What Is Jainism?

Numbers: One of the oldest religious traditions of India, Jainism has existed side by side with Hinduism throughout its long history. With fewer than 5 million adherents and comprising less than 1% the Indian population, Jainism has demonstrated a remarkable tenacity and endurance and continues to exert an influence far beyond its small numbers.

Founder: Jainism (the name derives from a Sanskrit word meaning "follower of the Jina, or conqueror") was established in our era by Mahavira ("the Great Hero") in the sixth century B.C.E. In fact, Mahavira is considered only the most recent in a list of 24 such teachers who brought Jainism into the world during previous great cosmic eras of time. These teachers, or "Tirthankaras," taught a path to religious awakening based on renouncing the world by practice of strict religious austerity. Mahavira established a monastic community of both nuns and monks. This community is the oldest continually surviving monastic community in the world.

Main Tenets: Jains reject belief in a creator god and seek release from endless reincarnation through a life of strict self-denial. The title of Jina is given to those who are believed to have triumphed over all material existence. As all human activity accumulates karma, the force that perpetuates reincarnation, the only way to free one's jiva, or soul, from the bondage of material existence is by reducing this activity through ascetic practice. In addition, Jainism places a special emphasis on ahimsa ("non-injury") to all living beings. The concern for life is extended to all creatures, even minute microbes that are not visible. The Jain ideal is a mendicant ascetic who takes extreme measures to avoid injuring all creatures. Monks and nuns are sometimes seen with muslin cloths over their mouths to keep out flying insects, and they are enjoined to use small brooms to gently sweep away living creatures from their path, so as to not accidentally crush them.

Main Sacred Text: The sacred texts of the Jains are called Agamas. The two main branches of Jainism share many of the same sacred texts in common, but since their split in the fifth century C.E., they have developed different traditions of textual transmission. Both branches claim that authority for the most ancient texts derives from Mahavira, who was in turn enunciating sacred truths that the Tirthankaras before him had taught. Handed down orally in the monastic communities, the sacred literature was not written down until about 500 C.E.

There are several differences between the two traditions of Jainism, the Shvetambaras ("white-clad monastics") and the Digambaras ("sky-clad monastics"). Shvetambaras believe that monks and nuns should be permitted to wear a simple white robe. Digambaras require monks to be nude.

Top Jainism Features


So, Why Not Jainism?

Date: 11/28/2011

The Jain philosophy is not very popular, according to my stats this month. Maybe folks just aren't interested, or I'm doing a poor job in presenting this path. Perhaps it's both. I've asked myself "why" all month, why this Jain way is such a hard pill to swallow and in some ways, I just don't get it. Here are some of the more attractive features of the Jain philosophy: Strict non-violenc ...

Related Topics: Andrew Bowen, Buddhism, Monks, Project Conversion, Philosophy, Jainism, Non-Violence, Ashoka


My Last Day as a Jain

Date: 11/30/2011

Jainism. Wow, what a trip huh? This has not been the most popular month, however it is one of the most controversial. Simply put, it's hard living as an ascetic, but twice as hard doing it while part of a family. I never said it would be easy and in many ways, I knew I'd fail. But success was never the point; experience and learning was the idea. [caption id="attachment_2004" align="aligncente ...

Related Topics: Andrew Bowen, Project Conversion, Jainism, Monk, Non-Violence, Religion, Mahavira, Life


First Day as a Catholic, Last Month of the Year

Date: 12/01/2011

Good morning and welcome to my first day as a Catholic. This is also Project Conversion's last month of the year. That statement seems impossible. Did we really make it this far? Are there really people who have followed me since this all began in January? Yes, and thank you. As with any month, the transition is always difficult. I described my first experience with the monthly change over in ...

Related Topics: Andrew Bowen, Project Conversion, Transitions, Catholicism, Rosary, Christian, Church, Religion, Mass, Missal


Did Jainism Help Shape the American Civil Rights Movement?

Date: 11/27/2011

The American Civil Rights movement during the mid 1950's to early 70's marked one of the most tumultuous periods of social change and unrest in American history. A wave of political and social conservatism consumed the national attention during the 1950's after the end of World War II and now with the African-American Civil Rights Movement in full swing, the fires of change swept through American ...

Related Topics: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr, Social Change, Activism, Andrew Bowen, Project Conversion, Jainism, Non-Violence, Shrimad Rajchandra, Civil Rights


Fasting for Thanksgiving. A Jain Perspective

Date: 11/23/2011

Once upon a time, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. It wasn't because of how grateful I was or that I could spend time with family. I loved Thanksgiving because it's one of those times of year many Americans gorge themselves without remorse. And if that isn't enough, we wake up early the next day (Black Friday) and drive ourselves into a savage frenzy with yet another type of ravenous c ...

Related Topics: Thanksgiving, Mahatma Gandhi, Andrew Bowen, Project Conversion, Fasting, Jainism, Black Friday, Overeating

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