Saturday, July 4, 2015

Jainism: The Basic

Depiction of Mahavira (Wikimedia Common)
A religion that originated in India, it stood overshadowed by two other prominent Indian religions – Hinduism and Buddhism. A belief that followed the same path of spiritual enlightenment and detachments. It is the religion known as Jainism.

Jainism is one of the most ancient religions of India. It teaches about material detachment. A life seeking purity and enlightenment. Its foundation formed from the ideals of Ahimsa or nonviolence. It promoted the avoidance of harming other life forms – humans, animals, insects, plants, and elements, like water, earth, air, and fire. The word itself came from the Sanskrit word “Ji.” Which meant to conquer. To conquer fit perfectly to the belief of Jainism of conquering once materialism and cranial need. Once follower overcame his material and bodily attachment, he achieved the status of Jina or Conqueror.

Jainism originated around 7th-5th century. Started in the Ganges Valleys of Eastern India, Jainism did not attribute its foundation to anyone. But many recognized the first Tirthankara or Ford-maker, which meant “one who leads the way across the ocean of rebirths to salvation,” Rishabha as the founder of Jainism.  Nevertheless, the earliest prominent leader of Jainism came from the form of Vardhamana, otherwise known as Mahavira.

Mahavira had stood tall in the pedestal of the history of Jainism. He lived at the same time of the Prince Siddhartha Gautama or Buddha during the 6th century BCE. Like the Buddha, Mahavira also came from a princely status. However, he abandoned it in favor of seeking enlightenment by living an ascetic life. He then converted 11 disciples who cherished his teachings after he passed away. Mahavira became known as the 23rd Tirthankara and his teachings became the tenants of the Jainism.

Schism followed centuries after the death of Mahavira. Between the 4th and the 3rd century BCE, conflicts in belief in Jainism resulted to the creation of two major sects in the religion: the Svetambara and the Digambara. Digambara, meaning sky-clad, believed in a monastic life that truly detach themselves from material objects, even clothes, hence they walk naked with peacock feathers swiping the floor to avoid hurting any insects. The Svetambara on the other hand believed less radically than the Digambara. They wore simple white cloth, had a broom and alms bowl. Both also followed different Jainist text. The Svetambara followed the Agma while the Digambara followed the Karmaprabhrta or Chapter on Karma and the Kasayaprabhrta or Chapters on the Passions. All books supported the claims of their respective sect and discredited the other.

Ahimsa, Aparigragha, and Anekantavada build the center of the belief of Jainism. Ahimsa meant non-violence and respect to any life forms. This covered animals and even fruits, thus Jains had a strict vegetarian diet. Aparigragha called for morality that covered honesty, chastity, and integrity. Under it, a Jain must not inflict harm to another life form whatsoever. It also called for control over bodily and cranial needs such as gluttony and lust. Lastly, Anekantavada, promotes infinity in views and even existence. This doctrine makes Jains open minded and aware of other perspectives.

Karma also played a key role in Jainism. Unlike in Buddhism and Hinduism where they viewed karma as the result of one’s life action, in Jainism they believed that karma existed as a particle that attach to a person as a result of his actions. For Jainism, a soul is clean and pure but once it dives more to the materialistic world, became attach to worldly possession, and did wrong to other lives, one accumulates karma. And too much Karma resulted to a next life full of hardship and suffering. But an individual could remove karma with the process called nirjara or wearing out. It involved fasting, being vegetarian, keeping chastity, and atoning for any wrongdoings. Only then that soul would advance further and further until it attains enlightenment and purity of soul.

Women stood in a different level in Jainism, especially to Digambara. For Digambara sect, women could not attain enlightenment because male had the monopoly. Nevertheless, they teach that a woman must follow the tenants of Jainism to be born as males in the next life to allow them to ascend to complete detachment.

Jainism had ritual and practices to achieve purity and enlightenment. For lay Jains, they take the 12 vows, which made of 5 anuvratas, 3 gunavratas, and 4 shishavratas. Vows dedicated to nonviolence, ascetic, and controlled life. But for monks, the ultimate ritual came in form of sallekhana. In the ritual a monk that found his life nearing end laid one sided in a bed of thorny grass. Under the uncomfortable circumstances, he then fasted and refused to drink even water. A ritualistic suicide aimed to final detachment to the material world – through death.

Today, Jainism stood in a minority compared to other major religion. It had less than 6 million followers. In India, although commanded a small percentage, they spread across the whole country. After an increase in Indian migration, minimal percentage of Jainism began to take root in other regions like Southeast Asia.

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. "Jainism", accessed July 03, 2015,

Vallely, Anne. "Jainism." in Encyclopedia of Global Religion. Edited by Mark Juergensmeyer & Wade Clark Roof. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, Inc., 2012.


  1. Good article. Following shows that Jainism is the most ancient religion in the region. Worth reading, very interesting:

  2. Very wrong portrayal of Jainism's view on women. One of our tirthankara,s Malli prabhu was a women and so were many others who attained enlightenment like Mata Marudeva, Chandanbala etc