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


How Killing an Ant Changed My Perspective.

Date: 11/15/2011

The Jain concept of ahimsa (non-injury) prevents one from doing any harm to our fellow sentient beings. While the monastic order (Sadhus and Sadhvis) go to great lengths and austerities to prevent harm upon others, householders are encouraged to observe this principle as well. This is why most householder Jains often employ themselves in business, thus reducing their direct influence upon any l ...

Related Topics: Religion, Ahimsa, Penance, Andrew Bowen, Project Conversion, Jainism, Ant, Pratikraman, Negative Thoughts


How I Faced Death and Why You Should Too.

Date: 11/13/2011

Yesterday, I asked the Congregation what they would do if they knew without a shadow of a doubt that they only had one more month to live. The answers were what one might expect. Spend more time with family, travel, eat delicious food, meditate in some mystical land. These are wonderful thoughts, and I appreciate the input from those who answered. The interesting thing about everyone's answers ...

Related Topics: Mahavira, Soul, Life, Andrew Bowen, Death, Project Conversion, Jainism


My Beloved Wife: Best Friend, Devoted Mother, and Temptress

Date: 11/11/2011

Practicing as a Jain ascetic this month, I took certain vows. The five most important being: Ahimsa (Non-injury) Always tell the truth Do not steal Celibacy Non-possession So far I've done pretty well. I even took on the practice of one small meal a day. With non-injury it means that I must avoid killing or harming even the smallest insect. One day I actually sat and ...

Related Topics: Andrew Bowen, Monastic, Project Conversion, Jainism, Celibacy, Vows, Tempation


Jains: Masters of the Fast

Date: 11/10/2011

Fasting, the act of abstaining from food, drink, or really anything else for a prescribed amount of time, is a time-honored practice in many faiths. In February, I fasted for a day after I found out about my Hindu Mentor's passing. As a Latter-day Saint in July, I observed a fast on the first Sunday of the month, and gave money otherwise spent on two meals to the church to help the needy. In Augu ...

Related Topics: Andrew Bowen, Karma, Project Conversion, Fasting, Jainism, Paryusana, Mahavira


Animal Rights: A Jain Legacy

Date: 11/09/2011

"To kill any living being amounts to killing one's self. Compassion to others is compassion to one's own self. Therefore one should avoid violence like poison and thorn." --Mahavira It's no secret that Jain philosophy is big on ahimsa (non-injury), however does that hold true outside of their relationship with their fellow man? According to the Jain world view, Jiva, or the etern ...

Related Topics: Andrew Bowen, Project Conversion, Jainism, Animal Rights, Panjrapole, Ahimsa

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