Jainism is an ancient dharma religion. It appeared between the 9th and 6th centuries B.C. in India.
This religious trend came into existence in parallel with Buddhism. The philosopher and preacher Bardhhaman was its founder. In his opinion, he achieved the highest states of spiritual knowledge.
Summary of Jainism
The main philosophy of Jainism’s teaching is that any being (jiva) bears an eternal soul. The aim is to perfect the soul through liberation from a cycle of rebirths that is called Samsara and achievement of the highest goal – opening of man’s true soul (Nirvana) and gaining enlightenment (omniscience). The word Nirvana comes from the Sanskrit, meaning “vanishing” or “absence of anxiety”.
Adherents of this religion are Jains. The highest status in this religion is called Jina, which is the title of religious teachers who have gained enlightenment. Perfect knowledge, perception and behavior are the three values of this religion. The teaching of twenty-four special ‘jins’ is the foundation for a Jain’s practices. These Jinas are called Tirthankara (or ford-makers). There is one more meaning of this word; it means those who found and showed the path to salvation.
It is important to say that, according to Jain teaching, the soul passes a series of rebirth stages pursuant to cyclic processes in the universe. These stages include a possibility of rebirth in a non-human form, for example, as an insect or plant.
There is not a higher creator, savior or destroyer in Jainism. The universe is self-existent, and every soul can achieve enlightenment via personal efforts. Upon achieving this stage, the state of Jiva or the ‘liberated soul’ is achieved.
Jins, arihantas and tirthankaras are Jainism deities.
The main jainism mantra (prayer) is called navokar. Its meaning is that the person who sings or pronounces it demonstrates his/her respect for arahants (souls that are enlightened, but are still in physical, living people), siddhas (absolutely free souls), and acharyas (teachers and monks).
Jainism has several main religious principles.
All Jain principles imply the necessity of self-control of one’s feelings and the development of wisdom, aiming at a reduced dependency on temptations in the material world. Hatred, ignorance and violence are threats to the absence of self-control.
Key principles and the goal of Jainism
The goal in Jainism is to open the true nature of one’s soul via a path of liberation from the consequences of behavior (karma) that arise as a result of improper thoughts, actions, or words.
In accordance with the degree of the observation of Jainism principles the followers are divided into two categories – monks and lay people. Lay people keep to the ethical norms while monks live in strict ascetic conditions. It should be noted that the degree of ascetic severity in Jainism is the highest as compared to all Indian religions. An important difference is the life of the monk should not be lived for long in one place. The monk’s clothes should be exceptionally simple, and all the monk’s hair should be removed.
The high level of ascetism was one of the main reasons for the slow spreading of this religion when it originated and developed.
The basis of the Jainism culture are the holy books of Anga and Śvētāmbara. The first variants of these holy scriptures date back to the 4th century B.C. It is necessary to remember that most canonic Jainism trends acknowledge just some parts of the ancient scriptures. Also, Thirukkural (the Holy Kurals) and philosophical aphorisms in the form of poems written by the thinker Thiruvalluvar are also acknowledged scriptures.
Jainism canons propagate strict ascetism and lay a large number of limitations on the life of people who accept Jainism as their religion. Even lay people are forbidden from hunting, fishing, breeding cattle and engaging in agriculture. In consequence it is not surprising that the number of followers of this religion is not big. The largest concentration is in India where there are not more than six million followers.
Despite the austere life of Jains, this religion finds its devotees far beyond India. There are Jain communities in North America, Australia, and the Far East.