Jainism, traditionally known as Jain Dharma, is a dharmic religion and philosophy originating in Ancient India. The Jains follow the teachings of Tirthankaras. The 24th Tirthankara, Lord Mahavira lived in 6th century. A small but influential religious minority in modern India, with growing immigrant communities in the United States, Western Europe, Africa, the Far East and elsewhere, Jains continue to sustain the ancient Shraman or ascetic tradition.
Around the same time as the Buddha was teaching his dharma, another religious tradition was being established in the same region. Vardhamana, better known by his title Mahavira (great hero), was an elder contemporary of the Buddha. The two had much in common: both were kshatriyas of royal descent and went through prolonged and rigorous discipline after renouncing the worldly life ; both rejected caste barriers and questioned the sacredness of the Vedas.
Jains have significantly influenced the religious, ethical, political and economic spheres in India for over two millennia. Jainism stresses spiritual independence and equality of all life with particular emphasis on non-violence. Self-control is vital for attaining omniscience and eventually moksha, or realization of the soul's true nature.
The Jains have an ancient tradition of scholarship. The Jains are the best educated religious community in India, and the Jain libraries are India's oldest.
Jain Beliefs and Teachings
Jains believe all souls are equal because they all possess the potential of being liberated and attaining Moksha. Tirthankars and Siddhas are role models only because they have attained Moksha. Jains believe that every human is responsible for his/her actions and all living beings have an eternal soul, jīva. It insists that we live, think and act respectfully and honor the spiritual nature of all life. Jains view God as the unchanging traits of the pure soul of each living being, chiefly described as Infinite Knowledge, Perception, Consciousness, and Happiness (Ananta Jnana, Ananta Darshana, Ananta Caritra, and Ananta Sukha). Jains do not believe in an omnipotent Supreme Being, creator or manager (karta), but rather in an eternal universe governed by natural laws and the interplay of its attributes (gunas) and matter (dravya).
Compassion for all life, human and non-human, is central to Jainism. Human life is valued as a unique, rare opportunity to reach enlightenment. To kill any person, no matter what crime they committed, is considered unimaginably abhorrent. It is the only religion that requires monks and laity, from all its sects and traditions, to be vegetarian. Some Indian regions have been strongly influenced by Jains and often the majority of the local non-Jain population has also become vegetarian. History suggests that various strains of Hinduism became vegetarian due to strong Jain influences. In many towns, Jains run animal shelters. For example, Delhi has a bird hospital run by Jains.
Jainism's stance on nonviolence goes much beyond vegetarianism. Jains refuse food obtained with unnecessary cruelty. Many are vegan due to the violence of modern dairy farms, and others exclude root vegetables from their diets in order to preserve the lives of the plants from which they eat. Potatoes, garlic and onions in particular are avoided by Jains. Devout Jains do not eat, drink, or travel after sunset.
Anekantavada, a foundation of Jain philosophy, literally means "The Multiplicity of Reality", or equivalently, "Non-one-endedness". Anekantavada consists of tools for overcoming inherent biases in any one perspective on any topic or in reality in general. Another tool is The Doctrine of Postulation, Syādvāda. Anekantavada is defined as a multiplicity of viewpoints, for it stresses looking at things from others' perspectives.
Jain Worship and Rituals
Every day most Jains bow and say their universal prayer, the Navkar Mantra. Jains have built temples, or Basadi or Derasar, where images of Tirthankars are worshiped. Jain rituals may be elaborate because symbolic objects are offered and Tirthankars praised in song. But some Jain sects refuse to enter temples or worship images, considering them simply guides. Sadhumargi Svetambara Jains, such as the Terapanthi, regard holy statues or temples as totally unnecessary.
Jain rituals include :
Guru-Vandana, Caitya Vandan, and other sutras to honor ascetics.
Jain marriage ceremonies and family rites are usually variations of orthodox Hindu rituals. Further, the similarity among Marwari Jain culture and Hindu culture is so strong that it is difficult to separate them. Many say the reason is because of common roots. Also, Marwari Hindus converted to Jainism so as to leave violence and attain vegetarianism.
Digambar and Shvetambar traditions
It is generally believed that the Jain sangha divided into two major sects, Digambar and Svetambar, about 200 years after Mahāvīra's nirvana. Some historians believe there was no clear division until the 5th century. The best available information indicates that the chief Jain monk, Acharya Bhadrabahu, foresaw famine and led about 12,000 Digambar followers to southern India. Twelve years later, they returned to find the Shvetambar sect and in 453, the Valabhi council edited and compiled traditional Shvetambar scriptures.
In Sanskrit, ambar refers to a covering like a garment. 'Dig', an older form of 'disha', refers to the cardinal directions. Digambar therefore means those whose garment is only the four directions, or "sky-clad". 'Shwet' means white and Svetambaras are those who wear white coverings.
Digambar Jain monks do not wear clothes because they believe clothes are like other possessions, increasing dependency and desire for material things, and desire for anything ultimately leads to sorrow.
Svetambar Jain monks wear white seamless clothes for practical reasons and believe there is nothing in Jain scripture that condemns wearing clothes. Sadhvis (nuns) of both sects wear white. These differing views arise from different interpretations of the same holy books. There are minor differences in the enumeration and validity of each sect's literature.
Digambars believe that women cannot attain moksha in the same birth, while Svetambars believe that women may attain liberation and that Mallinath, a Tirthankar, was female.
Digambars believe that Mahavir was not married, whereas Shvetambars believe the princely Mahavir was married and had a daughter.
They also differ on the origin of Mata Trishala, the mother of Mahavira.
Apart from doubts about women attaining moksha, another difference is in the first Jain prayer, the Namokara Mantra. Sthanakavasis and Digambars believe that only the first five lines are formally part of the Namokara Mantra, whereas Svetambaras believe all nine forms the mantra. Other differences are minor and not based on major points of doctrine.
Excavations at Mathura revealed many Jain statues from the Kushana period. Tirthankaras are represented without clothes and monks, with cloth wrapped around the left arm, are identified as 'ardhaphalaka' and mentioned in some texts. The Yapaniya sect, believed to have originated from the Ardhaphalaka, follows Digambara nudity, along with several Shvetambara beliefs.
Shvetambaras are further divided into sub-sects, such as Sthanakavasi, Terapanthi and Deravasi. Some are murtipujaka (idol worshippers) while non-murtipujaka Jains refuse statues or images. Most simply call them Jains and follow general traditions rather than specific sectarian practices. In 1974, a committee with representatives from every sect compiled a new text called the Samana Suttam.
Mahavira Swami- The Preacher of Jainism
Mahavira, though usually accepted as the founder of the faith in the context of history, is said to be the last of a line of 24 jinas. All of them are said to have attained perfect wisdom (kaivalya) by vanquishing their desires and breaking their bonds with the material world. The jinas are also referred to as the Tirthankaras (fordmakers or crossing-makers). The crossing refers to the passage from the material to the spiritual realm, from bondage to freedom.
The birthday of Vardhmana Mahavira is celebrated without any pomp or ceremony in quiet prayer.
This festival marks the liberation of Mahavira from the cycle of life and death. Celebrated 10 days after the Hindu festival of Diwali, Deep Diwali too is a festival of lights which are used to illumnate the world after the passing of the ‘light of the world’ (that is, Mahavira). The display at Mount Girnar near Junagadh is quite splendid.
Anointing of Gomateshwara
A 57m tall statue of Gomateshwara, son of the first Tirthankara, Rishabha, stands in Shravana Belgola in Karnataka. The Mastakabhisheka festival (anointment ceremony) is held every 15 years when the statue is bathed in 16 traditional precious substances which include milk, saffron and ghee (clarified butter), silver, gold and gems.