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Gandhi, the great Indian reformer and pacifist, was strongly influenced
by Jain ideas. He came from Kathiawar, a strongly Jain area, and
had many links with the Jains. His policy of nonviolent resistance
to the British derived much of its principles from Jain notions
of Ahimsa. One of his mentors was Shrimad Rayachandra, a greatJain
teacher mentioned with much respect in his autobiography and with
whom he corresponded up to Rayachandra's death.
washing the feet of a statue of one of the Tirthankaras at a Jain
temple in southern India. Bathing or washing the statue is a way
of showing reverence and gratitude to the Tirthankaras.
word Jain refers to those who conquer their inner feelings of
hate, greed and selfishness. The chief principle of Jainism is
overcoming desires. Jains believe that all individuals are bound
to this world by deeds done in previous lives - karma -and it
is only by renouncing materialistic desires that these bonds can
be broken and the soul achieve the blissful state of moksha.
take a cyclic view of history, believing that the universe follows
an eternal pattern of rise and fall. In each age there are twenty-four
great teachers. These are called Tirthankaras-"bridge- makers,"
as they help men and women cross the gap between life and death,
or jinas-"spiritual victors"; Jain means "follower
of the Jinas." Mahavira was the last of the twenty-four Tirthankaras
of the current age, which is regarded as one of decline. Parshva,
an earlier ascetic who lived around 900 BCE with a similar philosophy
to Mahavira's, was the twenty-third. There are stories of the
other twenty-two, going right back to the first Tirthankara Rishahba,
believed to have lived millions of years ago and to have invented
organized his followers into four groups: monk (sadbu), nun, layman
and laywoman. The group as a whole became known as the Jains.
the age of seventy-two Mahavira broke the bonds of karma and achieved
moksha. His senior disciples took over leadership of the movement,
which then numbered several hundred thousand, and by the fifth
century CE the Jains were an influential force within India. But
by the twelfth century Jainism was beginning to decline. The rise
of other religions, particularly increasing numbers of Hindus
and Muslims, led to the Jains being mainly concentrated in northwestern
India. There are more than 7.5 million Jains in India today, mainly
in the provinces of Gujarat and Maharastra. There are also small
Jain communities abroad, particularly in the United States.
Beliefs and Practices
central doctrine of Jainism is that the world is a place of evil
and suffering. There is an infinite number of individual souls
trapped in the material world, bound to it in a cycle of reincarnations
because of karma-spiritual residue accumulated from wrongdoing
in previous lives. Good deeds abolish this karma and allow the
soul eventually to transcend the world and reach a state of moksba,
eternal spiritual bliss. Bad deeds and concentration on material
pleasures tie the soul even closer to the world.
of the principle of abimsa (non-injury) all Jains follow a completely
vegetarian lifestyle. They often pursue trade as a profession,
for most other occupations involve doing harm to other beings,
even unintentionally. For example, by plowing the earth a farmer
may be destroying thousands of tiny creatures.
monks and nuns are even more strict in their pursuit of ahimsa.
They always carry a small brush with which they gently sweep the
path when walking, so as to avoid treading on any insect. They
strain their drinking water, and some wear a small mask over their
face to stop any insects accidentally flying in and being
temples are dedicated to the twenty-four Tirthankaras, each of
which is represented by a statue. The statues are identical, to
indicate spiritual perfection, but each Tirthankara has a particular
symbol-the one for Mahavira, for example, is a lion.
seated image of a particular Tirthankara almost always dominates
a Jain temple. The worshipers perform puja (worship) to the image
every day, preferably in the early morning, or do the same in
a home shrine.
begins with the reciting of this mantra:
to tbe finas!
I bow to the souls that have obtained release!
I bow to the leaders of the Jain orders!
I bow to the preceptors!
I bow to all theJain monks in the world.!
the worshiper forms a design with grains of rice, and showers
the statue with water or offers a symbolic bath. An offering of
eight symbolic substances is made, each representing a particular
virtue. More elaborate ceremonies are held on important occasions,
when the statue may be decorated with flowers or other offerings.
the centuries after Mahavira's death, the Jain movement split
into two main factions, the chief difference between them being
in the degree of asceticism they thought necessary. The Digambara
(sky-clad) faction believed that complete nudity was necessary
to signify detachment from material things, whereas the Shvetambara
(white-clad) faction held that simple white robes would be equally
acceptable. The Digambaras will not admit women to full monastic
vows, holding that they are incapable of achieving enlightenment
and must wait to be reborn as men. The two factions developed
separate bodies of religious literature and still exist today,
with the Digambaras largely based in the north of India and the
Shvetambaras in the south. The Digambaras now wear robes in public,
however. The small Sthanakavasi group, which originated in the
seventeenth century, is even more rigorous in its discipline and
also opposes any form of image worship.
The Five Principles
this is the complete avoidance of harm and is essential to the
pursuit of moksha. All living beings are equal and none of them
should be harmed, for in doing so one will only harm oneself.
(Satya): this does not mean tactlessness, but includes deliberation
before any speech and avoidance of saying anything painful to
(Asteyo): this also includes avoidance of greed and exploitation.
(Brahmacharya): monks and nuns are celibate, and for Jain laypeople
monogamy and faithfufness are important.
from material things (Aparigraha):
material pleasures are transitory illusions, and Jains try to
limit their acquisition of wealth, contributing instead to humanitarian
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