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Jainism - The Most Peaceful Religion


Eternal Poster
Mar 29, 2017
Some call it the most peaceful religion.

Its monks are famous worldwide for their strict adherence to non-violence. Going as far as to sweep the floor as they walk in order to avoid stepping on lifeforms, covering their mouths as to not swallow or breathe hot air on living creatures, and following a strict vegetarian diet that not only bans all meat, fish and eggs, but also potatoes.

A Jain is someone who accepts the teachings of the Tirthankaras. 'Jainism' comes from the word 'Jina'. The Sanskrit word Jina means 'spiritual victor' while Tirthankara means 'maker of a ford'.

Thirtankaras are the most important people in Jainism. They have removed all their attachments to the world and during their lifetimes, they managed to break free from the cycle of rebirth and death that Jains believe keeps souls trapped on Earth. They then built a metaphorical ford across the river of rebirth so others can follow them to liberation.

In non-Jain histories, a guy called Mahavira tends to get labeled as the founder of Jainism. In the same way that Jesus does in Christianity. For Jains though, Mahavira, who predated Buddha by a few decades, is just the last one in a line of 24 Tirthankaras (technically there has been an infinite number of Tirthankaras but we just don't have the time for that. Jains believe they all preached the same eternal truths anyway).

Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism all grew up together in ancient India. The world that these three religions evolved in during the sixth and fifth centuries BCE was dominated by two ideas.

The first of these is 'Samsara', when we die, our souls move to a new body and we are trapped in an endless cycle of death and rebirth.
The second idea is 'Karma', that actions, good or bad, affect your future rebirths.

Jainism is quite complicated, the best way to understand it is to break it down into its 8 core ideas.

1. The Three Jewels

The Thirtankaras preched that the path to freeing your soul was he 'Three Jewels'. Those three Jewels are:

* Right Faith (samyag-darsana) - accepting the 7 truths or tattvas of Jainism.
** JIVA - All living things have an immortal perfect soul
** AJIVA - Non living things have no soul
** ASRAVA - Doing actions drag Karama to your soul
** BANDHA - Karma can stick to your soul
** SAMVARA - You can stop the influc of Karma
** NIRJARA - You can separate Karma from your soul
** MOKSHA - Separating Karma from your soul free it from the cycle of rebirth and death

*Right Knowledge (samyag-jnana) - right faith is believing those 7 truths, right knowledge is truly understanding them. You can do this by listening to Jain monks and reading Jain scriptures.

*Right Behaviour (samyak-caritra) - using your faith and knowledge to live a life that is good and does not harm others. You can do this by following the Five Great Vows of Jainism, the Mahavratas. The Mahavratas are:

** AHIMSA - Non violence
** SATYA - Always being truthful
** ASTEYA - Not s†éáling
** BRAMACHARYA - Being faithful to your partner or being totally celibate
** APARIGRAHA - Not being weighed down by possessions or unnecessary attachments to people places and things

These Three Jewels are seen as the only path to Moksha (freeing your soul). They are so important that they were incorporated into the official Jain symbol as those 3 dots.


2. Ahimsa

Ahimsa is by far the most important of the vows and is strictly followed by all Jains. Some Jain temples have an inscription above their doors, usually in Sanskrit but sometimes in English, that reads, "Non-violence is the highest religion". Jains believe that if you want to achieve moksha, then you need to stop harming other lifeforms. Jains believe that every living thing has a soul and can therefore feel pain and suffering.
Animal and even human rights are a fairly new concept but Jains have granted something similar to all life, even microbes, for thousands of years.
Ahimsa is the hand in the middle of the Jain symbol and the text there at the bottom reads, "All life is bound together by mutual support and interdependence".


3. Anekantavada - no 'one' opinion is correct

Life is complicated. In order to understand it a little better, Jains came up with the 'Many pointed Doctrine' known as the Anekantavada. No single viewpoint can be the only truth. Instead, the full truth must be built out of a bunch of viewpoints.
There's a famous story in Jainism that helps get this point across. Five blind men go to an elephant and each touch one part and attempt to describe what the creature looks like. The guy at the trunk says it must be as thick as a tree trunk. While the guy at the tail says no, it's actually more like a rope. The guy at the belly claims it's a wall clearly, the other disagrees saying it's a pillar and the last guy grabbing the ear thinks they're all fools because it's clearly a fan.
The story then goes on to say that a nearby wise man told them they were all right, but only partially, and that all their points together could describe the whole elephant.
Some modern Jains often see Anekantavada as a part of Ahimsa, as tolerance of other worldviews, especially when it comes to other religions.

4. Samsara and Moksha

Samsara is the endless cycle of death and rebirth.

For Jains, rebirth is not a good thing. Even a good rebirth as sat as a prince or a potato is sad because no matter how good your life is, all happiness is temporary because it all ends in death. And there is only cure for this, Moksha.
If you achieve Moksha, then your soul will escape the cycle and go live at the top of the universe in infinite bliss. This can only be done by completely removing Karma from your soul.

5. Karma - What goes around, comes around

The term Karma means 'action', but this action has consequences. Jains believe that your Karma affects how you will be reborn in your next life. But good or bad Karma is irrelevant to the Jains because it's the fact that Karma keeps rebirth going that they see as the main problem.

Jains have a rather unique view of Karma. They see it as a physical substance. Jains believe that Karma is kind of like atoms that cover the entire universe. When you do any action, it attracts these good or bad Karma atoms to your soul. Then later in life, or possibly in another life, they release their good or bad effects. Once they've done that, they fall off your soul.
Passions such as hate, anger, greed, or lust will act as a glue that makes even more atoms stick to you, and so will make the consequences even more powerful.
Imagine your soul as a cloth and Karma as dust, passionate actions make the cloth wet and so dust sticks to it easier.
Karma is what keeps you stuck in the Samsara cycle. Karma physically binds your soul to this earth. You can escape this by burning away all the Karma attached to your soul, the best way to do this is by becoming a Jain monk or nun.

6. Monks and Nuns

The Jain monk and nun life is based around the five Mahavratas (great vows) that we have discussed earlier.

The first of the Mahavratas is Ahimsa. For regular Jains, Ahimsa means trying to avoid harming other forms of life. For a monk or nun though, this is turned up to 11 and includes even microscopic life.
Along with being strict vegetarians, they can't even eat raw food, eat at night, or eat any food they haven't inspected in case they accidentally consume other lifeforms. They can't cook so they have to go around to Jain households daily and beg for food. It is considered a very holy act for those regular Jains to donate food to them.
They also carry small brooms to brush away tiny lifeforms in their way so they don't crush the,, cannot ride in vehicles because of the damage they cause and they cannot bathe because of the harm done to water borne life.
Some Jain monks even wear mouth guards to avoid inhaling airborne life or harming it with their hot breath.

The second Mahvrata is not to lie, and the third is not to s†éál. The fourth Mahavrata is the complete renunciation of sexual relations. Strict Jains that people pollen contains vast number of living things (***** cells) most of which would die soon after the act is complete. They also believe that having a romantic relationship is a form of attachment.
The fifth and final Mahavrata is that of non-possession. Jain monks and nuns carry nothing but a few necessary items, like their brooms and move everyday in order to avoid attachment to one place.

For Jains, this is the best possible life because of how non-violent it is. It is the best way way to achieve Moksha and regular Jains hold the monks and nuns in very high regard. Due to the monks and nun's dependence on the Jain community, the relationship between the two is extremely close and personal.
Interestingly enough, the earliest of nuns in history are probably found in Jainism, and can be traced back to the times of Mahavira, and Jainism is quite unique in the fact that nuns outnumber monks by a huge margin.

7. Regular Jains

The vast majority of Jains are not monks or nuns. Many accept that their time to be a monk or a nun will come in the future life. They follow the five 'small vows' (Anuvrata) which are like a diet version of the 5 Great Vows. These aren't strict rules, they're more what you'd call 'guidelines'.
Regular Jains should try to avoid violence and violent jobs. They shouldn't lie. They shouldn't s†éál or cheat people in business. They shouldn't be too frisky and should remain loyal to their husband or wife and should do their best to unburden themselves of their wealth, ideally through charity.
Jains are an extremely charitable community. But rather than their cash donations going to monks or nuns, they are spent on temples, health clinics, schools, libraries, or animal shelters.
Regular Jains also practice strict vegetarianism. Eggs are counted as meat. Jains don't like to harm insects so honey is out too. Anything fermented is considered to have lifeforms in it, so alco-hol is out of the window. Root vegetables like potatoes, onions, and garlic are cancelled because you need to rip the entire plant out of the ground to eat them, thus causing destruction.
Due to these vows, Jains have gravitated towards careers in things such as business and law. And today, Jains are one of the wealthiest amongst the most educated groups in India.

8. Loka - The Jain Universe

The Jain universe or Loka us made up of three parts. The wide top part id the heavenly realm, the waist is the earth, and the wide bottom part is hell. At the top of the universe is the Siddha Loka where the souls of those that have achieved moksha, go and enjoy infinite bliss.


Jain Hell is very like 'Dante's Inferno'. There are seven layers, the deeper down you go, the worse it gets. You stay in hell until all of your bad Karma is burned away and you get back to be reborn on earth again. Now, Hell in Jainis isn't really a punishment, like it is in other religions. Rather, it is seen as the natural consequences of bad Karma.

The zone above the waist is the realm of the gods. There's no suffering in this realm. Everyone is happy, the people that are reborn here are the ones with really good Karma. But just like in Hell, this isn't really a reward. You are reborn here due to the laws of Karma, and even the Gods eventually die and Karma still binds their souls in Samsara. So even the gods will eventually be reborn on earth and will need to try and achieve Moksah.

This is why some Jains say that bad Karma is a chain of iron and good karma is a chain of gold, but both are still chains.
All souls can be reborn in the Loka as any of the 4 types: plant/animal, human, hell-being, or god.
Which is what the Swastika in the Jain symbol represents, each of the four potential rebirths.


The Swastika also represents the cycle of death and rebirth. All Jain temples and holy books must contain the Swastika. It is an ancient and beloved symbol in India for many different religions. The Nazis made things awkward in that regard.

Every living thing from a grape to a god has the ability to be reborn as a human and achieve Moksha.

Those ate the 8 main concepts of Jainism/ But it does leave us with some questions.
You may be wondering, is there a Jain God? What do they pray to?

The Jain concept of God is very unique. They don't believe in a creator of the universe. Instead, they believe it has simply always been here. The liberated souls at the top of the Loka are beyond all wants and desires so they would see no reason to interfere on Earth. Jains worship them in order to be more like them, rather than asking them to help the out in life.

Some Jains worship the Gods in the upper heavenly realm and since Jains are surrounded by Hindus, they tend to worship the same gods. But in the Jain worldview, those Gods in heaven are imperfect and are still trapped in Samsara just like them.

What about the different religious sects, does Jainism have those?

Of course, just like any other religion. The two main sects are the Digambaras and Svetambaras. The main theological divide between Digambaras and the Svetambaras is whether or not monks should wear clothes. The Digambaras (Sky Clad) claim that in order to be completely be non-attached to the world, monks should also renounce clothing. This has the consequence of saying that women could not achieve Moksha, because they can't be ***** in public.
The Svetambaras (White Clad) disagree and argued that a person can be unattached to clothes mentally but still wear them. So women can achieve Moksha just like men.
There are some more differences between them, such as which Jain scriptures they accept, but the main one is clothing.

Jains have been highly influential in India for thousands of years. Shaping its vegetarian friendly diet and lending the concept of Ahimsa to Gandhi's independence movement.

As knowledge of Jains becomes more common outside of India, it confronts many people with difficult concepts. People tend to assume that the world exists for human consumption. To fulfill human desires.
But for Jains, the world is something to give up. Where humans are not dominant over other lifeforms but rather a part of an intricate web, where animals and plants are more than things to consume.

In the last century, Jainism has found itself in a strange position. Their ancient philosophy has garnered the eye of the modern world as their ideas of non-violence, strict vegetarianism, and what could be called an environmentalist outlook are strikingly relevant in a world coming to terms with the fact that it may be consuming itself.