There are approximately 3.5 million Jains in the world today. It is one of the world’s oldest living religions and originated in India, where the majority of its followers still live today. Jainism does not believe in a creator God, but it does believe in many Gods who are the self-realised individuals who have attained enlightenment. Jainism believes that the universe and all its substance or entities are eternal. Jains believe that all living things (animals and plants) have souls and are of equal value.
All Jains are compelled to be vegetarians Jainism was founded by Mahavira in the 6th Century B.C.E. Mahavira was the son of a minor ruler in India. While pregnant with him, his mother is said to have had a series of 14 dreams which were portents to Mahavira’s virtues. After his birth his family prospered. When grown, Mahavira married and his wife had a daughter. In spite of his family’s good fortune, Mahavira was not happy. After the death of his parents (at the age of 30) he left his family and turned his back on a life of luxury. He joined a group of ascetics. He did not find what he was looking for with the ascetics and went off on his own to develop a more extreme asceticism. During this time he had the following experiences: He swept the path where he walked and strained the water he drank. One should not injure any form of life.
By 80 C.E., Jains were divided into two distinct sects. They were the Svetambara (white-clad) and the Digambara (sky-clad). The Svetambara are mainly concentrated in Northern India and are more liberal in the interpretations of Mahavira with regard to nudity (they allow their monks to wear white garments). Women are also allowed in their religion and monasteries accept the possibility that they may find salvation.
The Digambara Jains are mainly in Southern India. They adhere to the old ideals and require their monks to go about naked. They also disagree with the Svetambara Jains on certain aspects of Mahavira’s life. The Digambara believe that women have no chance of salvation until they are reborn as men. Therefore, women are prohibited from entering monasteries and temples.
Like some of the other world religions, Jainism is a religion of self-help. There are no Gods or God who will help humans on the road to liberation. They believe that life is a series of births, deaths, and rebirths until the soul has shed all karma and can achieve liberation. The three most central guides for the individual to attain this goal are: Right Belief, Right Knowledge, and Right Conduct. The physical actions of a lifetime do not take precedence over the mental or contemplative acts of the individual. Both physical and mental/spiritual acts are needed to break the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Therefore, deed and thought are weighed equally in Jainism. There are nine fundamental philosophies in the Jain tradition, they are called the Nav Tattvas (nine fundamentals) and they are:
Jiva (soul). All living beings are called Jiva. The soul is described as a sort of eternal energy which is indestructible, invisible, and shapeless. The body is merely a home for the soul.
Anjiva (non-living matter). Anything that does not have a soul or consciousness. Anjiva is divided into fivecategories:
Dharmastikay (medium of motion) Adarmastikay(medium of rest) Pudgalastikay (matter) Akashatikay (space) Kala (time).
Punya (results of good deeds) Punya is acquired by the undertaking of wholesome activities. Charitable acts and propagating religion are among the activities, which can help to attain Punya. When Punya matures it brings forth comfort and happiness. Pap (results of bad deeds) Bad activities lead to Pap, or bad karma. Cruelty, violence and anger are among the things that can bring Pap. When Pap matures, it brings suffering, misery and unhappiness.
Asrava (influx of karma) Asrava is caused by wrong belief, passions and negligence among other things. These karma “particles” attach themselves to the soul.
Samvar (stoppage of karmas). This is achieved by observing carefulness, control, mental reflection, suffering, and through the ten-fold yatidharma(monkshood). Bandh (bondage of karmas) this occurs when we react to any situation with a sense of attachment or aversion. Nirjara (eradication of karma). Nirjara is the process by which we shed karmas. It can occur through passive or active efforts. Passive efforts mean simply waiting for karmas to mature and give their results in time. Actively matured karma can be achieved by performing penance, regretting, asking for forgiveness and meditation (to name a few).
Moska (liberation) if we rid ourselves of all karmas, we attain liberation. The individual Jain is also called adhere to the 5 tenants of the Mahavratas (5 great vows), which are:
Non-Violence (non-injury to life)
Non-Attachment to possessions
Sexual Restraint (Celibacy is the ideal)