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Uniqueness and Relevance of Jainism (1/2)

Published: 06.05.2008
Updated: 09.06.2015

Uniqueness and Relevance of Jainism (1)

Who is a Jain? Technically the term Jain is derived from Jina, a perfect human being who has conquered the world and attained liberation. Here the world denotes the cycle of transmigration of soul in birth-death-birth cycle and associated pains. He attains liberation by conquering his sensual pleasures, expectations and invokes the full power of his soul that is infinite knowledge, bliss and energy to enjoy these forever. A Jain is the one who follows the way of life and path of spiritual purification as propagated by him. Thus we see Jain doctrine is based on the concept of realizing the full potential of one‘s soul to achieve lasting peace in this and future lives. Jain doctrine talks of non-violence, self-restraint and austerities / penance to achieve these objectives both in our existence in this world and at spiritual purification levels.

Today we shall have a brief look at Jainism from community, social, economic, education angles and then proceed to see its philosophy and how it can perhaps guide our quest for unfolding secrets of knowledge about our universe, and us and contribute to the betterment of life of all.


Lord Mahāvīra rejuvenated the ancient principles of Jainism in Eastern India some 2600 years ago. Today Jains are mostly in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Jains have also migrated to USA, UK and other countries in search of new wealth and opportunities.

Jains are generally very religious, peace loving, non-violent community who value education and hard work to achieve their material and spiritual objectives. As per the recent census of Government of India GOI, more than 98% Jains are literate with more than 50% at least graduates. Thus, we see them in professions like medicine, law, engineering, IT and management while the others are in trade and business. Dean Deepak Jain of Kellog Univ, Ajit Jain CEO of Buffet group, Navin Jain the IT entrepreneur in USA, The Palanpurias in Antwerp controlling the diamond trade, Oswals, Patnis, Walchands, Lalbhais, SP Jain etc. are just a few names who speak of Jains and their achievements. Even though they are less than 0.5% of total population of India, it is estimated that they contribute more than 5% of the GDP.

On the social front, they have set up more than 4800 schools and colleges in India, several thousands hospitals and dispensaries, research institutes, orphanages and homes for elderly and destitute. These figures dispel the notion that Jains are mostly self-centered and do not concern about the society and its welfare.

Jains have always contributed significantly towards the arts, culture and other similar activities. Śravaņabelgola, Dilwara temple, Ranakpur, Jaisalmer, Sonījī ki Nasiā in Ajmer, Deogarh, Gopachal in Gwalior, Ajantā and Ellorā caves, Elephant caves in Orisa etc are shining examples of a disproportionately high number of temples and pilgrimage places built and visited by Jains. Lal Mandir, opposite Red Fort in Delhi is another example of Jains being in the forefront of Indian religions. Now Ātma Vallabh Smāraka in North Delhi, Ahińsā Sthala in South Delhi and over 500 temples and sthānakas in Delhi alone are the newest addition in the contribution of Jains in art and education. Similarly the amount of Prakrat and Sanskrit literature of Jains available from the start of 1st century BC is a shining example of the literally nature and contribution of Jains.


Jainism is an independent religion belonging to the Śramaņika tradition in India. Buddhism also belongs to this tradition. Jains claim their religion to be eternal. Their texts describe their first tirathańkara/ fordmaker (achiever and propagator of the Jain path of spiritual purification) of the present time cycle, Ŗşabha Deva to have existed several millennia ago. References of vātrasana, vārtyas, munis and Ŗşabha Deva in Vedas and Arişŧanemi in Mahābhārata take Jainism way back. Similarly excavations from Mohanjodāro and Gujarat show signs of nude Jain idols in padmāsana establish that Jainism existed more than 4000 years ago. Historically it exists from the time of Lord Pārasnātha (2900 years ago) and reestablished by Lord Mahāvīra around 2600 years ago. More research is needed to establish antiquity of Jainism.

However from the present day religious rituals of Jains, we get a feeling that other religions in India, due to their political patronage and following by masses have affected Jain rituals. Similarly we see Jainism affecting the rituals of other Indian religions in introducing idol worship, eliminate animal or human sacrifice etc. Philosophically, however, Jains contributed a lot to Indian philosophies and religions by way its doctrine of non-violence and path of spiritual purification. Thus we see Jains do assimilate with the society fairly easily.

Salient features of Jainism:

  1. God is neither the creator, nor destroyer or administrator of the universe. The universe is eternal; it existed from times unmemorable, and will exist forever governed by a number of universal laws. Only its form and contents go through a process of change continuously.
  2. All events in this universe occur due to a collection of five co-factors, namely nature (svabhāva), destiny, time, past karmas and efforts.
  3. The reality i.e. ‘sat’ as per Jains is ‘existent’ (asti). They further define existence as substance / dravya. Dravya is further classified as Jīva or sentient / living beings and ajīva or insentient / non-living beings.
  4. Primary characteristic of reality/substance is ‘permanence with change’ or with origination / destruction and permanence. It means permanence and change (pariņāmī nitya) or eternal - non-eternal (nityānitya) and Arthkriyakaritva (power to produce activity). Origination and destruction are the nature / functions of substance itself. However the changing substance does not leave its own nature of permanence. Substances are further classified as sentient /living being / Jīva and insentient / nonliving beings / ajīva.
  5. Jīva is further subdivided as mukta / liberated and sańsārī /empirical. Empirical souls are further classified in many ways and the most common classification is sthāvara / stationery i.e. living beings, which cannot move on their own, and tras / mobile i.e. living beings, which can move as per their objectives. Ajīva are subdivided as matter (pūdgala), the only concrete substance; dharma / principle of motion; adharma / principle of rest; ākāsa / space and kāla / time that are supportive and non-concrete. Jīva and matter are the only active substance types while the other four are supportive and supports actions and interactions of jīva and matter.
  6. Empirical souls and matter interact with each other. Their interaction is called sańsāra or the world. Jains describe these interactions and states as tattvas, seven in number. The first two are jīva and ajīva, which are the main actors; the next two i.e. influx and bondage show the interactions between them and called sańsāra or engagement for pleasure and pain. This is called pravŗti or engagement and Jains talk of moral ethics to minimize demerit and maximize merit during this engagement. Causes for sańsāra are delusion, inadvertence, laziness, passions and activities of mind/body and speech. The next two i.e. stoppage and dissociation of soul from matter are the nivŗtti or the state of detachment and spiritual purification to attain the last stage called mokşa or liberation of the soul from sańsāra or bondage. Bondage is further classified as auspicious for meritorious results and inauspicious for de-meritorious results.
  7. We shall now look at the characteristics of empirical and pure soul so that we know what we are trying to achieve from our present state. Pure soul is with infinite intuition, knowledge, bliss and energy while empirical soul has only traces of these due to karmic veil on it. Similarly there are other totally opposite characteristics of the two concerning size, shape, movement etc.
  8. Doctrine of karma is perhaps one of the most important contributions of Jain. All our acts and events in life are based on a cause-effect relation i.e. as you sow so shall you reap. Karmas, which are like the seeds of our activities to yield result at appropriate time, are the cause of sańsāra and the soul is called mukta soul when it frees itself from karmic bondage. The holy Jain texts provide extremely detailed analysis of causes of bondages, types and nature, duration and path to destroy bondage of karmas with soul.
  9. The four cardinal principles of Jain way of life are:
  1. Ahińsā or non violence in conduct
  2. Aparigraha or Non-possession in life and society
  3. Anekānta or multiplicity of view points in thoughts
  4. Syādvāda or Conditional dialectic in speech.

The entire moral and spiritual ethical postulates of Jain are based on Ahińsā. Ahińsā parmo dharma, Live and let live are the hallmark of Jains. Ācārańga defines and describes the philosophy of Ahińsā beautifully while Pūruşārtha Siddhi Upāya by Amŗta Candra proves that all the ethical tenets of Jainism are derived from Ahińsā. Ahińsā is defined as an activity (of mind or body or speech); that causes pain to self or others; or encourage others to perform such activities; or support or praises such activities of others. We see here the emphasis on self also as all our violent activities cause pain to self ultimately even though we perform these activities for pleasure or to cause pain to others. Mahatma Gandhi was the greatest practitioner of Ahińsā of our times and achieved independence for India using Ahińsā as his weapon. In fact he used the concept of Ahińsā to achieve social transformation rather than spiritual purification. Indian constitution recognizes Ahińsā and Jainism appropriately. Aparigraha is described basically as ‘absence of a feeling of mine’. First eight verses of Sūtŗkrtāńga describe the concept of Aparigraha and its importance in achieving the ultimate objective in life i.e. liberation. Aprigraha is the feeling of possession / attachment / bondage, expectation, desire etc. An analysis of our own life will show that; first we spend our entire life in amassing material wealth; then in protecting it from leaving us before we realize such wealth is of no use and cannot give happiness. Similarly we do everything for our family even to extent of living for them and see ultimately how the very family is unable to give us happiness. In earlier times we know how Jains used to share their wealth in building temples /dharamaśālās, serving the monks, setting up educational and health services institutions and secretly support the needy members of the community. Aparigraha means work hard to earn merit, but do not develop attachment to the results/ benefits accrues, share it with others. Recently we heard how the second richest man in the world Warren Buffet donated more than half of his wealth, some Rs 1500000 million to charities and described it as giving back to the society what the society gave to him. Feeling of a custodian rather than the owner is what is important in attaining happiness.

Anekānta is based on the principle that truth is infinite and it is not possible for us, who are not omniscient, to know it completely. We always know a part of it as per our requirements or objectives while there are many more aspects to it than known to us. Therefore we should not insist on our viewpoint as the only and complete truth. Examples of 40 persons photographing a large banyan tree or the seven blind men trying to define an elephant explain the concept of Anekānta. The principle of Anekānta is based on the doctrine that our knowledge is relative, perhaps opposite of what we know also exists, knowledge of others is also true from a particular view point i.e. reconciliation. Even if we know the entire truth we cannot express it completely at the same time. Therefore Jains talk of Svādvāda, a method of speaking the partial truth without negating the existence of more features or facts. The entire judicial system, if analyzed will be seen based on the doctrine of Anekānta. Similarly the fundamental principles of democracy i.e. existence of opposition is based on Anekānta. Basis of all terrorism / violence in the world is the insistence of one’s view as the only truth and other as not so.

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