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Dharmic Religions : An Overview of Jainism

Dharmic Religions Contd : Buddhism


Jainism, traditionally known as Jain Dharma, is a religion and philosophy originating in Ancient India with the teachings of Mahavira ( 6th century BC) Jainism stresses spiritual independence and equality of all life with particular emphasis on non-violence. Self-control is vital for attaining Keval Gyan and eventually moksha, or realization of the soul's true nature. Jains believe all souls are equal because they all possess the potential of being liberated and attaining Moksha. Here Jain Dharma is categorically different from Hinduism and many other religions.

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, jiva. It insists that we live, think and act respectfully and honor the spiritual nature of all life. Jains do not believe in an omnipotent supreme being, creator or manager, but rather in an eternal universe governed by natural laws and the interplay of its attributes (gunas) and matter (dravya).

Jain scriptures were written over a long period of time, but the most cited is the Tattvartha Sutra, or Book of Reality written by the monk-scholar, Umasvati almost 1800 years ago. The primary figures are Tirthankars. There are two main sects called Digambar and Shvetambar, and both believe in ahimsa, asceticism, karma, sanskar, and jiva.

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 he may have 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 a Jain derasar, or temple.

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. The Jain diet excludes most root vegetables, as they believe this destroys entire plants unnecessarily. Garlic and onions are avoided as these are seen as creating passion, meaning anger, hatred, and jealousy. Jains are usually very welcoming and friendly toward other faiths and often help with interfaith functions. Several non-Jain temples in India are administered by Jains. The Jain Heggade family has run the Hindu institutions of Dharmasthala, including the Sri Manjunath Temple, for eight centuries. Jain monks, like Acharya Tulsi and Acharya Sushil Kumar, have actively promoted harmony among sects to defuse tension.

Universal History and Jain Cosmology

According to Jain beliefs, the universe was never created, nor will it ever cease to exist. Time is divided into Utsarpinis (Progressive Time Cycle) and Avsarpinis (Regressive Time Cycle). Every Utsarpini and Avsarpini is divided into six unequal periods known as Aras.

During the Utsarpini half cycle, ethics, progress, happiness, strength, age, body, religion, etc., go from the worst conditions to the best. During the Avsarpini half-cycle, these notions deteriorate from the best to the worst. Jains believe we are currently in the fifth Ara of the Avsarpini phase.

It is important to note that the above description stands true "in our universe and in our time" for Jains believe there have been infinite sets of 24 Tirthankars, one for each half of the time cycle, and this will continue in the future. Hence, Jainism does not trace its origins to Rishabh Dev, the first, or Mahavir, the twenty-fourth, Tirthankar.

Karmic Theory

The Jain religion places great emphasis on the theory of Karma. Essentially, it means that all jivas reap what they sow. A happy or miserable existence is influenced by actions in previous births. These results may not occur in the same life, and what we sow is not limited to physical actions. Physical, verbal, and mental activities play a role in future situations..

Nine Tattvas The backbone of the Jain philosophy, the nine Tattvas show how to attain salvation. Without knowing them, one cannot progress towards liberation. Jainism explains that Karma theory is intertwined with these nine principles. They are:

1. Jiva - Souls and living things
2. Ajiva - Non-living things
3. Punya - Good karma
4. Paap - Bad karma
5. Asrava - Influx of karma
6. Bandha - The bondage of karma
7. Samvara - The stoppage of influx of karma
8. Nirjara - Shedding of karma
9. Moksha - Liberation or Salvation

Beliefs and Practices - Jain Religion

Jain monks practice strict asceticism and strive to make this, or one of the coming births, their last. Jains believe that Devas (angels or celestial beings) cannot help jiva to obtain liberation. This must be achieved by individuals through their own efforts. In fact, devas themselves cannot achieve liberation until they reincarnate as humans and undertake the difficult act of removing karma. Their efforts to attain the exalted state of Siddha, the permanent liberation of jiva from all involvement in worldly existence, must be their own.Jain monks walk barefoot and sweep the ground in front of them to avoid killing any insect. Human life is deemed the highest and it is vital to never harm or upset another.

Jain Fasting

Fasting is common among Jains and a part of Jain festivals. Most Jains fast at special times, during festivals, and on holy days. Paryushan is the most prominent festival, lasting eight days in Svetambara Jain tradition and ten days in Digambar Jain tradition during the monsoon. The monsoon is a time of fasting. However, a Jain may fast at any time, especially if he or she feels some error has been committed. Variations in fasts encourage Jains to do whatever they can to maintain whatever self control is possible for the individual.

Jain Literature

The oldest Jain literature is in Shauraseni and Ardha-Magadhi Prakrit. Many classical texts are in Sanskrit. Later Jain literature was written in Hindi, Tamil, and Kannada.

Jain philosophy and culture have been a major cultural, philosophical, social and political force since the dawn of civilization in Asia, and its ancient influence has been traced beyond the borders of modern India into the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean regions. At various times, Jainism was found all over South Asia including Sri Lanka and what are now Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Afghanistan.

Dharmic Religions Contd : Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism

Contributing Writer  Pradeep kumar, Kerala Scripted and Directed Graduation documentary film The Beautiful Land, winner of college level Malayalam short-story writing competition, instituted by Madyamam Daily. His Malayalam short stories have been published in magazines and news paper supplements. [email protected]


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