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Jainism

What is Jainism?

Bhagwan Mahavir has asked every one to live one's life following these five core principles.

  • Ahimsa or Non-violence (No killing or hurting any life by thought, speech or action),
  • Satya or Truthfulness (Speak the truth that is pleasant (Madhur) and beneficial (Hitkari) to others),
  • Asteya or Non-stealing (Do not take/use things that do not belong to you),
  • Brahmacharya or Celibacy (Win over worldly and sensual pleasures) and
  • Aparigraha or Non-possessiveness (Possess only what you need. Differentiate needs from wants).

Follow them with the Rational Knowledge (Samyag Gnana), Rational Perception/Faith (Samyag Darshan), and Rational Conduct (Samyag Charitrya) that reflect a true understanding of the teachings of Bhagwan Mahavir. In our day-to-day lives, we can imply Rational Knowledge with the true knowledge about the things we say and do, Rational Perception/Faith with the self-confidence in our ability (as opposed to lack of esteem as well as arrogance and over confidence) and Rational Conduct with our behavior that reflects true synchronization of our thoughts, speech and actions.

Jain Monks/Nuns (Sadhu/Sadhvi) follow these at a much higher level or degree. They are known as Mahavrat for them. For people like us, we should follow at slightly lower level (but much higher than the prevailing standards). They are known as Anuvrat for us. Irrespective of which faith (or religion) one follows or which God one believes in, these things should help any one to lead a happy, peaceful and spiritual life.

Who is the God in Jainism?

The concept of God in Jainism is quite different from other prevailing religions. Jainism does not believe in the God as the creator of the Universe (like Monolithic faiths, i.e. Judaism, Christianity, Islam). It also does not believe in God as the trinity of Hinduism, i.e., Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (as Creator, Maintainer and Destructor). It does, however, believe in the eternity of a soul and the supremacy of the liberated soul. A soul is present in the every living being, i.e. Humans, Animals, Birds, Insects, Fish, Plants, etc., but that soul is not liberated and has not realized (revealed) its full potential. It is known as Jeevatma, which goes through endless cycles of birth and death. Each soul (Jeevatma) is the possessor of the infinite knowledge, infinite power, but it cannot realize/reveal its full potential and goes through an eternal cycle of births and deaths. However, by following the principles in the manner described above with Samyag Gnan, Darshan and Charitrya, it is possible to realize the full potential of a soul and liberate it from the cycle of birth and death. The journey is long, difficult and full of obstacles. This liberated soul, Omnipotent and Omniscient, is the God in Jainism. It is also known as Paramatma (also Siddha or Siddhatma). Arihants or Teerthankars are those special people who in their last life as a human being show and open up the path to salvation by practicing what they preach and enable common people like us to achieve salvation by following the path shown by them. One sees the Pratimas of these Arihants being worshipped as Gods in Jain Temples.

Who are Teerthankars? What are their teachings? What are the main scriptures of Jainism? Who is the founder of Jain Religion? (Was Bhagwan Mahavir the founder of the Jain religion?)

According to the Jain scriptures, there is no founder of Jain religion. Shri Rishabhdev was the first Teerthankar of the current era, who opened the path to salvation (Mokshamarg). Twenty-three teerthankars that followed him imparted the same core message and showed the same path in tune with the prevailing times and circumstances during their lives. In each time cycle, there can be only twenty-four teerthankars. Shri Parshwanath was twenty-third and Shri Mahavir Swami was the last or twenty-fourth Teerthankar. Other names for a Teerthankar are Jina, Arhata, Arihant, Veetrag Prabhu. The meaning of the word Teerthankar is the one who establishes a Teerth. This teerth does not imply beautiful temples carved out of marble and precious stones, but a group of people who follow on the path shown by the Teerthankar. The Jain word for this is Chaturvidh Sangh or simply Sangh. The followers are divided into 4 categories, i.e. Sadhu (Monk), Sadhvi (Nun), Shravak (Ordinary Male folks) and Shravika (Ordinary Female folks). This Sangh is the Teerth established by a Teerthankar. Jina or Arihant is not only a truly enlightened soul (Buddha), but shows and opens the path of true enlightenment to the entire universe. That is why they are held in such high reverence and are worshipped.

The essence of the teachings of any Teerthankar remains the same. The variation that one may see is only external and is based on the needs of prevailing time and situation during the life of a Teerthankar. By following their teachings one can free oneself from the cycle of birth and death. They show practical ways to lead the life on the path shown by them or how one should follow the core principles. It may not happen overnight or during the current life. One must follow this path with Rational Perception, Rational Knowledge and Rational Conduct in their teachings and maintain a constant balance and synchronization among the three. Jain scriptures go very deep into the theory of Karma, Understand and win over our inner enemies like Krodh (Anger), Maan (Ego), Maya (Deceit), Lobh (Greed), how to lead a very ascetic and spiritual life, how to rise above Raga and Dwesha (Attachment or Favoritism and Hatred or Animosity), etc. The path may be long, but one must make a beginning and start without any delay.

The teachings of Bhagwan Mahavir have been scripted into Agams by Jain Acharyas several hundred years after his nirvana. Bhagwan Mahavir preached in Ardh-Magdhi (Parkrit language of the prevailing time). Many Jain scholars have written authentic books in Sanskrit, Prakrit and other Indian languages like Hindi, Gujarati, Kannada, etc. There is ample literature available on Jainism if one wants to study.

Who are Jains? Are they not all from the business community? Are there any castes in Jains?

Very simply put, Jains are the followers of Jina. Jina means Conqueror (comes from Sanskrit root ji). Jina conquers one's inner enemies Kaam (Desires), Krodh (Anger), Lobh (Greed), Moh (Deceit), Maan (Ego), Madsar, etc. Jains are also known as Shraman (e.g. Shraman Bhagwan Mahavir) or Nirgrantha. In India two schools of thought were always prevalent, i.e. Vedic and Shraman. Jainism is another name for Shraman school of thought, which was practiced and preached by Teerthankars. Hinduism is another name for Vedic school of thought. Like the word Hindu, the word Jain is also relatively new. People from all walks of life can practice Jainism. It is not caste driven and does not preach the superiority of one caste over another. However, the historical fact has been that the majority of Jains have been from upper castes. It may be interesting to note that Teerthankars have been Kshatriyas (Prince or King), Gandhars (chief disciples of a Teerthankar) have been Brahmins and Sangh members (Sadhu, Sadhvi, Shravak, Sharvika) have been from all castes. In Gujarat and North India, a majority of Jains are Vaishyas (from Business community). Jains are there all over India. Compared to the Jain population (less than 1% of India's population), the contribution of Jains to India (in terms of culture, literature, sculptures, temples, economy, etc.) is disproportionately high and significant. They are also able to mix very well with other communities and religions while maintaining a distinct identity.

Why do Jains fast a lot? Does it not mean torturing your body?

Penance or Tapa is held in a very high esteem both in Hinduism or Jainism. In fact, every major religion emphasizes on some form of Penance. Right food in Right Quantity and at Right Time (Mitahar) is the first step on a spiritual path and there is enough emphasis in both Hinduism and Jainism. It does not at all involve torturing or depriving your body. One should look at Penance or Tapa from a very positive aspect of spiritual development. According to Jainism, Tapa is an integral part of Rational Conduct. Tapa is divided into 12 types, 6 external and 6 internal. Internal type of Tapa is superior to External type. Here is the list of all 12 types in increasing order of importance and significance.

External

  • Anshan (Fasting for a defined period)
  • Unodary (Not eating to the full stomach)
  • Vrutti-Sankshep (Eating restricted items or things)
  • Rasparityag (Avoid taste and tasty items from diet)
  • Kayaklesh (Training body with Yoga, Pranayam, etc.)
  • Sanlinta (Training body, mind and senses)

Internal

  • Prayaschit (Repentance)
  • Vinay (Respect others, Show humility)
  • Vaiya-Vachch (Serve elders, needy, Monks/Nuns, etc.)
  • Swadhyay (Learning, Digesting and Practicing from religious scriptures)
  • Dhyan (Meditation)
  • Kayotsarg (Meditation to the highest level).

In Jainism, Tapa is the right way to do Karma Nirjara, which will lead to the salvation. One can now easily understand why it is so and Tapa does not mean mere fasting in Jainism.

Why does Jain Philosophy emphasize so much on Non-Violence? What are the practical aspects of Jainism that any one can adopt in one's present life?

If one follows 3 A's of Jainism, it will help any one to lead a spiritual and peaceful life. The 3 A's are Ahimsa, Aparigraha and Anekant.

Ahimsa means no killing through Thought, Speech and Action. Before one does physical act of violence, one goes through it in one's mind and speech. The time to act is when violent thoughts are going through one's mind or provocative words are spoken. Also one should address the root causes that prompt one to even think along the route of violence. Reply of violence through more violence precipitates only more violence. It takes more courage and willingness of self-sacrifice to pursue the path of Non-violence. Also, it is easier said than done. If one extends the doctrine of Ahimsa to all life, i.e. Humans, Animals, Birds, Insects, Trees, Plants, etc., it is easier to visualize the benefits of Ahimsa not just to mankind but to all living beings. It can bring peace and happiness to everyone. While it may not be possible to stop all the killings, one can at least make a beginning by not doing or committing the acts of violence which are avoidable, unnecessary and just for pleasure. One can develop qualities like Respect for all life, Forgiveness, Humility, etc. and overcome things like Anger, Ego, etc.

Aparigraha means not possessing and accumulating things that are unnecessary and/or excessive. One must make a distinction between a need and a want before acquiring anything. Jain Monks and Nuns observe the Mahavrat of Aparigraha at the highest level. For ordinary people the directive is to set the limits for the possessions and diligently stick to those limits. It is known as Parigraha Praman. An example would be to set an income limit of say $50,000/- or $100,000/- and live within that. In case the income exceeds the set limit, donate the extra income as prescribed by the Jain scriptures. The correct observance of this Anuvrat is the most effective way to win over Greed (Lobh) and lead a satisfied and peaceful life. The benefits are very obvious and can be seen in the present life itself.

Anekant means listening to and respecting the opposite or a different point of view and accommodating it wherever feasible and appropriate. It recognizes the fact that people (in the same family, community or country or world) have more than one opinion or point of view over the same issue or problem. It also acknowledges that each of these opinions may have an element of truth and one should at least respect and recognize it, if one cannot agree with that wholeheartedly. It keeps you away from the absolutist mode of thinking of ‘My Way or Wrong Way’ and is the most effective tool for Conflict Avoidance as well as Resolution. One can find the solution of many of the to-day’s problems in the doctrine of Anekantwad proposed by Bhagwan Mahavir.

One can easily see that 3 A’s of Jainism has universal appeal which cuts across religions, communities, states and countries. For further details, one can always refer to Jain scriptures and books.

What are Jain Poojas and Rituals? Are they similar to Hindu Poojas/Rituals?

Like Hinduism, there are many Poojas and Rituals in Jainism that one can (or should) follow. All Poojas and Rituals are broadly divided into 2 categories, i.e. Dravya Pooja and Bhaav Pooja. Bhaav Pooja is superior. Dravya Pooja involves use of materials like water, flowers, etc. and is prescribed for ordinary folks like us. The objective of Dravya Pooja, Temples, Pratimas and everything materialistic is to go towards Bhaav Pooja (our soul). The highest form of Bhaav Pooja is Dhyan and Kayotsarg, which is the sure path to spiritual upliftment and salvation. Jain Monks and Nuns do all their duties, rituals, etc. as Bhaav Pooja only, because they do not have any possessions.

Many of Jain Poojas involve Ashta-prakari (8 types) pooja. It involves 8 types of items. The usual order is Jal (water), Chandan (sandalwood and saffron), Pushp (flowers), Akshat (rice), Dhoop (incense), Dip (lamp), Fal (fruit), Naivaidhya (sweets). There is also Aarti and prayer for Universal peace at the end of Pooja. This process is very common with Hindu Pooja and rituals. The most common Jain Pooja is Snatra Pooja (for shwetambar sect) and Dev-Guru-Sashtra Pooja (for digambar sect). Many special Jain Poojas are also built around good and bad events/occasions that one encounters during the life and they are performed on appropriate occasions. Another common pooja is the Panch-Kalyanak Pooja to celebrate the 5 most important events in the life of a Teerthankar. These events are Chyavan (Conception), Janma (Birth), Deeksha (renouncing the world), Keval Gnan (acquiring the supreme knowledge) and Nirvana. Looking from another way, these are also the events that one will go through on the way to salvation. An interesting aspect of Jain Poojas is that you do not need a special priest to do the rituals and proceedings on your behalf and connect you to the God. As long as you know the process, you can do all that a priest will do.

What is the significance of Namokar Mantra in Jainism?

Namokar mantra is the supreme mantra in Jainism. Any one who recites it on a regular basis will benefit from it. It is also called the essence of all scriptures. It is also known as Navakar Mantra or Panch-Parameshthi Mantra. It does not worship a specific God or Teerthankar or Guru. Also, it does not say anything about any religion or sect. By reciting it one worships or prays five supreme entities in the universe to help move further along on the path of spirituality. The five entities worshipped are Arihant, Siddha, Acharya, Upadhyay and Sadhu in that order. It has 9 lines. First two pray the Dev tatva (Arihant & Siddha), next three pray the Guru tatva (Acharya, Upadhyay and Sadhu) and the last four pray the Dharma tatva (Samyag Gnan, Darshan, Charirtya and Tapa). Thus one worships Dev, Guru and Dharma through this mantra.

Who are Digambars and Shwetambars? Who are Jain Monks/Nuns? What are the main Jain Festivals?

Like any other religion, Jains are also divided into sects and sub-sects. The core beliefs remain the same, however rituals and interpretations vary. Jains are divided into two main sects, i.e. Digambar and Shwetambar. This division came into existence several hundred years after the nirvana of Bhagwan Mahavir. Digambar monks do not wear any clothes and carry no possessions at all. Shwetambar monks/nuns wear white clothes and carry the barest minimum possessions to help them do their daily rituals. Any Jain monk, however, leads very ascetic life-style with minimal needs and dependency from the society. They move bare foot from place to place on a constant basis (except for 4 months of monsoon). They do not have any worldly possessions (like house, business, money, bank accounts, property, etc.) and have renounced their families and family life on their becoming monks/nuns. They lead a life of total spiritual development for themselves and receptive society around them.

The major Jain festivals are as follows

Festival Name

Meaning

Jain/Hindu Calendar

English Calendar

Mahavir Jayanti

Bhagwan Mahavir birthday

Chaitra Sud 13

March/April

Paryushan (S)

8 day religious period for Shwetambar Jains

Shravan Vad 12/13 to Bhadrapad Sud 4/5

August/September

Paryushan (D)

10 day religious period for Digambar Jains

Bhadrapad Sud 5 to Bhadrapad Sud 14

August/September

Diwali

Bhagwan Mahavir Nirvana

Ashwin Vad 30

October/November

Jain deities (Pratimas) in our temple:
Shri Rishabdev Swami

First Teerthankar of the current era. (In the center, aka Mul Nnayak, Shwetambar style)

Shri Rishabdev Swami was the first teerthankar who opened the path to salvation (Mokshamarg). Twenty-three teerthankars that followed him imparted the same core message and showed the same path in tune with the prevailing times and circumstances during their lives. In each time cycle, there can be only twenty-four teerthankars.

Jainism is said to be the codification of eternal universal truths. Over time, these truths lapse amongst humanity and then reappear through the teachings of Omniscient Teachers called Tirthankaras. Jains do not believe in a Creator God; they define 'God' to mean omniscient beings who have shed their karmic bondages and are free from the cycle of birth and re-birth. Jains bow down to the Tirthankaras, a subset of Gods, for showing them the true path to enlightenment and aspire to be like them. Jains believe that all living beings are thus capable of achieving 'Godhood'.

Shri Mahavir Swami

Twenty-fourth (last) Teerthankar of the current era – (on the left of Shri Rishabdev Swami, Digambar style)
One can find the solution of many of the to-day’s problems in the doctrine of Anekantwad proposed by Bhagwan Mahavir. He has asked every one to live one’s life following these five core principles.

  • Ahimsa or Non-violence (No killing or hurting any life by thought, speech or action)
  • Satya or Truthfulness (Speak the truth that is pleasant (Madhur) and beneficial (Hitkari) to others)
  • Asteya or Non-stealing (Do not take/use things that do not belong to you)
  • Brahmacharya or Celibacy (Win over worldly and sensual pleasures) and
  • Aparigraha or Non-possessiveness (Possess only what you need. Differentiate needs from wants).

Follow the principles with Rational Knowledge (Samyag Gnana), Rational Perception/Faith (Samyag Darshan), and Rational Conduct (Samyag Charitrya) that reflect a true understanding of the teachings of Bhagwan Mahavir.


Shri ParshwaNath
Twenty-third Teerthankar of the current era – (on the right of Shri Rishabdev Swami, Digambar style)

(In the Left Sanctum)
Shri Padmavati Mata
Sashan Devi for Shri Parshwanath

Shri Dharanendra Dev
Sashan Dev for Shri Parshwanath

(In the Right Sanctum)
Shri Bahubali Swami
He is son of Shri Rishabdev Swami. Shri Gomateshwar in Shravan-Belgoda, Karnataka. Standing)
Shri Gautam Swami
He is first and chief Disciple of Shri Mahavir Swami. He is shown in sitting position.

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