Jainism began as a monastic faith but then developed a lay movement. There are no priests in Jainism; monks and nuns are their clerics. Though Jains pray to the Hindu gods for earthly favours, such as long life, the true objects of their devotion are the Tirthankaras, or the Jain saints. The term Tirthanikara means “makers of the river crossing”; they are historical figures who achieved release of the eternal cycle of karma. To the Jains, the law of karma, not the will of the gods, determines human destiny.
Jains still practice Mahavira’s teaching with relatively few changes and live their lives by dharma (truth, teaching) that Mahavira advocated as one of strict asceticism, renunciation, and moral cultivation. One of the interesting ways the Jains have contributed to culture is through the ethical code based on their philosophy. Their ethical code is founded on the main principle of ahimsa (nonviolence). Many other religions, such as Buddhism, practice ahimsa, but the Jain concept is different.
Violence is usually associated with causing harm to others, but in Jainism, it primarily refers to harming one’s own person, including behaviour that inhibits the soul’s ability to achieve moksha. In addition, they also believe violence against others ultimately harms one’s soul. Jains have practiced and diffused this philosophy since ancient times. Because of the efforts of both clerics and laypersons, the continuity of ahimsa culture spread among the population of India. In fact, it is as a result of their influence than ahimsa formed the foundation of Indian character as a whole.
Mahavira’s sutras are an amazingly complex set of doctrines. Among many teachings, he instructed his followers to cultivate The Three Jewels. Right Faith, which is seeing things clearly and avoiding preconceptions that get in the way of seeing clearly; Right Knowledge, having an accurate and sufficient knowledge of the real universe and having a proper knowledge of the Jain scriptures; and Right Conduct, living your life according to Jain ethical rules, to avoid doing harm to living things, and freeing yourself from attachment and other impure attitudes and thoughts.
These Three Jewels dictate the Five Anuvratas (Abstinences), which are vows of ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), steya (no stealing), aparigraha (non-acquisition), and brahmacarya (chaste living). There are also the three subsidiary vows, called Gunavratas, which complement the Five Anuvratas. The vow of dik vrata restricts the travel ability of the Jain follower so as to reduce the area in which they may do harm.
The bhoga-upghoga vrata vow dictates use of items according to need only, and the vow of anartha-danda vrata directs Jains to not think or speak badly of other people, avoid being inconsiderate and self-indulgent, and from reading, watching, or listening to immoral material. Jains see the universe as eternal and uncreated and reject the concept of a single supreme being. The Jains’ universe has three realms: The lowest realm has seven levels containing 8. million hells where human beings are punished for their transgressions. The middle world is the realm of human life, which contains ajiva (karmic matter) and jiva (infinite number of living souls). The third realm is the celestial vault, the heavenly realm where the gods live. But this heavenly realm is not the Jains’ ultimate goal; rather their goal is to achieve nirvana. Jains are strict vegetarians. Because of ahimsa, they believe harm caused by carelessness is as reprehensible as harm caused by deliberate action.
Therefore, they ensure no living creature, no matter the size, are not injured by the preparation of their meals and in the process of eating and drinking. Most famously, a Jain monk adhering to ahimsa will cover his face with a gauze mask or handkerchief to guard against breathing in (and thus destroying) insect life. He carries a broom to sweep the path ahead of him so as to avoid stepping on any living beings, and drinks filtered water only to avoid swallowing insects. This adherence to ahimsa has enabled the Jains to contribute to a culture of environmental concern.
Mahavira once said “One who neglects or disregards the existence of earth, air, fire, water and vegetation, disregards his own existence which is entwined with them. ” How the Jains view the world might be considered a biocosmology. Because of their beliefs, Jains are accidental practitioners of the environmental movement. The Five Anuvratas (Abstinences) can be interpreted in an ecological way. For example, the practice of ahimsa fosters and attitude of respect for all life forms, and the discipline of non-possession gives them pause to think twice before acquiring material goods.
This is particularly important when taking into account material consumption is one of the root causes of environmental issues. Jainism, unlike Buddhism, has no cult of relics. Because craftsmen of the time belonged to non-denominational guilds and worked for patrons of various faiths, the styles they used were a function of the time and place rather than the religion. For this reason, Jain art is stylistically similar to Hindu or Buddhist art, although its themes and iconography are specifically Jain.
Therefore, all over India the Jains have erected temples and sanctuaries to include the Tirthankaras, and holy symbols such as the swastika which symbolized peace and wellbeing. The word “swastika” is derived from Sanskrit ‘swasti,’ meaning “well-being. ” Jain temples and sutras are commonly decorated with this symbol. It resembles the four stage of existence in which a soul can be born, the existence as god (above) and as a being from the hell (below), as animal (heraldic left) and as man (right).
The three points over swastika are the Three Jewels: Right Knowledge, Right Faith and Right Conduct of Life. A crescent moon with a point over the swastika represents salvation. It is used each time a Jain enters a temple, because he or she arranges the rice offerings to the idol in the form of a swastika. All Jain temples and holy books must contain the swastika and ceremonies typically begin and end with creating a swastika mark several times with rice around the altar. The ahisma hand symbol with a wheel on the palm symbolizes the Jain Vow of Ahimsa, meaning non-violence.
The word in the middle is “Ahimsa. ” The wheel represents the dharmacakra, to halt the cycle of reincarnation through the pursuit of truth. Throughout history, Jainism was limited to India due to geographical difficulties (mountains to the north, insular China to the east, and religions to the west that considered them infidels) and it being a very complicated faith to understand and follow. Strict rules regarding non-violence and austerity were difficult to maintain at all times for even the common lay person.
It is a very individualistic religion, one that is not promoted actively with missionaries as are many other religions. Due to their vow of dik vrata, the travel ability of the Jain follower in the past was purposely restricted to reduce the area in which they may do harm; typically, the religion would spread only when followers migrated to another place. Today, globalization in the form of modern communication has helped to spread the philosophy of Jainism outside of India. Websites such as www. jainworld. om generate its own activities and services for Jain followers across the world.
They have digitized scriptures so the concepts and ethical teachings are available to everyone. There are radio lectures and music, links rs and parents, a children’s corner, even a calendar of Jain events happening across the globe. It is due to the internet, social and mass media that Jainism has spread outside of India for the first time in the religion’s history, and now have flourishing communities in Africa, Europe, and North America.