Essay Preview: Jainism
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Jainism (pronounced in English as /ˈdʒeɪ.nɪzm̩/), traditionally known as Jain Dharma (जैन धर्म), is a religion and philosophy originating in the prehistory of South Asia. Now a minority in modern India with growing communities in the United States, Western Europe, Africa, the Far East and elsewhere, Jains have continued to sustain the ancient Shraman (श्रमण) or ascetic tradition.
Jainism has significantly influenced the religious, ethical, political and economic spheres in India for well over two millennia. Jainism stresses the spiritual independence and equality of all life with a particular emphasis on non-violence. Self-control (व्रत, vrata) is the means by which Jains attain moksha, Keval Gnan, or realization of the souls true nature.
A lay Jain is termed a shravak (श्रावक) i.e. a listener. The Jain Sangha (संघ), or order, has four components: monks (साधु), nuns, lay men and lay women.
Overview of Jain Dharma
Jain philosophy is considered a compilation of eternal, universal truths. Over a period of time, these truths may lapse among humanity and then reappear through the teachings of enlightened humans, those who have reached enlightenment or total knowledge (Keval Gnan). Traditionally,in our universe and in our time, Lord Rishabh (ऋषभ or रिषभ) is regarded as the first to realize those truths followed by Lord Parshva (877-777 BCE) and Lord Vardhaman Mahavir (महावीर) (599-527 BCE).
Jainism teaches that every living thing is an individual with an eternal soul, jīva, and responsible for its actions. This teaches the individual to live, think and act with respect and honor the spiritual nature of all life. Jains view God as the unchanging traits of the pure soul of each living being, chiefly described as Infinite Knowledge, Perception, Consciousness, and Happiness (Anant JnÐ”¤n, Anant Darshan, Anant ChÐ”¤ritra, and Anant Sukh). Jainism does not include a belief in an omnipotent supreme being or creator, but rather in an eternal universe governed by natural laws, the interplay of the attributes (gunas) of matter (dravyas) that make it up.
The primary figures of Jainism are Tirthankars. Jainism has two main divisions: Digambar and Shvetambar. Both believe in ahimsa (or ahinsā), asceticism, karma, samsar, and jiva. Jain scriptures were written over a long period and the most cited scripture is the Tattvartha Sutra, or Book of Reality written by Umasvati (or Umasvami),the monk-scholar, more than 18 centuries ago.
Compassion for all living beings, along with humans, is central to Jainism. It is the only religion that requires both monks and laity, from all its sects and traditions, to be vegetarian. In regions of India with a strong Jain influence, often the majority of the local non Jain population is also vegetarian. In many towns, Jains run animal shelters, e.g. a bird hospital in Delhi is run by a Jain temple. Historians believe that various strains of Hinduism became vegetarian due to a strong Jainism and Buddhism influence.
Jain layman worshipping at the temple at Rankapur. Jain cleaning the temple at Ranakpur. When we speak or open our mouths, sometimes spittle sprays out. The mask over his face is to prevent spit droplets from landing on holy images or books. .Jainisms stance on nonviolence, goes simply beyond vegetarianism. The Jain diet excludes most root vegetables, as Jains believe such vegetables have infinite individual souls, invisible to our eyes. Jains will not eat food obtained with unnecessary cruelty. Many are vegan, due to their perceived violence of modern dairy farms. Observant Jains do not eat, drink, or travel after sunset, and always rise before sunrise.
Anekantavad is a foundation pillar of Jain philosophy. Literally meaning “Non-one-endedness” or “Nonsingular Conclusivity”, Anekantavad consists of tools for overcoming inherent biases in any one perspective on a topic, object, process, state, or on reality in general. One tool called The Doctrine of Postulation, i.e., Syādvāda. Anekantavada is defined as a multiplicity of views for it stresses looking at things from anothers perspective.
Jains are remarkably welcoming and friendly toward other faiths. Several non-Jain temples in India are administered by Jain individuals. The Jain Heggade family has run the Hindu institutions of Dharmasthala, including the Sri Manjunath Temple, for eight centuries. Jains willingly donate money to churches and mosques and often help to organize multi-religious functions. Jain monks, like the late Acharya Tulsi and Acharya Sushil Kumar actively promoted harmony among rival faiths to defuse tension.
Jains have been an important presence in Indian culture, contributing to Indian philosophy, art, architecture, sciences, and to Mohandas Gandhis politics, which led to the 20th centurys mainly non-violent movement towards Indian independence.
Universal History and Jain Cosmology
According to Jain beliefs, the universe was never created, nor will it ever cease to exist. It is eternal but not unchangeable, because it passes through an endless series of cycles. Each of these upward or downward cycles is divided into six eons (yugas). The present world age is the fifth of these “cycles”, a downward movement. These ages are known as “Aaro” as in “Pehela Aara” or First Age, “Doosra Aara” or Second Age and so on. The last one is the “Chhatha Aara” or Sixth Age. All these ages have fixed time durations of thousands of years.
When this cycle reaches its lowest level, even Jainism itself will be lost in its entirety. Then, in the course of the next upswing, the Jain religion will be rediscovered and reintroduced by new leaders called Tirthankars (literally “Crossing Makers” or “Ford Finders”), only to be lost again at the end of the next downswing, and so on.
In each of these enormously long alternations of time there are always twenty-four Tirthankars. In our era, the twenty-third Tirthankar was Parshva, an ascetic and teacher, whose traditional dates are 877-777 BC, i.e., 250 years before the passing