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


Married...to a monk?

Date: 11/07/2011

Today's post is by my wife, Heather, as a recap of the week. Enjoy.   Today marks the end of my first week of being married to a monk. Married to a monk...that doesn't even make sense. Monks don't get married, and now we know why. To be more specific, I am married to a Jain monk (the most intense form of monk). At the beginning of each month, I'm filled with excitement. I love getting t ...

Related Topics: Andrew Bowen, Project Conversion, Jainism, Religion, Monk Life


Who Was Mahavira and What is a Tirthankara?

Date: 11/06/2011

Mahavira, like so many who change the world, was just a humble man. Born around 599 B.C.E at Kshatriyakund in what is now northeastern India, the man who would reintroduce the world to the teachings of the jina (one who has conquered their karma and is now liberated) arrived as a prince named Vardhamana. One story goes that Indra, king of the gods, bathed the young prince in heavenly milk soo ...

Related Topics: Mahavira, Andrew Bowen, Project Conversion, Jainism, Tirthankaras, Non-Violence


My Wife Snaps and Project Conversion Reaches the Edge...Or does it?

Date: 11/04/2011

Yesterday, after 10 months and 3 days, my wife snapped. Since many monastic Jains do not typically bathe and I have opted to observe the monastic vows this month, this means I would not bathe either. The idea stems from strict ahimsa (non-violence). Because water itself has life and the surface of our skin as well, the act of washing harms life. Agree with it or not, this is the reasoning behin ...

Related Topics: Religion, Politics, Andrew Bowen, Karma, Monks, Project Conversion, Jainism, Extremism


Jain Philosophy and Way of Life

Date: 11/03/2011

The Jain laity makes up the vast majority of the faith's numbers and is responsible for supporting the Sadhus/Sadhvis. Most of the world's Jains live in various parts of India depending on their sect. What is important to note about the various sects within the Jain philosophy is that while one group may reject the scriptures of another (the Digambara reject the Svetambara canon), this does not r ...

Related Topics: Andrew Bowen, Project Conversion, Jainism, Tattvas, Tirthankaras, Jain Philosophy, Pratikrama, Laity


The Jain Monastic Life: Liberation or Bust.

Date: 11/02/2011

Depending on your source, there are between 4 and 10 million Jains in the world, making it one of the smallest of the world's religions. Out of those numbers, only a small fraction become Sadhus or Sadhvis (monks and nuns, respectively). I'm beginning to understand why. Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara and founder of modern Jain philosophy, once said, " The unenlightened takes millions of lives ...

Related Topics: Andrew Bowen, Project Conversion, Jainism, Monk, Monastic Life, Sadhu, Sadhvis, Non-Injury, Vows, Digambara, Svetambara

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