The word Jainism comes from the Sanskrit word for saint "jinah" which derives from "Jayati" meaning "he conquers" - thus they are conquers of mortal bondage.
Along with Hinduism and Buddhism, Jainism is one of the three most ancient of India's religions still in existence. Although Jainism has [fewer] followers than Hinduism and Sikhism it has had an influence on Indian culture for over 2,500 years, making significant contributions in philosophy, logic, art and architecture, grammar, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, and literature.
Lord Mahavira is regarded as the last of a line of 24 holy and spiritually enlightened beings, the Tirthankaras. Mahavira was born in India in 599 BC. At the age of thirty he gave up his life as a wealthy prince and became a religious ascetic. He was a reformer and propagator of the religion.
Jainism arose as a separate religion in India. It was founded at least at the same time as Hinduism or even before that (as some historians believe). At the heart of right conduct for Jains lie the five great vows:
Jainism is a religion of love and compassion above all else. Jains believe that the universe is eternal. They believe in the eternity of the soul. There are thought to be multitudes of souls or life-modas, which are all independent and eternal.
Practicing the ideals of Jainism results in the souls getting lighter in color and rising to the that of a universal being. The goal of the Jains is to achieve liberation and then to float like a bubble to the ceiling of the universe. Present estimates of the number of Jains worldwide range as high as six million or more.
Jainism is a religion and philosophy of India, founded in about the 6th century BC by Vardhamana, who is known as Mahavira ("Great Hero")--the 24th of the Tirthankaras ("Ford-makers"), Jinas ("Conquerors"; whence the name Jainism), the great religious figures on whose example the religion is centred--in protest against the orthodox Vedic (early Hindu) ritualistic cult of the period; its earliest proponents may have belonged to a sect that rebelled against the idea and practice of taking life prevalent in the Vedic animal sacrifice.
Jainism, which does not espouse belief in a creator god, has as its ethical core the doctrine of ahimsa, or non-injury to all living creatures, and as its religious ideal the perfection of man's nature, to be achieved predominantly through the monastic and ascetic life.
According to Jains their faith is eternal and has been revealed through the successive ages of the world by the Tirthankaras, each of whom attained perfection and absolute freedom and then preached Jainism to the world. The first Tirthankara, Rsabha, is thus the traditional founder of Jainism, but though his name occurs in the Vedas and the Puranas very little else is known of him; nor is there historical evidence of the other Tirthankaras until Parsva, the 23rd in the line, who is thought to have died in the late 8th century BC.
The actual and historical founder of Jainism was Mahavira, who was born c. 599 BC near Patna in what is now Bihar state. His father was a ruling Kshatriya (the second of the four Hindu social classes), chief of the Nata clan. Mahavira was an elder contemporary of Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) and is referred to in Buddhist writings as Nataputra ("Son of the Nata").
When he was about 28 years of age he took up the life of an ascetic. After years of hardship and meditation he attained enlightenment; thereafter he preached Jainism for about 30 years and died at Pava (also in Bihar) in 527 BC. Pava has been, since then, one of the chief places of Jain pilgrimage; Dewali, the Hindu New Year festival, is a day of great pilgrimage for Mahavira.
Jainism has never been torn by philosophic dispute, but from the beginning it was subject to schismatic movements. In the 4th or 3rd century BC the Jains began to split into two sects on points of rules and regulations for monks, a rift which was complete at least by the end of the 1st century AD.
The Digambaras ("Sky-clad"; i.e., naked) hold that an adherent should own nothing, not even clothes. They also believe that salvation is not possible for women. The Svetambaras ("White-robed") differ from them on these points.
According to the Svetambaras, the sacred literature preserved orally since Mahavira was systematized and written down by a council convened about the end of the 4th century BC, but it is generally agreed that it was not given its present shape until some 800 years later (ad 454 or 467).
The Svetambara canon (agama) consists of 45 texts: 11 Angas ("Parts")--a 12th, the Drstivada, is not extant--12 Upangas (subsidiary texts), 4 Mula-sutras (basic texts), 6 Cheda-sutras (concerned with discipline), 2 Culika-sutras (appendix texts), and 10 Prakirnakas (mixed, assorted texts). Digambaras give canonical status to two principal works in Prakrit: the Karmaprabhrta ("Chapters on Karman") and the Kasayaprabhrta ("Chapters on Kasayas") and accord great respect to several other works and commentaries.
Jain metaphysics is a dualistic system dividing the universe into two ultimate and independent categories: soul or living substance (jiva), which permeates natural forces such as wind and fire as well as plants, animals, and human beings; and non-soul, or inanimate substance (ajiva), which includes space, time, and matter.
The next most important concept is that of karma, which, in contrast to the more abstract Hindu-Buddhist conception of the principle, is regarded in Jainism as a substance, subtle and invisible, yet material, which flows into and clogs the jiva, causing the bondage of life and transmigration.
This inflow can be stopped by many lives of penance and disciplined conduct, resulting in the final moksha, or liberation, the ultimate goal of human endeavour. Souls are divided into those that have attained perfection and those still in bondage.
The Jain ethic is a direct consequence of the philosophy of soul and karma. Since the individual's primary duty is the evolution and perfection of his soul and that of his fellow creatures, ahimsa, or the refraining from harming any living being, is the cardinal principle. Jains build asylums and rest houses for old and diseased animals, where they are kept and fed until they die a natural death. The three ideals of samyagdarsana ("right belief"), samyagjñana ("right knowledge"), and samyakcarita ("right conduct") are known as the three jewels, or ratnatraya.
Lesser gods are classified into four main groups: bhavanavasis (gods of the house), vyantaras (intermediaries), jyotiskas (luminaries), and vaimanikas (astral gods). These are each subdivided into several groups. Besides these, certain other gods and goddesses are mentioned in various Jaina texts, including several that suggest Hindu influence or borrowing from some common ancient Indian heritage. All these deities are assigned a position subordinate to the Tirthankaras and other liberated souls.
Time is Conceived as Eternal and Formless
The world is infinite and was never created. Space (akasa), all-pervasive and formless, provides accommodation to all objects of the universe and is divided into the space of the universe (lokakasa) and that of the non-universe (a-lokakasa), the latter having no substance in it. Through the centre of the universe runs the region of mobile souls in which all living beings, including men, animals, gods, and devils, live. Above the central region is the upper world of two parts; below it lies the lower world subdivided into seven tiers. The Jains have erected monumental stupas in honour of their saints, and the richness and quality of their architecture and carving in stone have few equals.
Jaina temples generally contain a number of metal images of various types and metal plaques depicting auspicious symbols. Jainism preaches universal tolerance, and its attitude toward other forms of religion is that of non-criticism. It is not competitive and has never cared for the spread of its faith. Among its followers are the traders and merchants of Gujarat and Maharashtra states.
Jiva, according to the Jaina philosophy of India, "living substance," or "souls," as opposed to ajiva (ajiva), or "nonliving substance." Souls are eternal and infinite in number and are not the same as the bodies that they inhabit. In a pure state (mukta-jiva), souls rise to the top of the universe, where they reside with other perfected beings and are never again reborn. Most souls are, however, samsarin, that is, covered with a thin veil of good or bad karma (the effects of past deeds), which is conceived as a kind of matter, accumulated by the emotions in the same way that oil accumulates dust particles.
Jivas are divided according to the number of sense organs that they possess. Men, gods, and demons possess the five sense organs plus reason. Even the four elements (earth, air, water, fire) are inhabited by minute clusters of invisible souls, called nigodas. They belong to the lowest class of jiva, possess only the sense of touch, share common functions such as respiration and nutrition, and experience intense pain. The whole space of the world is said to be packed with nigodas. They are the source of souls to take the place of the infinitesimally small number that have until now been able to attain moksha (moksa), or release from the cycle of rebirths.
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