Jainism, stemming from a succession of 24 Jinas (“conquerors”) is now a religious belief with followers constituting a minority in modern India and scattered patches in the United States, Europe, East Asia and other places. This religion is notable for its ascetic tradition (Shraman) and a set of specific religious beliefs and concepts, originating out of both Hinduism and Buddhism. Through self-control and abstention, Jains (followers of Jainism) seek to achieve moksha, liberation from the rebirth cycle. Like most religions, Jainism is grounded in a set of philosophical concepts that form a coherent whole and provide a normative framework for the behaviour of Jains.
1. Reincarnation, Moksha and Self-Control
The fundamental idea that underlies Jaina epistemiology is that “human beings are in a position to be omniscient and that this view is based on the teaching of omniscient beings who have taught the basic ideas after having become enlightened through a strict ascetic discipline” (Soni 2000:369). The omniscient beings are described as "Jinas" (“conquerors”), and their list ends with Pārśva and Buddha’s contemporary Mahāvīra. The teaching of Jinas is supposed to be authoritative to all other Jaina believers and is taken as the foundation for any concepts in ontology, epistemiology, or ethics. Jinas are also called Tīrthaṃkaras ("ford-makers"), with the metaphor alluding to the Jinas helping unite the two sides of the life’s stream, the mundane and the godly one.
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Jainism demands from its followers ascetism in everything, since ascetism is taken to mean self-control. Akaranga Sutra thus states the division of humanity: “There are men who control themselves, (whilst others only) pretend to be houseless”
One of the underlying principles of Jainism and perhaps the most widely known one is reincarnation. Jainism states that human beings are going through an endless circle of rebirths that befall anyone who did not realize the causes of and reject sin. For those who have done so, the cycle stops, and they achieve moksha that symbolizes enlightenment received by virtue of ascetic living. Akaranga Sutra, a sacred Jaina text, states that “a man that does not comprehend and renounce the causes of sin, descends in a cardinal or intermediate direction, wanders to all cardinal or intermediate directions, is born again and again in manifold births, experiences all painful feelings”. Thus, life is painful for Jains, and reincarnations only prolong their pain, while moksha offers freedom from the tormenting life. At the same time, scholars note that with time, “the emphasis gradually changed within Jainism to the possibility of the gaining of an appropriate rebirth, usually as a god in one of the heavens”
(Dundas 2002: 150).
What is needed in order to achieve moksha? To reach this precious state, Jainism demands from its followers ascetism in everything, since ascetism is taken to mean self-control. Akaranga Sutra thus states the division of humanity: “There are men who control themselves, (whilst others only) pretend to be houseless”. Throughout the text, “houseless” symbolizes one of the greatest achievements of Jains and seems is taken in figurative, broader sense. The text defines that “He who acts rightly, who does .pious work, who practises no deceit, is called houseless” (Akaranga Sutra). Akaranga Sutra in detail outlines exactly what self-control should be reflected in. Thus, a Jain seeking to renounce sin will have to abstain from hurting animals, plants, even including vegetables. Such behaviour is assumed to lead to negative karma that will be reproduced in the next reincarnation. Such philosophy of non-violence has its roots in the concept of ahimsa. As a result, Jains follow a vegetarian diet.
Other concepts that describe Jain beliefs are those of Satya (“speaking truth; avoiding falsehood”), Asteya (“to not steal from others”), and Aparigrah (“detach from people, places and material things”) (Robinson 2005). Reading another sacred text of Jains, the Kalpa Sutra, describing the life of Jina Mahāvīra, one can get an idea what ideal Jaina behaviour will be like. A Jain who will choose to imitate this reverend leader, will have to be “houseless, circumspect in his walking, …, in his thoughts, … in his words, … in his acts. … calm, tranquil, composed, liberated, free from temptations, without egoism” (Kalpa Sutra). The Kalpa Sutra compares the feelings of Mahāvīra to those of a tortoise, and the purity of his soul to the lotus.
2. Jaina Cosmology
Jainisn denies the fact that the universe was created or that its existence will ever end. The universe, in the Jaina philosophy, is eternal, although it does undergo changes in its development. In its development, the universe passes through a series of cycles that are also divided into ages. Cycles can be remarkable for upward or downward movement, and right now the earth is in a downward movement.
Jainist philosophy also defines a specific structure for the universe that includes several layers. High up, in the “supreme abode”, lives Siddha, or those who have reached the highest level of liberation. A little further down is the upper world inhabited by celestial creatures, the middle world including the earth, the nether world with seven levels of hell, and the Nigoda, home to life’s most primitive forms (Robinson 2005). In addition, these worlds are placed in space, including universe space with clouds encircling the upper world, and space beyond that represents indefinite space lacking time and matter.
An important part of Jaina cosmology is the division of reality into the categories of jiva and ajiva, the living and the non-living. Jiva is not restricted to humans, animals, and plants since it may be present in earth, water, or fire. In short, jiva is “broadly defined as dynamism and suffuses what in precontemporary physics would be considered inert” (Chapple 2001:207). An object containing jiva is supposed to have some inner energy or consciousness. In contrast, ajiva, or non-living things, include “properties such as the flow of time and space and the binding of matter known as karma or dravya onto the jiva” (Chapple 2001:207). Contact between jiva and ajiva is what causes suffering. Karma, as stated above, is definitive in one’s development and determines the nature of future reincarnations. When relief from all karma is achieved, a person become a siddha, a perfect one who has completed Jaina purification and is free from negative influences of past experiences.
3. The Nav Tattvas
Jiva and ajiva form two of the nine fundamental principles of Jainism that are called the Nav Tattvas. Here belong punya and pap, correspondingly the results of bad and good actions. Thus, punya can be acquired by feeding the poor, involvement in charity activities, spreading Jaina beliefs etc. On the contrary, when a person acts toward others in a disrespectful or violent manner, this individual will acquire pap, that, maturing, “brings forth suffering, misery, and unhappiness”( University of Michigan Jains 1998).
The next two of the Nav Tattvas, Asrava and Samvar, represent correspondingly “influx of karman particles to the soul” and the stop in this process ”( University of Michigan Jains 1998). Since accumulation of karma is considered harmful, samvar is more desirable then Asrava and can be achieved through mental reflections, self-control or suffering. Karmas can be removed in the process of nirjara while bandh means that inflowing particles are attached to the soul. Yet another of the Nav Tattvas is the moksha – the above-mentioned spiritual liberation from karmas.
4. Divisions among Jains
The life of the “houseless” is that of monks who enjoy the highest status in Jaina religion (Akaranga Sutra).These monks wander from one village to another, following strictly ascetic rules and practices. Lay people are supposed to follow a less severe life, with fewer restrictions, although they, too, should live in consonance with the concept of ahimsa and avoid hurting any living beings (Akaranga Sutra). Thus, they have to choose occupations that will not require of them to inflict pain on others. This is made possible by the fact that Jains make up a minority of the population in any country.
There are also two separate currents within Jainism known as Śvetāmbara and Digambara that disagree on many issues of epistemiology, cosmology etc. The difference is also visible in clothing: Śvetāmbara walk around villages wearing robes and believe in the ability of women to achieve liberation without reincarnation in men. Digambara monks go around naked (except women), rejecting women’s ability to achieve liberation and denying the value of holy texts used by Śvetāmbara (Dundas 2002:45-46).
Jainist philosophy has won acclaim in the modern world, transgressing its historical boundaries due to its peaceful character and call for non-violence. Pronunciation of worldly life as full of pain and suffering perhaps also meets response in modern-day followers. Jainist beliefs are firmly grounded in the belief that all humans are in need for liberation from this life that can be achieved through putting a stop to reincarnation. The way of life required of Jains seems prone to produce detached and unemotional individuals, ready to sever ties with the world in order to rid themselves of attachment and afflictions. Moderation, vegetarianism, non-violence, and mental reflection preached by Jainism also meet the needs of many followers, tired of eternal quest for material possessions and status.
Akaranga Sutra. 15 Feb. 06 .
Chapple, Christopher Key. “The Living Cosmos of Jainism: A Traditional Science Grounded in Environmental Ethics.” Daedalus 130.4 (2001): 207.
Dundas, Paul. The Jains. London: Routledge, 2002.
Kalpa Sutra of Bhadrabahu. Lives of the Ginas. Life of Mahavira. 15 Feb. 06 .
Koller, John M. Asian Philosophies. 4th ed. Prentice Hall, 2002.
Robinson, B.A. Jain Dharma (a.k.a. Jainism). Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 14 August 2005. 15 Feb. 06 .
Soni, Jayandra. “Basic Jaina Epistemology.” Philosophy East & West 50.3 (2000): 369-380.
University of Michigan Jains. NAV TATTVAS: What are the different Jain Fundaments? 19 December 1998. 15 Feb. 06 .
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