Jainism is one of the oldest religions of the world. The supreme object of veneration in Jainism is variously invoked as a ‘Tirthankara’, a ‘Jina’ or an ‘Arhat’. The ancient Indian text, ‘Rigveda’ makes a mention of two of the Jain ‘Tirthankaras’, Rishaba and Aristanemi. Rishaba has been described as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu in the Vishnu and the Bhagwat Puranas. Bhadrabahu’s ‘Kalpasutra’ described Rishabhadeva (Adinath) as the first Tirthankara and Parsvanatha as the 23rd Tirthankara. Vardamana Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara, who was born in Vaisali near Bihar, is considered as the modern founder of Jainism.

A ‘Tirthankara’ is a person who re-establishes the religion and the fourfold society of ‘Sadhus’, ‘Sadhvis’, ‘Shravaks’ and ‘Sharavikas’. All the twenty four Jain Tirthankaras were Kshatriyas and belonged to royal families. The teachings of these Tirthankaras form the basis of Jainism. Like Buddhism, Jainism also originated as a reaction to excessive ritualism and rigid social systems prevalent in Hinduism at that time. There are an estimated 5.2 million Jains in India, living mostly in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.

Fundamental Principles of Jainism:

There is no Supernatural being that creates or sustains the Universe. Reality has two categories, ‘jiva’ (soul) and ‘ajiva’ (without soul). It believes in the Law of Karma. ‘Hinsa’ (violence), ‘nirdaya’ (lack of compassion), ‘krodha’ (anger), ‘mada’ (pride), ‘maya’ (infatuation), ‘lobha’ (greed), ‘dvesha’ (hatred), ‘trishna’ (craving) are the primary causes of suffering and injustice in the world. The ultimate goal for every individual is to become a perfect soul or ‘parmatma’. As defined by Jainism, ‘kevala’ or ‘moksha’ is liberation, freedom from action and desire, and freedom from ‘karma’ and rebirth. ‘Moksha’ is attainable in this world or at the time of death. This can be achieved by following the ‘Triratnas’ i.e. ‘Samyakcharitra’ or right conduct, ‘Samyagdarsana’ or right faith and ‘Samyakgyana’ or right knowledge. Jainism advocates ‘ahimsa’, the doctrine of non-killing, non-violence and non-injury. ‘Samyadarsana’ or ‘right faith’ means belief in seven ‘tatvas’ or propositions made by Mahavira: ‘Jiva’, ‘Ajiva’, ‘Asvana’, ‘Bandha’, ‘Smvara’, ‘Nirjara’ and ‘Moksha’. ‘Samyagcharitra’ or ‘right conduct’ can be achieved by following the Five Great Vows or ‘Pancha Mahavarta’: ‘Ahimsa’ (non-violence), ‘Satya’ (truth), ‘Asteya’ (non-stealing), ‘Aparigraha’ (non-possessing) and ‘Brahmacharya’ (celibacy).

Kalchakra:

Jains believe in the infinity of time. Time is divided into infinite equal time cycles or ‘Kalchakras’. Each time cycle is further sub-divided into a progressive cycle or ascending order called ‘Utsarpini’ and a regressive cycle or the descending order called ‘Avasarpini’. Every ‘Utsarpini’ and ‘Avasarpini’ is divided into six unequal periods called ‘Aras’. During the ‘Utsarpini’ half cycle, progress, development, happiness, strength, etc., go from the worst to the best, while reverse happens in the ‘Avasarpini’ half cycle. Presently, we are in the fifth ‘Ara’ of the ‘Avasarpini’ phase, which started some 2,500 years ago. When the ‘Avasarpini’ phase ends the ‘Utsarpini’ phase begins. This ‘Kalchakra’ repeats again and continues forever.

Sects in Jainism:

Jains are divided into two sects – the ‘Svetambaras’ and the ‘Digambaras’, both believe in the same basic tenets and worship images of the ‘Tirthankaras’. The ‘Digambaras’ are the older and more conservative of the two sects. A ‘Digambara’ saint does not wear any clothes and leads an extremely austere life. The ‘Svetambaras’ represent the newer school of Jainism. They believe in the same goal of ‘moksha’ but their way of attaining that goal is not as rigid as that of the ‘Digambaras’. The ‘Svetambaras’ wear white clothes and always cover their nose and mouth with a white cloth.

Jain Scriptures:

The Jain scripture is known by different names like ‘Ganipidaga’, ‘Shrutagyana’, ‘Siddhantas’ and ‘Agamas’. Written in Prakrit it is a compilation of the tenets of the religion and the various rules and teachings of the ‘Tirthankaras’ and has forty five sections. The first, and the most important section, is called ‘Anga’, which is divided into eleven parts. The ‘Acaranga Sutra’ is the first part of ‘Anga’. It deals with the Jain philosophy and rules of conduct for members of the Order, especially monks and nuns.

Jain Councils:

The First Jain Council was held at Pataliputra around 300 B.C. under the leadership of Sthulabhdra. The Jain canons were compiled in this council. The Second Jain Council was held at Valabhi in the 5th century A.D. by the Svetambaras under the leadership of Devardhi Kshamasramana, during which the twelve ‘Angas’ and twelve ‘Upangas’ were compiled in the Ardh Magadhi language.

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