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Jainism

Updated: Mar 7, 2021

  • Jainism is an ancient religion which originated in India in the 6th century BC.

  • Jainism is said to be founded by 24 Tirthankaras (great teachers).

  • Rishaba was the the first Tirthankara.

  • However, the first twenty two Tirthankaras have no historical foundation.

  • Only the last two, Parsva and Mahavira, are historical persons.

Mahavira

  • The real founder of Jainism was its 24th Tirthankara, Vardhaman Mahavira.

  • Mahavira was born in 540 BC in Kundagrama near Vaishali. Being the son of the head of a Kshatriya clan, he also had connections with the royal family of Magadha.

  • Initially, Mahavira led the life of a householder, but later he abandoned his house at the age of 30 and became an ascetic.

  • After wandering from place to place for 12 years, he attained enlightenment (Kaivalya) through which he conquered misery and happiness.

  • Because of this conquest, he is known as 'Jina' that is the 'conqueror' and his followers are known as Jainas.

  • He propagated his religion for thirty years and his mission took him to Koshala, Magadha, Mithila, Champa etc.

  • He passed away at the age of 72 in 468 BC at Pavapuri near modern Rajgir.

The Jain Philosophy

  • When a person dies, the soul leaves the body. Later, the soul finds another body when the rebirth occurs. This is known as 'transmigration of soul'.

  • Thus there will be a continuous cycle of birth and death. This is known as the 'vicious cycle of births and deaths'.

  • The soul attains moksha (salvation) only when this 'vicious cycle of births and deaths' ends.

  • To attain moksha, a person should do the following things.

  1. Obtain 'Right Knowledge'

  2. Have 'Right Faith'

  3. Observe ' Right Conduct'

  • If a person is able do these three things, he will be free from the 'cycle of births and deaths'.

  • These three principles- right knowledge, right faith, and right conduct- are known as 'triratnas' (three jewels) of Jainism.

Right Knowledge

  • The Vedic texts had tried to describe various metaphysical things such as; existence, universe, purpose of the life, the absolute truth, etc.

  • According to Jainism, no single, specific statement can describe the nature of existence and the absolute truth.

  • All the statements and theories about metaphysical things are partially true and at the same time incomplete. (This concept is known as 'Anekantavada')

  • If a person understands this, he has attained 'right knowledge'

Right Faith

  • A Jaina should have faith in the theory of karma and transmigration of soul, if he want to attain salvation.

  • Theory of karma:- according to your actions, you will be punished or rewarded in the next life.

Right Conduct

  • Observe the five vows.

  1. Ahimsa- do not hurt any living things

  2. Satya- always tell truth

  3. Asteya- do not steal

  4. Aparigraha- do not acquire property

  5. Brahmacharya- do not involve in sexual relationship

Varna System

  • If the actions of a person is good, he will be born in upper caste in the next life.

  • If his actions are bad, he will born in a lower caste in the next life.

  • That means, one will be punished or rewarded in the next life as per one’s karma (actions).

  • According to his karma in the previous life, he will born as an upper caste or lower caste.

  • Thus, Jainism did not reject the Varna system.

Gods

  • Gods became 'Gods' because of their good actions in the previous life.

  • Gods are still subject to the cycle of births and deaths.

  • Hence the position of Gods is lower than that of Jina (Mahavira)

Life of the People under Jainism

  • Mahavira taught a simple doctrine: men and women who wished to know the truth must leave their homes.

  • Followers of Mahavira, who were known as Jainas, had to lead very simple lives, begging for food.

  • They had to be absolutely honest, and were especially asked not to steal.

  • They had to observe celibacy (brahmacharya).

  • Men had to give up everything, including their clothes. Women could wear unstitched plain white sarees

  • It was very difficult for most men and women to follow these strict rules.

  • Nevertheless, thousands left their homes to learn and teach this new way of life.

  • Many more remained behind and supported those who became monks and nuns, providing them with food.

  • Jainism was supported mainly by traders.

  • Farmers, who had to kill insects to protect their crops, found it more difficult to follow the rules.

Position of Women

  • Jainas had to give up their clothes to follow the principle of 'aparigraha'. But women were not able to follow this.

  • Also, women were not able to follow the principle of 'ahimsa'. Because their bodies generate and destroy life-forms within their sexual organs (menstruation).

  • Since women were not able to follow these two vows, they were unable to attain moksha.

Causes for the Growth of Jainism

  • In the later Vedic period, Hinduism had become rigid and orthodox with complex rituals. So people wanted a simple religion without much rituals.

  • Varna system divided the society into 4 classes based on birth, where the two higher classes (Brahmanas and Kshatriyas) enjoyed several privileges. Because of this, the Vaishya supported Jainism.

  • Because of the complex rituals, the importance of the Brahmanas increased. There was a Kshatriya reaction against the dominance of Brahmanas. The kings gave much support to Jainism.

  • Spread of new agricultural economy in north-eastern India due to the use of iron tools. Because of the increased production, there was an improvement in the material life of the people. But many of the people did not like this new material life. They wanted the old way of life. They were attracted by the principles of Jainism which asked them to give up even their clothes.

  • For the new agricultural economy, cattle was essential. Many cattle were slaughtered for the rituals in the Hindu religion. So, the Jain principle of ahimsa (non-violence) was suitable for the interest of the farmers.

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