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Jainism – A Brief Description

Jain Temple Shatrunjaya India

  • Jainism originated in ancient India and remains to this day one of the largest religions in India. Developed during a time of religious reconstitution in India, Jainism may be seen as a reaction to the prevalent Hindu religious systems that existed from approximately the 6th century BCE onwards. Like Buddhism, Jainism privileges individual liberation for each being in the world and teaches a strict doctrine of cause and effect stemming from actions.
  • In other words, Jainism teaches karma, the law of action and reaction, but in a much more strict sense than either Buddhism or Hinduism. One who conquers this fundamental law of the universe, a Jina, is one who is liberated from suffering throughout the world and the universe. Such a conqueror in Jainism was Mahavira, a contemporary of the Buddha in ancient India. His followers began the religion although believe that the teachings started long before Mahavira existed.
  • Foundational to Jainism is its belief in non-violence. Much karma is accumulated from violent action, even as small as ingesting microscopic beings inadvertently. Essentially, Jains realize that violence is quintessential and unavoidable. However, the effects of violence may be minimized through proper behavior and that righteous and pious actions may alleviate some of the negative cosmic consequences. Ideally, a man should become a monk, of which there are two types: those who wear white clothes and those who wear no clothes at all. Since mere human existence creates a wake of destruction on the microscopic level, such as inadvertently killing creatures in cooking, walking, or even in secondary actions like driving a car, Jain monks strive to limit their violence by living as simple as possible.
  • Monks do not prepare food but rather have lay people prepare food for them as to limit their karmic inheritance. Jainism’s extreme sect, the naked wandering monks called Digambaras, believe in renounciation and do not participate in many worldly endeavors, unlike Buddhist monks for instance who are active participants in local communities. Jainism teaches that the universe does not have a beginning or an end but that time is cyclical and unending. Thus, the only way out of the trap, which the unending cyclical cosmos is viewed as, is to liberate the soul from the things that keep the soul entrapped. Karma is the most fundamental of these obstructions.

7th Century Jain Tirthankaras Sculptures Near Gwalior Fort

Modern Jainism
  • Modern Jains live all over the world. However, nearly all of the Jain monks exist in India where they can properly practice their spiritual restraints. First of these is non-violence. Next is truthfulness and then not taking what is offered. Second to last of the five vows is control over sexual activity. Last but not least is detachment from all material items and people. Lay Jains practice variations to these five rules and adapt them to fit their circumstances since obviously it is incredibly difficult to practice any of these principles in the modern world.
  • In India, most Jains live in northern India although there are large pockets of Jain communities in the south. Jainism is deeply committed to preserving its ancient ideals and therefore many Jains attend only Jain schools and marry within Jain castes.
  • Outside of India, Jains recognize the need to be flexible in order to survive and therefore often bend the rules and regulations in light of pragmatism. Since Jains do not worship a god or goddess in the traditional sense, there is limited interaction with deities or murtis (statues). Nevertheless, Jainism has a rich history of representing their liberated Jinas (conquerors), like Mahavira, in art and sculpture.
  • Unlike Hinduism or Buddhism which similarly creature representations of gods or enlightened beings, Jainism does not promote the asking of favors from the beings. Instead, Jains recite prayers of respect and praise. Foundationally, the representations of enlightened beings serve as inspiration as well as lasting testaments to the capabilities of the human life given proper restraint.

Jain Temple At Amar Sagar India

Jain Sculptures at Gwalior India