..The Intuitive Times
Spiritual Practices



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Mahatma 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.

Worshipers 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.


The 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.


Jains 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 human culture.

The Jain movement

Mahavira organized his followers into four groups: monk (sadbu), nun, layman and laywoman. The group as a whole became known as the Jains.

At 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.

Jain Life:
Beliefs and Practices

The 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.

Daily life

Because 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.

Jain 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

Temple Worship

Jain 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.

The 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.

Worship begins with the reciting of this mantra:

I bow 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.!

Then 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.

Jain groups

During 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

Ahirnsa: 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.

Truthfulness (Satya): this does not mean tactlessness, but includes deliberation before any speech and avoidance of saying anything painful to others.

Non-stealing (Asteyo): this also includes avoidance of greed and exploitation.

Chastity (Brahmacharya): monks and nuns are celibate, and for Jain laypeople monogamy and faithfufness are important.

Detachment from material things (Aparigraha):
material pleasures are transitory illusions, and Jains try to limit their acquisition of wealth, contributing instead to humanitarian causes.

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