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Jainism
by Kushal Baid

Jainism is one of the oldest living religions of India. It predates recorded history as per references indicated in Hindu scriptures. It is a religion of purely human origin. Jainism holds that the universe is without a beginning or an end, being everlasting and eternal and runs according to its own cosmic laws. The fundamental entities in the universe continuously undergo countless changes but no new entities are created nor any destroyed. The concept of a superhuman God as a creator, protector, and destroyer of the universe does not exist in Jainism.

Jains are followers of Jinas. Jina is a human being who has conquered the worldly passions like desire, hatred, anger, greed, and pride by one's own personal efforts and has thereby attained perfect knowledge, omniscience and liberation from the bonds of worldly existence, including the cycle of births and deaths. Such perfect beings are considered Gods in Jain religion. Those Jinas that establish a four fold order of Sadhus (Monks), Sadhavis (Nuns) and Shravak and Shravikas (Male and female householders) and preach Jain philosophy, religion, ethics, conducts to his followers are called Tirthankars.

Lord Mahavir was the twenty-fourth and last Tirthankar of the Jain religion of this era. He was born in 599 B.C. in Bihar, India. After 12 and half years of meditation and penance, he achieved Kevalgyan -"perfect knowledge" at the age of 42. For the next thirty years he preached the eternal truths to his followers. At age 72 he achieved Nirvana and became a Siddha -a liberated soul.

Mahavir preached that each living being has a body and a soul. Every soul is capable of achieving perfect knowledge and liberation. The soul incarnates into various bodies due to the accumulation of karmas as it moves through the cycle of births and deaths. A soul can attain liberation from the karmic matter by following the right faith (samyak-darshan), right knowledge (samyak-gyan) and right conduct (samyak-charitra).

The right conduct for Jains is defined by the five great vows:

bulletNonviolence (Ahimsa) -not to cause harm to any living beings
bulletTruthfulness (Satya) -to speak the harmless truth only
bulletNon-stealing (Asteya) -not to take anything not properly given
bulletChastity (Brahmacharya) -not to indulge in sensual pleasures

Non-possession/ Non-attachment (Aparigraha) -complete detachment from people, places, and material things.

Jains hold these vows at the center of their lives. Monks and nuns follow these vows strictly and totally, while the common people follow the vows as far as their life styles will permit.

Jain Symbol

The comprehensive Jain symbol consists of a digit of the Moon representing the region beyond the three worlds of heaven, earth and hell wherein the liberated souls reside. The three dots represent the Jain path of liberation, right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct. They also represent the three worlds of heaven, earth and hell where non liberated souls are born, live, die and suffer.

The Swastika signifies the cycles of birth and death due to karma for the non liberated souls in heavenly, human, animal or hellish forms. The palm of the hand signifies assurance and the wheel with 24 spokes and the word Ahimsa (nonviolence) written within the wheel represents religion as preached by the 24 Tirthankars consisting of nonviolence and other virtues. The outline figure which encompasses all symbols represents the Jain version of the shape of the universe resembling a person standing with feet apart and arms resting on both hips.

The text underneath translates as Living beings (souls) render services to one another.

The overall symbol means that the living beings of the three worlds suffer from the miseries of transmigratory existence. They can pursue the path of religion shown by the Tirthankars, thereby bringing about auspiciousness for themselves and after obtaining perfection will live forever in the world of the perfect beings.

The Universal Jain Prayer

Namokar Mantra
Namo Arihantanam I bow to the enlightened beings
Namo Siddhanam I bow to the liberated souls
Namo Ayariyanam I bow to religious leaders
Namo Uvajjayanam I bow to religious teachers
Namo Loe Sawa Sahunam I bow to all ascetics of the world
Eso Panch Namukkaro
Savva Pava Panasano
These five salutations are capable of destroying all sins.
Mangalanancha Savvesin
Padhamam Havai Mangalam
And they are the most auspicious of all benedictions.

In the above prayer, Jains salute the virtues of the five benevolent beings. They do not pray to a specific Tirthankar or ascetic by name. By saluting them, Jains receive the inspiration from the five benevolent beings for the right path of true happiness and total freedom from the misery of life.

Jain Prayers

See Also:

Jain Religion as a World Religion
The picture of Jain religion points automatically reveals its universal acceptability.

[Return to World Religions Home]

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