Jainism, is an ancient Indian religion that centers on the idea of liberation through harmlessness. The aim of Jainism is to liberate the soul by avoiding bad karma. Jains are also highly concerned with the well being of all things living and non-living. The 2001 Census of India found that India has the largest population of Jains at 4.2 million. Jainism has two major sects: Digambara, “the sky clad,” and Svetambara, “the white clad.” Jainism has been declining since the growth of Hinduism in India
Jains do not believe in any type of God or spiritual being. Jains believe that every animal, plant and person contains a soul and that all souls are equal. For this reason, Jains are also strict vegetarians.
The Jains call the soul the jiva and they believe everything has a soul. Jiva means a conscious, living soul. Ajiva refers to the soul of non-living objects. They believe that the soul lasts forever and that souls are responsible for actions. Jains believe that every soul is individual in itself and that there are an infinite number of souls in the world. Souls don’t have bodies and they are infinite, meaning that they have infinite knowledge, infinite power, and infinite bliss. They are perfect beings.
Mahavira reformed and popularized Jainism. He was born in Vardhamana in 599 B.C.E. and was the son of King Siddhartha. After living as a prince for 30 years he decided to leave his royal palace to live as a sahana. Sahanas live an ascetic life and they reject worldly pleasures and comforts. Mahavira lived ascetically for 12 years and engaged in fasting and meditation until he finally reached enlightenment. The Agamas are the texts of Mahavira’s teachings.
Jains believe in the idea of reincarnation in the afterlife. The central concept in Jainism is to reach ultimate liberation and escape the cycle of rebirth. The Jain soul can only become liberated when it is detached from bad karma. Jains want their souls to live in bliss which is only possible if the bad karma is removed. Karma determines the quality of life. Jains have a different view on karma than most other religions. Jains believe that karma is like a physical substance that can actually build up on the soul. We attract karma through our bad actions. An accumulation can cause us to have bad thoughts, emotions, and vices. The goal of the Jain life it to “chip away” at this karma that has built up until the soul is liberated.
Three guiding principals called the “three jewels” rule the Jain life. The “three jewels” are: right belief, right knowledge and right conduct. Jains also have the Five Great Vows, sometimes called the mahavratas. The Five Great Vows are: non-violence, non-attachment to possessions, not lying, not stealing and sexual restraint. The most important of these is the principle of non-violence called ahism because of their belief that everything has an individual soul.
For Jains, nothing is every created or destroyed. Everything changes forms, but exists forever. Jains believe that history is cyclical.