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NOTE: Look up – Jain, Jyoti Prasad, Relifion and Culture of the Jains; Jaini, Padmanabh, The Jain Path of Purification; Tobias, Michael, Life Force: The World of Jainism; Warren, Herbert, Jainism
The religions of the world differ widely in their beliefs, faiths, and theories regarding good and evil, happiness and misery, and survival of death. A popular alternative doctrine of a kind and almighty creator who governs the universe is the theory of soulless, materialistic atheism which maintains that life and consciousness are the outcome of the activity of matter, to be dissipated upon death.
For those finding neither of these assertions satisfactory, there has been, since time immemorial, a system which neither denies the existence of the soul, nor starts with the presupposition of a creator. This system makes each individual the master of its own destiny, affirming the immortality of every soul and insisting upon the very highest rectitude of life, unto final perfection, as a necessary means to permanent happiness now and hereafter. In this modern era, it is commonly known as Jainism.
It is claimed of the ancient Jain spiritual teachers that they had purged themselves of the passions of anger, greed, ego, and deceit, were free from all worldly attachments, and were therefore omniscient. The Jain scriptures are claimed to be the historical records of the lives and teachings of those omniscient spiritual leaders, and it is from these scriptures that the Jain doctrines are taken. These spiritual leaders lived in the flesh on earth, as human beings. They realized the true nature of worldly existence and taught the human race the path to Final Liberation.
Jainism begins with a serious concern for the human soul in its relationship with the laws governing existence in the universe, with other living beings, and to its own future state in eternity. First and foremost, it is a religion of the heart: the golden rule is Ahimsa, nonviolence by all faculties – mental, verbal, and physical. The whole of its structure is built upon compassion for all forms of life. Like an inner Japanese garden, with its profusion of inner worlds, retrained exuberance, and perfect orchestration, Jainism, too, emerges as a secret refuge for life, an artistic oasis; and its delicate balance spanning hope and despair does not brashly declare itself nor go in for theatrics.
Jainism offers a quiet, overwhelmingly serious way of life, a cultural insistence on compassion, a society of aesthetics that has dramatically changed the world and will continue to effect change. Jainism is a momentous example to all of us that there can exist a successful, ecologically responsible way of life which is abundantly nonviolent in thought, action, and deed. As a species, we might misread our history, go forward confusedly to perpetrate other follies, but we will do so knowing that there is a viable alternative.
Moreover, Jainism is unlike other systems of thought in that its theories of cognition, perception, and the nature of the cosmos are, to the utmost, accurate in the context of modern scientific thought and reasoning. They will bear the severest scrutiny of the intellect, and they give freedom to the individual. Jainism does not offer a deity for humanity to worship or but another means of obtaining its grace; beyond the rules of right conduct, which are based upon its understanding of reality and nature, it offers no commandments to obey or dogmas to accept unconditionally. It teaches that we – humans, animals, plants, angelics, or denizens of hell – are individually responsible to ourselves for our own condition, and for our conduct towards others. It ennobles the natural purity inherent in all souls, and allows one of the freedom to perceive Truth as it truly is.
The “Jains” are, etymologically, the followers of the Jinas. “Jina” literally means “Conqueror.” He who has conquered love and hate, pleasure and pain, attachment and aversion, and has thereby freed the soul from the karmas obscuring knowledge, perception, truth, and ability, is a Jina. A Jina is omniscient and has realized the soul’s innate qualities of Infinite Knowledge, Perception, Energy, and Bliss. Such a soul is also called an Arihant (Destroyer of Inner Enemies). The Jains refer to the Jina as God.
Time rolls along in an eternal cycle of rise and decline. A Utsarpini is a “rising” era in which human affairs and natural conditions improve and aggrandize over time. At the peak of the Utsarpini begins an Avasarpini, a “declining” era of the same length, in which the ultra-utopia which evolved gradually corrupts, weakens, and becomes more difficult to endure. During every declining era are born twenty-four persons quite different from their contemporary societies. Upon realizing the nature of suffering, the cycle of misery, and the path to liberation from it, those twenty-four individuals renounce all ties to the world, mental and material. Those twenty-four, human like us, blaze a path to perfection. They are apostles of Ahimsa, born for the upliftment of all living things in the three worlds. The Jains refer to these individuals who become Jinas and teach mankind how to follow the noble path of Enlightened Perception, Knowledge, and Conduct the Twenty-four Crossing Makers, or Tirhankaras. It is the ultimate goal of the Jain to follow in the footsteps of the Crossing-Makers by attaining freedom from the misery inherent in the material world while crossing the ocean of worldly existence.
Originating on the Indian subcontinent, Jainism – or, more properly, the Jain Dharm – is one of the oldest religions of its homeland and indeed of the world. Having prehistoric origins before 3,000 BCE, and before the propagation of Indo-Aryan culture, the Twenty-four Crossing Makers guided its evolution and elaboration by first achieving, and then teaching. The first Tirthankara of the present declining era was Lord Rishabhanath, and the last was Lord Mahavira (599 – 527 BCE).
Jain religion is unique in that, during its existence of over five thousand years, it has never compromised on the concept of nonviolence either in principle or practice. It upholds nonviolence as the supreme religion (Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah) and has insisted upon its observance in thought, word, and indeed at the individual as well as social levels. Both in its philosophical essence as well as in its rituals, Jain religion invokes an intense and constant awareness of indeed all that exists. The holy text Tattvartha Sutra sums it up in the phrase “Parasparopagraho Jivanam” (all life is mutually supportive). Jain religion presents a truly enlightened perspective of equality of souls, irrespective of differing physical forms, ranging from human beings to animals and microscopic living organisms. Humans, alone among living beings, are endowed with all the six senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and thinking; thus humans are enjoined upon to act responsibly towards all life by being compassionate, egoless, fearless, forgiving, rational, and therefore full of equanimity.
Jain religion has a clearly articulated scientific basis that elucidates the properties and qualities of animate and inanimate substances which make up the cosmos; their interrelationship is described in terms of evolution and growth of monads (like atoms), molecules, nonmaterial continuums, and souls. Jainism sets forth the existence of two fundamental categories of existing entities: Jiva and Ajiva, soul and non-soul. The non-soul “substances” are time, space, pudgal (the continuum of matter and energy), and the media of motion and rest. Genius lies in this cosmology. Elements of the Jain worldview as taught for thousands of years before the renaissance, include the atomic makeup of matter, the charged nature of elementary particles, the interconvertability of energy and matter, the conditions under which particles combine and dissociate, and dimensions of the universe comparable to those theorized by Einstein. Jiva and Ajiva are characterized as having distinct, immutable properties, but which undergo modification due to certain conditions. For the soul, those conditions are brought abut as conscious and subconscious thought activity along the lines of “By soul alone I am governed” (appanan anusasayi) and “Let karma not bind you.” Dissociation from non-soul is brought about solely through the requisites of Enlightened Perception, Knowledge, and Conduct. Thus, the soul is no longer under the influence of that which it is not, and for the rest of eternity enjoys its natural attributes of Infinite Knowledge, Perception, Energy, and Bliss; thus the underlying theory translates directly into practice.
In short, the code of conduct is made up of the following five vows, and all of their logical conclusions: Ahimsa Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (nonstealing), Aparigraha (nonpossessiveness), and Brahmacharya (chastity). Jain religion focuses much attention on control, self-imposed penance, abstinence from overindulgence, voluntary curtailment of one’s needs, and the consequent subsiding of the aggressive urge. The code of conduct prescribed for the Jain monastic order, made up of monks and nuns, is more rigorous that that prescribed for the laity.
Vegetarianism is a way of life for a Jain, taking its origin in the concept of compassion for living beings, Jiva Daya. The practice of vegetarianism is regarded as a potent instrument for the practice of nonviolence and peaceful, cooperative cooexistence. Jains are strict vegetarians, consuming only one-sensed beings, primarily from the plant kingdom. While the Jain diet does, of course, involve harm to plants and microorganisms, it is regarded as a means of survival that involves the bare minimum amount of violence towards living beings. (Many forms of plant material, including roots and certain fruits, are also excluded from the Jain diet due to the greater number of living beings they contain owing to the environment in which they develop.)
Anekantavada, the doctrine of the multifaceted nature of Truth, is another basic principle of Jainism that offers systematic, logical, and nondogmatic algorithms for understanding the multifarious aspects of the truth behind statements, human perceptions, knowledge, and the nature of the Self. As a very simple example, just as a father may also have the role of husband, a brother, a boss, or a cousin to different persons, live cannot be understood if taken from one perspective that prejudice the individual against all others. Indeed, it is a doctrine rooted in Ahimsa.
Jainism has not only shown a spiritual way of life to its followers, but has inspired a distinct stream of culture which has enriched philosophy, literature, art, architecture, democratic living, and spiritual advancement in the land of India. Classical Jain literature is found in the Sanskrit, Prakrit, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Kannada, and Tamil languages, and in varied forms of poetry, prose, drama, and story. Its influence has also been traced to other lands like Greece and Israel. In addition to compounding philosophical and spiritual treatises, the Jain ascetic-scholars were champions of secular learning in areas including astronomy, music theory, political science, linguistics, and mathematics. The artistry and architecture of Jain temples all over the Indian subcontinent depict the magnificence of detachment, serenity, and the natural purity of the soul.
The followers of Jainism number around 10 million. Jain societies are neither caste-ridden nor male-dominated.
Jainism is an eternal philosophy, whose benefits can be taken up by anyone willing to improve his or her life and rational conduct in situations of both stress and tranquility. Today, more than ever, when suspicion and distrust are vitiating the atmosphere of international peace, when the world is filled with fear and hate, we require a living philosophy which will help us discard those destructive qualities and recover ourselves. Such a living, wholesome philosophy, bearing a message of love and goodwill, Ahimsa and peace, personally as well as universally, is the Jain philosophy of life. This system of religion, thought, and living stands for the highest and noblest human values, and offers a path guaranteeing eternal peace and happiness.