil Kumar, have also promoted harmony among followers of rival faiths to help defuse communal tensions.

Jains have been an important presence in Indian culture, contributing to Indian philosophy, art, architecture, sciences, and the politics of Mohandas Gandhi, which led to Indian independence.

 

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