Jainism is a religion of Non-Violence (Ahimsa) propounded by a “Jin” i.e., the spiritual victor. The principles enunciated by a “Jin” constitute Jainism and the followers are known as “Jains.” Jainism represents a symbiosis of the religious and scientific approaches, for better living based on the foundations of non-violence, peace, compassion, and humility toward all living beings. Jainism is the union of personal independence with social and ecological interdependence, and believes in harmony and love toward all living beings. For millions of Jains who have been practicing Jainism all over the world, it is a way of life!
The central themes of the Jain Way of Life (JWOL) are:
• Non-Violence (NV/Ahimsa) promotes the autonomy of life of every living being. If you understand and believe that every Soul is autonomous, you will never trample on its right to live.
• Non-Absolutism (NA/Anekantvad) strengthens the autonomy of thought of every individual. If you perceive every being as a thinking individual, you will not trample on his or her thoughts and emotions.
• Non-Possessiveness (NP/Aparigrah) supports the autonomy of self-control, of striving to balance our personal consumption of things by rationalizing between our needs and desires. If you ultimately feel that you own nothing and no one, you will not trample the ecology on which our survival depends.
The most fundamental principle of Jainism is the concept of Non-Violence (Ahimsa). Therefore, Jainism has based its ethical code entirely on the observance of the tenet of non-violence, and hence it is said – “Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah” meaning “Non-violence is the supreme religion.” The Jain dictum, “Parasparopagraho Jivanam” means “Souls render service to one another.” It emphasizes the balance and harmony both among human beings, and between humanity and all other forms of life. Jains actively reflect on these values and incorporate them in daily practice. Specifically, they are strict vegetarians, minimize the use of leather, silk, and animal products, and manage their households so as to minimize harm to even insects and other small living beings. In addition, Jains engage in business practices which involve fair treatment of employees, buyers, suppliers, and they practice philanthropy.
Jain values of non-violence, compassion, tolerance, and humility are extremely relevant in the world today.
History of Jainism
Jainism is one of the oldest living religions, predating recorded history. It is an original system, quite distinct and independent from other systems of Indian philosophy. The term Jain means followers of the “Jinas” (Spiritual Victors), human teachers who attained omniscience through their own personal efforts. There have been 24 such Spiritual Victors (also known as “Tirthankars”) and Mahävir was the last of these.
Mahävir (The Great Hero) was born 2,600 years ago in 599 BCE. At the age of 30, he left home on a spiritual quest. After 12 years of austerities and meditations, he attained omniscience. At age 72, Mahävir left this mortal world and attained Nirvana, that blissful state beyond life and death. Mahävir was not the founder of Jainism. He consolidated the faith by drawing together the teachings of the previous Tirthankars and by emphasizing the principles that are important for our time.
Jains believe that to attain enlightenment and ultimately liberation, one must practice the following vows in thought, speech, and action:
• Non-violence: The fundamental vow from which all other vows stem. It involves minimizing intentional and unintentional harm to any other living creature.
• Truthfulness: Practiced in order not to harm others by speech.
• Non-stealing: Principle of not taking, or having intentions of taking, what belongs to others.
• Chastity: For lay Jains, this means avoiding sexual promiscuity. For monks and nuns, it is complete celibacy.
• Non-materialism: By limiting the desire for, and acquisition of, material goods, we can reduce attachments and focus on achieving the ultimate goal of nirvana.
Soul/Body: Jains believe that each living being is an integration of Soul and Body. Soul is an eternal non-material entity, which upon death takes re-birth and continues the cycle of life and death until liberation. Liberation is achieved only after the Soul frees itself of all karmic influences of present and past lives.
Tolerance: This philosophy states that no single perspective on an issue contains the whole truth. Substance, time, place, and the observer’s conditions all affect the viewpoint. Any event should be considered from different points of view, resulting in a non-dogmatic approach to the doctrines of other faiths.
Karma: All Souls are equal in their potential for attaining enlightenment and liberation. Different types of Karma, however, limit this ability of the Soul. Karma is understood as a form of subtle matter that adheres to the Soul as a result of its actions of body, speech, and mind. This accumulated Karma is the cause of the Soul’s bondage in the cycle of birth and death.
Moksha or Nirvana (eternal liberation through enlightenment): The ultimate aim of life is to liberate the Soul from the cycle of birth and death. This is done by eliminating all bound Karmas and preventing further accumulation. When the Soul progresses to its pure state of omniscient knowledge, free of all Karma, it achieves “Moksha” or “Nirvana.”
Path to Liberation:
Jains believe in the three-fold path of
Right Perception, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct to attain liberation or “Nirvana:”
1. Samyak Darshan (Right Perception): Belief in the body, Soul and Karma relationship as described in Jainism.
2. Samyak Jnän(Right Knowledge): Knowledge of the operation of Karma and its relationship to the Soul.
3. Samyak Charitra (Right Conduct): Adherence to the five vows.
The Jain canon contains either total of 84, 45 or 32 (depending on the tradition) and is divided into three main groups, the Purvas (old texts, 12 books), the Angas (limbs, 12 books) and the Angabahya (subsidiary canon). Many of these scriptures are lost. The Tattvärtha Sutra, written in second century CE, summarizes the entire Jain doctrine and forms the basis for Jain education today.
The Jain Community
The Jain community has contributed enormously to the arts, trade, politics and philosophy of India. Its most visible contribution can be seen in the nation’s sculpture and architecture.
There are approximately 7 million Jains in the world, about 100,000 of whom live in North America.
Jainism’s Relevance Today
Jain scriptures written more than 2,000 years ago describe in great detail many of the facts that modern science has demonstrated. The vitality of plants, the benefits of drinking filtered/boiled water, the benefits of meditation and yoga, the existence of atoms and molecules, and the benefits of vegetarianism have all been elaborately discussed in Jain scriptures for centuries. In addition, there is much Jain writing about subjects such as physics, mathematics, and astronomy. Furthermore, Jains have been promoting equality for women, animal rights, and environmental awareness.
There are still many hidden treasures within Jainism that the world is just discovering. Specifically, the practice of non-violence, the power of forgiveness, the utility of self-control, reincarnation, environmentalism and the fact that all actions have associated reactions or consequences (Karmas).
Source: Jain Way of Life Handbook, 2007