Early History of Jain Dharma
Jainism traces its roots to a succession of 24 Jinas ("those who overcome", or conqueror) in ancient East India. The first Jina is traditionally believed to have been a giant who lived 8.4 million years ago. The most recent and last Jina was Vardhamana (a.k.a. Mahavira, "The Great Hero") He was born in 550 BCE) and was the founder of the Jain community. He attained enlightenment after 13 years of deprivation. In 420 BCE, he committed the act of salekhana which is fasting to death. Each Jina has "conquered love and hate, pleasure and pain, attachment and aversion, and has thereby freed `his’ soul from the karmas obscuring knowledge, perception, truth, and ability."
Jainism is a syncretistic religion, which contains many elements similar to Hinduism and Buddhism. The world’s almost 4 million Jains are almost entirely located in India. There are about 1,410 in Canada (1991 census).
Jainist Beliefs and Practices
The universe exists as a series of layers, both heavens and hells. It had no beginning and will have no ending. It consists of:
The supreme abode: This is located at the top of the universe and is where Siddha, the liberated souls, live.
The upper world: 30 heavens where celestial beings live.
Middle world: the earth and the rest of the universe.
Nether world: 7 hells with various levels of misery and punishments
The Nigoda, or base: where the lowest forms of life reside
Universe space: layers of clouds which surround the upper world
Space beyond: an infinite volume without soul, matter, time, medium of motion or medium of rest.
Everyone is bound within the universe by one’s karma (the accumulated good and evil that one has done).
Moksha (liberation from an endless succession of lives through reincarnation) is achieved by enlightenment, which can be attained only through asceticism.
They are expected to follow five principles of living:
Ahimsa: "non violence in all parts of a person — mental, verbal and physical." 3 Committing an act of violence against a human, animal, or even vegetable generates negative karma which in turn adversely affects one’s next life.
Satya: speaking truth; avoiding falsehood
Asteya: to not steal from others
Brahma-charya: (soul conduct); remaining sexually monogamous to one’s spouse only
Aparigraha: detach from people, places and material things. Avoiding the collection of excessive material possessions, abstaining from over-indulgence, restricting one’s needs, etc.
They follow fruititarianism, the practice of only eating that which will not kill the plant or animal from which it is taken. e.g. milk, fruit, nuts.
They read their sacred texts daily.
Jains are recommended to pass through four stages during their lifetime:
Brahmacharya-ashrama: the life of a student
Gruhasth-ashrama: family life
Vanaprasth-ashrama: family and social services
Sanyast-ashrama: life as a monk; a period of renunciation
Divisions among Jains
There are two groups of Jains:
The Digambaras (literally "sky clad" or naked): Their monks carry asceticism to the point of rejecting even clothing (even when they appear in public).
The Shvetambaras (literally "white clad"): their monks wear simple white robes. The laity are permitted to wear clothes of any color.
Author: B.A. Robinson