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Central Teachings of Jainism

  • Last Updated : 26 Dec, 2021

One of the oldest surviving religions, Jainism, had its birth in the 6th century B.C. During this time frame, numerous schools sprang up against the cumbersome rituals and bloody sacrifices, and one among them was “Jainism“. It has a unique place in the history of India with its ideology and teachings. According to this religion, the founder Tirthankar of the faith is Risabhdeva, and Vardhamana Mahavira was the last of the 24 Tirthankaras.

Vardhaman Mahavira was the 24th Tirthankar and his efforts and teachings transformed Jainism into a popular religion of the 6th century B.C.; born in Kundagram near Vaishali, his father was ‘Siddhartha‘ (of the Ikshvaku Dynasty) and his mother was ‘Trishala‘ (of the Licchavi dynasty). After putting his body to complete hardships, he attained supreme knowledge, i.e. Kaivalya at 42. He founded Jain sangha at Pawapuri to propagate his faith, and at the age of 72, he attained moksha (passed away) at Pawapuri in the present-day Bihar on 527 BCE.

The Teaching of Jainism

Rishabhdev was the founder of the faith of Jainism but, it was the teachings of Mahavir that are popularly known as Jainism.

 Path of salvation

Mahavira preached that man’s ultimate goal is to get rid of worldly bondages to attain Moksha or liberation. In Jain philosophy, the ultimate goal of life is Nirvana. Nirvana can be achieved by freeing the soul from the bondage of the physical elements and putting an end to Karma and its fruits. This can be achieved by the observance of Triratna or three gems. The tri-ratnas in Jainism are

1. Samyak Darshan (Right View): This does not mean believing what is told or viewed but means seeing things properly by avoiding preconceptions and superstitions.

2. Samyak Gyan (Proper Knowledge): An effort to gain knowledge by removing the darkness of ignorance. Knowledge can be gained only by following the teachings of the Tirthankaras.

3. Samyak Acharan (Right Conduct): This means living life according to Jains ethical rules and renouncing any violence to animal and human beings, and freeing oneself from any attachment and impure thought.

Jainism laid stress on five great vows

1. Non – Violence: Non-violence has been the cornerstone of Jainism. According to Jainism, all living beings are equal irrespective of their size, shape . Jainism recognizes four forms of existence- that is gods(deva),humans(manushya), hell-beings(narakh), animals and plants(tiryancha). In action, thought and speech, non violence should be observed. 

2. Truth: Jainism insisted on truthfulness and refrained from falsehood. Truth can only be said when a person has conquered his/her greed, fear, anger, jealousy, and ego.

3. Non-stealing -Jainism opposes stealing, which prohibits taking someone else’s property without their consent and taking too much is also considered theft in Jainism. It demands that a monk restrain himself from all kinds of desire and not take goods belonging to others without permission.

4. Non Attachment: A person should not attach himself to worldly objects as it results in bondage to the cycle of life and death. Therefore, a person should renounce himself from any objects that please the five senses. Jainism believes that more wealth creates greater attachment in the long run.

4. Celibacy: Satisfaction of the five senses and abstinence from sexual arousal is called Brahmacharya. Sensual pleasure suppresses all virtues of a person, and the monks and nuns must strictly observe this fast. Mahavira later added this word.

Concept of Sin

Jainism not only emphasises the observance of Vratas but also asks his followers to avoid sin because it is a sin that places a man under bondage. The Jain works speak of 18 sins: Untruth, Theft, Sexual relationships, anger, Violence, Dravya, Greed, Maya, ego, Moh, Backbiting, speaking ill of others Dosharopan (impute charges), Non- Restraint, False view.

Concept of Soul

Jain philosophy emphasis on the concept of Soul and its purity. According to Jainism, every object of this universe – animate or inanimate has a soul within. Thus every being has a soul, and a physical body acts bondage to the soul. The path of salvation is paved by making the soul free from physical bondage. It does not believe in the existence of one soul, but there are multiple souls in this universe.

Karma Theory

Mahavira believed in Karma and Atma (soul). Man will be punished or rewarded according to his deeds in the next life, present or past life. By doing good or evil deeds, the soul creates its current or future itself. This philosophy stresses the immortality of the Soul. According to Mahavira, due to sins or virtues committed in one’s previous life, a person is born into a higher or lower caste.

Concept of Knowledge

 According to Jainism, since knowledge is a relative quality, no absolute and final affirmation or denial is possible. This is called the theory of Syadvada. There can be as many as seven options before determining the degree of truthfulness in a particular statement.  

Equality

 Jains attach great importance to equality. Mahavira accepted caste but said that a person could be good or bad based on his deeds and not on his birth. 

Existence of God

 Jainism acknowledged the existence of gods but kept them inferior and did not condemn caste-like Buddhism.  Jain philosophy speaks of  the  eternality of universe. The universe is not the creation of God who does not exist but the creation of six elements, i.e. Jeev( soul), Ajeev(Physical Matter), Dharma, Adharma, Kal and Akash.

Rejected the Vedas

 The supremacy of the Vedas and Vedic customs were rejected by Mahavira . He proclaimed a strict and simple life with the ultimate goal of attaining Kevalaya (Nirvana or Mokha). He went ahead and refused to accept the authority of the Vedas.

Against Rituals and Sacrifices

 Jainism was a kind of rebellion against the superiority of Brahmins and their sacrifices, sacrifices and useless rituals. He stopped all these Sacrifices and rituals and asked people to concentrate on Karma and soul.

However, Jainism never witnessed the rapid and extensive growth as was the case with Buddhism and its growth was slow and never became an international religion like Buddhism. 

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