Jainism, an ancient and probably the 6th largest religion of the world is an integral part of India. The Jain tradition, which enthroned the philosophy of ecological harmony and non-violence as its lodestar, flourished for centuries side-by-side with other schools of thought in ancient India. It formed a vital part of the mainstream of ancient Indian life, contributing greatly to its philosophical, artistic and political heritage. During certain periods of Indian history, many ruling elites as well as large sections of the population were Jains.
Jainism’s message of unconditional reverence for life in all forms, its commitment to the progress of human civilization and to the preservation of the natural environment, continues to have profound and pervasive influence on Indian life and outlook. Jainism, with its distinctive views on matters such as non-violence and intellectual relativity, has relevance to the life and thought of not only of this century but also for many centuries to come.
Jainism is a complete system with all necessary branches such as ontology, metaphysics, philosophy, epistemology, ethic and rituals etc. It has its own scriptures, temples (architecturally, some of the most beautiful temples in India are the Jain temples) and deities, places of worship and pilgrimage, and its own festivals and fairs.
Jainism was not founded by any one individual. It is a philosophy which developed over a long period of time. Its latest prophet, Lord MAHAVIRA, was a contemporary of Lord Buddha more than 2500 years ago. Lord MAHAVIRA was the 24th prophet. The 23rd, Lord Parshavanatha was 250 years before him and the 22nd, Lord Neminatha , a contemporary of Lord Krishna of the Hindus was at least two thousand years before the 23rd prophet.
In the twentieth century, the most vibrant and illustrious example of Jain influence was that of Mahatma Gandhi. It was Jainism that made Mohandass Gandhi into Mahatma Gandhi. The central Jain teaching of ahimsa (non-violence) was the guiding principle of Gandhi’s civil disobedience in the cause of freedom and social equality.
Lord Mahavira emphasized the need of a comprehensive outlook, better known as Anekantavada or multiplicity of viewpoints. For him, there was no question of exaltation or diminution of anyone’s spiritual or ideological contribution. In his view, a dissenting opinion was a natural human tendency. The wisdom, however, lies in harmonizing the dissensions. He taught the idea of supremacy of human life and stressed the importance of positive. He preached the ideas of unconditional Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truth), Achaurya (non-stealing), Brahamcharya (celibacy and equal respect to women), and Aparigraha (non-possession) to the world. He also said that a “living body isn’t merely an integration of limbs, but is the abode of soul which potentially has infinite perception, infinite knowledge, infinite power and infinite bliss. Therefore, Mahavira’s preaching reflected a message of freedom and spiritual joy in the soul.
Ahimsa (nonviolence) is the heart and soul of Jainism. Jains teach and practice ahimsa not only towards human beings but towards all nature. It is an unequivocal teaching that is at once ancient and contemporary. Jainism stresses the sanctity of all life, liberty and compassion for all, and a tolerance of all religious views.
Jainism is an elder cousin of Buddhism and as such is most akin (in philosophy) to Buddhism. Many call these 2 religions as 2 branches of the same tree.
Jainism does not teach or prescribe conversion or proselyting from one region to another. The only conversion it teaches is aversion from hatred, ego, anger, greed and deceit to inner peace, calmness and tranquility.
No religion can survive or prosper as a secluded island. Always people interact, share and learn from each other and as a result all religions develop some common bonds and measures.
While generally all religions have their own distinct views and beliefs about GOD, creator, divinity, rituals, traditions, timing and style of prayers and of religious places but still there are many common threads that bind them together. There are lots of things that unite most of the religions than divide them. Here is a brief look at some of the common threads that most religions stand on
Nonviolence, this golden thread of no harming and none hurting is common in all religions. There are varying degrees of the concept and practices of nonviolence in all religions but Jains’ nonviolence is unconditional acceptance of Democracy of existence to all species; humans and non-humans too. In Christianity, the seven of the Ten Commandments are based on nonviolence.
Jainism has strong traditions and resemblance with many other world religions in fasting, atonement, asking for forgiveness, celebration of forgiveness events such as Paryushan ( 18 days) for Jains, Yom Kippur for Jews, Ramadan for Muslims and Lent for Christians , charity, building schools, hospitals for all ( humans and non-humans) , equality of all genders ( equal rights and treatment of women in all respects), celibacy and chastity, ( for monks, nuns and also for householders ), earning ones living by honest and ethical means, renunciation , detachment from daily worldly affairs, meditation, contemplation and talking by the self with the self.
2500 years ago, Lord Mahavira preached about ecology, care for the environment and interdependence. Jain’s principle of PARASPAROPGRAHO JIVANAM or inter and co- dependence recognizes that all life forms in this universe are bound together by mutual support and interdependence. Lord Mahavira said
“One who neglects or disregards the existence of earth, air, fire, water and vegetation disregards his own existence which is entwined with them”
Jain cosmology recognizes the fundamental natural phenomenon of symbiosis or mutual dependence, which forms the basis of modern day science of ecology. What Mahavira said 2500 years ago, all religions today believe and promote ecology and environmentalism and care for the earth.
Seva or service to others and afflicted is a core principle in many religions. All religions preach and do service to others. Service is one of the main ingredients of observation of Nonviolence. Jainism’s motto is “Live and Help others to live”.
The keynote of Jainism rings with religious tolerance, ethical purity, spiritual contentment, and harmony between self and one’s environment. Its central theme is not based on a theoretical science. Rather, it considers religion as a science of ethical practice. It conceives the human body not as a toy-machine to play with, but as a chariot on which the soul rides towards salvation. In the scheme of Jain system, life on earth is not merely sorrowful. It is on probation to conduct itself to successfully higher and higher forms of existence. The conduct of the present life should be aimed at the attainment of a permanent state of being from which there is no return. Every soul can attain godhood i.e., supreme spiritual individuality by realizing its intrinsic purity and perfection.
Dr. Sulekh C. Jain
Sulekh C .Jain, Ph.D is a Founder /Co-Founder of more than a dozen organizations and institutions in North America namely; Jain Center of Greater Boston , Jain Society of Houston , JAIN DIGEST Magazine , JAINA Library , Young Jains of America , Jain Center of Central Ohio at Columbus , Jain Academic Foundation of North America, Mahaveer Vision Inc., JAIN SPIRIT International Magazine , Ahimsa Times, World Council of Jain Academies , JVB Preksha Meditation Center in Houston and International School for Jain Studies in 2004. He can be reached at [email protected]