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


Today, I Mourn for our Species

Date: 11/25/2011

I haven't been a perfect Jain this month. I've slipped, given into temptation...I even enjoyed a little bit of grandma's famous Thanksgiving cooking yesterday, but today, I'm proud to be a Jain and saddened by humanity. Last night, my wife and mother decided to venture out for Black Friday sales. My mom has never done this and my wife wanted to go out of curiosity. They made it seem like a show, ...

Related Topics: Mahavira, Thanksgiving, Andrew Bowen, Project Conversion, Jainism, Black Friday, Desire


Nature as Mentor. Can Nature Teach Us Spiritual Concepts?

Date: 11/21/2011

Yes, she can. Project Conversion relies on the kindness of strangers, people who volunteer their time and energy in teaching me the ways of their faith. These are called Mentors, however the community of believers otherwise known as the Congregation also lends their support. That said, should we limit our learning resources to only humans? I've thought a lot about karma this month. No, I don' ...

Related Topics: Religion, Bradford Pear, Andrew Bowen, Karma, Nature, Project Conversion, Satori, Jainism, Nature As Mentor


Meditations on my Birthday.

Date: 11/19/2011

Yesterday was my 29th birthday (thanks to everyone who sent me your well-wishes!). I was supposed to kick back and relax, take it easy for the day, but for me there's no such thing as absolute zero. There is no standing still. Jains have a system of meditation which focuses on 12 areas called Bhavanas or contemplations. These Bhavanas help liberate the soul by leading it through Ratnatraya, ...

Related Topics: Dharma, Reflection, Andrew Bowen, Project Conversion, Birthday, Jainism


What do Jains Worship if they have no God(s)?

Date: 11/17/2011

Worship is an act of reverence, of giving or acknowledging worth to something/someone beyond yourself. In this way, despite the fact that Jains do not have a central God(s), Jains offer worship to the 24 Tirthankaras. But the Tirthankaras were humans, right? How does one worship a human? First we must understand the Jain attitude toward the Tirthankaras. The title "Tirthankara" means "ford-maker ...

Related Topics: Temple, Idols, Tirthankara, Moksha, Andrew Bowen, Project Conversion, Jainism, Worship, Navkar Mantra


Help Save the Jain Center of Greater Phoenix

Date: 11/16/2011

Every month, I look for an opportunity to give back and show my appreciation to my host faith for those 30-31 days. Today, I found a way for not only me, but for all of us to reach out and help a community in need. Meet the Jain Center of Greater Phoenix in Arizona. The Jain center was built in the 2006-7 real estate boom when costs were high and completed in 2008. Given these years of high ...

Related Topics: Religion, Temple, Jain Center Of Greater Phoenix, Donation, Help, Andrew Bowen, Project Conversion, Jainism

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    Jainism Resources

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