Jainism

In the beginning the Jains were called Sramanes. Jainism doesn’t have a single founder but according to Jain sacred literature, Anusruti, there were 24 tirthankaras (guides to salvation). The truth has been revealed at different times by a tirthankara, which means a teacher who ‘makes a ford’, i.e. shows the way. As great omniscient teachers, tirthankaras accomplished the highest spiritual goal of existence and then teach others how to achieve it.

A tirthankar however, is not an incarnation of God. He is an ordinary soul that is born as a human and attains the status of a tirthankar as a result of intense practices of penance, equanimity and meditation. As such, the tirthankar is not defined as an avatar but is the ultimate pure developed state of the soul. The first tirthankara was supposed to be Rishab. There is some historical evidence for the existence of the 23rd tirthankara, Parshvanath who lived about 250 years before Mahavira.

Parshvanatha, was a teacher who lived in the 7th century B.C. and founded a community based upon the abandonment of worldly concerns. Parsva founded four basic principles of Jainism, viz., satya, ahimsa, asteya (not to steal) and aparigriha (not owning things). Mahavira added the fifth principle, brahmacharya. The five principles are called the Panchanuvsatas. The 24th and last tirthankara was Vardhamana, known by the epithet Mahavira believed to have been the last teacher of “right” knowledge, faith, and practice.

Traditionally dated to 599–527 B.C., Mahavira was a near contemporary of the Buddha. Mahavira, like the Buddha, was the son of a king who renounced his princely status to take up the ascetic life. He spent the next 121 / 2 years following a path of solitary and intense asceticism. On the 10th day of vaishakha, Vardhaman got enlightenment (kaivalya) at Jrumbikagrama on the banks of the river Rijupalika. Mahavira declared himself jain, the conqueror. His followers are called Jain and Nirgranthas (liberated people). Mahavira thus became the real founder of Jainism. He then converted 11 disciples (called ganadharas), all of whom were originally Brahmins. Two of these disciples, Indrabhuti Gautama and Sudharman, both of whom survived Mahavira, are regarded as the founders of the historical Jain monastic community, and a third, Jambu, is believed to be the last person of the current age to gain enlightenment. Mahavira is believed to have died at Pawapuri, near Nalanda.

Teachings of Mahavira

Mahavira’s teaching are based on the “three jewels”

(a) Right Faith

(b) Right Knowledge

(c) Right Conduct Emerging from these three jewels and relating to ‘right conduct’ are the five abstinences, which are the vows of

  • Ahimsa (nonviolence)
  • Satya (truthfulness)
  • Asteya (not stealing) ?
  • Aparigraha (non-acquisition) ?
  • Brahmacharya (chaste living)

There are two forms of the five vows ?

  • Mahavrata: the five great vows followed by Jain monks and nuns ?
  • Anuvrata: the lesser vows followed by Jain lay people. These are less strict versions of the great vows.

The Jain philosophy is called shadvada (the theory of maybe) and anekantaravada (everything in the universe has life). Jain philosophy is very much similar to samkhya shastra. The difference between Jainism and Buddhism lies essentially in that for the Jain ahimsa is not to be compromised with whereas for Buddhist it is merely a virtue; violence is inevitable. Moksha for Jains was kaivalya whereas for Buddhists it is freedom from desire.

Mahavira and the Spread of Jainism

Mahavira had 11 disciples, each entrusted with a band of about 300to 500 monks to preach the religion. Bhadrabahu, contemporary of Chandragupta Maurya, was the greatest propagator of the faith after Mahavira.

After Bhadrabahu’s death, serious differences began to arise in the Jain community. The group led by Bhadrabahu migrated towards the west coast and Deccan, while others remained in the north. The texts containing the teachings of Mahavira are called the Agamas and form the canonical literature of Svetambara Jainism. Mahavira’s disciples compiled his words into texts or sutras and memorised them to pass on to future generations. Jain monks and nuns were not allowed to possess religious books as part of their vow of non-acquisition, nor were they allowed to write. As centuries passed, some of the texts were forgotten or distorted. Many Jain monks died during a famine around 350 BC, and with them, the memory of many Jain texts died too.

Jainism

In the beginning the Jains were called Sramanes. Jainism doesn’t have a single founder but according to Jain sacred literature, Anusruti, there were 24 tirthankaras (guides to salvation). The truth has been revealed at different times by a tirthankara, which means a teacher who ‘makes a ford’, i.e. shows the way. As great omniscient teachers, tirthankaras accomplished the highest spiritual goal of existence and then teach others how to achieve it.

A tirthankar however, is not an incarnation of God. He is an ordinary soul that is born as a human and attains the status of a tirthankar as a result of intense practices of penance, equanimity and meditation. As such, the tirthankar is not defined as an avatar but is the ultimate pure developed state of the soul. The first tirthankara was supposed to be Rishab. There is some historical evidence for the existence of the 23rd tirthankara, Parshvanath who lived about 250 years before Mahavira.

Parshvanatha, was a teacher who lived in the 7th century B.C. and founded a community based upon the abandonment of worldly concerns. Parsva founded four basic principles of Jainism, viz., satya, ahimsa, asteya (not to steal) and aparigriha (not owning things). Mahavira added the fifth principle, brahmacharya. The five principles are called the Panchanuvsatas. The 24th and last tirthankara was Vardhamana, known by the epithet Mahavira believed to have been the last teacher of “right” knowledge, faith, and practice.

Traditionally dated to 599–527 B.C., Mahavira was a near contemporary of the Buddha. Mahavira, like the Buddha, was the son of a king who renounced his princely status to take up the ascetic life. He spent the next 121 / 2 years following a path of solitary and intense asceticism. On the 10th day of vaishakha, Vardhaman got enlightenment (kaivalya) at Jrumbikagrama on the banks of the river Rijupalika. Mahavira declared himself jain, the conqueror. His followers are called Jain and Nirgranthas (liberated people). Mahavira thus became the real founder of Jainism. He then converted 11 disciples (called ganadharas), all of whom were originally Brahmins. Two of these disciples, Indrabhuti Gautama and Sudharman, both of whom survived Mahavira, are regarded as the founders of the historical Jain monastic community, and a third, Jambu, is believed to be the last person of the current age to gain enlightenment. Mahavira is believed to have died at Pawapuri, near Nalanda.

Teachings of Mahavira

Mahavira’s teaching are based on the “three jewels”

(a) Right Faith

(b) Right Knowledge

(c) Right Conduct Emerging from these three jewels and relating to ‘right conduct’ are the five abstinences, which are the vows of

  • Ahimsa (nonviolence)
  • Satya (truthfulness)
  • Asteya (not stealing)
  • Aparigraha (non-acquisition)
  • Brahmacharya (chaste living)

There are two forms of the five vows

  • Mahavrata: the five great vows followed by Jain monks and nuns
  • Anuvrata: the lesser vows followed by Jain lay people. These are less strict versions of the great vows.

The Jain philosophy is called shadvada (the theory of maybe) and anekantaravada (everything in the universe has life). Jain philosophy is very much similar to samkhya shastra. The difference between Jainism and Buddhism lies essentially in that for the Jain ahimsa is not to be compromised with whereas for Buddhist it is merely a virtue; violence is inevitable. Moksha for Jains was kaivalya whereas for Buddhists it is freedom from desire.

Mahavira and the Spread of Jainism

Mahavira had 11 disciples, each entrusted with a band of about 300to 500 monks to preach the religion. Bhadrabahu, contemporary of Chandragupta Maurya, was the greatest propagator of the faith after Mahavira.

After Bhadrabahu’s death, serious differences began to arise in the Jain community. The group led by Bhadrabahu migrated towards the west coast and Deccan, while others remained in the north. The texts containing the teachings of Mahavira are called the Agamas and form the canonical literature of Svetambara Jainism. Mahavira’s disciples compiled his words into texts or sutras and memorised them to pass on to future generations. Jain monks and nuns were not allowed to possess religious books as part of their vow of non-acquisition, nor were they allowed to write. As centuries passed, some of the texts were forgotten or distorted. Many Jain monks died during a famine around 350 BC, and with them, the memory of many Jain texts died too.

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