Jainism is one of the oldest religions of the world. Followers of 'Jina' are called Jains and hence the religion practised by Jains is called Jainism. Jinas are the 'conquerors' who have conquered all desires and have obtained infinite knowledge and wisdom. They have laid down the path for the spiritual uplift of humanity and hence are known as Tirthankaras. Jainism is regarded as an independent religion of India. There is a recorded history of Jainism since about 3000-3500 BC.
The discovery of the Indus valley civilization have provided more clues and proofs about the antiquity of Jainism. Seals of ascetics in yogic postures resemble the images of Jain Tirthankaras. These seals have been discovered during the excavations at Mohenjodaro and Harrappa in Indus valley. The people of the Indus valley not only practised yoga but worshipped the images of Yogis. There are some motifs on the seals found in Mohenjodaro suggest that these are identical with those found in the ancient Jain art of Mathura. This presence of Jain tradition in the earliest period of Indian history is supported by many scholars. It strongly suggests that Jainism existed in pre-Aryan time.
Jainism in Buddhist Period
Lord Mahavira was the senior contemporary of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. In Buddhist books, Lord Mahavir is always described as Nigantha Nataputta, the naked ascetic of the Jnätr clan. There are ample references in Buddhist books to the Jain naked ascetics, to the worship of Arhats in Jain temples and to the fourfold religion of 23rd Tirthankara Parsvanath.
The Buddhist book the Manorathapurani, mentions the names of many lay men and women as followers of the Parsvanath tradition and among them is the name of Vappa, the uncle of Lord Buddha. It is mentioned in the Buddhist literature that Lord Buddha himself practised penance according to the Jain way before he propagated his own path.
Jainism in Vedic Period
In the Hindu scripture, the Rig-veda there are references to Rishabhdeva, the first Tirthankara, and to Aristanemi, the 22nd Tirthankara. The Yajur-veda mentions the names of three Tirthankaras, viz. Rishabhdeva, Ajitanath and Aristanemi. Further, the Atharva-veda specifically mentions the sect of Vratya, the observer of vows, as distinguished from the Hindus at those times.
Neminath or Aristanemi, who preceded Lord Parshvanath, was a cousin of Krishna. There is a mention of Neminath in several Vedic canonical books. Dr. Charpentier states that Jain religion is certainly older than Mahavira (24th Tirthunkara); his reputed predecessor, Parsvanath, having almost certainly existed as the real person, and that consequently the main point of the original doctrine may have been codified long before Mahavira. There are references to Trithankars in several Hindu classics like the Vayu Purana, Koorma Purana, Bhagavatha Purana, Manu Smriti and the Mahabharata
Founders: Ancient and Modern
Jainism doesn't have a single founder. The truth has been revealed at different times by a Tirthankara ie Ford-makers. A Tirthankara appears in the world to teach the way to moksha or liberation. Other religions call such a person a "prophet". As great omniscient teachers, Tirthankaras accomplished the highest spiritual goal of existence and then teach others how to achieve it. In what Jains call the "present age" there have been 24 tirthankaras.
A Tirthankara is not an incarnation of the God. He is an ordinary soul that is born as a human and attains the states of a Tirthankara as a result of intense practices of penance, equanimity and meditation. As such, the Tirthankara is not defined as an Avatar (god-incarnate) but is the ultimate pure developed state of the soul.
Each new Tirthankara preaches the same basic Jain philosophy, but they give the Jain way of life subtly different forms in order to suit the age and the culture in which they teach.
There is some historical evidence for the earthly existence of the 23rd tirthankara, Parshvanath, who lived about 250 years before Mahavira. In his time four of the five Jain principles of non-violence, truthfulness, not stealing, and not owning things were part of Jainism. Chastity was added by the next tirthankara, Mahavira. Mahavira is regarded as the man who gave Jainism its present-day form; although this is true only in the widest sense. He is sometimes wrongly called "the founder of Jainism".
Mahavira is only this world's most recent tirthankara (and will be the last one in this age). It may be more appropriate to think of him as a reformer and developer of way of life rather than as the founder of a faith.
There are two main symbols in Jainism. The main one is shown here.
The second one is the symbol of palm (hand) which is incorporated in the main symbol but this can be and is often used as a separate symbol.
The outline of the main symbol represents the universe (Loka) as described by Jain scriptures. The lower part of the symbol represents the hells; the middle part of the universe contains the earth and the planets whereas the upper part contains the heavenly abodes.
The Swastika in the middle signifies four states of beings: hellish beings, humans, animals and semi-gods. One can go through all these states before achieving final moksha.
The top semi circle is the abode of the liberated souls. Jains believe that this universe was neither created by anyone, nor can it be destroyed by anyone. It may change its form, but otherwise, it has always been and will always be here.
The raised hand at the bottom means ‘stop’.
The word in the centre of the wheel is "Ahimsa". Ahimsa means non-violence.
Between these two, they remind us to stop for a minute and think twice before doing anything harmful. This reminds us to make sure that we should not hurt anyone by our words, thoughts, or actions. We are also not supposed to ask or encourage others to take part in any harmful activity.
The wheel in the hand shows that if we are not careful and ignore these warnings and carry on violent activities, then just as the wheel goes round and round, we will go round and round through the cycles of birth and death. The wheel also signifies the propagation of good values.
Concept of God
Jains do believe in ‘God’, not as a creator, but as a perfect being. When a person destroys all his karmas, he becomes a liberated soul. He lives in a perfect blissful state in Moksha forever. The liberated soul possesses infinite knowledge, infinite vision, infinite power, and infinite bliss. This living being or a liberated soul is considered a God in Jain religion. Every living being has a potential to become God. Hence Jains do not have one God, but Jain Gods are innumerable and their number is continuously increasing as more living beings attain liberation.
Jains believe that since the beginning of the time every living being (soul) is attached with karma and also it is in delusion (ignorant) state of its true nature. The main purpose of the religion is to remove this delusion through self-knowledge and self-effort. This knowledge will remove karma which are associated with it from the beginning of time. When all karma get removed, the soul becomes liberated soul.
The most fundamental value of Jainism is nonviolence, or ahimsa. Ahimsa is the first of the vows taken by both Jain householders and monks. Ahimsa means not harming any living being as well as protecting all living beings from harm.
While several religions practice nonviolence and peace as a fundamental principle, Jainism is unique in extending this principle to all jivas (living beings). For Jains, living beings include not only humans and animals, but everything one finds on earth. Ahimsa must therefore be extended not only to humans and animals, but also soil, sand, oceans, fires, insects, microbes and plants.
For this reason, most Jains are vegetarians. To pull up a carrot or chop a potato would be to do violence to a living being (actually several living beings, as root vegetables are seen as multi-organic and therefore multi-souled).
This unique concept of nonviolence also explains why some Jain monks and nuns wear masks over their mouths and noses or carry whisks with which they brush the or floor before sitting. To inhale or squash even a microbe would constitute violence to very small beings. The Jain code of ethics is a natural consequence of a rational approach based upon the fundamental tenets of Jainism.
Jains are expected to study the scriptures and grasp the concepts of enlightened perception, enlightened knowledge and enlightened conduct. Then they should consider their own experiences and realise that passions such as anger, pride, deception and greed make a major impact on their lives. It is observed that if an individual accepts success and failure, pleasure and pain, sickness and health, union and separation, victory and defeat as part of the worldly existence, he/she has mild passions.
This leads to contentment and peace of mind. In this manner, an individual can transform unpleasant-feeling-producing karma into pleasant-feeling-producing karma. On the other hand, one who is upset, discontent, angry, egotistic, selfish, conniving, greedy or vindictive has no peace of mind.
Jain holy books contain the preaching of Tirthankaras. The main disciples of Tirthankaras used to hear and memorise the divine preaching. For this reason the holy books are also called sruta (as heard).
Jains are mainly divided into two factions, Shvetambaras and Digambaras. Within these groupings, some minor factions do not believe in idol worships.
- Shvetambaras maintain that the original discourses are preserved in the books called Aagams.
- Digambaras believe that original preaching of Tirthankaras was lost and what we have got now cannot be called Aagams.
Therefore we have two sets of compositions: Shvetãmbara Aagams and Digambara holy books.
In a conference held at Vallabhi, Gujarat, Shvetambara books (Aagams) were finally compiled and it was decided to write them down.
Plus two more books the Nandisutra and the Anuyoga Dwar. These forty-five are Shvetamabara Moortipoojak sacred books.
Digambaras classify their scriptures in four broader divisions:-
- Prathamãnuyoga books:- These are simple books narrating stories of people and events.
- Karanãnuyoga books:- These types of books deal with the science of the karma and soul. This includes knowledge of mathematics and astronomy.
- Chranãyoga books: - These types of books deal with code of conduct. They are easy to follow and provide complete guidelines for lay people as well as for monks.
- Dravyãnuyoga books:- These books describe the philosophy of life and matter, six substances and seven fundamentals in the universe.
Worship and Ritual
Jains do not worship Tirthankaras for seeking material benefits. They worship or rather meditate on His qualities in order to make progress on the path of liberation of the soul. It is argued that image worship is necessary because it gives mental and spiritual support to a devotee.
Jains also worship some Yaksha (semi-gods) such as Manibhadra. God-Manibhadra is the protector of Jain Shãsana (order of Jains). Another deity worshipped highly is Ghantãkarna Mahãvir who is believed to be a God who fulfils one's wishes. His temple is at Mahudi in the state of Gujarat. There are many images of Goddess Padmavati too.
Namaskar Mantra is the ‘must’ prayer of all Jains.
It goes like this:
Namo Arihantanam = I bow to the Arihants - the ever-perfect spiritual victors.
Namo Siddhanam = I bow to the Siddhas - the liberated souls.
Namo Ayariyanam = I bow to the Acharyas - the leaders of the Jain order.
Namo Uvajjayanam = I bow to the Upadhyayas - the learned preceptors.
Namo loe savva sahunam = I bow to all the saints and sages everywhere in the world.
Eso panch nammukaro = These five obeisance -
Savva pava panasano = Erase all sins.
Mangalanch savvesim = Amongst all that is auspicious,
Padhamam havai mangalam = This is the foremost amongst all the auspicious things.
Vandan is a simple ritual of obeisance to God. When one enters a temple he or she pays respects with folded hands, bows down his/her head and says nishihi, nishihi, nishihi (This signifies giving up all bad thoughts and egoistic attitude).
There are more than 10,000 Jain monuments and temples in India. These masterpieces of architecture represent the devotion of Jain lay-people.
- Ayambil oli - this comes twice a year. During these days people who observe ayambil, eat food that is devoid of butter, salt, sugar etc and eat a strict Jain diet prescribed for these days.
- Paryushan - these are the days when all Jains come together and celebrate the holy days. There are different theories about the exact starting day.
It is widely accepted that senior monks had devised these celebrations before the start of their monsoon sojourn period. Shvetambaras celebrate this for eight days whilst Digambaras celebrate for ten days and call this festival Das Lakshna Parva.
Paryushan are the days of religious activities. During these days Jains observe fasts or take some vows. They voluntarily impose some regulations and hardships on themselves to keep their minds firmly fixed on religion. People go to temples, worship Tirthankaras, hear religious discourses and do meditation and rituals of forgiveness.
The holy book Kalpa Sutra is read during Paryushan festivals. On the 5th day of the festival a part about the birth of Lord Mahavira is read and that too is celebrated with joy and devotion. Fourteen dream-objects of Mother Trishala are ceremoniously brought to the main platform and few lucky ones who bid a high price for the privilege swing a small silver cradle with the child Mahavira in it. All the money goes to the maintenance or construction of a temple.
Jains in the UK
It is estimated that there are 35,000 Jains in the UK. Most of the Jains live in greater London area. There are temples in Leicester, Potters Bar, Kenton and Harrow. The total population of Jains world wide is believed to be under 8 million.