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JAINISM . Jainism is a South Asian religious tradition which takes its name from those (Sanskrit, Jaina; English, "Jain") who follow the teachings and example of authoritative teachers called Jina (conqueror). These teachers are also called "makers of the ford" (Sanskrit, tīrthakara ), signifying their construction of a community of monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen that provides the means to cross the ocean of rebirth. Jain tradition holds that twenty-four Jinas appear in succession throughout regular temporal movements in the course of eternity and communicate the unchanging doctrine of correct knowledge (samyagjñāna ), correct faith (samyagdarśana ), and correct behavior (samyagcāritra ).

As a soteriology, Jainism teaches that enlightenment in the form of omniscience and subsequent freedom from rebirth can be attained by progressive renunciatory withdrawalmanifesting itself most markedly as nonviolence (ahisā )from physical and sensory interaction with the surrounding world, which is constituted at all levels by embodied life monads.

According to the census of 1991, there are about 3.35 million Jains living in India, while an estimated 100,000 are domiciled abroad, largely in Africa, Britain, and North America.


The historical origins of Jainism can be located in the teachings of Pārśva and Mahāvīra, who are traditionally regarded as the twenty-third and twenty-fourth Jinas of the present time-cycle. Both flourished in the Ganges Basin region of eastern India. The evidence of early Buddhist writings confirms that Mahāvīra was a contemporary of the Buddha, predeceasing him by some years. Since Western scholarship has reached near unanimity that the Buddha lived from approximately 480 to 400 bce, Mahāvīra's dates must of necessity be changed from the traditional 599 to 527 bce to about 490 to 410 bce.

The Jain scriptures maintain that Pārśva lived around two centuries before Mahāvīra. He must therefore be dated to around the seventh century bce. However, the evidence for the historicity of Pārśva is neither overwhelming nor contemporaneous. Buddhist references to Jain ascetics following four restraints (involving nonviolence, nonlying, not taking what has not been given, and nonpossession) of the sort traditionally attributed to Pārśva, as opposed to the five vows (the four restraints already mentioned, plus celibacy) taught by Mahāvīra, suggest that some sort of ascetic community descended from Pārśva was still in existence in the fifth century bce, although it is not clearly identifiable subsequently. To argue that Mahāvīra reformed a preexisting style of ascetic practice promulgated by Pārśva and fitted it into a wider doctrinal setting is merely to frame a hypothesis, but it is one which makes sense of later Jain insistence that there was a link between the two teachers.

The broad trajectory of Mahāvīra's career as conveyed by tradition is stereotypical in that it was enacted by virtually all the other Jinas. The main events of his life involved the abandonment on reaching full maturity of a domestic life of royal ease, a subsequent austere search for knowledge, the gaining of full awakening, the subsequent conversion of followers and founding of a community, and death at an advanced age followed by a cremation appropriate for a king.

Mahāvīra's basic teachings, as opposed to the developed doctrine of classical Jainism that took final shape around the beginning of the first millennium ce (see below), can be reconstructed from what are accepted as being the oldest Jain texts. These teachings are anti-Brahmanic in their rejection of the validity of the Vedic sacrificial ritual, and they frequently intersect with elements of other contemporaneous renunciatory doctrines that circulated in the Ganges basin area. It was surely Mahāvīra's thoroughgoing analysis (quickly to be attributed to the quality of omniscience) of the multilayered living world which encompasses human beings, and his call for a heroic change of stance toward that world which provided a combination of the radically subversive and the inspirational, that was to render his teachings influential and long lasting.

According to Mahāvīra, the world is full of eternal life monads called jīva (from Sanskrit, jīv [live]; the oldest Jain texts also use the term āyā, equivalent to Sanskrit ātman [self], found in Brahmanic texts such as the Upaniads), which in their purest form possess the qualities of complete knowledge, energy, and bliss. However, those life monads, trapped in the world of rebirth (sasāra ) as a result of their violent activities, are of necessity embodied in not just human and animal shape, but also in plant and insect form, extending down to those that exist in earth, water, air, and fire. Interaction with this world of visible and invisible life-forms, even through such basic activities as motion and breathing, inexorably effects destruction (hisā ) that leads through rebirth to further embodiment and gradual debasement of status. The only way to escape this perilous situation is to withdraw from performing, promoting, and approving physical, mental, and vocal "action" (karman ). The sole appropriate mode of life that can facilitate the full practice of nonviolence (ahisā ) is ascetic renunciation.


A group of disciples (gaadhara ), originally Brāhmas, is credited with channeling Mahāvīra's teachings by putting them into textual form and taking over the direction of the community. Most significant among these gaadhara were Gautama Indrabhūti, portrayed in the scriptures as an interlocutor of Mahāvīra; Sudharman, credited by the Śvetāmbara sect (see below) with initiating its ascetic lineage; and Jambū, the last individual of this world age to gain enlightenment.

The early history of Jainism can be broadly reconstructed. Although the community never completely abandoned the area of its origins in the Ganges Basin, it quickly moved along the main trade routes of ancient South Asia, and by around the third to second centuries bce it could be found in the northwestern city of Mathurā and in the Tamil country in the far south of the peninsula. Archaeological and inscriptional evidence from Mathurā bears witness to the existence there of ascetic lineages, a largely bourgeois lay community, and a cult centering on commemorative devotional worship of the Jinas in iconic form.

Mathurā and its environs seem to have been the center of a monastic community that styled itself ardhaphālaka (partially clothed), owing to its members being completely naked apart from a distinctive strip of cloth carried over the forearm. By the beginning of the common era, there existed a variety of styles of Jain monastic praxis, in which the wearing or abandonment of clothes were emblematic. This originally fluid situation became polarized by around the fourth to fifth centuries ce with the formation of two sects, the Śvetāmbara (white-clad), whose monks and nuns wear white robes, and the Digambara (sky-clad), whose monks go naked.

Further differences between these two groups were to emerge, although there was no disagreement about the central teachings of Jainism. The Digambaras were to reject the authenticity of the scriptural canon that emerged among the Śvetāmbaras (see below) and also claimed, unlike the Śvetāmbaras, that the fully enlightened individual (kevalin ) transcended normal human behavior in not needing to eat, drink, or sleep. The Śvetāmbaras have always accepted that women are capable of gaining the goal of the religions in the same manner as men, whereas the Digambaras deny this on the grounds that women cannot, for social reasons, go naked like the true ascetic, and because they are incapable of any form of intense moral action. There are today only a small number of Digambara nuns who accept that because of the necessity to wear clothing they will only be able to make serious spiritual progress when reborn as males.

While other Jain sects existed, such as the Yāpanīyas who eventually disappeared around the beginning of the second millennium ce, the Śvetāmbara and Digambara sects have remained the two main pillars of the Jain community, with each claiming its interpretation of the practice of Jainism to be the more valid. The prestige of these two sects in the first millennium was enhanced by the achievement of a number of celebrated teachers, such as Siddhasena Divākara (Śvetāmbara; sixth century) and Akalaka (Digambara; ninth century). The Śvetāmbara Haribhadra (of uncertain date, possibly sixth or ninth centuries) left a particularly impressive body of writings in a wide variety of genres and became a major authority for later tradition.

Initially Jainism gained less consistent royal support than Buddhism, although at least one monarch, Khāravela (second century bce) of the kingdom of Kaliga (modern Orissa in eastern India), was a devotee. However, Jainism subsequently deployed some of the imperial symbolism current in north India and presented itself in a manner congenial to aristocratic patrons as well as those of a trading background. This was particularly the case in medieval south India, where Digambara Jainism, with its ideology of spiritual transformation couched in the imagery of heroic conquest, was patronized by rulers and feudatories of prominent dynasties such as the Cālukyas and the Rārakūas. The greatest Jain monument to the interaction between royal power and ascetic renunciation is the fifty-two-foot-high image, erected by the general Cāmuarāya in 951 at Śravaa Begoa (south Karnataka), of Bāhubali, a prince who withdrew from martial violence to become an ascetic and was, according to Digambara tradition, the first individual of this world age to achieve liberation. The ritual anointment of this image, which occurs every twelve years, attracts huge numbers of onlookers and is one of India's most spectacular religious ceremonies. Although Jainism was an integral part of south Indian culture and Digambara monks played an important role in the early promulgation of literature in languages like Tamil and Kannada, the religion gradually lost its access to political power, and from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries vigorous anti-Jain Śaiva movements supplanted it in royal favor and effected large-scale conversions to Hinduism.

From the medieval period, the religious affairs of the image-worshiping Digambara community have been conducted by orange-robed celibate clerics called bhaāraka (a title signifying "learned"), specialists in ritual and the scriptures who occupy pontifical seats endowed with some of the trappings of secular kingship. The most well-known bhaāraka seats are at Śravaa Begoa, Mūdbirī, and Hombuja in Karnataka and Kolhāpur and Karānjā in Maharashtra. Those Digambaras, largely to be found in Madhya Pradesh, who do not approve of image-worship and the presiding role of bhaārakas assign a prominent ritual position to sacred texts. The Digambara ascetic lineage was revived in the nineteenth century after becoming virtually defunct in the late medieval period. Today the Digambara Jains, around one million in number, remain a numerically small, although resilient community in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu.

Since the fifth century ce, the main center of Śvetāmbara Jainism has been in Gujarat in western India. The Digambaras had lost serious influence in that region by the eleventh century, according to Śvetāmbara tradition, because of their failure in public debate. The greatest figure in medieval Gujarati Jainism was Hemacandra (10891172), a polymath monk who became court scholar of the Caulukya dynasty during the reigns of Siddharāja and his nephew Kumārapāla (11441173). Hemacandra is credited with having persuaded Kumārapāla to rule his kingdom in partial accordance with Jain ethical principles. The Yogaśāstra, written by Hemacandra as a compendium of lay behavior and still an authoritative text, may have been intended to guide Kumārapāla. Western India is the location of the most conspicuous exemplifications of Śvetāmbara religiosity, the great temple complexes built on Mount Śatruñjaya near Pālitāna, Mount Girnar near Junagah, and Mount Ābū, the major initial impetus for which came in the eleventh century. Of particular note is the Dharnā Vihāra temple at Rāakpur in south Rajasthan, which was consecrated in 1441.

Beginning in the eleventh century a variety of Śvetāmbara sublineages (gaccha ) appeared in western India, deriving from teachers who claimed to be reforming ascetic practice or who advocated ritual and calendrical innovations. While all represented themselves as promulgating the true form of Jainism reaching back to Mahāvīra's disciple Sudharman and converted numerous lay followers, only three of these have remained significant until the present day: the Kharatara Gaccha (founded in the eleventh century), the Añcala Gaccha (founded in the twelfth century), and the Tapā Gaccha (founded in the thirteenth century). Of these, the Tapā Gaccha is today by far the most prominent Śvetāmbara subsect in terms of numbers and intellectual and social prestige.

During the premodern period, Śvetāmbara Jainism in western India often found itself in an embattled situation because of the dominance of Islam. On occasion, however, Jain monks had access to political authority and were able to intercede to gain privileges for their community. Most notably, Hīravijaya Sūri (15271596), the head of the Tapā Gaccha, had a preceptorial relationship with the Moghul emperor Akbar (r. 15551605), at times prevailing upon him to abandon hunting and the slaughter of animals for food.

Controversies were to emerge within the Śvetāmbara Jain community in the early modern period. In the fifteenth century a layman called Lokā provided the impetus for the eventual appearance of new Śvetāmbara lineages that adopted a more radical approach to ascetic practice and abandoned temple-oriented Jainism and its attendant image cult. The Sthānakvāsī (Living in Lodging Houses) sect emerged in the seventeenth century, gaining its name from the fact that its ascetics took their temporary residence not in halls specially built beside temples but in dilapidated or unused buildings. Sthānakvāsī monks and nuns adopted the permanent wearing of the "mouth-shield" (muhpattī ), hitherto only used on ritual occasions, in token of their continual adherence to nonviolence through minimizing injury to organisms in the air. The Sthānakvāsins have remained an important component of Jainism, particularly in Gujarat and Panjab.

In the eighteenth century a monk called Bhiku left the Sthānakvāsī community in the Marwar region of Rajasthan in rejection of its perceived laxity and founded a sect that came to be called Terāpanthī (Following the Thirteen Principles). This sect, recognizable by its ascetics' adoption of a mouth-shield more extended in shape than that of the Sthānakvāsins, was particularly radical in its espousal of a scripturally derived mode of life, and it accordingly claimed that the duty of the ascetic lay in the attainment of his or her own liberation, not in facilitating the gaining of merit. From Bhiku's time, sole authority in the Terāpanthī sect has been concentrated in the hands of each succeeding teacher, unlike the more fragmented situation prevailing in other Jain sects. In postindependence India, the Terāpanthī sect was associated with a campaign to uplift public morals and ban nuclear weapons.


For Jain tradition, the scriptural corpus (āgama ) formulated in identical manner by each Jina is eternal and totally authoritative in that it conveys the teaching of omniscient beings. Both the Śvetāmbara and Digambara sects maintain that there were originally fourteen texts called Pūrva (Prior) that eventually became lost, with some surviving texts representing a residue of what had once been a huge quantity of textual material.

Viewed historically, the Jain scriptural corpus as transmitted by the Śvetāmbaras developed over a considerable period of time, with the version current today apparently having been established at the council of Valabhī in the fifth century ce, in the last of a series of redactions. Only a relative chronology can be established. While some portions of the scriptures, such as the first chapter of the Ācārāga Sūtra, can realistically be dated back almost to the time of Mahāvīra, when composition and transmission were oral, others are (from the stylistic point of view) productions of the early common era, by which time writing had become the preferred method of transmission.

The language in which the canon was composed is called Ardhamāgadhī (Half Māgadhī), signifying a connection with the Magadha region of the Ganges Basin. Although having a vernacular base, this most likely functioned as a scriptural language only and was never spoken as a mother tongue. Some demonstrably later portions of the canon are composed in Mahārārī Prākrit, a literary vernacular of the early common era.

The scriptural canon as accepted today by image-worshiping Śvetāmbaras consists of a large number of texts, divided into various subgroups. (There is no generally accepted number of texts, as the Sthānakvāsins and Terāpanthins omit thirteen from the total listed below and other enumerations have also been in circulation.) The first subgroup, the Twelve "Limbs" (Aga ), consists of:

  1. The Ācārāga Sūtra, which describes ascetic behavior and contains a biography of Mahāvīra.
  2. The Sūtraktāga Sūtra, which contains a wide range of material including accounts of non-Jain teachings.
  3. The Sthānāga Sūtra.
  4. The Samavāyāga Sūtra, encyclopedic texts listing significant categories for all aspects of Jainism.
  5. The Vyākhyāprajñapti Sūtra, which records dialogues between Mahāvīra and his disciple Indrabhūti concerning a wide range of cosmological, ontological, and disciplinary issues.
  6. The Jñātādharmakathā Sūtra, exemplary and legendary narratives.
  7. The Upāsakadaśā, narratives of pious laymen.
  8. The Antakddaśā, narratives of those who ended rebirth.
  9. The Anuttaraupapātikadaśā, narratives describing those reborn as gods.
  10. The Praśnavyākaraāni, questions and answers about doctrinal issues.
  11. The Viākaśruta, descriptions of the operation of karma.
  12. The Divāda, which were accepted as lost by the early common era.

The second subgroup, made up of the Twelve "Subordinate Limbs" (Upāga ), includes:

  1. The Aupapātika Sūtra, a description of a sermon by Mahāvīra and an account of non-Jain teachings and ascetics.
  2. The Rājapraśnīya Sūtra, a discussion between King Prasenajit and a monk concerning ontological matters.
  3. The Jīvājīvābhigama Sūtra, which describes the various categories of existence.
  4. The Prajñāpanā Sūtra, which describes a wide range of epistemological and ontological topics.
  5. The Sūryaprajñapti Sūtra.
  6. The Jambūdvīpaprajñapti Sūtra.
  7. The Candraprajñapti Sūtra, cosmological and astronomical texts.

812.A series of short narrative texts.

The third subgroup is formed by the Cheda Sūtra s, which consist of seven texts dealing with disciplinary matters. The eighth chapter of the first, the Ācāradaśā, is the Kalpa Sūtra. This text, which contains a biography of Mahāvīra, disciplinary recommendations, and the early lineage of the Jain ascetic community, is the focus of the most important period of the Śvetāmbara ritual year, Paryuan, when it is publicly recited and illustrations of it are displayed. The Mahāniśītha Sūtra is, on the grounds of language and content, later than the other texts, and its status was a source of controversy during the Medieval period.

The fourth subgroup consists of the "Fundamental" (mūla ) Sūtrasnamely, the Uttarādhyayana Sūtra, the Daśavaikālika Sūtra, the Āvaśyaka Sūtra, and (treated together) the Pianiryukti and Oghaniryukti which set out the parameters of ascetic behavior and are to be studied at the beginning of the renunciant career.

The fifth subgroup consists of the "Mixed" Texts, which are, according to the most common enumeration, eleven short (and generally late) works describing subjects such as astrology and ascetic ritual.

Finally, the sixth subgroup consists of two hermeneutical texts, the Nandī Sūtra and the Anuyogadvāra Sūtra.

There is at present no definitive critical edition of the Śvetāmbara Jain scriptures. An extensive exegetical literature was produced from the early common era, with the oldest examples being the Prakrit mnemonic verses, called niryukti, attributed to the earlycommon era teacher Bhadrabāhu. The leading commentator in Sanskrit was Abhayadeva Sūri (eleventh century).

The Digambaras reject the authority of the Śvetāmbara scriptural canon in favor of texts that emerged at the beginning of the common era and are regarded as representing the residue of the ancient tradition. The Prakrit in which they are written, whose origins lie in the Mathurā region, is generally called Jaina Śaurasenī. The akhaāgama (Scripture of Six Parts) attributed to the monk Dharasena (c. second century ce) and the approximately contemporary Kaāyaprāb-hta (Treatise on the Passions) are massive compilations dealing with the soul and its varying connections with karma. Also authoritative for the Digambaras are two earlycommon era works on ascetic behavior, the Mūlācāra (Basic behavior) of Vaakera and the Bhagavatī Ārādhanā (Revered accomplishing) of Śivārya. Of slightly more uncertain date are the influential verse treatises of Kundakunda, which adumbrate a radically interiorized, soul-oriented version of Jainism and have remained highly influential to the present day.

Unless they are scholars, Jains of both sects have generally had the scriptural tradition mediated to them in the form of practical canons consisting of short, often epitomizing texts that have sometimes been produced in relatively recent times. For the last two millennia, Jain writers have been major contributors to Indian literature in a wide variety of languages and in all the important literary genres. The literary language known as Apabhraśa was employed predominantly by Jain poets whose willingness to use popular song meters ensured their compositions wide circulation in western India between 1000 and 1300. A vast number of Jain hymns were composed in early forms of vernacular languages like Hindi and Gujarati.


Although tradition regards the teachings of Jainism as having been enunciated in full by Mahāvīra, it is possible to trace an evolution through the scriptural texts that reveals the intermittent influence of non-Jain philosophical positions and attempts to tighten up doctrinal structures. The introduction of the ontological categories of motion (dharma ) and rest (adharma ) and an atomic theory to explain the functioning of the material world are cases in point.

The textual catalyst for the formulation of a definitive version of the teachings is the Tattvārtha Sūtra (Sūtra on the meaning of the reals) by Umāsvāti, a monk belonging to a northern lineage who flourished around the fourth century ce. This sūtra is claimed, with some variants, by both the Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras. Using the medium of the short rule formulated in Sanskrit (sūtra ), Umāsvāti identified and explained the main components of Jain teaching as they had developed throughout the canonical period in a manner that has remained authoritative until the present day.

Jainism is both dualistin that it posits that the soul is different from natureand pluralistin its acceptance of the existence of a multitude of separate entities in the universe. Contrary to Brahmanic ideology, it teaches that there is no creator god and that the universe has existed and will continue to do so throughout eternity. Reality, identified as both permanent and subject to change, is composed of five (or six) categories: the jīva, or "life monad," and the four (or five) categories of non-jīva, namely motion, rest, atoms, and space (the Digambaras add time). The jīva while eternal and in its purest form possessed of consciousness (including the faculty of understanding), energy, and blissembodies itself in six forms: earth-bodied, fire-bodied, air-bodied, water-bodied, stationary (in the form of plants and trees), and moving (including insects, animals, men, gods, and hell-beings). These embodiments are further differentiated by the number of senses they possess.

The cause of the external differentiation and psychic degradation of the jīva is karma, envisaged in Jainism as a fine material substance not dissimilar to dust. Each modulation of the jīva, whether physical, mental, or vocal, intentional or unintentional, attracts karma to itself. The more intense the modulation, the more karmic substance is attracted to the jīva to occlude the efficacy of its innate characteristics. Some awkwardnesses in this explanation had to be resolved by later Jain systematizers. For example, an allowance for the possibility of intention as motivating the quality of action was introduced to modify what might otherwise have been an excessively severe moral vision. Jain theorists were to develop, over almost a millennium and a half, a highly elaborate taxonomy of karma, charting in detail the subdivisions of the "harming" (ghātiyā ) type, responsible for the diminution of faith, knowledge, and energy and the creation of false and deluded attitudes to the world, and the "nonharming" (aghātiyā ), responsible for setting the parameters of existence in terms of birth, gender, length of life, and quality of experience.

Jainism is envisaged in ideal terms as a path of self-discipline that can progressively effect the "warding off" (savara ) of the influx of new karma and the "wearing away" (nirjarā ) of that karma which has already been bound. When a human being (the only creature in the universe capable of this) destroys the harming karma s through the fire of asceticism (tapas ), he gains pure omniscience and becomes an omniscient kevalin (Jinahood is reached by a particularly rare type of karma ). When the karmically dictated period of life reaches its end, the jīva leaves its human shell to gain liberation (moka ) and moves in one instant to the roof of the universe, where it dwells in a state of pure energy, bliss, and knowledge along with but separate from all the other liberated (siddha ) jīva s. Although the path is presented in universalist terms, Jainism posits the existence of a category of jīva called abhavya that is innately and eternally incapable of gaining liberation, thus ensuring that the world of rebirth will never be emptied.

Since any epistemological judgment short of that based on omniscience is necessarily incomplete, direct cognition and inference (along with two other advanced forms of knowledge accepted by Jainism, namely the ability to read other people's minds and clairvoyance) can only provide a partially correct understanding of a multiform world that is simultaneously permanent and changing. In acknowledgement of the complex nature of reality, Jain teachers formulated the "Many-pointed Doctrine" (anekāntavāda ), which stipulates that any given object must be approached from seven standpoints (naya ) in order to construct a valid judgment about it. The various judgments that can be formed are nonetheless provisional and should ideally be prefaced with the word syāt (maybe, perhaps).

In medieval times this pluralist style of analysis served the polemical purpose of destabilizing Brāhma claims concerning permanent essences and Buddhist teachings about impermanent constructed entities, both regarded by the Jains as partial and inadequate explanations of reality. In more modern times, the Many-pointed Doctrine has enabled liberal-minded Jains to present their religion as unique in terms of its tolerance and promotion of peace.

Renunciant Practice

Historically, the monk (most commonly, muni, sādhu; in the earliest period, nirgrantha [bondless]) has been the main representative of Jain values. This central role is commemorated within the most ubiquitous portion of Jain liturgy, the "Five Homages" (Pañcana-maskāra ) mantra, in which homage is expressed in Prākrit to the omniscient teachers, the liberated souls, the teachers and preceptors, and all monks in the world.

According to the Kalpa Sūtra, an order of nuns was in existence at Mahāvīra's death that was three times as numerous as that of the monks, and female renunciation has been an important dimension of Jainism until the present day, with senior nuns having authority over the female order. However, the Jain nun has always been in a subordinate position to the monk and, invariably, female ascetic experience and its obligations were vectored through the prescriptions of male practitioners. No writings by nuns appear to have been produced before the modern period.

The nascent Jain order seems to have taken the broad structure of its practice from Brahmanic models. The Vedic term vrata (calling, vow) is used by the Jains to refer to the "Great Vows" (mahāvrata ), the five main renunciatory vows defining the practice of an ascetic. Ascetic initiation, which is perceived as a form of radical transformation, is called dīkā, a term originally signifying the symbolic rebirth of the sponsor of the Vedic sacrifice.

In order to enter the Jain ascetic community, the novice (male or female) undergoes a preliminary initiatory period during which key texts are memorized and the implications of ascetic life conveyed. In the formal ceremony of initiation the presiding senior ascetic gives the novice, as tokens of entry into a transformed mode of life, a new name and various implements (among the Śvetāmbaras, a pair of robes, an alms bowl, a whisk emblematic of nonviolence, a staff, and, for Sthānakvāsī and Terāpanthī initiates, a mouth-shield; among the Digambaras the fully initiated monk who must henceforth go naked is given only a whisk and a water pot for cleaning himself after evacuating bodily wastes). In ancient times the novice pulled out his or her hair in token of sexual and social renunciation, although the general custom today is for the head to be shaved. Thereafter, the ascetic will be a member of a lineage which traces its teacher-pupil relationship back to Mahāvīra (in the case of the Digambaras) or his disciple Sudharman (in the case of the Śvetāmbaras) and will be under the control of senior ascetics who convey the wording and meaning of the scriptures and prescribe and keep watch over all aspects of behavior.

The life of the Jain ascetic is intended to provide the appropriate environment for the enactment of the requirements of nonviolence and the other vows, and thus effect a diminution of the passions. It is envisaged as involving a heroic struggle to overcome the various physical and mental discomforts (parīaha ) that assail the renunciant. A continually watchful and controlled life is schematized in the form of three "Protections" (gupti ) that involve the guarding of mind, body, and speech, and five "Careful Actions" (samiti ) that enjoin continual care in movement, speech, seeking for food, receiving or putting down any object, and voiding the bowels.

Wandering mendicancy punctuated by short periods of fixed residence is obligatory, other than for those ascetics who are too infirm or engaged in scholarly activity and during the period of the rains, when the peripatetic life is suspended and monks and nuns live (separately) in lodging halls provided by the laity. Study, religious exercises, and preaching to the laity are the main occupations of ascetics during those periods when they spend time in villages and towns.

As Jain ascetics are not permitted to possess money, cook food, or grow crops, they must seek suitable vegetarian sustenance from (preferably) lay supporters or anybody appropriate who is disposed to give it. Acts of donation to ascetics are deemed to bring about merit for the donor. Śvetāmbara ascetics seek food (an activity called gocari [grazing], in token of its supposedly random nature) in the morning and before evening, consuming it out of sight of the laity, whereas their Digambara counterparts seek food only once in the morning, eating from their cupped hands in front of the donor. No Jain ascetic is allowed to eat after dark because of the possibility of unwitting destruction of life forms. Fasting, often over lengthy periods of time, is a regular feature of ascetic practice. Water can only be drunk after it has been boiled and filtered by laypeople.

An important structuring feature of Jain ascetic life is regular ritual activity, the standard model for which was in place by the early common era. The six "Obligatory Actions" (Āvaśyaka ) to be performed daily are equanimity (sāmāyika ), praise to the twenty-four Jinas (caturviśatistava ), homage to the teacher (guruvandaa ), repentance (pratikramana ), laying down the body (kāyotsarga ), and abandonment (pratyākhyāna ). Equanimity is a form of temporary withdrawal of the senses, traditionally to be maintained for a period of forty-eight minutes; praise to the Jinas involves a strong devotional and commemorative element; homage to the teacher betokens Jainism's keen awareness of the transmission of the teachings (this ritual can be performed in front of a symbolic representation of a dead teacher); repentance, to be performed twice daily by the ascetic, as well as at various significant times of the year, expresses a desire to atone for acts of violence, witting or unwitting, inflicted on any living creature; laying down of the body is a temporarily assumed motionless pose; and abandonment relates to pledges to abstain from types of action or from consumption of food and drink in the future.

Equanimity is perhaps the nearest approximation in Jainism to what in other religious paths is called "meditation." However, little significant value is attributed to structured meditation by Jain tradition, no doubt because of the prestige of asceticism as the predominant means of eliminating karma. In the early common era, contemplative activity (anuprekā ) directed toward subjects such as impermanence and human solitude was considered to be a component of asceticism. However, Digambara Jain teachers in the medieval period, such as Yogīndu (sixth century), did develop forms of soul-directed contemplative discipline, and in modern times the Śvetāmbara Terāpanthī sect has promoted a form of meditative practice drawing on eclectic sources.

The ideal ending to life for the Jain ascetic is the freely undertaken fast unto death called sallekhanā, literally "scouring out negative factors." This climactic and ritualized act of austerity, which should only be performed by developed practitioners (although in the medieval period laypeople often ended their lives in this manner), involves progressive withdrawal from food and drink and should conclude, in death, in a state of pious awareness. Such a heroic end will invariably ensure a positive rebirth. In modern times, sallekhanā has generally been practiced by aged or infirm ascetics near the conclusion of their lives and, most recently, by nuns of the Terāpanthī order.

Although the Jain renunciant life does involve unremitting austerity, the tradition has always stressed that benevolence, compassion, and friendship toward all living creatures are its predominant characteristics.

Lay Practice

An emphasis on the renunciatory dimension of Jainism obscures the extent to which the religion has also been followed throughout history by laymen and laywomen (Sanskrit, śrāvaka [hearer]; fem., śrāvikā ) for whom abnegation and social withdrawal do not inform the totality of their lives. Although most early texts of the Jain scriptural tradition are almost exclusively preoccupied with ascetics, later portions contain exemplary stories, probably dating from the early common era, of rich and pious laymen, often enduring attack by jealous demonic beings. These laymen, at this early period called "servants" (upāsaka; fem. upāsikā ) in token of their support of the ascetic community, are depicted in idealized fashion as advanced followers of the Jain path whose lives gain fulfillment in ultimate abandonment of wealth and renunciation.

Such stories, and the extensive literature produced by monks during the medieval period that legislates (male) lay behavior, have encouraged a picture of the Jain laity as following a way of life that, if less intense in its ascetic enactment, is nonetheless like that of the initiated renunciant in being totally directed toward the gaining of deliverance (moka ). In actuality, the Jain tradition perceived as a whole is not oriented exclusively toward the realm of spiritual liberation and the values of moka it also markedly privileges social qualities such as prosperous well-being and auspiciousness that, while informed by renunciatory ideology, very much relate to positive attitudes toward worldly values. While Jain laypeople regularly involve themselves in pious and merit-generating activities such as fasting, it would be wrong to think of their lives as incomplete versions of those of monks and nuns.

The parameters of Jain lay life have been from early times textually defined as centering around five "Small Vows" (anuvrata ) that parallel the five "Great Vows" (mahāvrata ) of the ascetic. These are ethical injunctions that the typical layman must integrate into his public and domestic life, although they are almost invariably never formally assumed. Such an individual should take care to avoid any livelihood that might entail violence. He should not lie, particularly in business transactions. He should not steal, an interdict that can extend to any dishonest or improper dealings. He should avoid excessive sexual activity, and in his later years adopt total celibacy. He should not have excessive or conspicuous possessions and should unburden himself as much as possible of his wealth for charitable purposes. Further restrictions, embodied in the three "Subsidiary Vows" (guavrata ), are placed upon the layman's behavior with regard to unnecessary movement, excessive enjoyment, and self-indulgent brooding. The four "Vows of Instruction" (śikāvrata ) enjoin him to engage regularly in various forms of contemplative and pious activity, such as fasting.

In keeping with this idealized style of ethics that encourages self-development and an avoidance of activities that might lead to destruction of life forms, the standard occupations of lay Jains in modern times have been in business or professions such as law. More rarely, Jains are found as agriculturalists, particularly in the area of the Maharashtra-Karnataka border.

Jain laypeople, like ascetics, practice a stringent vegetarianism that represents a vital component of their self-perception. Particular care is taken with food, which, as with all Indian religions, is regarded as a potentially dangerous substance. In addition to rejecting meat, fish, and eggs, Jains will avoid root and bulb vegetables, such as potatoes and onions. At religiously significant times of the year, many Jains will also avoid green-leafed vegetables and, like ascetics, avoid eating after dark.

The source of a layman's social and business prestige is perceived as deriving from his liberality (dāna ). The ancient ritual of meritorious giving of food and shelter to ascetics was transformed in the medieval period to include public enterprises such as temple building, the sponsorship of the copying of manuscripts, and the financing of public works. The thirteenth-century royal ministers Vastupāla and his brother Tejapāla are proverbial exemplars of such activities. Today, prominent members of the Jain community are celebrated for philanthropic work and their support for medical and educational establishments, social relief, and animal hospitals.

Practical Religiosity

Jainism may reject the possibility of a creator god who has the power to intervene in human affairs, but the religion is nonetheless strongly theistic and devotional in idiom. God (Bhagavān ) is envisaged both as the totality of all the Jinas throughout eternity and as the spiritual principle within every living being, called by the Digambaras the "supreme self" (paramātman ), which has the potential to actualize itself in enlightenment.

Devotion to the Jinas in iconic form, perhaps deriving from an original ritual involving homage to the teacher and the desire to commemorate the illustrious dead, stretches back at least to the beginning of the common era and is common to the majority of Jains. However, Śvetāmbara sects, such as the Sthānakvāsins and the Terāpanthins, as well as some Digambara groups, reject image worship on the grounds that it is not a significant feature in the scriptural tradition and involves a breach of the principle of nonviolence through digging in the earth to construct the temples in which images are housed.

Jain temples are envisaged as simulacra of the site of each Jina's first sermon. Allowing for regional and historical variation, they are structurally similar to Hindu shrines, most commonly having a series of halls (maapa ) leading to an inner shrine where the image of the Jina, depicted in either seated or standing ascetic posture, is housed. Alternatively, a temple can take the form of an axial hall with a quadruple Jina image approached through doors located at each of the cardinal directions. It is not uncommon for laypeople to worship at small domestic shrines.

Images represent a devotional focus and means of recalling the message of Jainism, for the significance of the Jinas lies in the fact that having taught the doctrine they gained freedom from rebirth and are thus not directly accessible to human beings. While particular images are often regarded as having special powers, a temple with a central Jina icon will typically have ancillary shrines at its entrance dedicated to a tutelary deity credited by devotees with the ability to intercede in worldly affairs. Goddesses such as Ambikā and Padmāvatī, who emerged into prominence in the medieval period, are vital components of Jain religiosity.

The most basic type of worship of Jina images, practiced by ascetic and layperson alike, is "seeing" (darśana ), in which the worshiper brings his eyes into focus with those of the icon. Worship of images (pūjā ) with material substances, such as rice, flowers, camphor, and fruit, and often involving anointment with water or milk, can only be performed by laypeople (or, in their absence, temple servants). The idiom of this form of worship, which is not structured in any binding form, is one of abandonment, in that the offerings are given up (the Jina being worshiped cannot in any way consume them). The mind of the devotee is turned toward the qualities of the Jinas, with the resolve to emulate them. Ascetics are forbidden to have physical contact with images and can only engage in inner, mental worship.

A wide repertoire of hymns can be used by Jains when they worship. The Bhaktāmara (Immortal Devotees), composed by Mānatuga in the sixth century ce in honor of Rabha, the first Jina of this world age, is of particular popularity among all sects and the focus of much devotional and esoteric commentary. Today, the composition and performance of hymns, often set to current film tunes, is an important area of female religiosity.

The Jains are no different from the adherents of other religions in experiencing many of the modalities of their faith in the context of the rhythm of the sacred year. For the Śvetāmbaras, the central point of the year is Paryuan (Abiding), which takes place over a period of eight days in August and September when there are recitations of the Kalpa Sūtra by monks and displays of illustrations from copies of it. The last day is called Samvatsarī (Annual), during which laypeople express repentance and a request for forgiveness for any injuries committed during the previous year. The Digambaras, who reject the authority of the Kalpa Sūtra, listen to recitations of the ten chapters of Umāsvāti's Tattvārtha Sūtra over a ten-day period called Daśalakaaparvan (also referred to as Paryuan). Both sects celebrate the birth of the last Jina as Mahāvīra Jayanti during March and April, and they also have in common Akayā Ttīyā (Undying Third), which occurs in April and May and commemorates the first act of alms-donation of this world age: King Śreyasa's giving of cane juice to the Jina Rabha.

Modern Developments

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw Jainism's engagement with modernity lead to a reassertion of certain traditional features of the religion and a reconfiguration of others to take account of altered circumstances.

Among both the image-worshiping Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras there has been a resuscitation of ascetic lineages that had come near to becoming defunct, and many senior monks regained the prestige and celebrity of earlier times. Noteworthy in this respect are Vijayavallabha Sūri (Śvetāmbara, 18701954) and Ācārya Śāntisāgara (Digambara, 18731955). At the same time, the lay community, while not seriously attempting to supplant ascetic authority, organized itself in associations such as the Daki Bhārat Jain Sabhā (South Indian Jain Society) in order to disseminate the values of Jainism, engage in educational projects, and mobilize membership in respect to issues of social reform, particularly relating to the reduction of caste influence.

There have also appeared neo-Digambara groups such as the Śrīmad Rājacandra movement and the Kānjī Svāmī Panth, whose leaders were laymen influenced by the mystical dimensions of Jainism as taught by the earlycommon era teacher Kundakunda and his successors, and in which initiated ascetics play less-pronounced roles than elsewhere in Jainism. Rāycandbhāī Mahetā (18671901), known as Śrīmad Rājacandra, was a Gujarati jeweler and mystic who was a confidant of the young Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi, while Kānjī Svāmī abandoned the Sthānakvāsī ascetic order to promulgate an intensely soul-oriented path that he claimed had been transmitted to him directly by Kundakunda. The Akram Vijñān movement, founded in western India in the 1960s by A. M. Patel, who was born a Vaiava Hindu, privileges spiritual gnosis as the road to salvation and rejects scriptural and institutional authority.

The most significant development during the second half of the twentieth century was the arrival of many Jains in the United Kingdom (generally via East Africa) and North America. It has not been easy for the full requirements of traditional Jainism to be followed in this new cultural context, in particular because image-worshiping Śvetāmbara and Digambara ascetics are not allowed to travel and teach outside India (although some Sthānakvāsī and lower-order Terāpanthī ascetics are now permitted to do so). Instead, elements of Jainism have been emphasized that are congenial to modern Western liberal opinion: nonviolence, vegetarianism, contemplative practice, and a style of environmentalism in which the Jain path is presented as a philosophy with an ecological message at its center.

See Also

Ahisā; Cosmology, article on Jain Cosmology; Jñāna; Karman, article on Hindu and Jain Concepts; Mahāvīra.


Alphen, Jan van, ed. Steps to Liberation: 2,500 Years of Jain Art and Religion. Antwerp, 2000. An outstanding collection of illustrations of Jain religious art.

Balbir, Nalini. "Women and Jainism in India." In Women in Indian Religions, edited by Arvind Sharma, pp. 70107. New Delhi, 2002.

Cort, John E. Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India. New York, 2001. A pioneering fieldwork-based study that foregrounds the worldview of the Śvetāmbara Jain laity in contemporary Gujarat.

Dundas, Paul. The Jains. 2d rev. ed. London and New York, 2002. A study of Jainism throughout history, with extensive bibliography.

Fischer, Eberhard, and Jyotindra Jain. Jaina Iconography. 2 vols. Leiden, 1978. Contains a large number of illustrations pertaining to Jain ritual, practice, architecture, and iconography.

Folkert, Kendall. Scripture and Community: Collected Essays on the Jains. Edited by John E. Cort. Atlanta, 1993. Contains a series of studies of the interaction between sacred texts and the Śvetāmbara Jain community.

Hemacandra. The Yogaśāstra of Hemacandra : A Twelfth-Century Handbook on Śvetāmbara Jainism. Edited and translated by Olle Qvarnström. Cambridge, Mass., 2002. A highly authoritative account prescribing Śvetāmbara lay behavior written for Hemacandra's patron, Kumarapāla Caulukya.

Jacobi, Hermann. Jaina Sutras. 2 vols. Oxford, 18841895. Pioneering translations of the Ācārāga Sūtra, the Kalpa Sūtra, the Sūtrakrtāga Sūtra, and the Uttarādhyayana Sūtra, which, though outdated in many ways, have never been adequately replaced.

Jaini, Padmanabh S. Gender and Salvation: Jaina Debates on the Spiritual Liberation of Women. Berkeley, Calif., 1991. Richly annotated translation of key sources relating to the debate between the Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras concerning the religious status of women.

Jaini, Padmanabh S. The Jaina Path of Purification. Rev. ed. New Delhi, 1998. A clear account of doctrine and practice, invaluable for its Digambara perspective.

Jaini, Padmanabh S. Collected Papers on Jaina Studies. Delhi, 2000. An essential collection of often seminal studies.

Kelting, Mary Whitney. Singing to the Jinas: Jain Laywomen, Mandal Singing, and the Negotiations of Jain Devotion. New York, 2001. A study of female religiosity among a Śvetāmbara Jain community in Pue in the context of the production and performance of devotional hymns.

Pal, Pratapaditya, ed. The Peaceful Liberators: Jain Art from India. Los Angeles, 1994. Contains illustrations of many important images and manuscripts.

Schubring, Walther. Die Lehre der Jainas, nach den alten Quellen dargestellt. Berlin and Leipzig, Germany, 1935. Translated as The Doctrine of the Jainas, Described after the Old Sources. 2d rev. ed. Delhi, 2000. An authoritative account of canonical Jainism by the leading Western scholar of the last century. The German edition contains a still valuable bibliography of primary sources.

Shāntā, N. The Unknown Pilgrims: The Voices of the Sādhvis: The History, Spirituality, and Life of the Jaina Women Ascetics. Translated by Mary Rogers. Delhi, 1997. This diffuse study, originally written in French, presents Jainism from the historical and contemporary perspective of nuns of all sects.

Umāsvāti. That Which Is: Tattvārtha Sūtra. Translated by Nathmal Tatia. San Francisco, London, and Pymble, Australia, 1994. The classic summation of Jain doctrine.

Vallely, Anne. Guardians of the Transcendent: An Ethnography of a Jain Ascetic Community. Toronto, Buffalo, N.Y., and London, 2002. A study which focuses upon the religiosity of nuns of the Terāpanthī sect.

Paul Dundas (2005)


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FOUNDED: c. 550 b.c.e.


Jain doctrine states that the religion has been periodically renewed by enlightened people, or Jinas, since a beginningless time, but scholars date Jainism as it is practiced today to Lord Mahavira, a Jina who lived in India in the sixth century b.c.e. The religion spread from Bihar in the east to the south and west of India and later to other parts of the world. Today there are 3.35 million Jains in India, with several thousand elsewhere in Asia and in Europe, Africa, and North America. Although they are a minority, Jains are an influential force in India because of their affluence. Most Jains marry and thus are laypeople, although some renounce the life of householders to become monks and nuns.

Jainism is the most nonviolent and austere religion in the world, and it is perhaps the most difficult to practice. Not only do Jains attempt never to harm humans and animals, but the strict nonviolence followed by monks and nuns proscribes harm to any being, even microscopic organisms. Austerities include long and difficult fasts, and monks and nuns pull their hair out by the roots from two to five times a year and travel throughout India barefoot. Some monks do not wear any clothing. The purpose of practicing nonviolence and austerities is to purify karma, particles that cling to the soul and prevent it from reaching an enlightened state and avoiding reincarnation. Although Jain asceticism is severe, laymen are highly successful and are among the richest people in India. Their wealth is balanced, however, by their philanthropy and by the asceticism of Jain laywomen.

As with Buddhism and Hindu renunciation, Jainism is part of India's ascetic heritage. Like Buddhism, Jainism refused to recognize the authority of the Hindu Vedas, of Vedic sacrifices, or of Brahman priests. The Jain practice of renunciation also differed from that of Hindus, most pronouncedly by establishing a strong tradition of female renouncers.


Jain doctrines and practices today are traced to Lord Mahavira in the sixth century b.c.e., but after his death Jainism divided into sects, subsects, and smaller groups called gacchas. The two main Jain sects are Shvetambara and Digambara. The Sthanakwasi, Murtipujak, and Terapanthi subsects are divisions of the Shvetambara sect, and the Kharatara and Tapa Gacchas are subgroups of the Murtipujak subsect.

According to doctrine, in the current age there have been 24 enlightened Jinas (victors), also called Tirthankaras (fords or bridge builders). They include, in order from first to last, Rishabha (also known as Adinatha), Ajita, Sambhava, Abhinandana, Sumati, Padmaprabha, Suparshva, Chandraprabha, Suvidhi (Pushpadanta), Shitala, Shreyamsa, Vasupujya, Vimala, Ananta, Dharma, Shanti, Kunthu, Ara, Malli, Munisuvrata, Nami, Nemi, Parshva, and Mahavira (Vardhamana). Each Jina established the four-fold community of monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen. Lord Mahavira, the 24th and last Jina, is believed to have lived from 599 b.c.e. to either 527 b.c.e. (according to the Shvetambara sect) or 510 b.c.e. (according to the Digambara sect).

The circumstances of Mahavira's conception are said to have been unusual. According to some scriptures, instead of remaining in one womb throughout his gestation, he was transferred from the womb of Devananda, a woman of the priestly caste, to the womb of Trishala, a woman of the warrior caste. Trishala's child was like-wise transferred to Devananda's womb. Mahavira was born into luxury, but he renounced wealth, along with household life, in order to focus on his quest to eliminate karma, to win inner control and spiritual freedom, to reach enlightenment (moksha, or nirvana) and never be reborn, and to teach the Jain religion. Scriptures describe his tolerance of and lack of concern with the hardships he encountered from other people, demons, and animals, as well as with the hardships of the ascetic life in general, which included wandering, fasting, nakedness, and the lack of shelter and sleep.

After his enlightenment, at the age of 42, Mahavira preached to people regardless of their status in society or their gender, and he won many followers. Accounts of this part of his life describe not only the people whom Mahavira influenced but also the gods and animals that gathered to listen wherever he preached. After a long life of teaching Jainism, he died, never to be reborn. Today Jain ascetics strive for their own spiritual progress and that of others by following Lord Mahavira's example of austerity, nonviolence, and instruction.

Originating in eastern India, Jainism spread south-ward beginning around the second century b.c.e. and westward beginning in the fourth century c.e. Most Jains now live in the northwest and southwest of India. After Mahavira's death many sects of Jainism developed, and eventually there emerged the two main branches of Shvetambara, located mostly in the northwest, and Digambara, mostly in the southwest. Although the final split probably happened before the first century c.e., the schism evidently became fully established around the fifth century at the Council of Valabhi, during which Shvetambaras, without Digambaras present, decided on canonical scriptures. The schism was long in the making, however, and took place after a period of disagreement about scripture, doctrine, and clothing that dated to the fourth century b.c.e.

Digambaras rejected the Shvetambara canon. In fact, the only scripture accepted by both sects today is the Tattvartha Sutra. Other differences are doctrinal. One involves the state of an enlightened Jina. While Digambaras assert that an enlightened Jina did not eat, drink, or take part in common bodily processes and activities, Shvetambaras argue that an enlightened Jina continued to function like other humans until his death.


The Jain symbol consists of various components. The outline of the symbol represents the universe. The arms of the swastika represent the four possible states of rebirth: human, heaven, hell, and animal. The three dots above the swastika represent the path of liberation. The crescent at top represents the place for liberated souls, with the dot above it representing such a soul. The raised hand means ìstopî and to act with wisdom and peace. The word in the middle of the wheel, ahimsa, means ìnon-violence.î The wheel represents the cycle of birth and death that one will follow repeatedly if ahimsa is not observed.

The disagreement over clothing is, however, probably the most important difference, and it also produced a disagreement about whether women, since they cannot renounce clothing, can reach enlightenment. While Shvetambaras (wearing white) believe that clothing is necessary for the spiritual path, Digambaras (wearing the sky) assert that to reach enlightenment a person must renounce all clothing. There is a large body of literature dating from 800–1700 c.e. concerning the debate, including the question of whether or not women can achieve enlightenment. Digambaras argue that women cannot attain moksha until they are first reborn as men, but Shvetambaras argue that women can do so in female bodies. Shvetambaras also believe that the 19th Jina, Mallinatha, was female, while Digambaras believe that this Jina was male. It is important to note, however, that Jains believe that it is impossible for anyone to achieve moksha in the current period, which is considered to be a degenerate age, so that all monks and nuns will have to wait in an heavenly realm for a more pure age before they can be reincarnated in human form again and achieve moksha.

The Shvetambara and Digambara sects further divided into subsects. The Shvetambara branch divided into the Sthanakwasi, Murtipujak, and Terapanthi subsects, and the Digambara into the Bisapanthi, Terapanthi, and Taranpanthi. Murtipujak Jains further divided into groups called gacchas, the most important of which are the Tapa and Kharatara Gacchas. The Shvetambara divisions are more clear-cut than those of the Digambara, although there are important differences among the Digambara divisions. Bisapanthi and Terapanthi Digambaras, for example, worship statues in temples, while Taranpanthis worship scriptures. Among the Bisapanthi, women may anoint Jain images in temples, and there are no restrictions concerning green vegetables. Among the Terapanthi, women are restricted from touching images of the Jinas, and the eating of green vegetables is restricted during certain times of the month.

Among Shvetambaras, those belonging to the Sthanakwasi and Terapanthi subsects do not engage in image worship, which helps set them apart from the Murtipujak subsect. The Sthanakwasi subsect traces its origins to aniconic advocates (that is, those opposed to images) who lived around the seventeenth century c.e. and who broke from Murtipujaks. Among them was Lavaji, who established the practice of living in abandoned structures instead of in buildings constructed for traveling monks and nuns. He also emphasized the renouncer practice of wearing a cloth, or muhapatti, over the mouth so as not to injure insects or other life forms in the air. On ritual occasions many Murtipujaks also wear such a cloth, but the Sthanakwasis, as well as the Terapanthis, wear a muhapatti most of the time.

Acharya Bikshu, who was born in Marwar Rajasthan in 1726, founded the highly organized Terapanthi subsect of the Shvetambaras. It is because of the organization of this subsect that scholars know more about Bikshu than about most other important Jains. Originally a Sthanakwasi renouncer, Bikshu eventually became disillusioned with the lax behavior of many of this fellow renouncers. He criticized them for living permanently in buildings constructed for them, for repeatedly going to the same households for food, for establishing connections with powerful lay Jains, for handling money, and for forbidding their lay followers from accepting initiations from other renouncers.

The early history of Bikshu and his followers resembles the legend of Lord Mahavira. Few laypeople were willing to give them food and shelter, and they faced extreme hardships. By the end of his life, however, Bikshu had initiated more than 100 monks and nuns, and his practice of allowing only one acharya (religious leader) and his doctrine of complete obedience to this acharya allowed the order to grow without division. Since Bikshu there have been nine other acharyas, the most important being the 9th, Acharya Tulsi, who lived from 1914 to 1997.

Most Murtipujaks belong to the group Tapa Gaccha, which was created by Jagachandrasuri in the early 1200s because of the lax practices he saw in his community. Jagachandrasuri emphasized tap (austere practices) in his life, and so his group became known as the Tapa Gaccha. Prevalent in Gujarat, it has become the largest group of Jains in India. The Kharatara Gaccha is so named because of the exceptional power of its founder, Jinashvarasuri, in debating. He received the title kharatar (formidable) in 1024 from a king who hosted a debate between Jinashvarasuri and ascetics who argued that they should be able to own property and reside in temples. Needless to say, Jinashvarasuri won the argument. Today most members of the Kharatara Gaccha live in Rajasthan.

A later reformation that is very important for Tapa Gacchas today took place in the mid-1800s. At that time the majority of Tappa Gaccha renouncers were yatis, settled monks who owned property and sired heirs. Corrupt and even rich, they were associated with tantras, techniques linked to spells and magical powers, and therefore were associated with danger and sorcery. The yatis were eventually deemed lax by the Tapa Gaccha lay community and were largely expelled. There are now very few yatis.

These conflicts and divisions in Jainism are examples of the longstanding friction between sedentary and itinerant and between lax and strict renouncers. Some of the conflicts also indicate how lay and renouncer communities interact. Lay Jains need renouncers, who inspire them to follow the difficult rules of Jainism. In addition, giving to renouncers is one of the main sources of good karma (merit). If renouncers are not sincere or are lax, laypeople do not collect as much good karma from giving food and other necessities. In turn, because the laity provide food, clothing, and shelter, renouncers need them for survival.


According to Jainism, there is an infinite number of intrinsically divine souls reincarnating in many forms, depending on their karma. These souls can achieve moksha, or nirvana, through detachment from karma only at relatively short times and in small places in the vast but finite universe. Souls progress to moksha through many stages, during which their innate divine qualities are gradually uncovered so that they move from limited and contextualized knowledge to omniscience. After achieving moksha, enlightened souls are free from rebirth and constitute the divine, which is worshiped by the Jain community.

There is no creator God in Jainism. The finite universe and the infinite souls within it have always existed and will always exist. When, however, a human attains complete experiential knowledge of reality, he or she is understood to have attained a state of godhood and is worshiped accordingly. The nine tattvas (realities) that characterize the universe include souls (jivas), matter (ajiva), matter coming in contact with souls (ashrava), the binding of karma and the soul (bandha), beneficial karma (punya), harmful karma (papa), inhibiting the influx of karma (samvara), purifying the soul of karma (nirjara), and liberation (moksha, or nirvana). All souls are identical and equal, but they expand or contract to fit the body they inhabit at any given time. Their bondage to karma hides their inherently divine characteristics of perfect energy, perfect bliss, perfect perception, and perfect knowledge. Matter comes in five categories: space, change, stability, atoms, and time. Shvetambaras do not include time as a form of matter, and this categorization was probably not systematized in early Jainism.

Jain's motivations and practices reflect the world-view that all beings are part of a cycle of reincarnation (samsara) that extends from the heavens to the hells and that also includes a realm of beings who have attained enlightenment, or liberation from further rebirth (moksha). Jain cosmology divides the world into five parts: the hells, the middle world of humans and animals, the heavens, the abode of enlightened souls, and the abode of those beings with only one sense. Until they reach moksha, souls are reincarnated repeatedly in all of these parts. It was relatively late in Jain history when this world, or universe, came to be described as the "cosmic person," as it is known today. Needless to say, the cosmic person is enormously large.

From top to bottom, the cosmic person is measured by fourteen "ropes" that are said to be incalculably long. There is a narrow axis that runs vertically through the middle of the structure, outside of which no multisensed being may exist. It is only within a small section of this waist region that humans and animals may live, Jinas may be born, and enlightenment may be achieved. The other regions are dominated by sensual desire or are void of moral understanding. Below and above the waist there are, respectively, several infernal realms where souls suffer the fruits of bad karma and several celestial realms in which souls enjoy the fruits of good karma. Above the heavens is the realm of enlightened souls, who are free of all karma and who are worshiped collectively and individually as God. The largest section of the axis is constituted by the hells, the second largest by the heavens, and the smallest by the realms in which human birth and enlightenment take place. The largest population of souls, however, is constituted by animals and plants.

Souls may have one or more of the five senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing. Beings with only one sense, that of touch, are not self-propelling. They include microscopic nigodas, earth-bodies, water-bodies, fire-bodies, air-bodies, and plant-bodies. Beings with two to five senses are self-propelling and are categorized as either sentient or insentient. Animals, heavenly and infernal beings, and most humans are considered sentient. The distinction is also made between those higher animals that are able to reason and those that are completely instinctive. Heavenly (gods and goddesses) and hell beings are born spontaneously, without parents, and have certain paranormal senses, such as clairvoyance.

Although these are the main classes of beings, there is further variety, especially among gods and goddesses. Some gods and goddesses live in caves or in the woods and can help or harm others, and some—planetary gods and goddesses—live just below the heavenly realms. While some gods and goddesses have sexual relationships, others do not.

The most important physical matter in Jainism, however, is karma, microscopic physical particles that float in the universe. Beings control their own suffering and happiness through their physical, mental, and verbal actions. Their actions attract tiny karmic particles that stick to the soul and trap it in samsara. Karma determines the soul's situation and position within the cycle of reincarnation and hinders the soul's experience of its own true nature. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism all agree that actions produce their own rewards and punishments, but Jainism is the only religion of the three in which karma is held to be physical particles.

Of these religions Jainism also has the most extensive categorization of karma, which is a function of its pivotal importance in the Jain worldview. In Jainism karma determines where souls are reborn, and no soul may achieve enlightenment while still bound by karma. There are eight divisions of karmic particles that fall under two subheadings: destructive, or harmful, karmas and nondestructive, or secondary, karmas. Destructive karmas includes those that delude insight, conceal knowledge, cloud perception, and restrict energy. In short, the destructive karmas obscure the inherent qualities of the soul and therefore the soul's experience of it-self.

Preponderance of Nuns over Monks

It is widely known among Jains and Jain scholars that there are more nuns than monks, but the reasons behind this fact have been little studied. Jain stories about heroic women, called Satis, and women's more consistent religiosity are important factors, but the situation is more complicated than this. It is an important issue for understanding Jainism, since the tradition survives mostly because of mothers and nuns. When asked about the matter, Jains give the following answers.

A common answer of Shvetambara nuns is that, because of an absence of desire, women can practice celibacy easily but that men are unable to control themselves sexually. Fewer men, therefore, renounce householder life to become monks. A common answer of nuns generally is that men can remarry if their wives die or leave them, while women cannot. Thus, men remarry, but women become nuns. When child marriages were prevalent among Jains, girls were encouraged to renounce if their husbands died. Renunciation both protected young girls and helped them cope with their sexual feelings.

One of the most common answers is that women are more tolerant than men. They are used to hardships, and so they are able to tolerate the austerities of Jainism. Monks, nuns, and laywomen commonly say that women are softer and more sympathetic, compassionate, and sensitive, while men are more harsh and unfeeling. Because Jainism emphasizes nonviolence, renouncers must be compassionate.

Nuns of all sects and subsects say that, for women who do not become renouncers, there are limited opportunities for spiritual, educational, and personal growth. Those who do not renounce must marry, and care of their families leaves them no time for themselves.

Nuns and some laymen commonly say that it has always been the case, even in the times of the Jinas, that there were more nuns than monks. Laymen say that, because men are responsible for supporting their families and ensuring succession, parents do not let their sons renounce. It is also commonly said that Jain women are more religious in general.

Nondestructive karmas include those that determine feelings of pleasure or pain; control birth, sex, the body, the senses, color, and spiritual potential; govern longevity; and decide status and environmental factors. Karmic particles attach to individual souls by means of the passions, emotional states such as hatred, greed, lust, and anger. The passions act as both magnets that attract and the glue that holds karmic particles to the soul. The passions also determine the severity and the length of karmic results. Once karmic particles have manifested their results, they leave the soul.

Because only humans can achieve enlightenment and escape rebirth, being born as a human is considered to be a result of good karma. It is even better karma, however, to be reborn as a human at a time when and in a place where enlightenment is possible. To understand why this is so, it is necessary to understand certain details about Jain cosmology. Humans may exist only on a relatively small, horizontal terrestrial plain, which is a flat disk located at the waist of the cosmic person. Mount Meru, which is located in the middle of Jambudvip, the central continent of this disk, rises 800,000 miles. This continent, as well as surrounding ones, has seven sections that are completely separated from one another by mountain ranges. The inner continent of Jambudvip is surrounded by innumerable oceans and islands. Humans, however, may inhabit only the centermost of the surrounding islands, along with the inner part of the next island.

There are also areas designated as enjoyment-lands and karma-lands. The former are like heavenly realms, in that sustenance is readily available and there is no need to work. Asceticism is not appealing to those who inhabit the lands of enjoyment, and so enlightenment is not possible there. Those in karma-lands, however, must work, and so their lives are not always happy, which is conducive to spiritual reflection. It is only in karma-lands, which include half of Mahavideh and all of Bharat and Airavat, that enlightenment is possible and that Jinas can be incarnated. Mahavideh is particularly significant. Jinas are always present there, and because successive ages of increasing and decreasing happiness and suffering do not affect the area, liberation is always possible. Bharat, the human realm, is not as fortunate as Mahavideh, but it is a karma-land, which makes enlightenment possible.

Time is not the same everywhere in cosmic person, and this is something that affects Bharat and Airavat. Although in such realms as Mahavideh time does not change the quality of life, in Bharat and Airavat time consists of 12 sections that complete a cycle divided into ascending and descending modes. According to some sources, each mode lasts for two kalpas (aeons, an enormous amount of time, such as 2 billion years) and, according to others, for "innumerable" lengths of time. The first six sections of time, in the ascending mode, are characterized by decreasing suffering and increasing happiness. They are called suffering-suffering, suffering, suffering-happiness, happiness-suffering, happiness, and happiness-happiness. The second six sections, in the descending mode, are marked by a symmetrical increase in suffering and decrease in happiness. Each happier time lasts for a longer period, during which humans are characterized by greater morality, longer life spans, and larger bodies. Each more agonizing time lasts a shorter period, during which humans are characterized by greater immorality, shorter life spans, and smaller bodies.

In the happiest times there is so much abundance that no one need do anything, and culture need not exist for law and order to be maintained. Only in less happy times, when scarcity develops, do the common aspects of human existence become necessary. It is only during the times of suffering-happiness and happiness-suffering that Jinas are born and teach and that enlightenment is possible. In sections of time that are primarily characterized by suffering, humans are too overwhelmed by pain to realize that happiness or enlightenment is possible. In sections of time primarily characterized by happiness, humans have no understanding of suffering and therefore no incentive to strive for enlightenment. In each ascending and descending mode 24 Jinas are born, and thus 48 are born in each complete cycle. In the descending mode, at the end of the happiness-suffering age, Rishabha was the first Jina, and he lived a superhuman life span of 600,000 years. Lord Mahavira, at the end of the suffering-happiness age, was the last Jina, and his life span was less than 90 years.

There is only an extremely small number of beings with good karma who are born during the small intervals of time characterized by both happiness and suffering and who can therefore strive to attain enlightenment. Thus, Jain doctrine provides motivation for those who find themselves lucky enough to be born human during a time when enlightenment is possible. Now, according to Jain doctrine, humans are in the descending mode, in an age of suffering and nearing the age of suffering-suffering. For this reason it is not possible for anyone to become enlightened. Nevertheless, Jains are motivated not to waste their human lives, since it is believed that the pious are reborn in a heavenly realm. There they wait for the age of the next Jina, when they will be reincarnated as humans, according to Shvetambaras, or as males, according to Digambaras, to achieve enlightenment.

To embark on the path of liberation, beings need to accumulate good karma, but ultimately the path consists of purifying the soul of all karma. Not only are individuals responsible, through their karmic actions, for their fates in the round of rebirth, but each person is also responsible for his or her own liberation. Although fate is governed by karma, a person determines the amount and quality of karma through the actions he or she chooses. Furthermore, enlightenment is possible through a person's efforts by means of the three jewels: right faith, right understanding, and right conduct. Right faith refers to the aspirant's acceptance of the nine realities. Right understanding refers to the detailed knowledge of these nine realities that is found in many Jain scriptures and through meditative effort. Right conduct is behavior that will lead the aspirant to enlightenment. All of the three jewels are deemed necessary on the renouncer's path.

There are 14 stages through which a soul travels while making spiritual progress, or regression, the end point of which is enlightenment at death. They are known as the 14 "stages of qualities" and are likened to the rungs of a ladder. Each higher stage moves the practitioner from various states of ignorance, passion, bad conduct, and more karma to states of omniscience, less passion, perfect conduct, and no karma. This path to perfection is sometimes called the "path of purification."

Until omniscience is gained at the top of the ladder, a person cannot claim to know the whole truth of reality, so that every assertion must be qualified as a partial truth. The multiplicity, or many-sidedness, of truth is known as anekant. According to this doctrine, every statement about something must be accompanied by qualifying statements that limit its claim from being the whole truth to being a contextualized truth. A popular metaphor for this is to acknowledge that seeing something means seeing it from various points of view, from the top, bottom, left side, and so on. In other words, anekant refers to interpreting something from one's own point of view, environment, and spiritual state.

A popular story that illustrates the doctrine of anekant is that of the elephant and five blind men. According to the story, a king took five blind men to a large elephant. One man touched the trunk and claimed that it was a large snake. The second touched the tail and claimed that it was a rope. The third man felt a long, sturdy leg and claimed that it was a tree trunk. The fourth man touched an ear and stated that it was a winnowing fan. The fifth touched the elephant's side and stated that it was a wall. In disagreement with one another, they began to argue, each claiming that the others were wrong. Unenlightened beings are like the blind men, while enlightened beings are like those who can see that all the blind men stated partial truths but that the object really is an elephant.

Jain's ideas about God are related to their ideas about enlightened beings. Like Hindus, Jains believe that all people have God within them as their soul (jiva) and that the spiritual path consists in becoming aware of this. Unlike Hindus, however, Jains believe that all enlightened souls travel to the apex of the universe, where they are worshiped as gods or together as God. Enlightened Jinas also reside there. Some Jains believe that these Jinas are completely detached from all worldly affairs and so do not bless or directly help their followers (the scriptural view) or that they help those who worship them (the devotional view).


Ideas about karma are at the heart of the Jain code of right conduct, one of the three jewels. To be born human at a time when enlightenment is possible, a person must have lived highly moral past lives. When a person decides to attain enlightenment, moral actions help to eliminate karma from the soul. All karma, both good and bad, ultimately hinders the practitioner from achieving enlightenment. But moral actions are not enough to achieve the blissful state called moksha, or nirvana. Two further things are necessary. The practitioner must stop accumulating karmic particles (samvara) and must eliminate the karmic particles he or she has already collected (nirjara).

In order to stop the inflow of karmic particles, it is usually necessary to renounce the married life of a householder and to eliminate passions and violence through continual restraint and the denial of the pleasures of the senses. This is done through adherence to moral actions that are based on nonviolence. In order eliminate karmic particles that have already accumulated, the lifestyle of renunciation must be combined with internal and external austerities (tap, tapas, or tapasya). Internal austerities include such practices as meditation, study, and service, while external austerities include such bodily mortifications as fasting. Once the practitioner has halted the inflow of karmic particles and annihilated all accumulated particles, he or she attains moksha and will not be reborn again. The emancipated soul travels upward to the top of the universe and, with all of the liberated souls dwelling there, is worshiped as God.

The Jain code of moral conduct, through which practitioners endeavor to stop the collection of new karma, centers around the value of nonviolence (ahimsa) and is explicated in the five great or lesser vows. The great and lesser vows include nonviolence, truth, nonstealing, sexual restraint (brahmacharya), and nonpossession. They differ only in the strictness with which they are observed. All Shvetambara renouncers accept some version of the great vows. In the Digambara sect only the highest renouncers take the great vows, while other renouncers take the lesser vows. In both sects laypeople may choose to adopt the lesser vows, but if they do not, they still endeavor to live lives in accordance with the values expressed by them. While renouncers are extremely strict, laypeople are given more latitude. Renouncers also follow three types of restraints, or ways of being careful in their practice of the five great vows: being careful with their body, speech, and mind. This requires constant vigilance in all that is done, said, and thought. Such vigilance is not easy and may be described as a type of meditation, or awareness, in every moment.

The Jain vow of nonviolence prohibits harmful thoughts, words, and deeds and prescribes an attitude of compassion and friendship toward other beings. All Jains are vegetarians. Laypeople may act in self-defense, while renouncers may not. In addition, laypeople must choose nonviolent professions, such as business. Examples of renouncer's more extensive practice of nonviolence include checking their clothing for insects and brushing insects away with a soft broom before sitting down or while walking at night. The vow of truth prohibits lying, but if the truth would hurt someone, both renouncers and laypeople are told to remain silent. The vow of nonstealing means both that people should not acquire anything not given to them and that they should not think or talk about acquiring it. For many laypeople this includes honest business transactions as well as honesty in general.

For Jains the vow of sexual restraint is extremely important, with many renouncers claiming that it is the most important of their vows. For renouncers sexual restraint means complete celibacy in actions, words, and thoughts, something that may be more difficult than the other vows. If other vows are broken, renouncers may do penance to reestablish themselves, but if a renouncer has sexual relations, he or she is expelled from the Jain community. Furthermore, celibacy is seen as helping to retain the inner energy needed as fuel for the difficult path to enlightenment. Even one act of sexual misconduct dissipates this power. While the sexual restraint of monks and nuns requires complete celibacy, laypeople observe the vow by remaining faithful to their spouses in thought, word, and deed. This is more important for laywomen than laymen, being the most important index of laywomen's general piety and honor and of the honor of their families.

Observing the vow of nonpossession also differs between renouncers and laypeople. For renouncers the vow not only signifies the absence of all possessions not needed for ascetic practice but also implies a sense of equanimity or detachment concerning possessions. In addition, there is a crucial difference between Shvetambara and Digambara interpretations of the vow. Shvetambaras believe that clothing is a necessary possession, but Digambaras believe that clothing should be renounced. Thus, while Shvetambara monks and nuns wear white clothing, full Digambara monks wear no clothing, and Digambara nuns wear white clothing. Laypeople who are in business are generally prosperous, and they demonstrate the value of nonpossession by donating large amounts of money to build temples, to provide shelters for wandering monks and nuns, and to support the many Jain charitable organizations in India.

Renouncers perform six rituals throughout the day. These are meditative awareness and equanimity at every moment; veneration of the 24 Jinas; veneration of the personal guru; repentance and karmic purification for any wrong thought, word, or deed; standing meditation, during which attention is directed away from the body and toward the immaterial soul; and the abandonment of transgressions, refraining from certain foods, and the performance of austerities through fasting. The rituals vary from sect to sect, and some are practiced by Jain laypeople as well, especially by women. These rituals help to stop karma from attaching itself to the soul and help to purify the soul of karma already attached.

By conforming to the five great and lesser vows, all religious Jains endeavor to stop bad karma from attaching to the soul. Renouncers, however, attempt to eliminate all karma, while laypeople try to accumulate as much good karma as possible. This distinction between the aims of laypeople and renouncers is less important in the current age of suffering, in which enlightenment is not possible.

Although few laypeople actually accept the five lesser vows, they may still attempt to follow them. Meritorious conduct such as charity, worship (puja), the singing of hymns, and celebration of another person's religious acts all collect good karma, and avoiding violence and fasting protect laypeople from, and purify, bad karma. Such religiosity enables laypeople to maintain prosperous rebirths and also eventually to produce circumstances favorable for renunciation and the achievement of enlightenment.

Jain women are usually more religious than men. Women tend to follow food regulations more strictly and consistently, they educate their children about Jainism, they frequently visit renouncers and listen to their sermons, and most complete at least one significant fast. The principal karma-related practice for laywomen is fasting. The fasts, which are public undertakings, are celebrated with pride in Jain communities. They are performed for various reasons related to the purification of bad karma and the accumulation of good karma. Fasts are also performed in order to benefit the family, to acquire good husbands for themselves or their daughters, to demonstrate piety and faithfulness to their husbands and families, and to obtain notice within Jain communities for their religiosity. Although the most difficult of the fasts lasts for a month, there are a great variety of other fasts. These include fasting every other day, for a week, or for three days, as well as limiting the types of foods ingested. It is believed that only highly virtuous women can complete the more difficult fasts, and so these fasts demonstrate such women's honor and piety. Furthermore, because women are responsible for maintaining Jainism in the home, the fasts also indicate the honor and piety of their families.

For Jain men charity rather than fasting is the principal karma-related practice. Laymen give money for education, libraries, hospitals, animal shelters, temples, temporary shelters for renouncers, Jain images, and pilgrimages. As with fasting, charity is a highly public undertaking. There are public auctions to raise money for Jain causes, with the donor's names frequently displayed on what they have helped to create and maintain. Giving is important not just for accumulating good karma but also for establishing a good reputation and good business and marriage contacts within the Jain community.

Another common way of achieving merit is through celebration of the religious actions of others. Fasts and donations are celebrated by processions and feasts, through which religious actions are displayed and lauded. Initiation into an order of renouncers is also celebrated with great pomp. Members of the entire Jain community can thereby encourage piety and accumulate good karma that will continue their well-being and help them to renounce in a future life.


Jain sacred literature is expressed in forms that are both classical and vernacular and includes narratives, treatises, and poetry. It is both written and oral and may be polemic and sectarian. The literature is studied, memorized, narrated, and worshiped. To say that there is a Jain canon in the Western sense of the term is somewhat misleading, but there are scriptures that are considered authoritative and sacred and that are commonly known. Through oral tradition, memorization, and worship, Jain sacred texts are part of a living and changing tradition.

Certain Jain texts are believed to have originated from the divine sound of the enlightened Lord Mahavira. While Shvetambaras believe that the sound emanated in languages suitable for different peoples and beings, Digambaras believe that it was one great, uniform sound. In either case, Lord Mahavira's immediate disciples compiled the sound, which became systematized Jain scripture.

Both Shvetambaras and Digambaras assert that the earliest Jain compositions consisted of 14 oral texts, called the Purvas. Both sects also assert that the Purvas have been lost, although some of the information contained in them is believed to have been incorporated in the Digambara texts Shatakanda Agama and Kashayaprabhrita and in the Shvetambara text Prajnapana Upanga, also called the Bhagavati Sutra. Evidence from other texts describing this literature suggests that they contained information about karma theory, cosmology, astronomy, astrology, and the acquiring of supernatural powers, as well as philosophical polemics.

The core scriptures of the Shvetambara tradition are numerous, consisting of 45 texts organized into five groups. The first 12 texts, called Angas ("Limbs"), include information about monastic rules, dangers on the ascetic path, limited heretical views, knowledge theory and logic, the nature of karma, and cosmology, along with narratives about devout Jains of the past. (Unlike Shvetambaras, Digambaras believe that all true Angas have been lost.) The second group, called Upanga ("Supplementary Limbs"), contains mostly narratives but also includes information about the soul, gods, and hell beings; how to attain liberation; and ontology, time cycles, doctrines, and cosmology. The third group of texts is the Chedasutras ("Delineating Scriptures"), which contain information about monastic hierarchy, monastic rules, and penance for breaking monastic rules. The fourth group is the Mulasutras ("Root Scriptures"), which monks and nuns first study after initiation. These texts include information about doctrine, conduct, rituals, caste, and caring for monastic possessions, as well as narratives. The fifth group of scriptures, Prakirnaka ("Miscellaneous"), contains a variety of subjects, from ritual death and astrology to lauding the Jinas.

Both Digambaras and Shvetambaras also produced the Anuyogas. The Digambaras especially hold the Anuyogas in high regard. They contain information about cosmology, doctrine, conduct, karma, and logic and philosophy, as well as praise for the Jinas and popular narrative literature. Among the most important Anuyogas, for Digambaras, are the Puranas (narratives) and the authoritative works of Kundakunda and, for Shvetambaras, the Trishashtishalakapurushacharitra (narratives).

The worship, or honoring, of sacred texts is common in Jainism. For example, when a renouncer finishes copying a text by hand, this is celebrated within the Jain community. If a renouncer successfully memorizes scriptures, he or she receives additional respect and veneration. During the Paryushan festival of the Shvetambaras, renouncers recite the Kalpa Sutra, while during the Dashalakshanaparvan festival of the Digambaras, members of the community recite the Tattvartha Sutra.

Jains generally do not know what is contained in all of the scriptures. Instead, many renouncers and most laypeople receive their knowledge of Jain history, doctrine, and practice from their mothers and from renouncers. Indeed, without the efforts of mothers and renouncers, the Jain tradition would soon die out. To inspire them to practice Jainism, mothers tell the narratives to their children, and renouncers tell them to large audiences and individuals. Young Jains also perform popular narratives in plays. It is this narrative tradition, not the erudite and complicated works themselves, that is significant in the daily life of Jains. Narratives often illustrate issues within the context of Jain history, and it is in this way that followers learn how to understand the workings of Jainism in their own lives. The majority of the narratives can be considered canonical, and they are included in the sacred texts. Most Jains, however, are not concerned about the texts from which the narratives come but rather in the oral retelling, which frequently includes details absent from the written versions.

Thus, narratives based on sacred texts are the preferred mode of explanation in Jainism, and for this reason the oral, not the written, word may be said to be more important. This means that much of Jain sacred literature cannot be separated from the people and their practices and also means that its content grows. As stories that recount exceptional contemporary Jains are composed, told, and retold, new narratives continue to be added to the Jain repertoire.


The svastika is an ancient and sacred symbol for both Jains and Hindus. Most Westerners associate the symbol with the Nazis, but this is an abhorrent association for Jains, who are committed to nonviolence.

The svastika is a powerful symbol of auspiciousness in India, and the word itself means "well-being." In Jainism the symbol represents existence in samsara, the cycle of reincarnation, and the way to moksha (enlightenment), and it is incorporated into worship, appears on homes and temples, and is used in meditation. The four arms represent the four realms—human, animal and plant, heavenly, and hellish—into which souls may reincarnate. Three horizontal dots above represent the three jewels of right faith, right understanding, and right conduct that lead an aspirant to enlightenment. Above these are a crescent that represents the abode of enlightened souls at the top of the universe and another dot that represents the enlightened souls themselves.


The most important historical leader in Jainism was Lord Mahavira, who lived in the sixth century b.c.e. and who determined the shape and practice of Jainism as it is known today. Other important historical leaders included those who established major divisions within Jainism. Among these was Lonka (Lonka Shah), who lived in Gujarat in the fifteenth century c.e. and to whom both the Sthanakwasi and Terapanthi subsects within Shvetambara Jainism are traced. Scholars have never determined exactly who Lonka was or what he advocated, but there is evidence to indicate some of his ideas and his place in Shvetambara society. According to Sthanakwasi legends, Lonka was a magnate and calligrapher who had political connections with the Muslim government and who eventually became a renouncer. Both legends and scholarship agree that he and his followers were aniconic—that is, that they viewed image worship as a corruption of Jainism. Some scholars, however, believe that Lonka probably was not rich and not a full renouncer. Others trace his aniconic ideas to his connections with the similarly minded Muslims, while some point out that this connection is not necessary to explain the origins of his stance, since such ideas can be seen in several early Jain texts. His followers in the Lonka Gaccha eventually returned to image worship, possibly influenced by a need to maintain business connections with image-worshiping Jains, and although the group still exists, it has only a small number of adherents. Nonetheless, Lonka was important in the development of the aniconic Sthanakwasi and Terapanthi subsects.

Acharya Tulsi, a twentieth-century Terapanthi, was pivotal for many reasons. He initiated more monks and nuns than any other acharya and in 1949, two years after the violence that accompanied the partition of India and Pakistan, founded the anuvrat movement. This movement encourages laypeople, both Jains and those in other religions, to adopt a version of the lesser vows (anuvratas) in order to create a more just, unified, and peaceful society. Acharya Tulsi also created the institution of lesser renouncers—samanis (female) and samans (male)—who are allowed to travel by vehicles in order to minister to Jains living abroad, including those in Europe and North America. In addition, the first Jain university was created through his efforts. Acharya Tulsi's work to improve the position of women in society was especially important in Rajasthan, where they are still routinely beaten and mistreated by their husbands and in-laws and where they must adhere to parda restrictions that limit them to the home and keep them veiled much of the time. He also supported widows, who are particularly vulnerable, and the few women who did not renounce but did not want to marry, a radical step for Jains, who are expected to do one or the other.


Jainism has a rich scholastic and literary tradition. It is so important that Jain libraries, which collect and preserve these works, are among the best in India. One of the most important writers was Umasvati (c. 300 c.e.), the author of the Tattvartha Sutra, which is the only scripture accepted by both Shvetambaras and Digambaras. The Tattvartha Sutra is a philosophical explanation of such key Jain principles as karma, cosmology, spiritual progress, and ethics.

Haribhadra (either sixth or eighth century c.e.) and Hemachandra (1089–1172) were two influential Shvetambara monk-scholars. While Shvetambaras claim that Haribhadra wrote 1,400 texts, scholars attribute only about one hundred 100 to him, although they remain some of the best Indian literature. In fact, scholars have identified two Haribhadras. One, who lived in the eighth century, was converted by the nun Yakini to Jainism, and the other, who lived earlier, perhaps in the sixth century, had nephews who reportedly were killed by Buddhists when they were discovered spying. In any event, Haribhadra marked the beginning of an independent Shvetambara literary culture, with works concerning practice, ritual, scriptures, narrative, and logic. Another monk-scholar, Hemachandra, who is more concretely identifiable, also was important in Shvetambara Jainism. Born in Gujarat, he was still young when he was given to a group of monks headed by Devachandra. Hemachandra eventually proved to be intellectually superior in religious learning and so became Devachandra's successor, helped to organize Shvetambara Jainism, especially in western India, and composed such comprehensive literature as The Lives of the Jain Elders, Universal History, and Treatise on Behavior.

Jinasena and Virasena, who both lived in the ninth century c.e., are important to Digambaras. Both developed epic and narrative literature that included versions of stories also present in Hinduism, such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well as purely Jain stories. Kundakunda is another important figure for Digambaras. He was a monk who probably lived around the eighth century or earlier, although little else is known about his life. His writings, on the other hand, are highly accessible and influential. Digambaras credit him with 16 treatises, although scholars believe that some of these were written by others. Kundakunda is known for the mystical orientation of his works toward the personal experience of the soul. In his view the soul is the only entity that is ultimately real, and all practice should be oriented toward it. Everything else is worldly and thus only partially real. These are the two levels of truth, ultimate and worldly. Duality, as between notions of good and bad or right and wrong, is significant only from the worldly point of view, so that any "good" acts that produce auspicious karma and influence the circumstances for rebirth have nothing to do with the soul. The soul is already enlightened and ultimately free of karma, but it is karma that obscures the person's realization or experience of this. Ascetic practices are valuable only in that they purify karma and lead to the experience of the soul. Kundakunda's most significant works include those that claim to describe the internal essence of religion: The Essence of Scripture, The Essence of Doctrine, and The Essence of Restraint.


The Jain community, which each Jina is held to have established or renewed, is divided into four groups: monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen. Within the community Jains tend to be highly conscious of hierarchy and status, which are based mostly on gender, age, level of asceticism, piety, and prosperity.

In Jainism men are considered higher than women, but these hierarchies exist separately in lay and renouncer communities and in certain ascetic divisions of the Digambara sect. All renouncers, regardless of their gender, are above all laypeople. Thus, while laywomen are lower than laymen, laymen are lower than nuns, and nuns are lower than monks. Although nuns are theoretically lower than monks, this means little in many communities, however, since there are so few monks. Both Shvetambaras and Digambaras call the heads of their renouncer communities acharyas, and all but one in Jain history have been male. The only exception is Acharya Chandana (born in 1937), who became the head of an innovative and controversial group in the Sthanakwasi subsect in Bihar. This group makes service to the poor a part of renouncer practice and allows renouncers to travel in vehicles, neither of which is standard practice for monks and nuns. In the Terapanthi subsect there is only one acharya at a time, but in other sects and subsects there are multiple acharyas in charge of separate groups.

Jain hierarchies are also based on seniority, but while lay communities base seniority on age, renouncers base it on the number of years since initiation. Among laypeople, therefore, it is virtually impossible for a younger person to have seniority over an older relative of the same gender, but it is possible for a younger renouncer to have seniority over an older renouncer of the same gender. An acharya is typically the most senior male member of a group of renouncers, but this does not mean that he is the oldest.

Because of differing levels of austerities, the Digambara hierarchy of ascetics is even more complicated. Digambara ascetics consist of the following types, listed in order from the lowest in the hierarchy (based on gender and the difficulty of their austerities) to the highest: brahmacarinis (female), brahmacarins (male), kshullikas (female), kshullaks (male), ailaks (male), aryikas (female), and munis (male). Although all Shvetambara monks and nuns take the five great vows and so are considered full-fledged monks and nuns, in the Digambara sect only munis take the great vows. All of the other Digambara ascetics take the five lesser vows. The versions of the lesser vows taken by these Digambara ascetics are still extremely strict, but because they are lesser vows, these ascetics are officially only advanced laypeople. Thus, officially there are no Digambara nuns. In practice, however, all kshullaks, kshullikas, ailaks, and aryikas are considered to be relatively close to munis, and so these ascetics are considered higher than other laypeople, and the female aryikas are usually counted among the Digambara renouncer community.

Laypeople are ordered according to their piety (women) and monetary success (men). Women who are very religious and have completed more difficult fasts are higher than those who are not as religious and have not fasted. For poor and middle-class Jains, women largely determine familie's places in Jain society. Those lay Jains who have been successful in business or are members of a successful family, however, have higher status than do poor or middle-class Jains, even though the latter may be more religious. The female relatives of the successful therefore have less pressure to show their piety, although many may still be highly pious. Both piety and wealth are displayed publicly, and so both are a matter of public knowledge.

Because Jains belong to fewer castes and because they maintain high standards of purity, caste means less among Jains than among Hindus. Although some Jains come from farming backgrounds, most are of the merchant caste. While Hindus who are higher in the caste system maintain their purity and status by being vegetarians, all Jains are vegetarians. Thus, while Jains may be envied or resented for their business success, they are respected in the larger Hindu society for their high standards of nonviolence and purity. These standards tend to keep Jains from mixing with Hindus who do not hold the same standards. Jains therefore most often marry within the community, but they also sometimes marry Vaishnavas (Vishnu worshipers), who are generally vegetarians.


Broadly speaking, a Jain holy place is wherever a Jain renouncer temporarily resides or where a religious act is taking place, but image-worshiping Jains, such as Digambaras and the Murtipujak subsect of Shvetambaras, also have important temples. Prominent image worship probably began in the third century b.c.e., and ancient Jain temples remain some of the most beautiful in India. For laymen especially, one primary merit-making activity continues to be the donation of money to construct temples and to fund the images within them.

Most places of pilgrimage are considered holy because of their connection with an enlightened being's life or because of miracles that took place there. For Shvetambaras, Kshitriyakund is held to have been the birthplace of Lord Mahavira, while Digambaras believe that he was born at Vaishali. Rijubaluka is associated with the 12 years of austerities before he reached enlightenment, Pavapuri with his enlightenment, and Pava with his physical death and passing from this world. All of these pilgrimage sites are in Bihar. Also important to Jinas are the hills of Parasnath (also called Shikarji) in Bihar, where 20 Jinas attained moksha (enlightenment), and Girnar in Gujarat, where the Jina Nemi achieved moksha.

One of the most impressive Digambara images and pilgrimage sites was constructed around the tenth century c.e. at Shravana Begola in Karnataka. It is a 57-foot image of Bahubali, a son of the first Jina, Rishabhadev. Although he fought his brother over who would be the universal ruler of their time, during the combat Bahubali realized his folly and withdrew to practice austerities. The enormous stature depicts him performing the austerity of standing for a long period of time, so long that vines grew up his body. Every 10 to 15 years hundreds of thousands of pilgrims attend a spectacular head-anointing ritual. Even before the image was constructed, the area was associated with the auspicious passings of Digambara monks who fasted to death there, and Jains also assert that it was connected with the original migration of Jains to the south and with their leader Bhadrabahu.

Some of the most beautiful Shvetambara temples were constructed from white marble, with intricate carvings of pious images. For this reason the temples on Mount Abu in Rajasthan are popular with both Jains and tourists. There also are important pilgrimage sites at Ranakpur in Rajasthan. The construction of the temples on Mount Abu and in Ranakpur dates from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries c.e.. In Gujarat the impressive temples at Palitana are a place of pilgrimage for Shvetambaras. It is said that the Jina Rishabhadev visited the site 22 times.


The Jain conception of God centers around inherently perfect and divine souls, all of which have perfect energy, bliss, perception, and knowledge. Every soul is sacred, and so all life is sacred, from liberated beings to microscopic nigodas. Those who have attained enlightenment, or who are on the path to doing so, are considered more sacred in that they are part of, or will be part of, the Jain concept of God. The sacredness of enlightened beings and of those making progress toward enlightenment is expressed in the Namaskar Mantra, which is sacred in and of itself and which is chanted by Jains of every sect and subsect.

All Jinas, the great men and women in Jain history, and renouncers are considered sacred. The great men and women in Jain history, both lay and renouncer, are described in the extensive narrative tradition. Their names are frequently recited in rituals in order to invoke auspiciousness and also so that those reciting may develop their qualities, such as religiosity, nonviolence, and chastity. The names of the Jinas and of the Satis, or virtuous women, are especially used in this way. The names of the Satis are Sita, Kunti, Damayanti, and Draupadi, who are known in Hinduism as well, and Chandanabala, Rajimati, Brahmi, Sundari, Subhadra, Pushpachula, Prabhavati, Shiva, Shalavati, Sulasa, Chellna, Anjana, Madanarekha, Mrigavati, Mainasundari, and Padmavati, who are unique to Jainism. The Jina's mothers (jinamatas) are sometimes also categorized with the Satis, but usually they are considered separately. (The names of the 24 Jinas are given above under HISTORY.)

While non-image-worshiping Jains focus much of their veneration on renouncers, there are many sacred sites that are of particular importance to image-worshiping Jains. Women especially worship daily in local temples in front of sacred images of the Jinas and of various lesser gods and goddesses. Strictly speaking, the gods and goddesses are not liberated and are therefore inferior to liberated souls and renouncers, but they may help with worldly affairs.


Perhaps the most important "holiday" for Jains is chaturmas, a retreat that last for four months. It takes place during the rainy season, at a time when insects are thriving. During this period all Jain renouncers must remain in one location, lest in traveling they trample the insects. Laypeople provide food and shelter for renouncers during chaturmas and attend lectures and storytellings or receive teachings from them. In addition, there are a variety of celebrations, and even those who do not participate in Jain activities during the rest of the year often take part in chaturmas. Otherwise, unless they are in ill health or are undertaking a scholarly endeavor, renouncers are not allowed to stay in one place.

Both Shvetambaras and Digambaras celebrate Mahavira Jayanti, the birth of Lord Mahavira, at the same time during March–April. Otherwise Shvetambaras and Digambaras follow largely separate calendars of festivals. At the end of the rainy season retreat, Shvetambaras celebrate Paryushan, during which renouncers recite the Kalpa Sutra, while Digambaras celebrate Dashalakshanaparvan and recite part of the Tattvartha Sutra. Both Paryushan and Dashalakshanaparvan last for several days and are marked by fasting. On the final day Jains repent for any violence done to other beings, and laypeople send letters to friends and associates asking for pardons for any transgressions.

Like Hindus, Jains celebrate the Festival of Lights (Diwali) in October, during which Lakshmi is worshiped as the goddess of well-being. Other festivals include the Shvetambara Jnanapanchami (knowledge fifth) in October–November and the Digambara Shrutapanchami (scripture fifth) in May–June. Both festivals involve learning and scriptures. Akshayatriya (undying third) is a Shvetambara and Digambara celebration of the initiation of the first Jina, Rishabhadev, and his first acceptance of alms.


While Jain laypeople follow local customs concerning dress, renouncer's clothing is more restricted. They may wear only prescribed white clothing, and their possessions are limited to what is necessary to help them practice nonviolence. The dress of full Shvetambara and Digambara renouncers differs. Shvetambara renouncers wear white. While most Digambara ascetics wear white, Digambara munis do not wear any clothing. Other accoutrements associated with a renouncer include a soft broom and a mouth guard (muhapatti). The former is used to brush insects out of the way before sitting down, turning over during sleep, and sometimes when walking. The muhapatti, used in the Sthanakwasi and Terapanthi subsects, protects insects and one-sensed air-bodies from being injured or killed through inhalation and exhalation.


All religious Jains are vegetarians, and renouncers must acquire their food from vegetarian households. The ritual collection of food by renouncers is one of the most significant religious practices in Jainism. "Begging," however, is not an appropriate word for this activity, for laypeople consider it an honor and a merit-making activity to provide for renouncers.

To eat meat of any kind means to violate the preeminent vow of nonviolence. Jains are also prohibited from eating foods, including honey, alcohol, eggplant, root vegetables, and some fruits, in which life forms may exist. Water must be boiled and strained so that no microscopic or tiny organisms are inadvertently ingested. Evening meals are eaten before sunset so that flying insects are not attracted to and die in the cooking fires.

There are minor dietary variations between sects and subsects. Among Digambaras, for example, Bisapanthis may eat green vegetables, while Terapanthis restrict the eating of green vegetables at certain times.


All Jains who grow up in religious homes know the Namaskar Mantra, a simple mantra or prayer: "I bow to the Arihants [enlightened beings who still have bodies]. / I bow to the Siddhas [enlightened beings who have left their bodies]. / I bow to the Acharyas [heads of Jain orders]. / I bow to the religious teachers. / I bow to all renouncers."

Another common form of auspicious prayer involves recitation of the names of the Jinas and Satis, which encourages the growth of these people's religious qualities within those who chant their names. Not only are their names recited, but also hymns about their lives are sung. Although hymns are sung by laymen and renouncers, they are more important in the lives of laywomen, who continue to compose, record, and pass them on.

A Jain must either marry or renounce. This is an extremely important decision, for there is no socially sanctioned way to end a marriage, except through one or both partner's renunciation, and no socially sanctioned way to become a householder once a person has been initiated as a renouncer. Although the vast majority of Jains marry, many also choose to be initiated as monks and nuns. As in Lord Mahavira's renunciation, during diksha (initiation) the postulant leaves behind attachments to the world in order to engage in practices conducive to moksha, or nirvana. In the Shvetambara sect a postulant as young as six may be initiated, but in the Digambara sect an initiate must be an adult. Initiations are expensive celebrations and also opportunities for merit making.

For every Jain sect there are two initiation ceremonies, one that is publicly celebrated by laypeople and another that is more private, performed in the presence of renouncers. Between these two ceremonies there is usually a probation period of about a month, although it is as long as two years in the Terapanthi sect. During this period postulants fast and study the basic scriptures in order to test their resolve and to learn about Jain philosophy and the ascetic life. In Jainism, unlike Hinduism, renunciation is a suitable alternative to marriage for women. And unlike Hinduism, Jainism always celebrates renunciation, as well as marriage, as an auspicious event.

Although marriage and renunciation initiate different ways of life, there are a number of characteristics shared by the two rituals. Both are public and extravagant celebrations. Before they take place, there are numerous parties at which sweets are offered to large numbers of relatives. Both celebrations include processions accompanied by musical bands, and most of the community attends. The night before the ceremonies women sit up singing. In the morning the bride or initiate bathes and is then dressed in a wedding sari and gold jewelry. Wedding henna is applied to her hands and feet, and a saffron mark known as the tikka is placed on her forehead. Photos are taken, for collection in an album, and sometimes the event is also captured on videotape. There is usually much weeping during the ceremonies, in which the girl either leaves her family home to join her husband and in-laws or leaves her home to stay with nuns.

The conclusion of initiation ceremonies underscores the divergent nature of the two life choices. Before the private ceremony takes place, the postulant's clothes are changed to the simple white garb of a renouncer. The initiate then gives a speech in which she explains why she wants to renounce, pays her respects to the renouncer who is initiating her, is given a new name, and accepts the five great vows.

Jains treat initiations as pilgrimage events and travel to witness and celebrate them. The most important pilgrimages for many lay Jains, however, are those undertaken to meet with respected and well-known renouncers. Indeed, for non-image-worshiping Jains, such as the Terapanthi and Sthanakwasi, this is even more important. Terapanthis, for example, frequently travel to the place where the current leader or head nun is staying in order to take food and other donations and to receive blessings. In addition, many Jains view accompanying monks and nuns on their travels as a type of pilgrimage.

Jains also make pilgrimages to famous temples, shrines, and statues. One of the most significant Shvetambara pilgrimage sites is Mount Shatrunjaya, in the village of Palitana in Gujarat. There pilgrims climb 3,600 steps up the mountainside to reach the zenith, which is covered with religious images. This pilgrimage is popular with Jain laypeople, and Murtipujak monks and nuns can be seen combining austerity and devotion by repeatedly ascending and descending the steps while limiting their food and drink. The town of Shravana Belgola in Karnataka is the site of an important Digambara pilgrimage site. A special pilgrimage to the town takes place every few years when the 57-foot statue of Bahubali is anointed.

Monks and nuns must, and laypeople may, choose to undertake the six Jain obligatory actions: establishing equanimity, praising the Jinas, honoring one's teachers, repenting, standing motionless, and abandoning certain foods and drink. The ritual of Pratikramana is particularly indicative of the Jain emphasis on nonviolence. During this ritual of repentance and purification, Jains confess and ask forgiveness for any harm they have caused others and purify the karma they have accrued through such harmful acts. The rite is performed twice a day by renouncers, often by laywomen, and perhaps once a year by laymen.

Singing is a common part of lay rituals and worship. It is largely a female activity, although renouncers, and to a lesser extent laymen, also participate in singing as a devotional and inspirational activity. Singing circles are an important religious and social activity for lay-women, who sometimes infrequently leave their homes otherwise. Women collect religious songs from their natal homes and communities in order to pass them on to their in-laws after they marry. Women create, memorize, change, and exchange such songs. They are included in women's own ever changing collections and repertoires and are also available in published books and on cassette tapes.


The most distinctive Jain rite of passage is initiation, as explained above under RITUALS. In other rites of passage, such as birth, marriage, and death, Jains usually follow local Hindu customs.

Fasting to death (sallekhana), however, is a practice that is distinctly Jain, although it is undertaken by few today. When Jain renouncers find themselves too old or incapacitated to follow their vows, they may choose to fast until they die. This is not considered suicide, which is an act of violence, but instead a controlled death. The practitioner renounces food and meditates, attempting to withdrawal his or her senses from the out-side world in order to die in a meditative and completely nonviolent state.


head of a subsect or smaller group of renouncers
doctrine of the multiplicity of truth
a Digambara nun who wears white clothing
chastity in marriage or celibacy
yearly Digambara festival during which the Tattvartha Sutra is read and that ends in atonement
wearing the sky; sect of Jainism, largely based in southern India, in which full monks do not wear any clothing
rite of initiation for a monk or a nun
victor or conqueror; periodic founder or reviver of the Jain religion; also called a Tirthankara (ford or bridge builder)
soul; every soul is endowed with perfect energy, perfect bliss, perfect perception, and perfect knowledge
microscopic particles that float in the universe, stick to souls according the quality of their actions, and manifest a like result before becoming detached from them
Mahavira Jayanti
celebration of the birth of Lord Mahavira, the 24th and last Jina of the current period, by Shvetambaras and Digambaras in March–April
nirvana; enlightenment achieved when practitioners purify themselves of all karma so that they will not be reborn
mouth guard worn by some renouncers to avoid harming insects and air beings
a Digambara monk who wears no clothing
a Shvetambara subsect that worships by means of images
Namaskar Mantra
the preeminent mantra that all Jains know and recite
microscopic being
yearly Shvetambara festival during which the Kalpa Sutra is read and that ends in atonement
rite of worship
oldest scriptures of Jainism, now lost
ritual fasting until death
the cycle of reincarnation
virtuous woman; a chaste wife or a nun
wearing white; sect of Jainism, largely based in northwestern India, in which monks and nuns wear white clothing
Shvetambara aniconic subsect
well-being; symbol representing the four realms into which souls are reincarnated, the three jewels, the abode of enlightened beings, and the enlightened beings themselves
tap (tapas, tapasya)
austerities performed to purify the soul of karma
any of the nine realities that characterize the universe and that include souls (jivas), matter (ajiva), matter coming in contact with souls (ashrava), the binding of karma and the soul (bandha), beneficial karma (punya), harmful karma (papa), inhibiting the influx of karma (samvara), purifying the soul of karma (nirjara), and liberation (moksha, or nirvana)
Tattvartha Sutra
the only Jain scripture shared by both Shvetambaras and Digambaras, composed by Umasvati in c. 300 c.e.
Shvetambara aniconic subsect that has only one acharya
three jewels
right faith, right understanding, and right conduct


Jain scriptures are full of stories of scholars and renouncers who debated, preached, and converted people—and also gods, demons, and animals—in India. Unlike Buddhism, however, the growth of Jainism to other countries has been inhibited by ascetic's rules against traveling in vehicles. The only group that actively promotes Jain practices in India and else-where today is the Terapanthi subsect. They are able to do so because they have created a new form of renunciation, the institution of lesser renouncers (samanis and samans), to fit modern times. Although these renouncers follow most ascetic rules, they are allowed to travel in vehicles. Lesser Terapanthi nuns, and some monks, actively promote Jainism by traveling, lecturing, and ministering to Jains and others outside India, including those in the United States as well as European countries.


Although there have been religious persecutions on the continent, many Asians today follow practices and beliefs of more than one religion. Hindus, for example, revere Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic, as a saint and go to Dharmashala to receive blessings from the Dalai Lama, a Buddhist. Jains also have respect for such religious leaders and today live cordially with members of other religions in India. This was not always the case, however, especially in southern India, where Jains were persecuted by Hindus in the latter part of the first millennium c.e.

In contemporary times, with the reinterpretation of the doctrine of anekant (multiplicity of truth) to accommodate ecumenical movements, Jainism has headed in an even more tolerant direction. In the past this doctrine was used by scholars and debaters to establish the superiority of Jain teachings to the more partial truths of other religions. Now, however, especially among those living in the West, the more tolerant and relativistic side of Jainism is emphasized. Perhaps today's attitude is closer to that of Haribhadra's. Although he argued for the superiority of Jainism, he also advocated respect for the people of all religions.

In the same way Jains today argue that their religion already encompassed many concepts, such as microscopic organisms and environmentalism, before they were discovered by science. By demonstrating how broad their ideas are, Jains glorify their religion, a principal means of accumulating good karma, and they also assert that Jainism encompasses many points of view and perspectives, making it closest to the enlightened state of omniscient knowledge that was attained by Lord Mahavira. At the same time, Jains emphasize a more tolerant side of anekant, as did Haribhadra, and hold that, with the qualification that they should be nonviolent, the beliefs and practices of any religion may be respected.


Unlike monks, Jain laymen must earn money to support their families. Their professions are limited by the adherence to nonviolence, however, and it is for this reason that men tend to go into business. The Jain community is, therefore, affluent, and laypeople frequently give money to support their religion and other beneficial causes. Laypeople not only gain good karma from this, but they also purify bad karma.

Lay Jain activities involve supporting and running institutions dedicated to helping humans and animals. These include creating educational opportunities, providing for the poor, and working for peaceful solutions to political problems. Jain libraries contain not only Jain works but works from other religions as well. Jain hospitals provide medical care, and shelters provide care for animals. All such causes are time-honored recipients of charity, and as Jainism has expanded to the West, environmental causes have come to be included.

Most Jains are active in the promotion of learning, religious or otherwise. With the decrease in child marriages in India, Jain children, particularly girls, have time to pursue education. As in India generally, in the past education was less available to Jain girls and women than to men, but Jains have made more progress in this area than Hindus have. Even the Tapa Gaccha, a division of Murtipujak Shvetambaras and the most populous Jain group, in which nuns formerly did not have educational opportunities, has opened religious education to its nuns. Today there are many educated Jain laypeople and renouncers, including some who have earned doctorates and published books.

Historically there have been mixed attitudes in Jainism toward nature. On the one hand, the ultimate goal of asceticism is to escape rebirth in the world in order to reside with other liberated souls at the top of the universe. On the other hand, Jainism has institutionalized nonviolence toward all forms of life, which include embodied souls that are intrinsically divine even though their divinity may be hidden by karma. For Jains souls are embodied in what the West terms "nature," including earth, water, air, and plants. Thus, many Jains try to live nonviolently toward these life forms, and Jain ascetics are required to do so. Although the ascetic ideology tends to emphasize escape from this world, lay ideology does not. Further, because most ascetics cannot travel by vehicles, virtually all Jains in the West are lay-people. For this reason the ascetic ideal of escaping the world is less strong among Western Jains. Instead of looking toward escape, they have begun to create an ecological Jainism that, as an extension of nonviolence, aims to preserve the environment.

Jains believe in purification through suffering and are concerned with all souls, not just those presently inhabiting human bodies. For these reasons activity in promoting social justice has been limited, particularly in the past. Jains have traditionally focused on noninterfering types of nonviolence. Not only should Jains not interfere with another soul's happiness, but they also should not interfere with another soul's purification of karma through suffering. Alleviating the suffering of others, in the Jain view, does not eliminate suffering but only postpones it. For example, food and some medical care are provided to animals in shelters, but no matter how much they suffer, the animals are not euthanatized. Instead, they are made as comfortable as possible until they recover or die. At the same time, Jains are concerned with animal products used in consumer goods and with animal testing done for consumer products and in medical laboratories.


When they reach their teens and early 20s, Jains in India must decide between two different lives: marriage or renunciation. If a person does not marry, he or she must renounce, and vice versa. For most Indians marriage is the only option, and this is what the majority of Jains choose. Now that fewer child marriages take place, however, increasing numbers of Jain women are choosing to renounce. In addition, a man may remarry if his wife leaves him or dies, but a wife under the same circumstances should not remarry. Further, the only legitimate means of divorce for traditional Jains is to leave a spouse through renunciation.

Families in India tend to be extended, in which young women and girls leave their own families to live with their in-laws. Thus, children often grow up with grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and cousins around them. Jain family structure in India differs from region to region, however. Hierarchy in the family is based on seniority and gender, with the oldest and male members having the most authority, respect, and power. It is not surprising then that male children are valued more highly than female children. As in other Indian traditions, a Jain wife does not gain significant respect from her in-laws until she has given birth to her first son.


Abortion, which is considered violence to a soul in the form of the unborn child, is forbidden in Jainism. In addition, human rebirth is an extremely rare occurrence, let alone in a time when Jain teachings are available. Human rebirth is therefore precious, and Jains are exhorted not to waste human life but to live with the ultimate goal of liberation in mind. If a pregnancy threatens the mother, however, abortion may be considered.

As in many other Indian traditions, divorce in Jainism is forbidden for women, although it does occasionally takes place, and it is frowned upon for men. If, however, a married person decides that he or she wants to become a renouncer, the marriage is dissolved. Although the practice has begun to change, traditionally a woman could marry only once and was to be faithful to her husband in body, speech, and mind. She was never to touch, speak to, or think of another man. Even if her husband was abusive, she was to submit to him, serve him, and not complain. If her husband died, left her, or decided to renounce, she was not allowed to remarry but had to tolerate the harsh life of a woman without a husband. In the past, however, men, especially kings, could marry more than one woman at a time. Today men may remarry if a wife dies or decides to renounce.

Women have greater rights among the Jains of southern India, where widows may remarry, and in Gujarat, where women have more authority. In Rajasthan, however, wives are frequently abused by their husbands and in-laws, despite the Jain proscription against violence. It is also more difficult to be a widow in Rajasthan. The situation there was alleviated in the twentieth century by Acharya Tulsi, who improved women's rights in the Terapanthi subsect.

Regardless of her situation, a Jain women is, or strives to be, a sati (virtuous women). Whereas in Hinduism the term describes both faithful wives and wives who die with their husbands on the funeral pyre, in Jainism the term describes faithful wives and female renouncers. Although there is some evidence to indicate that a few Jains participated in wife immolation in the past, this is no longer the case. Both types of satis, wives and nuns, accumulate power through their chastity and tolerance of hardship. For wives this means fidelity and obedience to husbands, and for nuns its means complete celibacy and the endurance of austerities.

The power that is accumulated through celibacy and austerities and that fuels spiritual progress is so important that it is preferable to end one's life rather than to lose this power. Although suicide is forbidden in Jainism, there are two circumstances in which deliberate death is allowed and appropriate, which separates Jainism from most religious traditions. The first is fasting until death (sallekhana), which Jains may undertake in order to control the circumstances of their dying. The second applies mostly to nuns. By dissipating the internal energy stored within, one instance of sexual activity, voluntary or involuntary, ruins a monk's or nun's spiritual progress. Because celibacy is so important in the lives of monks and nuns, it is considered suitable for a nun threatened with rape to prevent the act by killing herself.

Although in many ways Jainism is highly egalitarian, most Jains look to monks as the highest authority and do not respect the traditions of laywomen. Jain lay-women, however, are more religious than laymen and are extraordinarily important in the religion. It is women who mostly frequent temples, perform rituals and fasts, sing hymns, and consult with renouncers, while men normally go to temples less often, attend or participate only in important rituals, and give religious donations. Women are in charge of their children's religious education and are therefore crucial for the continued existence of the Jain religion. In addition, today there are four times more Jain nuns than monks. Considering the larger Indian and Hindu culture, in which Hindu female renouncers are rare, this is highly unusual.


There are no Jain images dating from before the common era. Although images of the Jinas are perhaps the most significant form of Jain visual art, scholars have tended to neglect them because of their uniformity across time and the sects. This uniformity, however, points to the sameness of all souls in Jainism, which is realized upon liberation and is therefore important to show in art. Even Shvetambara images of the Jina Mallinatha, who was female, adhere to the same male form, with a smooth and tubular, rather than muscular, limbs and torso to indicate dispassion in physical form and with wide open eyes to symbolize omniscience. Images of different Jinas are usually distinguishable from one another only by various emblems at the bases. Exceptions to this are images of Lord Parshva, who usually appears with cobra hoods emerging from behind, sheltering his head and body.

A Narrative of Jain Values

Nonviolence is the most important guiding principle of Jainism, but close behind is chastity. The ancient story of Jina Nemi, Sati Rajimati, and Rathanemi illustrates both principles.

As a prince, Nemi was on his way to be married to the princess Rajimati until he saw the animals that were about to be killed for his wedding feast. Because he could not be a part of such slaughter, he renounced householder life and became an ascetic. This left the princess overcome by grief. While she was contemplating her situation, Nemi's brother Rathanemi decided to ask the beautiful Rajimati to marry him instead. She had already determined to marry Nemi, however, and as a sati (virtuous woman) she could not feel the same way about another man. She convinced Rathanemi that she would not marry him, and she decided that it would be better for her to renounce and become a nun. Rathanemi decided to renounce as well and was initiated as a monk.

Sometime later Rajimati was caught in a down-pour and took refuge in a cave. Thinking she was alone, she took off her soaked clothing in order to dry them but was seen naked by the monk Rathanemi, who was meditating in the cave. She was frightened and tried to hide her body, but he propositioned her. When she realized that he had succumbed to sensual desire, she warned him to control himself and to maintain his practice of celibacy. Rathanemi did so, and both eventually became enlightened.

The once subtle Jain arts of drama and dance are now extinct, although local plays continue to be performed during devotions and celebrations. The more developed and subtler forms may have disappeared as a result of Jainism's emphasis on austerity, which shunned such sensual enjoyments as beauty and entertainment for detachment and equanimity. Some arts may also have been lost with Jainism's loss of support from and persecution by rulers. Furthermore, drama and dance have strong ties to devotional worship. Although worship is present in Jainism, it is not as prevalent as in Hinduism, in which theater and dance have continued to thrive. When Jain drama and dance existed, they were similar to the Hindu performing arts, while ingeniously incorporating aspects more suitable to the ascetic Jain tradition, such as an emphasis on spiritual heroism and calm equanimity.

Although the visual and performing arts are limited in Jainism, Jain literature is particularly significant. Jains have long commissioned the copying of their texts and have established libraries to protect collections of literature. Some collections were once so protected that Europeans found themselves barred from entering. Jainism has some of the most voluminous story literature of any tradition, including short didactic narratives and long epics. There are even Jain versions of such popular Hindu epics as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The epic Chivakachintomani, composed by Tiruttakkatevar, has been particularly influential in Tamil Nadu, so much so that some Hindu compositions, such as Kampar's famous Ramayanam, were created to compete with it and imitated its style.

The beautiful poetics and subtle literary devices used in the Chivakachintomani make it a masterpiece, even in English translation. The main characters are the king Chachchantan, his queen Vichayai, his minister Kattiyankaran, and his son Chivakan. Chachchantan was a good king, but he was so in love with his queen that he decided to give his minister power to rule while he retired to enjoy sensual pleasures with her. Kattiyankaran was not satisfied ruling another man's kingdom, however, and plotted to kill Chachchantan so that he could claim the kingdom for himself. The king heard of the plan and devised a way for his pregnant wife to escape. When Kattiyankaran attacked, King Chachchantan was killed, but Queen Vichayai was able to escape to give birth to a son. Because of her dire circumstances she was forced give up the son, and she renounced to become a nun. The merchant Kantukatan found and raised her son, Chivakan, as his own. When the boy matured, his teacher told him of his true heritage and urged him to wait a year before taking back his father's kingdom. Before it was time to attack, Chivakan married eight women, and when he attacked Kattiyankaran, he was successful. Chivakan eventually followed his biological and foster mothers to renounce the world, and he did so at the glorious feet of Lord Mahavira.

Sherry Fohr


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Jainism, often referred to as Jain Dharma, is an ancient religious tradition from India. Because written records are scarce, it is difficult to attach dates to much of early Jain activity. Some scholars believe that the earliest evidence of Jainism dates to about 850 bce, but other scholars place it later. Jains (sometimes spelled Jainas) themselves believe that their faith has always existed.

Jainism was founded by one of the central figures in Jain history, Mahavira. Jains would say that Mahavira did not "found" Jainism but rather rediscovered Jain principles that had always existed. The dates that Mahavira lived are uncertain, but evidence shows that his life overlapped that of the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama; 563-483 bce). Maha-vira was probably born in about 599 bce and died in about 527 bce.

Jains do not believe in a creator-god. In this respect Jainism has often been described as more of a philosophy of life or a guide to conduct than as a religion. The core of Jainism is obedience to the five Great Vows. These include:

  1. ahimsa, or not killing and not injuring all living things;
  2. satya, or speaking only the truth;
  3. asteya, or not taking, stealing, and being greedy;
  4. brahmacharya, or celibacy (not having sex), and giving up all sensual pleasure;
  5. aparigraha, or detachment and not being either delighted or disturbed by any outward experience.

Another core belief of Jainism, one related to ahimsa, is that all creatures contain living souls, and therefore all deserve to be treated with respect.

The number of Jains in the world is uncertain. Some estimates range as high as 12 million. Others put the number at about 7 million, and still others at about 3.3 to 3.6 million. The 1991 Indian census calculated the number of Jains at about 3.35 million, most of them concentrated in the


The principle of nonviolence, or not doing harm to any living creature.
All that is not soul.
Akaranga Sutra:
One of the sacred texts of Jainism, which contains the teachings of Mahavira.
An enlightened person.
A person who practices rigid self-denial, giving up all comforts and pleasures, as an act of religious devotion. Jain monks and nuns are ascetics.
A system of social class divisions in India.
Literally, "sky-clad"; one of the two major sects of Jainism.
Laypeople; Jains who are not monks or nuns.
Literally, "conqueror"; the great teachers of Jainism who have conquered their earthly passions.
The soul.
The principle that determines how a person will live his or her next life; in Jainism, an actual physical substance.
A formula repeated over and over to create a trance-like state.
A building that houses a community of monks.
(c. 599–527 bce) the twenty-fourth tirthankara, often regarded as the founder of Jainism.
Mahavira jayanti:
Mahavira's birthday, an important holy day for Jains.
Salvation; liberation from rebirth.
The basic prayer of Jainism, recited each morning and at night before bedtime.
Offering of Eightfold Puja:
An important Jain temple ritual in which the worshipper makes eight offerings to the tirthankara.
Often spelled aum; the sacred syllable and symbol of Jainism (and Hinduism), used for purposes of meditation.
The twenty-third tirthankara, who lived about 250 years before Mahavira.
An eight-day festival, the most important holy observance for Jains during the year.
The original Jain sacred texts, now lost.
Ascetic person.
Samyak charitra:
Right conduct; one of the Three Jewels of Jain ethical conduct.
Samyak darshana:
Right faith, or right perception; one of the Three Jewels of Jain ethical conduct.
Samyak jnana:
Right knowledge; one of the Three Jewels of Jain ethical conduct.
A deceased person who has been recognized for living a virtuous and holy life.
Literally, "white-clad"; one of the two main sects of Jainism.
Three Jewels:
The Jain code of ethical conduct, consisting of right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct.
Literally, "makers of the ford"; those souls who have attained enlightenment and have been freed from the cycle of death and rebirth; the twenty-four leaders of Jainism.

Indian states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Karnataka. An estimated 100,000 Jains live outside India, with about 25,000 to 30,000 living in the United Kingdom (where a new Jain temple in London was consecrated in August 2005). Somewhere between 25,000 and 75,000 live in the United States, and some 1,400 live in Canada. The largest concentration of Jains living outside of south Asia is found in eastern Africa. According to one source that estimates a total figure of 4.2 million Jains, Jainism is the fourteenth-largest religion in the world, slightly larger than Shinto in Japan.

History and development

Jainism has no single founder, although Mahavira is often referred to as the religion's originator. Jains believe that at different times, truth has been revealed to figures called tirthankara, a term meaning "maker of the ford." A tirthankar has crossed the metaphorical "ocean" of life and has thus been freed from the cycle of death and rebirth. Another word used to refer to these great teachers is Jina (from which the word Jain is derived). This word means "conqueror." A Jina or tirthankar has conquered inner enemies such as greed, deceit, pride, and anger to achieve enlightenment. A tirthankar is similar to a saint among Christians, Jews, and Muslims. (A saint is a deceased person who has been recognized for living a virtuous and holy life.)

Concept of time

Jain history is closely related to the Jain concept of time, which is cyclical. The Jain model of time can be pictured as a rotating wheel with an ongoing series of upward movements (utsarpini) and downward movements (avarsarpini). A complete cycle, or turn of the wheel, is called a kalpa. Each of these cycles is divided into six ages, which can be pictured as spokes on the wheel. The first three spokes of the downward cycle represent a golden age in which Jainism thrives, followed by a decline until Jainism dies out in the sixth spoke. Then, as the wheel turns upward, the process begins again. Jains believe that in the current time cycle, the world has passed through the first four spokes and is currently in the fifth (with a sixth and final age to come). Each complete kalpa is long enough for twenty-four tirthankara or prophets to live.

The present cycle has witnessed all twenty-four of these teachers, with Mahavira the last of the twenty-four. Each of these teachers is believed to have led a life of self-denial to achieve enlightenment. There is no historical evidence for the existence of the first twenty-two of these tirthankara. Yet some evidence suggests that the twenty-third, Parshva, did exist and lived about 250 years before Mahavira.

About Jainism

  • Belief. Jains believe that all living creatures have a soul. The goal of a Jain is to achieve a state of liberation and enlightenment, to escape the cycle of birth and death, and to live in bliss.
  • Followers. Jainism is the world's fourteenth-largest religion, with approximately 3.5 million followers, most of them living in India.
  • Name of God. Jains do not believe in a single creator-god. Jains worship the twenty-four tirthankara of the present cycle of time, the last of whom, Mahavira, is often regarded as the founder, or, more properly, the rediscoverer, of the principles of Jainism.
  • Symbols. Major symbols of Jainism include three dots, signifying the Three Jewels of ethical conduct; the swastika, whose four sides represent the four forms of earthly life; the crescent moon, signifying the abode where liberated souls live; and the wheel of dharma, containing twenty-four spokes that represent the religion preached by the twenty-four tirthankara.
  • Worship. Jain worship consists of daily prayers and meditation and temple worship, where people meditate, pray, and engage in religious discussions. Jains place little emphasis on formal, prescribed worship.
  • Dress. Jains have no distinctive dress. Monks of the Digambara sect go naked, although they cover themselves when in public.
  • Texts. The chief sacred texts of Jainism are the Purvas, but fourteen of these texts are now lost. Jains regard a wide range of texts, both those written more than two thousand years ago and commentaries that have been written in recent times, as sacred. One widely read text is the Akaranga Sutra, which contains the teachings of Mahavira.
  • Sites. Among the most sacred sites for Jains is Parsvanath Hill in Bahar, India, named after the twenty-third tirthankara and regarded as the place where all twenty-four tirthankar achieved enlightenment.
  • Observances. The chief yearly observances for Jains are Mahavira Jayanti, or Mahavir's birthday; Paryushana, an eight-day festival of fasting and prayer; and Diwali, a festival that commemorates the date on which Mahavira offered his final teachings.
  • Phrases. No particular phrases or sayings are used by Jains.

Mahavira's life

Mahavira established Jainism in its present form. Mahavira, whose name means "Great Hero," was born Nataputta Vardhamana and grew up surrounded by luxury as the son of a local king, Siddhartha (not the same Siddhartha who would later become the Buddah), and queen, Trishala. As such, he was a member of the kshatriya, or warrior caste. (Caste refers to social classes and duties in India.) When Mahavira was about thirty years old, his parents died. He left his home as a result and gave up all his possessions. During his lifetime, his followers recorded his teachings in the Akaranga Sutra, one of the main sacred texts of Jainism.

Mahavira was an ascetic, or a person who practices rigid self-denial, giving up all comforts and pleasures, as an act of religious devotion. Jain monks and nuns are ascetics. As an ascetic, or sadhana, Mahavira lived a life of poverty and contemplation in a monastery. (A monastary is a building or collection of buildings that house a community of monks.) At first his only possession was a single robe, but eventually he gave up even that and went naked. For years he wandered throughout India, never staying in one village for more than a day at a time and refusing to shelter himself from either cold or heat. When he walked or sat, he was careful never to injure any life-form. He did stay in one place for longer periods of time during the rainy season because the paths he walked would have been full of creatures he did not want to injure. Because of this refusal to injure any form of life, Mahavira was a strict vegetarian, even to the extent of straining his drinking water to ensure that no creature was living in it.

Mahavira lived by the five Great Vows, which continue to form the central belief system of Jainism and which all Jain monks and nuns continue to fulfill. The Great Vows include nonviolence, truthfulness, not stealing, celibacy (not having sexual intercourse), and nonattachment to things or people. Four of theses vows were instituted by Parshva, but Mahavira added celibacy to the list. In practice, these vows are followed strictly only by Jain ascetics, but Jains who continue to live in the world follow these vows as much as their way of life and circumstances permit.

Mahavira spent the final twelve years of his life fasting (not eating and/or drinking) and in meditation. This enabled him to achieve kevalnyan, or enlightenment, and moksha, or final liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth leading to a life of eternal bliss. According to Jain tradition, by the time of his death, Mahavira had established a community of some 14,000 monks and 36,000 nuns.

In the centuries that followed, Jainism spread throughout central and western India. However, its numbers and influence began to decline with the growth and spread first of Hinduism, then of Islam. During the medieval period (500–1450), Jains constructed a number of large temple complexes, such as the one at Ranakpur, India, in 1441. By the nineteenth century Jainism was in danger of being virtually extinct, but it was revived by reformers such as Atmaramji (1837–1896), a highly respected teacher who was invited to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 (though he did not attend, sending a deputy in his place).

Sects and schisms

Jains, in general, all believe in the same basic principles. There are, however, two main sects, or divisions, within Jainism. These are the Digambara (which means "sky-clad") and the Svetambara (meaning "white-clad") sects. The differences between the two sects are relatively minor and affect monks and nuns much more than they affect the daily lives of ordinary Jains.

Scholars dispute when the split between the two groups occurred. Some say it happened during the first century of the Common Era; others say that it happened earlier, in about the third century bce. Part of the reason behind the split is geographical and cultural. Most of the members of the Digambara sect live in southwest India, primarily in the states of Karnataka and Maharashtra. Most Svetambaras, in contrast, are found in the northwest, primarily the states of Madhya, Rajasthan, Pradesh, and Gujarat.

The division between the two sects originated with disputes over the teachings of Mahavira. Disagreements arose over which of Mahavira's teachings were true ones, and how those teachings that were regarded as true should be interpreted. This problem occurred in part because Mahavira's teachings were not written down until long after his death, so there was no authoritative text to settle disputes. The two sects disagree as to which texts are to be considered Jain scripture.

The two sects also have different views about the position of women. Unlike the Svetambaras, the Digambaras do not believe that women can achieve liberation until they have been reborn as men. The Digambaras are the most austere, or strict sect of Jainism, so its monks go naked. Because it would be impractical for women to go naked, they have to be reborn as men to lead a completely austere life.

A second difference has to do with the nature of tirthankara or Jinas. Digambaras believe that the tirthankara do not require food, nor do they have bodily functions. Also, they do not carry out any functions in the world.

The religious images of the two sects also differ. Digambara images of the tirthankara always have eyes that are downcast (signifying meditation), and the figures are always plain and naked. The most famous example is the fifty-seven-foot-tall statue of Bahubali at Maharashtra, India, depicted with ivy growing on it and anthills around the feet to signify the length of the time he spent in quiet meditation. In contrast, the images of the Svetambaras are always ornately decorated, and the statues of the tirthan-kara have wide, staring eyes (signifying preaching).

Finally, the two sects differ in how they view worldly possessions. Digambaras believe that a person can achieve freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth only by completely giving up worldly possessions. Thus, Jain monks go naked to signify living a life without shame, though in modern times they cover themselves when they are in public. They are not allowed to own even so much as a bowl for eating, and all gifts they accept have to be taken in the hands. Svetambara monks are allowed to wear a simple, plain white robe, own a begging bowl and a broom to sweep insects from their paths, and own writing implements. Nuns in both sects are clothed.

Basic beliefs

Jains do not believe in a single creator-god, as monotheistic religions such as Christianity and Judaism do. Nor do they believe in a pantheon (officially recognized list) of gods, as do some other religions, such as the ancient Greco-Romans. Rather, they believe in the tirthankara, who were able to achieve a divine perfection and are therefore worthy of devotion and worship. Jains, in fact, reject the idea that there could be a single creator-god who is completely good and all-knowing. For Jains, the existence of evil in the world, explained simply by the failure of people to achieve a divine perfection, is proof that a creator-god cannot exist.

The tirthankara are perfectly happy and eternal, so they are worshipped as gods. But each person can become a god because each has the ability to achieve perfection.

While these individuals are thought of as gods, they differ from the usual concept of God. They neither create nor destroy, so they did not create the laws of the physical universe and humans do not exist because of their actions. It is not possible for humans to have any kind of relationship with them, for they do not meddle in the affairs of humans. They make no demands on people, nor do they reward people for good actions or forgive their sins. Humans regard them only as a source of inspiration. Because of these characteristics, Jainism is sometimes called atheistic, showing no belief in god, but this is true only in a limited sense.

The soul

Jains believe that everything has a soul, or jiva. This soul, which lives forever, has a number of characteristics. Each soul is fully independent in Jainism (unlike Hinduism, which believes that all souls are part of a single divine reality). The soul is responsible for and experiences the results of its actions. The soul can be freed from the ongoing cycle of death and rebirth. Although not all souls can be liberated, all can evolve in the direction of liberation by following the principles of correct behavior.

Jains have a complex system of beliefs that explain the natural order of the universe. Jains see the world as composed of categories of souls, including jiva, the soul of living things, and ajiva, (that is, non-jiva), to include motion, rest, atoms, space, and time. Jiva, in turn, manifests itself in six forms, categorized according to the number of senses each form possesses:

  1. Ekendriya, or beings with just one sense, touch. These are beings that are generally thought of as inanimate. "Earth-bodied" beings include sand, metal, and clay. "Water-bodied" beings include ice, rain, and fog. "Fire-bodied" beings include lightning and fire. "Air-bodied" beings include gases and wind. Finally, "Plant-bodied" beings include trees, grass, and flowers.
  1. Beindriya are beings with two senses, touch and taste. Included in this category are such creatures such as worms.
  2. Treindriya are those with three senses (smell, taste, and touch) and include such creatures such as moths, beetles, and ants.
  3. Chaurindriya have four senses, adding sight to touch, taste, and smell. These include somewhat higher creatures such as scorpions, locusts, and wasps.
  4. Panchendriya are beings with all five senses, adding hearing. Included in this category are higher animals, such as human beings, heavenly beings, and infernal beings, or souls that suffer in hell.


Like several other Eastern religions, the concept of reincarnation is a central part of the Jain belief system. According to Jains, when a person dies, the soul is immediately transferred to another body. This could be the body of another person, an animal, or even an inanimate object. The principle that determines how a person lives his or her next life is called karma.

Both Hinduism and Buddhism believe in karma as a force created by a person's actions. The Jain conception of karma, however, differs slightly from that of Hindus. According to Jain belief, the soul attracts karma to itself, but this karma is a physical substance, like dust, that exists everywhere in the universe. Some of this karma does no harm. This nonharmful karma produces feelings, a person's physique (body type, including gender), life span, and social status. Four additional types of karma, however, are harmful. Delusory karma causes attachment to false beliefs; knowledge-obscuring karma interferes with understanding; perception-obscuring karma interferes with sensory perception; and obstructing karma leads to a loss of faith, knowledge, and energy.

Jains believe that karma, as a physical substance, actually sticks to the soul, and harmful karma is attracted by such negative characteristics as greed, pride, and anger. A person who leads a life of self-discipline is able to ward off and wear away these bad forms of karma and eventually, perhaps, reach a state of knowledge and freedom. This is not the same as enlightenment. A person who is enlightened, called an arihant, is free of all bad karma and cannot do anything bad, but he or she is still subject to the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. A person who has achieved deliverance, though, called a siddha, has broken the cycle, moves to the roof of the universe, and lives there in a state of pure knowledge, bliss, and energy. This state, however, can be achieved only through self-denial. Jains believe that in the present cycle of time, no person has achieved this state. Siddhas are different from tirthankaras. The tirthankaras create order and steer humans as the cosmic cycle turns downward.

Jains believe that the universe has always existed; it was not brought into being by a creator-god. For Jains, the universe consists of five parts. At the bottom of the universe is the base, inhabited by the lowest forms of life. Above the base is the lower world, consisting of seven hells where beings torment one another. The middle world is where human beings live. Celestial beings live in the upper region, and liberated beings, such as the siddha, live in a supreme abode.

The Three Jewels

At the center of Jain belief is the desire to free the soul from the cycle of death and rebirth. Liberation is accomplished through the "Three Jewels," an ethical code that consists of right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct. The first of these, right faith, or samyak darshana, means seeing clearly, so it is sometimes translated as "right perception." Right faith involves avoiding superstition and being determined to discover the truth. The second, right knowledge, or samyak jnana, calls for an understanding of the universe. The third, right conduct, or samyak charitra, refers specifically to the way people lead their lives. An ethical person avoids doing harm to living things and is free from impure desires, attitudes, and thoughts.

Sacred writings

To identify a fixed, accepted body of Jain sacred scriptures is difficult. Other religions rely on a single, authoritative sacred text. Jews, for example, turn to the Tanakh; Christians, to the Bible; and Islam to the Qurʾan. In contrast, Jainism has a large number of texts that are regarded as sacred. Many of these documents are more than two thousand years old, but scholars have no real way to date them. In addition, little is known about when the Jain scriptures were originally compiled.

It is believed that originally about sixty texts were accepted as sacred Jain scriptures. Only forty-five of these texts have survived. These texts are divided into three groups: the Purva, the Anga, and the Angabahya. However, fourteen of the Purva texts, plus the last Anga text, are now also lost. From references in other, later texts, the Purva texts are believed to have been compiled about 250 years before Mahavira lived, during the time of Parshva from roughly 650 to 700 bce. These texts outline Jain beliefs about such matters as astronomy, the nature of the universe, the soul, and karma. The Anga texts, which by default have become the central texts of Jainism, summarize the teachings of the Purva texts and include a traditional history of Jainism down to the time of Mahavira.


During times when paper and writing implements were not nearly as common as they are in modern life, scriptures had to be memorized. Islam, for example, placed great emphasis on memorization of its sacred text, the Qurʾan, writing it down only after it was in danger of being lost.

Jainism is no exception. In the centuries before the Common Era, the goal of Jain thinkers and scholars was to memorize all of Jain scripture. It is believed that the last Jain to have done so was Bhadrabhanuswami, who died about 170 years after Mahavira. His death created fear that Jain scripture would be lost, so a conference was organized at that time to record and organize the Jain sacred texts.

All of these texts were passed down orally by generations of monks who memorized them. Scholars believe that they were finally compiled at a Jain council held at Valabhi, India, in about 450. They were written in Ardha Magadhi, a vernacular language (that is, a language spoken by common people) of the Magadha region along the Ganges River in India. Later, they were recorded in Sanskrit, the literary (formal, written) language of India. The core of these texts, and the oldest of them, are the Anga texts, which explain Jain doctrine and the Jain way of life, discuss religious and moral questions, and provide regulations for Jain nuns and monks.

The word anga means "limbs," and the Anga texts are collectively referred to as the Twelve Limbs. There are twelve Anga texts because it is believed that Mahavira assigned the task of compiling eleven of the books to his followers, while he himself compiled the twelfth.

One of the most important Jain texts is the Akaranga Sutra, which contains the teachings of Mahavira himself, passed down by one of his followers. The Akaranga Sutra is important because it describes how a person can lead a sin-free life of self-denial. For Jains, part of living a sin-free life involves not harming living creatures and one portion of the sutra, for example, explains the presence of life in fire, wind, water, the earth, and so on.

In addition to the texts that survive from the age of Mahavira and before, Jain scholar-monks have produced learned texts called the Expositions. The dates of most of these texts range from the first century through the medieval period (c. 500–c. 1500), although some were written even later. They are arranged into four categories, including biographies, scientific treatises, treatises on discipline, and philosophy. (A treatise is a book that discusses a particular subject.) In addition, Jain scholar-monks have produced a large number of hymns of praise to the tirthankara. These hymns, too, are regarded as sacred texts.

Sacred symbols

Jains have a number of sacred symbols, some of which are held in common with Hinduism. One sacred symbol is the three dots, symbolizing the Three Jewels of right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct. The three dots also symbolize the three regions where people who are not liberated are born, suffer, and die: hell, Earth, and heaven. Another symbol is the crescent of the Moon, which represents moksha. Moksha refers to liberation from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

A key symbol in Jainism is the swastika, a cross with each of the four sides bent at right angles. In Germany during the 1930s, the Nazi political party adopted the swastika as its official symbol. During the next fifteen years the Nazis murdered millions of Jews and others, thus making the swastika a hated symbol in the West. The use of the swastika by Jains (and Hindus) has nothing to do with the Nazis.

For Jains, the swastika's four sides represent the four forms of existence of souls that have not been liberated: heavenly existence, worldly existence, the existence of nonhuman life, and existence in hell. The swastika serves as a reminder of Jainism's goal: escape from worldly existence and achievement of liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth. By escaping birth, life on Earth, and death, a person can escape suffering.

Like Hindus, Jains chant the sacred om, often spelled aum, as a mantra (a formula repeated over and over to create a trance-like state). For Jains, the syllable consists of five sounds, each of which has significance. The first sound is that of a, representing arihants, or those souls who have conquered their worldly passions. The second sound prolongs the a and represents a-shareeri, or those "without body" who have achieved liberation. The a sound continues to be prolonged into an aa sound signifying the acharya, or ascetics who lead Jain congregations. The u sound represents upadhaya, or Jain ascetic teachers. Finally, the m sound represents muni, monks who practice Jain principles. Together, these sounds constitute a kind of prayer.

Another important symbol is the wheel of dharma. The wheel consists of twenty-four spokes, each spoke representing one of the tirthankara. The symbol focuses the attention of Jains on the virtues preached by the tirthankara.

A final symbol is an outline figure of a person standing with his feet apart and his hands on his hips. Underneath the symbol are the words Parasparopagraho Jivanam, meaning "Living beings render service to one another." The figure conveys the Jain belief that right conduct and service to others can lead to the liberation of the soul.


The central Jain prayer is called the Namaskar or the Namokar Mantra. Its purpose, as with all Jain prayer, is not to ask for anything but rather to help the worshipper achieve a state of detachment and right conduct. It reads as follows:

     Namo Arihantanam
     Namo Siddhanam
     Namo Airiyanam
     Namo Uvajjhayanam
     Namo Loe Savva Sahunam
     Eso Panch Namokaro
     Savva Pavap Panasano
     Mangala-nam-cha Savvesim
     Padhamam Havai Mangalam
     The meaning of this prayer is roughly:
     I bow down to those who have reached omniscience in the flesh and teach the road to everlasting life in the liberated state.
     I bow down to those who have attained perfect knowledge and liberated their souls of all karma.
     I bow down to those who have experienced self-realization of their souls through self-control and self-sacrifice.
     I bow down to those who understand the true nature of soul and teach the importance of the spiritual over the material.
     I bow down to those who strictly follow the five great vows of conduct and inspire us to live a virtuous life.
     To these five types of great souls I offer my praise.
     Such praise will help diminish my sins.
     Giving this praise is most auspicious.
     So auspicious as to bring happiness and bliss.

This is the first prayer that Jain children learn. Jains typically recite the prayer first thing in the morning and last thing before going to bed at night.

In addition to this prayer, Jains regularly recite a number of sutras to ask for forgiveness, confess their sins, and ask for universal peace. For example, the prayer for forgiveness reads:

     I grant forgiveness to all living beings.
     May all the living beings please forgive me.
     I have friendship with all the living beings.
     I have no hostility towards anyone.

Temple worship

It is estimated that roughly 80 percent of Jains regularly attend temples, where they celebrate the lives of the tirthankara, read sacred scriptures, hold religious discussions, give alms (charitable donations), and take vows to control their earthly passions. At the center of Jain worship are the statues of the tirthankara. Many of the temples are marked by intricate architecture and ornate artwork, though some temples are plain meeting rooms.

A well-known religious ceremony of the Svetambara Jains is the Offering of Eightfold Puja, in which the worshipper makes eight offerings to a tirthankara. Because Jains do not believe in a creator-god who involves himself with human affairs, the offering is made not to please a god but to demonstrate a spirit of giving. The ceremony begins with a ritual cleansing in which the worshipper puts on clean clothing. When the worshipper enters the temple, he or she says nihisi, which means "giving up." The worshipper then enters the room that contains the images of the tirthankara and walks three times clockwise around the images, symbolizing the Three Jewels.

The worshipper then makes eight offerings: (1) water, to symbolize purity; (2) sandalwood and saffron paste (which is rubbed on the image), which symbolize the cooling of human passions and are believed to cool fever; (3) flowers, which symbolize faith in the teachings of the tirthankara; (4) incense, to symbolize the burning away of bad karma; (5) light, offered by swinging a lamp, to symbolize eliminating the darkness of ignorance; (6) rice; (7) sweets; and (8) fruit. The rice is arranged in the form of the symbolic swastika. Three dots made with the food items above the swastika symbolize the Three Jewels. And finally, a crescent with a dot above it symbolizes the liberated beings who dwell in the roof of the universe. The ceremony concludes with time for meditation and prayer.

The essence of Jain worship, however, takes place primarily in daily life rather than in public rituals. Each day, Jains perform six observances, which differ slightly for Digambaras and Svetambaras. The six daily rituals for Digambaras are:

  1. Devapuja, or praying to the twenty-four tirthankara.
  2. Gurupasti, or devotion and service to ascetics (leading a life of self-denial).
  3. Swadhyay, or studying scriptures.
  4. Samyam, or practicing self-restraint and self-discipline.
  5. Tap, or penance.
  6. Dana, or charity and alms giving.

For Svetambaras, the six daily rituals are:

  1. Samayik, or remaining calm and undisturbed for forty-eight minutes.
  2. Chauvisattho, or praying to the tirthankara.
  3. Vandana, or devotion and service to ascetics.
  4. Pratikraman, or repentance.
  5. Kayotsarg, or sitting motionless for a period of time to signify nonattachment to the body.
  6. Pratyakhan, or taking vows to give up certain activities or foods to discipline the self.

Observances and pilgrimages

Jain religious observances are based on a 354—day lunar calendar, so the exact dates vary from year to year. In 2005 the holy day of Mahavira Jayanti, or the birthday of Mahavira in 527 bce (according to Svetambara tradition), was celebrated on April 21. Both Svetambara and Digamabar Jains celebrate this holiday. On this day each year, Jains gather in temples to hear the teachings of Mahavira, and images of him are carried in procession through the streets. Ancient shrines in Grinar and Palitana, in Gujarat, India, are particularly popular sites for pilgrims to travel to on this day. In keeping with Jain tradition, however, observances are largely quiet and solemn.

A second major holiday is Paryushana, celebrated in 2005 for eight days beginning on August 31. The word Paryushana means "to stay in one place," signifying that this is a time for reflection and meditation. Originally, only monks and nuns observed these holy days. However, they are now are observed by all Jains, who undergo eight days of fasting and prayer. Similar observances are also practiced on the holy day of Mauna Agyaras, which, in 2005, fell on December 12.

A final important observance is Diwali, a religious festival held throughout India that, in 2005, began on November 1. For Jains, the date has special significance, for it is believed that on this date in 527 bce Mahavira offered his final teachings. During this festival, parents give sweets to their children, and lamps are lit throughout India. Many Jains follow the example of Mahavira and fast for two days.


A popular Jain pilgrimage is made to Parsvanath Hill in Bahar, India. It is named after the twenty-third tirthankara, Parshva, and it is believed that all twenty-four tirthankara achieved liberation and enlightenment on this hill. The largest crowd of pilgrims visits the site on Mahavira Jayanti, the birth date of Mahavira. Another popular pilgrimage site is Mount Girnar, located near the city of Junagadh in Gujarat. Some Jains believe that the twenty-second tirthankara, Nemi (or Neminatha), achieved enlightenment and liberation on this hill instead of on Parsvanath Hill.

These sites are located in the north of India. The only major pilgrimage site in the south is at Shravana Belgola, near the city of Mysore. This site features two hills, Indrabetta and Chandragiri, where pilgrims gather for spiritual renewal. Indrabetta is the site of a statue of Gomatesvara, a Digambara saint. The statue is 57-feet (17.3-meters) tall, and the figure is nude.

In addition to these sites, Jains often make pilgrimages to temples. Many of these temples have pilgrim centers. Some of the most popular sites are Jain temples in such states as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat.

Everyday living

The five Great Vows of Jainism (nonviolence, truthfulness, not stealing, celibacy, and nonattachment) apply to monks and nuns, who wish to give up worldly possessions totally and live lives of contemplation and service. Of course not all Jains are monks and nuns. Many, generally referred to as householders, live ordinary family lives and work in familiar jobs. Jain householders normally commit themselves to the twelve vows of Jain living.

The twelve vows are divided into three categories. The first category consists of the five Great Vows. Householders, however, adapt these vows for everyday living. For example, monks and nuns take a vow of nonviolence, which prohibits them from killing any living creature, even accidentally, as much as possible. Householders might not be able to avoid killing living creatures in, for example, farming, but their vow demands that they avoid such killing as much as possible. Similarly, monks and nuns take vows of celibacy, which means that they do not have sex. Married Jains, of course, are not celibate, but they avoid allowing physical passions to rule their lives. While monks' and nuns' vows of total nonattachment mean that they own no or very few personal possessions, householders practice the vow by giving to charity.

Jains and the Caste System

Jains in India are surrounded by the far more dominant religion, Hinduism. Although there are many similarities between the two religions, one distinctive feature of Hinduism is its incorporation of the Indian caste system. Caste refers to a social class into which one is born. The castes are associated with occupations, so that the highest castes perform the most noble duties, while the lowest caste, the "untouchables," performs such labor as hauling away waste and dead animals.

Mahavira was born into India's warrior caste, but in his teachings he never mentioned caste. Nevertheless, a caste system developed among Jains, primarily over the last one thousand years. Unlike most Indians, including many Hindus, who recognize four castes, Jains recognize dozens, some of which consist of as few as five hundred members. While the Jain caste system has little influence on day-to-day life, it does have a major effect on marriage. Marriage between castes is discouraged. Because some castes are so small, many men live as bachelors since a suitable wife is simply not available.

In addition to the five Great Vows, Jains adhere to three merit vows. The first of these vows has to do with limiting one's area of activity. Householders may not be able to avoid violating some of the Great Vows in their everyday lives, but they can define areas where they feel able to keep the vows and areas where they know they will not be able to do so. Within that limited area, householders practice the first five vows as described above. Outside the area of activity, the vows become Great Vows, and householders practice them as if they were monks or nuns. The second merit vow requires Jains to make limited use of both consumable items such as food and nonconsumable items such as appliances and furniture. The third merit vow involves the avoidance of purposeless sins. These include thinking or speaking ill of others, acting inconsiderately or carelessly, and reading improper literature. The third vow also includes not taking part in the manufacture of weapons that are not to be used solely for defensive purposes.

The final four vows are called disciplinary vows, and their purpose is to encourage Jains to fulfill their religious duties. The first of the four requires Jains to engage in quiet meditation each day. This period can also include reading religious books and praying. The second requires Jains to limit their activities. Thus, during certain periods of time, Jains avoid any kind of travel, business activity, and work outside their limited area of activity. The third requires Jains to live the life of a monk or nun for a day, while the fourth requires donation of food, clothing, medication, and other items to monks, nuns, and other devout persons.

Jainism and vegetarianism

Jains are vegetarians in conformity with the vow of ahimsa, or nonviolence. The emphasis on vegetarianism in Jain life has led to development of what is called a "Jain menu," which defines suitable dishes to be served both in the home and at restaurants.

Some Jains are more strict than others. Many, for example, do not eat root vegetables such as onions, garlic, and potatoes because they are likely to hide other life-forms that would be killed during cooking or eating. At religiously important times, others do not consume green leafy vegetables for the same reason. Others fast extensively during the monsoon season and are likely to avoid roots at this time. Jains typically avoid eating after dark, again because of the possibility of accidentally harming another life-form that cannot be seen.

Devout Jains point out that vegetarianism is an important part of practicing ahimsa, but that the vow of nonviolence goes much deeper than just the avoidance of eating life-forms. For devout Jains, nonviolence includes such diverse practices as not teasing people, turning off lights to avoid wasting electricity, and not wasting such things as food and paper. All of these practices are part of the respect for life, all life, that lies at the heart of Jainism.

Jainism's influences

As a relatively small religion limited primarily to certain regions of India, Jainism has not had the same impact on world affairs as such major religions as Islam or Christianity. This limited impact is a result of the Jain belief in detachment and noninvolvement. Jains believe that activity increases the risk that a person's soul will attract bad karma.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948), the pacifist political activist who led India's independence movement, was greatly influenced by Jainism. Gandhi was born in a part of India (Gujarat) that was dominated by Jains, and he was exposed to Jain teachings. His philosophy of nonviolence and quiet resistance to British rule reflected the strong influence of ahimsa on his life.

Jainism's influences, too, are limited because the number of followers is decreasing. Jains themselves are not troubled by this decline. They believe it is part of the normal cycle of time, during which the number of Jains will dwindle until the religion becomes nearly extinct. At that time a new cycle will begin when the religion is rediscovered by the first of a new cycle of twenty-four tirthankara.

For More Information


Dundas, Paul. "Jainism." In Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Lindsay Jones, 2nd ed., vol. 7. Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005.

Dundas, Paul. The Jains. 2nd ed. London and New York, NY: Routledge, 2002.

Jacobi, Hermann. Jaina Sutras. 2 vols. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1884–1895.

Jaini, Padmanabh S. The Jaina Path of Purification. Rev. ed. New Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass, 2001.

Singh, Nagendra. Encyclopaedia of Jainism. 30 vols. New Delhi, India: Anmol, 2001.


"Jain: Jain Principles, Tradition and Practices." Colorado State University. http://www.cs.colostate.edu/∼malaiya/jainhlinks.html (accessed on June 13, 2006).

Shah, Pravin K. "Jainism: Religion of Ecology and Compassion" (2001). http://www.jaina.org/education/introduction_to_Jainism.pdf (accessed on June 13, 2006).

Turner, Sarah. "Jainism" (2000). http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/jainism.html (accessed on June 13, 2006).


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Dada Bahgwan Foundation

Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA)

International Nahavir Jain Mission

Jain Meditation International Center

Osho Commune International

Dada Bahgwan Foundation

For information: [email protected]

Dada Bhagwan Foundation is the vehicle for the teaching of Shri Ambalal Muljibhai Patel, fondly known as Dadashri or Dada Bhagwan. Patel is considered by his followers to be a gnani purush—“one awakened to the self,” or “enlightened being.” He teaches the path to realization called Akram Vignan (science without steps), which is viewed as a shortcut for attaining self-realization. A contractor by profession, without particular religious training, Patel was sitting on a railway bench in 1958 when a spontaneous and natural phenomenon occurred: Dada Bhagwan, the Lord within Ambalal Patel, began to manifest. At the end of the process he was a self-realized person, and he began to teach others the spiritual science of Akram Vignan, which provides ultimate salvation—the acquisition of freedom from the cycles of birth and death.

Akram Vignan is described as the science of the tirthankars (divine omniscient lords, the twenty-three men and one woman who are believed to have been the founders of the Jain movement). Dadashri describes his teachings as simply the collective knowledge of the tirthankars, and himself as merely the instrument through which this knowledge flows. During his spontaneous enlightenment, Dadashri noted that he made a connection with the living tirthankar Lord Shri Simandhar Swami, who lives in Mahavideh Kshetra, a world outside this galaxy where Jains believe that tirthankars are still being born. He made his communication with Simandhar Swami through his astral body and received answers to his questions. According to Dadashr, direct liberation from planet Earth is no longer possible due to the negative conditions here, but it is possible from Mahavideh Kshetra. Having acquired self-realization in this life, the soul will be reborn in Mahavideh Kshetra, where it will experience the darshan (presence) of Lord Simandhar and begin its final journey to moksha (liberation).

Dadashri teaches through satsangs (spiritual discourses), with students asking questions that he answers. Many of these have been transcribed and published.

Since the 1990s support for Dadashri has grown quietly throughout the Indian diaspora community. There are groups of followers in Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, and the United Kingdom. In North America groups have appeared in New Jersey, Florida, Kansas, Texas, and Los Angeles, and in Toronto and Montreal, Canada. The movement’s international headquarters is located at a trimandir constructed on land between Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar, Gujarat State, India, which features a 13-foot statue of Shri Simandhar Swami.


Not reported.


Dada Bahgwan Foundation. www.dadabhagwan.org/.

Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA)

PO Box 700, Getzville, NY 14068

In the nineteenth century the Jain community, until then largely confined to Persia (Iran) and India, began to disperse around the world. Of those who left their home-lands, the largest percentage moved to England. A few moved to North America, though large-scale immigration did not occur until after the change in immigration laws in 1965. As the number of Jains increased, organization was possible. The first such organization, founded in 1973, was the Jain Center of Greater Boston.

Subsequently centers were founded across North America, and the Boston center published a directory in 1979. In the meantime, two Jain organizations had been started by Acharya Sushil Kumar Ji and Gurudev Chitrabhanu Ji. Both were active in 1981, when an initial meeting was held by four of the Jain centers and the Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA) was organized. The organization expanded rapidly.

JAINA provides a united voice for the Jain community in North America and has been able to provide religious activities and educational materials that no one center could provide. In addition, it promotes two important opinions of the group that are shared by many non-Jains: vegetarianism and ahimsa (nonviolence). Finally, through JIANA Jains stay in touch with the Jain international diaspora and the base communities in India and Iran.

JAINA conventions are held biennially. The organization was active in response to the January 2001 earthquake in Gujarati, India. JAINA is led by its president, Dr. Bipin D. Parikh, and an executive committee consisting of national officers and regional representatives.


There are 62 Jain organizations representing over 100,000 individuals in the U.S. and Canada.


Jain Digest • JAINA Spectrum.


Federation of Jain Associations in North America. www.jaina.org.

International Nahavir Jain Mission

Acharya Sushil Jain Ashram, 722 Tomkins Ave., Staten Island, NY 10305

Since 1965 Jains began to immigrate to the United States, along with Hindus and Sikhs. Because of restrictions on travel over water, Jains did not arrive in numbers that rivaled those of other Indian religious groups. Among the immigrants were individuals associated with the International Mahavir Mission. The mission had been founded in India in 1970 by Guruji Muni Sushul Kumar (b. 1926). As a teenager Guruji entered the Sacred Order of Jain Munis, receiving from his guru two traditional symbols of nonviolence: the mukh-patti, a white mask worn over the face to keep the wearer from accidentally swallowing an insect and thus killing a living soul, and an augha, a broom for sweeping surfaces before sitting lest a living entity be harmed. The mission was brought to Europe and North America by its members. Guruji traveled to the United States in 1975 to visit the Jain communities.

The mission emphasizes the Jain tenets of vegetarianism, ahimsa (nonviolence), and anekantavada (the many-faceted nature of truth). It teaches hatha yoga, pranayama (breath control), japayoga (the use of mantric words of power), ayurvedic medicine, and chanting.

In the United States an urban ashram was opened in Staten Island and a rural center, Muni Sushil Yogville, was opened in upstate New York. Centers have also been opened in England, France, Germany, and Canada. The international headquarters are in New Delhi, India. Guruji has been active in interreligious work (growing out of the Jain belief in anekantavada) and organized the World Fellowship of Religions, which periodically sponsors international interreligious conferences. In 1977 Guruji also participated in the first North American Jain Conference held at Berkeley, California, in 1981.


Not reported.


News from Jain Ashram.


International Nahavir Jain Mission. www.acharyasushilmuni.org.

Kumar, Acharya Sushil. Song of the Soul. Blairstown, NJ: Siddhachalam Publishers, 1987.

Jain Meditation International Center

Box 230244, Ansonia Sta., New York, NY 10023-0244

Gurudev Sri Chitrabhanu (b. 1922) had been a Jain muni (monk) for 29 years. During that time he had become widely known and respected in his native India and had, in 1965, founded the Divine Knowledge Society in Bombay. Then, in 1971, he gave up his monastic existence and rejected the millennia-long taboo on traveling over water and by means other than foot so that he could travel to the United States at the invitation of the Temple of Understanding to lecture at a conference at Harvard University. Following that conference he stayed in North America and lectured widely to other Jains who, like him, had immigrated to America. In 1974 he founded New Life Now, an organization dedicated to the spiritual illumination of the West. New Life Now evolved into the Jain Meditation International Center. Chitrabhanu defines a Jain as one who “speaks of a personal responsibility for his own deeds, regards a person as a master of his own destiny, and refrains from violence.”

The center is headquartered in New York City and teaches meditation, yoga, vegetarianism, and tai chi. While moving among Jains who have immigrated to the United States, Chitrabhanu has had great success among people outside the Indian American community as well. Groups have been established in Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, West Orange, and Toronto. He has also worked in Brazil. The associated Jain Peace Fellowship is headquartered in South Norwalk, Connecticut. Chitrabhanu participated in the first North American Jain conference, held in Berkeley, California, in 1981.


Not reported.




Jain Meditation International Center. www.jainmeditation.org.

Baakza, A. H. A. Half-Hours with a Jain Muni. Bombay: Jaico Publishing House, 1962.

Chitrabhanu, Gurudev. The Philosophy of Soul and Matter. New York: Jain Meditation Center, 1977.

———. The Psychology of Enlightenment. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1979.

———. Realize What You Are. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1978.

———. Twelve Facets of Reality. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1980.

Osho Commune International

80 Fifth Ave., Ste. 1403, New York, NY 10011

Alternate Address

International headquarters: Osho Commune International, 17 Koregoan Park, Poona, India 411001 %bul; Osho International, 304 Park Ave. S., Ste. 608, New Yor, NY 10010.

Osho, formerly known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, was born Rajneesh Chandra Mohan in a small town in Madhya Pradesh, India, in 1931. He became one of the most controversial spiritual mystics to travel to the West and establish his teachings there. Born of Jain parents, Osho, even as a child, began to question the wide variety of traditional religious beliefs to which he was exposed as a young man— Hindu, Christian, Mohammedan, or Jain—and asserted that individual spiritual experience was the only true value and that such experience could not be organized into any belief system.

At the age of 21, during his college days, he had what he termed an experience of samadhi, or spiritual awakening. Nevertheless, he decided to continue his academic studies, earning a master’s degree in philosophy and sharpening his skills as a speaker by debating at universities all over India. In 1966 he resigned his post as professor of philosophy at the University of Jabalpur in order to share his understanding of religious experience and to conduct experimental “meditation camps” using his own unique methods.

In the early 1970s he began to initiate people into “neosannyas,” a radical departure from the traditional Hindu form of sannyas in which the spiritual seeker renounces home, family, wealth, sex, and the material life. Instead, Osho taught that the real challenge for the sannyasin is to remain in the world, enjoying life to the full, but not being attached to it—“to be in the marketplace but not of it.” Initiates were asked to dress in orange, wear a mala (a necklace of 108 wooden beads containing a locket with Osho’s picture), receive a new name, and meditate for at least one hour a day.

In 1972 the first Westerners visited Osho while he was living in Bombay. Many of these newcomers were therapists from the Western humanistic psychology movement who were attracted by Osho’s teachings that self-expression and emotional release are useful preparations for meditation. In 1974 a group of disciples purchased property in Poona, near Bombay, and this spot quickly became an international ashram attracting thousands of visitors from around the world. Daily activities included a 90-minute discourse by Osho, a regular program of meditation, a wide variety of therapy groups, and work in the commune. The best-known of Osho’s spiritual disciplines is dynamic meditation, which lasts one hour and has five stages:

  1. deep, rapid, chaotic breathing through the nose;
  2. emotional catharsis, allowing free expression of anger, sadness, joy, and so on;
  3. jumping, with arms raised, while saying the mantra “hoo!”;
  4. complete silence and stillness;
  5. celebration through dance.

In his daily discourses Osho commented upon all of the major religious traditions and the sayings of many enlightened mystics, including Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Krishna, Mahavira, and Bodhidharma. He explained this as his way of “gathering his people,” who would otherwise have remained involved with other religious disciplines.

Osho came to the United States in 1981. After a short stay in New Jersey, he moved to a 64,000-acre ranch in Central Oregon. Within a year a city named Rajneeshpuram had been incorporated on the ranch, with a population that rose to 5,000 people. The community aroused mounting opposition from local ranchers, Christian fundamentalists, the Oregon state government, and the Reagan Administration; much of the antagonism to the city centered on Osho’s fleet of 93 Rolls-Royces and acts such as inviting thousands of homeless people to live at the ranch and vote in local elections.

In 1985 Osho, who had remained silent from 1981 to 1984, publicly revealed that his secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, had been involved in a number of crimes against his disciples and people in Oregon, and he invited the police to investigate. A few weeks later Osho himself was arrested by federal agents, jailed, and charged with immigration fraud. Although insisting on his innocence, Osho agreed to a plea bargain with federal prosecutors and was deported from the United States. With Osho no longer in residence, the Oregon commune was no longer an economically viable proposition, and the residents departed, turning Rajneeshpuram into a ghost town. Sheela and a small group of close associates arranged plea bargains with state and federal prosecutors and served jail sentences.

Osho returned to India, staying briefly in the Himalayas. Then, in 1986, he embarked on a world tour, during which he was refused entry by 21 countries, partially because of pressure from the Reagan Administration. He went back to India once more and in January 1987 returned to his old ashram in Poona, which quickly revived as a large international commune. At about this time Osho advised his disciples to drop their distinctive clothing and the mala because the Indian authorities were making it difficult for them to enter the country.

In 1988 he dropped the name Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and assumed the name Osho, a Japanese term of reverence and endearment used by disciples to address their spiritual masters. During this time Osho’s body became very weak, and he suffered from a variety of puzzling symptoms, including severe bone pain, hair loss, and impaired vision, which led his disciples to believe that he had been poisoned while in the custody of the U.S. government. He died on January 19, 1990, and a sacred grave was made for his ashes inside the commune. Before his death Osho had guided a group of 21 disciples into assuming control of the worldwide activities of his movement. This group is known as the Inner Circle.

In the United States, after Osho’s departure, the movement decentralized and returned to its pre-1986 state—a loose association of meditation centers and small communes scattered around the country. A bimonthly news magazine for sannyasins, Viha Connection, is produced by the Osho Viha Meditation Center in Marin County, California. An English-language edition of Osho Times International is available online at www.osho.org. In 1995 about 500 sannyasins living in the United States gathered at an Osho center in Fairfax, California, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Rajneeshpuram.

Meanwhile, legal actions growing out of events at Rajneeshpuram continue. Sannyasin attorneys have been challenging the U.S. government under the Freedom of Information Act in the hope of gathering enough evidence to prove that the Reagan Administration acted illegally and unconstitutionally in destroying the Oregon commune. The U.S. Justice Department is also pursuing cases against Sheela and her associates. In 1995 two former Osho disciples were extradited from England to Portland, Oregon, and convicted of conspiracy to murder former U.S. Attorney Charles Turner, who led the Reagan Administration’s efforts to shut down Rajneeshpuram. The two disciples served short prison terms and are now back in England.

Through the 1990s Osho Commune International in Poona has expanded greatly and has become one of the world’s largest centers for spiritual-growth activities; it offers a wide variety of classes, workshops, and training. Visitors still come from Europe and America, and increasingly from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Russia, and Israel. Osho International has opened a New York headquarters, which oversees the publication of Osho’s books; those works are increasingly available from commercial publishing houses in England, Germany, and North America. Osho International also prepares videotapes of Osho’s discourses for relay through a number of Asian commercial satellite-television channels. In India Osho’s books and audiotapes can be found in stores nationwide.

The Osho International Foundation is located in Zurich, Switzerland.


There are Osho centers in more than 60 countries. In the United States, as of 1997, there were 50 centers serving approximately 10,000 people and 20 centers serving some 4,000 people in Canada. There are a reported 900,000 people related to the 750 centers worldwide.

Educational Facilities

Osho Multiversity, Poona, India


Viha Connection. • Osho Times International.


Osho Commune International. www.osho.com.

Belfrage, Sally. Flowers of Emptiness. New York: Dial Press, 1981.

Bharti, Ma Satya. Death Comes Dancing. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981.

Braun, Kirk. The Unwelcome Society. West Linn, OR: Scout Creek Press, 1984.

Goldman, Marion. Passionate Journeys: Why Successful Women Joined a Cult. Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1999.

Gordon, James S. The Golden Guru. Lexington, MA: Stephen Greene Press, 1987.

Mehta, Gita. Karma Cola. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979.

Milne, Hugh. Bhagwan, The God That Failed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986.

Osho. Osho: Autobiography of a Spiritually Incorrect Mystic. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.

Prasad, Ram Chandra. Rajneesh: The Mystic of Feeling. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1978.

Rajneesh, Bhagwan Shree. The Great Challeng:, A Rajneesh Reader. New York: Grove Press, 1982.

———. I Am the Gate. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.

———. The Orange Book. Rajneeshpuram, OR: Rajneesh Foundation International, 1983.

———. Tantra, Spirituality, and Sex. San Francisco: Rainbow Bridge, 1977.

Rajneesh, the Most Dangerous Man Since Jesus Christ. Zurich, Switzerland: Rebel Publishing House, 1987.

Rajneeshism. Rajneeshpuram, OR: Rajneesh Foundation International, 1983.

Strelley, Kate. The Ultimate Game. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.


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Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA)

PO Box 700
Getzville, NY 14068

In the nineteenth century, the Jain community, until then largely confined to Persia (Iran) and India, began to disperse around the world. Of those who left their homelands, the largest percentage moved to England. A few moved to North America, though large scale immigration did not occur until after the change in immigration laws in 1965. As the number of Jains increased, organization was possible. The first such organization, founded in 1973, was the Jain Center of Greater Boston.

Subsequently centers were founded across North America, and the Boston center published a directory in 1979. In the meantime, two Jain organizations had been started by Acharya Sushil Kumar Ji and Gurudev Chitrabhanu Ji. Both were active in n 1981 when an initial meeting was held by four of the Jain centers and the Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA) organized.

The organization expanded rapidly and has included new centers as it has emerged.

JAINA provides a united voice for the Jain community in North America and has been able to provide religious activities and educational materials that no one center could provide alone. In addition it promotes two important opinions of the group that are shared by many non-Jains: vegetarianism and ahimsa (nonviolence). Finally, thorough JIANA, Jains stay in touch with the Jain international diaspora and the base communities in India and Iran.

JAINA conventions are held biennially. The organization has been active in response to the Gujarati earthquake of January 2001, many of its members being from the region most affected. JAINA is led by its president, currently Dr. Bipin D. Parikh, and an executive committee consisting of national officers and regional representatives.

Membership: Not reported. In 2002 there were 57 Jain temple communities in North America, of which six were in Canada.

Periodicals: Jain Journal.


Federation of Jain Associations in North America. http://www.jaina.org/. 7 May 2002.


International Nahavir Jain Mission

Acharya Sushil Jain Ashram
722 Tomkins Ave.
Staten Island, NY 10305

Since 1965, along with Hindus and Sikhs, Jains began to immigrate to the United States, though due to restrictions on travel over water, not in numbers as great as members of other Indian religious groups. Among the immigrants were individuals associated with the International Mahavir Mission. The Mission had been founded in India in 1970 by Guruji Muni Sushul Kumar (b. 1926). As a teenager, Guruji had entered the Sacred Order of Jain Munis, receiving from his guru two traditional symbols of nonviolence: the mukh-patti, a white mask worn over the face to keep the wearer from accidently swallowing an insect and thus killing a living soul, and an augha, a broom for sweeping surfaces before sitting lest a living entity be harmed. The Mission was brought to Europe and North America by its members. Guruji traveled to the United States in 1975 to visit the Jain communities.

The Mission emphasizes the Jain tenets of vegetarianism, ahimsa (nonviolence) and anekantavada (the many-faceted nature of truth). It teaches hatha yoga, pranayama (breath control), japayoga (the use of mantric words of power), ayurvedic medicine, and chanting.

In the United States an urban ashram was opened in Staten Island and a rural center, Muni Sushil Yogville, in upstate New York. Centers have also been opened in England, France, Germany and Canada. International headquarters are in New Delhi, India. Guruji has been active in interreligious work (growing out of the Jain belief in anekantavada), and organized the World Fellowship of Religions which periodically sponsors international interreligious conferences. In 1977, Guruji also participated in the first North American Jain Conference held at Berkeley, California, in 1981.

Membership: Not reported.

Periodicals: News from Jain Ashram.


Kumar, Acharya Sushil. Song of the Soul. Blairstown, NJ: Siddhachalam Publishers, 1987.


Jain Meditation International Center

Box 230244 Ansonia Sta.
New York, NY 10023-0244

Gurudev Shree Chitrabhanu had been a Jain muni (monk) for twenty-nine years. During that time he had become widely known and respected in his native India and had, in 1965, founded the Divine Knowledge Society in Bombay. Then in 1971 he gave up his monastic existence and rejected the millennia-long taboo on traveling over water and by means other than foot, to come to the United States at the invitation of the Temple of Understanding to lecture at a conference at Harvard University. Following that conference, he stayed in North America and lectured widely to both other Jains who, like him, had immigrated to America. In 1974, he founded New Life Now, an organization dedicated to the spiritual illumination of the West. New Life Now evolved into the Jain Meditation International Center. Chitrabhanu defines a Jain as one who "speaks of a personal responsibility for his own deeds, regards a person as a master of his own destiny, and refrains from violence."

The center is headquartered in New York City and teaches meditation, yoga, vegetarianism, and tai chi. While moving among Jains who have immigrated to the United States, Chitrabhanu has had great success among non-Indian-Americans. Groups have been established in Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, West Orange (New Jersey), and Toronto. He has also worked in Brazil. The associated Jain Peace Fellowship is headquartered in South Norwalk, Connecticut. Chitrabhanu participated in the first North American Jain conference held in Berkeley, California, in 1981. The organization's web site is found at http://www.jainmeditation.org.

Membership: Not reported.

Periodicals: Newsletter.


Baakza, A. H. A. Half-hours with a Jain Muni. Bombay: Jaico Publishing House, 1962.

Chitrabhanu, Gurudev. The Philosophy of Soul and Matter. New York: Jain Meditation Center, 1977.

——. The Psychology of Enlightenment. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1979.

——. Realize What You Are. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1978.

——. Twelve Facets of Reality. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1980.


Osho Commune International

℅ Osho Viha Meditation Center
Box 352
Mill Valley, CA 94942

Alternate Address: International headquarters: Osho Commune International, 17 Koregoan Park, Poona, India 411001 or Osho International, 304 Park Ave. S., Ste. 608, New York, NY10010.

Osho, formerly known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, was born Rajneesh Chandra Mohan in a small town in Madhya Pradesh, India, in 1931, and went on to become one of the most controversial spiritual mystics to travel to the West and establish his teachings. Born of Jain parents, Osho, even as a child, began to question the wide variety of traditional religious beliefs to which he was exposed as a young man—Hindu, Christian, Mohammedan, or Jain—and asserted that individual spiritual experience was the only true value and that such experience could not be organized into any belief system.

During his college days in 1953, at the age of 21, he had what he termed an experience of samadhi, or spiritual awakening. However, he decided to continue his academic studies, earning a masters degree in philosophy and sharpening his skills as a speaker by debating at universities all over India. In 1966, he resigned his post as Professor of Philosophy at the University of Jabalpur in order to share his understanding of religious experience and to conduct experimental "meditation camps" using his own unique methods.

In the early 1970s he began to initiate people into "neosannyas", a radical departure from the traditional Hindu form of sannyas in which the spiritual seeker renounces home, family, wealth, sex, and the material life. Instead, Osho taught that the real challenge for the Sannyasin is to remain in the world, enjoying life to the full, but not being attached to it—"to be in the market place but not of it." Initiates were asked to dress in orange, wear a mala (a necklace of 108 wooden beads containing a locket with Oshos picture), receive a new name, and meditate for at least one hour a day.

In 1972, the first westerners came to Osho while he was living in Bombay. Many of these newcomers were therapists from the Western humanistic psychology movement who were attracted by Oshos teachings that self expression and emotional release are useful preparations for meditation. In 1974, a group of disciples purchased property in Poona, near Bombay, and this quickly became an international ashram attracting thousands of visitors from around the world. Daily activities included a 90-minute discourse by Osho, a regular program of meditation, a wide variety of therapy groups, and working in the commune. The best known of Oshos meditation methods is Dynamic Meditation, which lasts one hour and has five stages: 1) deep, rapid, chaotic breathing through the nose; 2) emotional catharsis, allowing free expression to anger, sadness, joy, etc.; 3) jumping, with arms raised saying the mantra "hoo!"; 4) complete silence and stillness; and 5) celebration through dance.

In his daily discourses, Osho commented upon all of the major religious traditions and the sayings of many enlightened mystics, including Jesus, Gautam Buddha, Lao Tzu, Krishna, Mahavira, and Bodhidharma. Later, he explained this as his way of "gathering his people" who would otherwise have remained involved with other religious disciplines.

Osho came to the United States in 1981, and after a short stay in New Jersey moved to a 64,000 acre ranch in Central Oregon. Within a year, a city named Rajneeshpuram had been incorporated on the ranch, with a population that rose to 5,000 people.

Mounting opposition from local ranchers, Christian fundamentalists, and increasingly from the Oregon state government and the Reagan Administration soon created an embattled atmosphere, fueled by Oshos provocative fleet of 93 Rolls Royces and acts such as inviting thousands of Americas street people to live at the ranch and vote in local elections.

In 1985, Osho, who had been in silence from 1981 to 1984, publicly revealed that his secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, had been involved in a number of crimes against his disciples and people in Oregon, and invited the police to investigate. A few weeks later, Osho himself was arrested by federal agents, jailed, and charged with immigration fraud. Although insisting on his innocence, Osho agreed to a plea bargain with federal prosecutors and was deported from the United States. With Osho no longer in residence, the Oregon commune was no longer an economically viable proposition and the residents departed, turning Rajneeshpuram into a ghost town. Sheela, and a small group of close associates, arranged plea bargains with state and federal prosecutors and served jail sentences.

Osho returned to India, staying briefly in the Himalayas, then in 1986 embarked on a world tour during which, due in part to pressure from the Reagan Administration, he was refused entry by 21 countries. He went back to India once more and in January 1987 returned to his old ashram in Poona, which quickly revived as a large international commune. At about this same time, Osho advised his disciples to drop their distinctive clothing and the mala, since the Indian authorities were making it difficult for them to enter the country.

In 1988, he dropped the name Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and assumed the name Osho, a Japanese term of reverence and endearment used by disciples to their spiritual masters.

During this time Oshos body became very weak and he suffered from a variety of puzzling symptoms, including severe bone pain, hair loss, and impaired vision, which led his disciples to believe that he had been poisoned while in the custody of the U.S. government. He died on January 19, 1990, and a sacred grave was made for his ashes inside the commune. Before his death, Osho had guided a group of 21 disciples into assuming control of the worldwide activities of his movement. This group is known as the Inner Circle.

In the United States, after Oshos departure, the movement decentralized and returned to its pre-1986 state, a loose association of meditation centers and small communes scattered around the country. A bi-monthly news magazine for sannyasins, titled Viha Connection, is produced by the Osho Viha Meditation Center in Marin County, California. An English-language edition of Osho Times International is available online at http://www.osho.org. In 1995, about 500 sannyasins living in the United States gathered at an Osho center in Fairfax, California, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Rajneeshpuram.

Meanwhile, legal actions growing out of events at Rajneeshpuram continue. In one direction, sannyasin attorneys continue against the U.S. Government under the Freedom of Information Act in the hope of gathering enough evidence to prove that the Reagan Administration acted illegally and unconstitutionally in destroying the Oregon commune. In the other, the U.S. Justice Department is also pursuing cases against Sheela and her associates. In 1995, two former Osho disciples were extradited from England to Portland, Oregon, and convicted of conspiracy to murder former U.S. Attorney Charles Turner, who led the Reagan Administrations efforts to shut down Rajneeshpuram. The two disciples served short prison terms and are now back in England.

Through the 1990s, Osho Commune International in Poona has expanded greatly and has become one of the worlds largest centers for spiritual/personal growth activity; it offers a wide variety of classes, workshops, and trainings. Visitors still come from Europe and America, and increasingly from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Russia, and Israel. Osho International has opened a headquarters in New York which oversees the publication of Oshos books, increasingly available through commercial publishing houses in England, Germany, and, most recently, in North America. Osho International also prepares videotapes of Oshos discourses for relay through a number of Asian commercial satellite television channels. In India, Oshos books and audiotapes can be found in stores nationwide.

Membership: Osho centers are found in over 60 countries. In the United States, as of 1997, there were 50 centers serving approximately 10,000 people and 20 centers serving some 4,000 peole in Canada. There are a reported 900,000 people related to the 750 centers worldwide.

Educational Facilities: Osho Multiversity, Poona, India.

Periodicals: Viha Connection. • Osho Times International.


Belfrage, Sally. Flowers of Emptiness. New York: Dial Press, 1981.

Bharti, Ma Satya. Death Comes Dancing. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981.

Braun, Kirk. The Unwelcome Society. West Linn, OR: Scout Creek Press, 1984.

Goldman, Marion. Passionate Journeys: Why Successful Women Joined a Cult. Ann Arbor, Universtiy of Michigan Press, 1999.

Gordon, James S. The Golden Guru. Lexington, MA: Stephen Greene Press, 1987.

Mehta, Gita. Karma Cola. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979.

Milne, Hugh. Bhagwan, The God That Failed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986. Osho. Osho: Autobiography of a Spiritually Incorrect Mystic. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Prasad, Ram Chandra. Rajneesh: The Mystic of Feeling. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1978.

Rajneesh, Bhagwan Shree. The Great Challenge, A Rajneesh Reader. New York: Grove Press, 1982.

——. I Am the Gate. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.

——. The Orange Book. Rajneeshpuram, OR: Rajneesh Foundation International, 1983.

——. Tantra, Spirituality & Sex. San Francisco: Rainbow Bridge, 1977.

Rajneesh, the Most Dangerous Man Since Jesus Christ. Zurich, Switz.: Rebel Publishing House, 1987.

Rajneeshism. Rajneeshpuram, OR: Rajneesh Foundation International, 1983.

Strelley, Kate. The Ultimate Game. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.


Vedic Society of America

Current address not obtained for this edition.

The Vedic Society of America was founded by Maha Guru Ji Dr. Pandit Bhek Pati Sinha, a Brahmin priest from Bihar, Bengal, India. He had studied at the Universities of Calcutta and Patna in India and eventually received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in New York City. Between 1948 and 1952 he lived in various parts of the world, and then settled in the United States. Through the 1960s he taught political science in several institutions of higher learning on the East Coast.

Sinha founded the Vedic Society of America in New York City in 1950 at a time when there were very few Hindu options available to religious seekers. It was designed to encourage spiritual disciplines, provide a sense of reverence for all life, promote brotherhood, and offer an awareness of the Vedas, the ancient scripture of India. A second center was opened in Pacific Palisades, California, in 1960. Sinha trained leaders who assumed ministerial duties at the two centers including the leading of the weekly worship services.

The society taught the ten Vedic moral commandments of nonviolence (ahimsa), truthfulness, honesty, inhering in the consciousness of God, detachment, purity of body, contentment, perseverance in the consciousness of truth, study of the scriptures, and devotion to God. It taught that Truth was God and true religion was the perception and realization of truth. Each individual is substantively divine and has the ability to realize that divinity. Humans are their own savior, and that growth in spiritual illumination and love and service to all is the only alternative in life.

The society operated a retreat center, Vedashram, and offered a correspondence course in its religious teachings. It published a periodical, Lila. Sinha authored several books, and the society members recorded two records of Vedic music and chants, which were distributed through the Vedic Book and Gift Shop in Pacific Palisades.

The society continued to exist through the 1970s, but in recent years attempts to contact it have not been successful. Its present status is uncertain.


Jayne, Linda. The Vedic Society of America: New York and California. Pacific Palisades, Vedic Publishing House, 1968.


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Currently numbering only about 4.2 million (according to the 2001 census of India), the Jains are an ancient religious community of India. They are basically an urban community, and their largest numbers are found in the Indian states of Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan. Trade is the traditional occupation of Jains, and they are extremely prominent among Indias merchants, especially in the countrys north and west. Contrary to stereotype, not all Jains are rich traders, but many are, with the result that Jains have achieved a degree of economic and political influence in modern India disproportionate to their relative smallness as a community.

The Jains themselves believe their religion to be eternal and thus uncreated. They maintain that it is merely rediscovered by omniscient teachers known as Tirthankaras (fordmakers) or Jinas (victors), that it is something that has already occurred, and will continue to occur an infinity of times, because time itself is beginningless and endless. Modern scholarship, however, traces the origin of Jainism to Lord Mahavira, a genuine historical figure whom Jains consider to be the most recent of the Tirthankaras to have appeared in our region of the universe. Mahaviras date and place of birth are not certain, although tradition maintains that he was born in 599 B.C.E. in a city called Kundagrama in the Ganges basin near modern-day Patna. It is possible that Mahavira was influenced by the teachings of an earlier figure named Parshva, the only other Tirthankara considered a historical figure by scholars.

Mahavira lived and taught during a period of rapid social change and urbanization in which the Vedic orthodoxy promoted by the Brahman priesthood of those days faced powerful challenges. Wandering ascetics were preaching new religions that devalued Vedic ritualism and emphasized instead the centrality of the individual salvation seeker who renounces the world. Of the nonorthodox traditions that emerged at that time, only two survive as living religions, Jainism and Buddhism, and of these, only Jainism survived in India. As did the other dissenting traditions, Jainism seems to have found special favor among newly emerging urban classes, especially the urban nobility and the merchant class. Merchants (as well as wandering mendicants) played a key role in the spread of Jainism from the Ganges basin to other regions, and royal patronage was an important factor in establishing Jainism in the south.

A major disagreement emerged early in Jainisms history over the question of whether Jain monks should wear clothing, and the dispute crystallized into a schism in the fifth century c.e. Monks and nuns belonging to the Shvetambara (white clad) sect wear white garments; monks (not nuns) belonging to the sect known as Digambara (space clad) are nude. The divide between the Digambaras and Shvetambaras has been deep and lasting, and is the principal sectarian divide in Jainism today, with further subsectarian divisions on either side. The Digambaras are especially prominent in South India, with the Shvetambaras strongest in the northwestern states of Gujarat and Rajasthan.

The Jains maintain that the cosmos contains an infinite number of souls (jivas ) that do not perish when the body dies, but are reborn in other bodies. Each soul recycles unceasingly, finding rebirthas determined by its behavior in lifeas humans, denizens of hell, deities, animals and plants, and even as primitive life forms inhabiting inanimate objects and substances. The cosmos is a vast structure with multiple heavens above and hells below, separated by a small zone where human life is found. Even the gods in the heavens, however, are caught in the same cycle of death and rebirth as all of the other creatures of the cosmos. Indeed, the Jains maintain that because the cosmos was uncreated and will never cease to be, all souls have already inhabited all possible bodies an infinite number of times, and will do so an infinite number of times to come unless liberated from the cycle, which is the ultimate goal of Jain religious life.

The Jains say that karma is the cause of the souls bondage to the cycle of death and rebirth. In contrast to other Indic traditions, the Jains consider karma to be an actual material substance that accumulates as an encrustation on the soul as a result of its actions. To attain liberation, therefore, one must bring the accumulation of additional karmic material to a stop and rid ones soul of past accumulations. Because violent action is a potent cause of karmic influx, nonviolence (ahimsa ) is a key strategy in the pursuit of liberation and is the foundation of Jain ethics. However, the attainment of liberation also requires the eradication of already accreted karmic matter. Ascetic practice, for which the Jains are justly famous, is said to burn away karmic accumulations, and is a conspicuous feature of Jain life. Once liberated, the soul rises to the apex of the cosmos, where it remains for all eternity in a state of isolated and omniscient bliss.

Jain tradition divides the Jain social order into four components: laymen and laywomen and monks and nuns. The monks and nuns constitute a small and peripatetic mendicant elite, and although all Jains are supposed to aspire to liberation, the mendicants are viewed as more directly on liberations path than are the laity. The mendicants daily conduct is governed by five great vows (mahavratas ): (1) nonviolence (ahimsa ), (2) truthfulness, (3) not stealing, (4) celibacy, and (5) nonpossession. All five vows leave a deep imprint on mendicant life, but especially notable are the first and fifth. The vow of nonviolence is the foundation for much of the distinctive character of Jain mendicants day-to-day life, which is organized around the need to avoid violence even to microscopic forms of life. For example, they carry special brooms with which to clear living things from surfaces on which they intend to sit or lie, and in some subsects wear masks over their mouths to prevent their hot breath from harming microscopic life forms in the air. The vow of nonpossession cements the lay and mendicant communities into a single social order by ensuring that the mendicants are totally dependent on the laity for their most basic needs, including nourishment, which must be sought from lay households on a daily basis.

Although Jainism was once a proselytizing religion, recruitment today is by birth, and most Jains belong to merchant castes that are Jain or partly Jain in composition. Lay religious life centers on support of mendicants, ascetic practices (especially fasting), observance of Jain calendrical rites, andin those subsects that permit itworship of the Tirthankaras images in temples. By comparison with the mendicants, the requirement of nonviolence is relaxed for laity, but there are normative minima applying to all lay Jains, and of these, strict vegetarianism is the most essential. Laity do the work of the world and support the mendicant elite, with the result that the mendicants are insulated from the negative effects of the violence that is an inevitable requirement of making a living, food preparation, and simply living in the workaday world. Laymen and laywomen, in turn, benefit from the mendicants teaching and from the worldly and spiritual rewards of the merit generated by supporting them.

SEE ALSO Hinduism; Religion


Babb, Lawrence A. 1996. Absent Lord: Ascetics and Kings in a Jain Ritual Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Cort, John E. 2001. Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India. New York: Oxford University Press.

Dundas, Paul. 2002. The Jains. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.

Jaini, Padmanabh S. 1979. The Jaina Path of Purification. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lawrence A. Babb


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Jainism is one of the religions born of the spiritual ferment that took place in India in the 6th century b.c. Its founder, Vardhamāna, called Mahāvīra (the Great Hero), a contemporary of the Buddha, was born c. 540 b.c. Like the Buddha he came of a princely family in the region of the Ganges valley and at 30 renounced his wife and family to lead the life of an ascetic. After 12 years he is said to have attained enlightenment or perfection (kevala ) and to have become a "conqueror" (jina ), from which his followers took the name of Jainism, the religion of the conquerors. At the beginning of his ascetic life Mahāvīra joined a group of ascetics called nirgranthas (free from bonds), who claimed that they had been founded by a certain Pārśva 250 years before. In the course of time Pārśva came to be regarded as the 23d Tīrthakara (ford-maker) of the Jain religion and Mahāvīra as the 24th and last Tīrthakara, much as the Buddha came to be regarded as the last in a succession of Buddhas. Thus the Jain religion is considered to be of immemorial antiquity and in fact to be eternal.

Mahāvīra. He taught for 30 years in the region of the Ganges valley and was patronized by the same kings who patronized the Buddha. In the course of time he gained a large following, which he organized into a community of monks and lay followers. He died at 72 (c. 468 b.c.) of self-starvation, soon after the Buddha. He lived a life of extreme asceticism, going from place to place, begging his bread, and subjecting his body to every hardship. At first he wore only one garment, which he never changed, but after a short time he discarded even this and went about for the rest of his life completely naked. This custom also became the rule for his disciples and led in time to a marked division among them. For two centuries they remained a small community of monks and laymen. However, according to an ancient tradition, the first Mauryan emperor, Chandragupta (c. 317293 b.c.), was a patron of Jainism and became a Jain monk at the end of his life.

At the end of Chandragupta's reign there occurred a famine, which led many of the Jain monks to leave the Ganges valley and migrate to the Deccan. This was the occasion of the great division among the Jains. The leader of the community that moved south, Bhadrabāhu, insisted on retaining the custom of complete nudity, but the community that remained in the north adopted a white garment, from which they came to be known as Sśvetāmbaras (whiteclad); those who kept the ancient rule were known as Digambaras (spaceclad). Unfortunately, as a result of this division, the sacred teachings of the Jains, which had been handed down by word of mouth until that time, were lost. It was said that Bhadrabāhu was the last to know them accurately. At his death an attempt was made to reconstruct the canon at a great council held by the Sśvetāmbaras at Pātaliputra, in which the ancient texts, known as Pūrvas (former texts), were replaced by 11 (originally 12) Angas or "sections." To these, other writings were added at a later date until the canon was finally completed at a council which was convened at Valabhī in Kāthiāwār sometime during the 5th century a.d.

Doctrine. Unlike Buddhism, Jainism underwent very little development in doctrine, and its basic teachings reflect the ideas of a very early period, probably that of Mahāvīra himself. Like Buddhism, Jainism is regarded by Hindus as one of the "unorthodox" (nāstika ) doctrines and is atheistic in the sense that it gives no place to any God. It holds that the universe is eternal and is governed by a universal law. It is composed of a multitude

of souls (jīvas ) that exist not only in living things but also in all the elementsearth, air, fire, and water. There is an infinite number of such souls in the universe, all of which are essentially equal, being by nature bright and pure, and enjoying perfect knowledge and bliss. Differences in souls are due to the adherence of matter, which is in its essence of a subtle nature, invisible to the human eye. It is this invisible matter that constitutes karma. Every action produces karma of some sort, although actions of a selfish nature produce more than others, and thus the soul by its actions becomes bound by matter and is involved in endless transmigration.

The purpose of life, according to Jain belief, is to rid the soul of this accumulation of karma and to prevent it from acquiring more, until it becomes perfectly purified and attains to liberation (moksha ), after which it returns to its original state of pure knowledge and bliss. This purification of the soul can be accomplished only by means of rigid asceticism, i.e., by the restraint of all action, so that it is only monks who can be saved. The monks practiced fasting, even to the extent of starving themselves to death like Mahāvīra himself. They exposed themselves to the heat of the sun in summer and to the cold in winter. Nakedness was considered as essential to the abandonment of all worldly ties. Even in modern times Jainism remains extremely ascetic in character, and although nudity is no longer practiced as a rule even by the Digambaras, it is still regarded as a necessary step on the path to final release.

Monastic Life. The Jain monks took five vows, abjuring killing, stealing, lying, sexual intercourse, and property. However, it is the practice of nonviolence (ahimsā ) that remains their most distinguishing characteristic. Every act of violence, even unintentional, is considered to cause an influx of karma. Eating meat was therefore forbidden to both monks and laymen. Even insect life might not be destroyed, so that a veil was used to cover the mouth lest living things in the air should enter it, and drinking water was carefully strained. The profession of agriculture was also forbidden, since it involved the destruction of plant life and of living things in the soil. As a result, the Jains have become a predominantly merchant community.

The strict rules of Jainism were to be followed only by the monks, but the lay followers were encouraged to observe them as far as possible and, if possible, to spend some time in a monastery. The Jains adopted religious customs of the Hindusthe rites of birth, marriage, and deathand worshipped the Tīrthakaras in temples with offerings of flowers, fruit, and incense. Even some of the gods of the Hindus found their way into the temples of the Jains.

Cultural Significance. In spite of the archaic character of its doctrine, Jainism has survived to the present day. The Digambaras are found mostly in Mysore, where there is a famous temple at ŚravanaBelgola with a statue of a naked Tīrthakara 60 feet high. The Sśvetāmbaras are found in Gujarāt and Rājasthān, where they form a wealthy merchant community. There is no doubt that in the early centuries the Jains did much to spread the culture of the north in south India and were an influential community rivaling the Buddhists. One of their more attractive, and rather surprising, characteristics is that they took an active interest in secular literature and knowledge. Besides developing their own distinctive philosophy, they wrote treatises on politics and mathematics and produced some remarkable poets. But they are remembered especially for their preservation of ancient texts, both secular and religious, which they copied as an act of religious merit. Thus, in spite of the austerity of their doctrine, they have preserved a tradition of humanism, and it should not be forgotten that it was the example of holy Jain monks in his native Gujarāt that was one of the major influences on Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence.

See Also: hinduism.

Bibliography: c. rÉgamey, in f. kÖnig, ed. Christus und die Religionen der Erde: Handbuch der Religionsgeschichte, 3 v. (2d ed. Vienna 1961) 3:209220. h. jacobi, in j. hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, 13 v. (Edinburgh 190827) 7:465474. j. finegan, The Archeology of World Religions (Princeton 1952) 182233. h. von glasenapp, Der Jainismus (Kultur und Weltanschauung 1; Berlin 1925). w. t. de bary, ed., Sources of Indian Tradition (Records of Civilization: Sources and Studies 56; New York 1958) a. l. basham, The Wonder That Was India: A Survey of the Culture of the Indian SubContinent before the Coming of the Muslims (London 1954). h. jacobi, tr., Gaina Sûtras (Sacred Books of the East, v.22 and 45; Oxford 188495). j. jainĪ, Outlines of Jainism, ed. f. w. thomas (London 1940).

[b. griffiths]


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JAINISM Jainism is one of the oldest living religions of India. Older than Buddhism, its origins date before 3000 b.c. Though Mahāvīra (599–527 b.c.) is popularly perceived as the founder of Jainism, he was actually the last of the spiritual lineage of twenty-four Tīrthānkars recognized under Jainism. Jainism had existed before Mahāvīra, who was more a reformer and propagator of Jainism, reviving the Jain philosophy preached by his predecessor, Parshva (c. 950–850 b.c.).

Jainism is a religion of purely human origin. The twenty-four Tīrthānkars recognized under Jainism are those who have attained perfect perception, perfect knowledge, and perfect conduct—the golden trinity. In ancient times, Jainism was also known as the religion of jina, which literally means "conqueror," one who has conquered worldly passions such as, desire, hatred, anger, and greed. To Jains, all human beings have the potential to become jinas. The jina is not a supernatural entity, an incarnation, or almighty God, but a liberated soul, freed from the bonds of worldly existence and the cycle of rebirth.

Under Jainism, the concept of God as a creator, protector, and destroyer does not exist, nor does the idea of God's reincarnation as a human being to destroy the forces of evil. Jainism does not believe in God as a creator, yet it is not immune to the idea of gods. Under Jainism, the jinas are viewed as gods. As such, there can be many gods in Jainism. Recent research claims that one of the twenty-four Tīrthānkars, Mallinath, could be female. Under Jainism, each soul can attain enlightenment and become a Paramatma, a divine soul. Jainism presents an enlightened perspective of the "equality of souls" irrespective of physical form, ranging from human beings to microscopic living organisms. Jainism thus remains an original system, quite distinct and independent from other systems of Indian philosophy.

Buddhism became much more popular outside India, but Jainism remained confined to India. The Jains were the first to withdraw from the mainstream of Hinduism by refusing to entertain all the deities of the Hindu pantheon, but today they are being reabsorbed into mainstream Hinduism. Most Jains have started worshiping the Hindu deities simultaneously. While some Jains call themselves Hindus, others are fighting for minority status in order to avail themselves of the special protections and benefits reserved exclusively for minorities under Indian law.

One of the answers to the question of why Buddhism became more popular than Jainism outside India may be that the former received royal patronage. Emperor (Samrat) Ashoka, the great Mauryan monarch, embraced Buddhism after he became disillusioned over massive violence and death during the Kalinga war. During his reign, the empire covered nearly all of India, and Ashoka, who is believed to have converted to Buddhism before he died, sent his disciples to promote Buddhism within India and beyond. Jainism did not benefit from such royal patronage. Moreover, Jains adhered to strict vegetarianism, whereas Buddhists could be nonvegetarians.

The Theory of Karma and Rebirth

The theory of karma and rebirth forms the foundation of Jainism. The ultimate goal of each soul is to seek emancipation, nirvāna, or kaivalya. But it is not possible to achieve this emancipation during the present lifetime. Hence, under Jainism, a number of births are required for its realization. This provides the metaphysics of rebirth, which is also inseparable from karma. If rebirth is accepted as a fact, the idea of prebirth cannot be rejected, as every event must have a cause, and every cause must have its effects. This is the law of karma, which governs the universe. Karma is rebirth latent, and rebirth is karma manifest, under the indivisible unity of cause and effect. The Jains despise all forms of karma, whether good or bad, since they cause bondage. In other Hindu doctrines, good karmas are encouraged, as they yield good results.

Under Jainism, it is assumed that every act must have its consequences, and if these are not worked out in one's lifetime, another life is required for their fruition. The karma theory also seeks to provide an explanation for the widespread diversities and inequalities prevailing throughout the universe. To Jains, karma does not simply mean "work" or "deed" but signifies an aggregate of very tiny particulars attached to the soul, which are not even perceivable by the senses. The Jains believe in the material and formless nature of karma, crystallized as the effect of past deeds. They also believe in the doctrine of the soul as the possessor of material karma. To Jains, the karmas pervade all cosmic space in the form of a substantive force or matter in subtle form, mixing with the soul as milk mixes with water.

Jainism assumes that the universe is without a beginning or an end. It is everlasting and eternal. There are six dravaya (fundamental entities): jiva (soul or consciousness), pudgal (matter), dharma (medium of motion), adharma (medium of rest), aakash (space), and kaal (time). These entities are eternal but undergo continuous and countless changes. During the changes, nothing is lost or destroyed; everything is recycled into another form.

The proper knowledge of the six dravaya and nine tattva (fundamental truths) form the basis of right perception and right conduct. The nine tattva are: jiva (living beings), ajiva (non living substances), aasrava (causes of the influx of karma to the soul), bandha (bondage of karma to the soul), sanvara (stoppage of the influx of the karma), nirjhara (exhaustion or falling of the accumulated karma due to self-purification, penance, and meditation), moksha (complete liberation from karma responsible for rebirth), paap (sin), and punya (virtue). The knowledge of these dravaya and tattva paves the way for salvation.

Right conduct comprises the following five ideals: ahimsa (nonviolence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (not stealing), brahmacharya (chastity), and aparigraha (nonpossessiveness). The main slogans under Jainism as a religion are ahimsa parmodharma (nonviolence is the supreme religion) and "live and let live." Within Jainism, the concept of ahimsa is very profound. It does not refer merely to abstaining from physical acts of violence, but also to abstaining from violence in thought. According to ancient Jain texts, violence is not defined by actual harm but by the intention to harm. Without violent thought, violent action is not possible.

The Jain Symbol and Sects

The comprehensive Jain symbol consists of a digit of the moon, three dots, the swastika, the palm of the human hand with a wheel inset, and a figure outlining all. The moon symbolizes the region beyond the three worlds where the liberated souls reside. The three dots symbolize the path of liberation: right perception, right knowledge, and right conduct. The swastika symbolizes the cycle of birth and death, divided due to karma into four forms: heaven, human, tiryanch (animals, birds, and plants), and hell. The palm signifies that one need not be afraid of sufferings from karmic bondage. The wheel with twenty-four spokes represents the Jain religion, preached by the twenty-four Tīrthānkaras.

Mahāvīra, the last of the twenty-four Tīrthānkaras, organized his followers into four sects: sadhu (monks), sadhvi (nuns), shravak (male devotees), and shravika (female devotees). With the passage of time, Jainism as a religion grew more complex. Eventually, two major sects were established, the Digambaris and the Svetambaris. The Digambari (sky-clad) monks do not wear any clothes, and the Svetambari monks wear only unstitched white cloths. Both believe in basic values and principles of Jainism. Both believe in kshmavani (forgiveness), a ritual that is performed annually in the month of August–September. On this day, Jains seek forgiveness from fellow Jains for any misdeed or bad thought during the past year, whether intentional or unintentional. It promotes universal friendliness, universal forgiveness, and universal fearlessness.

The Cardinal Principles of Jainism

Ahimsa (nonviolence), anekantavada (non-one-sidedness) and aparigraha (nonpossessiveness) form the distinguishing features of Jainism. It is not easy to explain the doctrine of anekantavada and syadavada (maybe). It is also known as the philosophy of nonabsolutism, the theory of manifoldness, and the theory of many-sided nature. It is nearer to the Western theory of relativism. To understand anekantavada, or "non-one-sidedness," it is imperative to understand ekantavada, or "one-sidedness." One-sidedness signifies only one point of view as absolute truth, often leading to dogmatism and intolerance. Jains view it as falsehood, false knowledge, and false perception. To Jains, the truth can be manifold. The doctrine of anekantavada and syadavada helps in understanding divergent viewpoints and in reconciling apparent contradictions.

Under Jainism, there can be many ways of looking at an object or an idea, all of which may be valid at the same time. This moral can be derived easily from the story of six blind men in the Panchtantra, who each tried to describe an elephant. Each of the six blind men caught hold of a different part of the elephant's body and formed his own image of the huge animal. The man who caught the tail of the elephant thought it to be like a long rope. The one who held the leg thought it to be like a pillar. The one who touched the ear thought it to be like a huge fan. The one who held the trunk thought it to be like a python, and the one who held the stomach thought it to be like a drum. The one who touched the back thought it to be like a platform. Each of the six blind men considered his viewpoint to be absolutely true and the views held by others as absolutely false, resulting in a fight. At that critical juncture a wise man made them feel the other parts of the elephant. They then realized that although each one of them was partially correct in his imagination of the elephant, the others were equally correct. The anekantavadi, or multifaceted approach, helped them realize the truth.

The theory of syadavada, or the "maybe" approach, prepares one to accept other's viewpoints as true by demonstrating that the human capability to learn and act accordingly is necessarily limited. Our perceptions can be partially true, and they can be true only conditionally. As such, it is always desirable under Jainism to add qualifying words, such as "perhaps" or "maybe." This doctrine thus includes the respect of the viewpoints of others.

The theory of anekant and syadavada is also called a doctrine of reconciliation and assimilation, on the one hand, and tolerance and understanding, on the other. It holds the opening of one's mind and one's heart to the notion and complete picture of truth. It is the first condition of human well-being and happiness. It provides the binding force to other cardinal principles of Jainism: nonviolence and nonpossessiveness.

Jainism is an important ideological phenomenon in the religious history of humankind. The entire edifice of Jainism rests on one principle: live and let live. It is based on positive love, a principle that was propagated by Jesus and Mahatma Gandhi as well. The doctrine of anekantavada, or non-one-sidedness, can be seen as an extension of the doctrine of nonviolence. Jainism is adept at providing a theoretical basis for the practical beliefs of its followers. It emphasizes the dictum: "do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture or kill any living being." Jainism does not advocate suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing, or the removal of life-supporting devices. However, Jainism allows sallekhana, a "holy suicide by starvation," to spiritually very advanced persons. They can terminate their lives, as Mahāvīra did, under specified circumstances under the supervision of the Acharyas—the sadhus, teachers and role models.

According to Jainism, each soul is innately pure and inherently perfect, but the karmas attached to it, due to past thoughts and deeds, make it imperfect and obscure. When the soul is freed from karmic influences, it becomes liberated. The contribution of Jainism toward human omniscience is very significant. Equally significant is the Jain philosophy of anekantavada and syadavada which not only help in acquiring true knowledge from different perspectives but also help in reconciling different points of views amicably.

The cardinal principles of Jainism—nonviolence, nonpossessiveness, and non-one-sidedness—are important not only because they are ancient Indian in philosophy but because they are universal. They stress reconciliation rather than reputation, cooperation rather than confrontation, and coexistence rather than mutual annihilation. Jain philosophy, if understood, may help humankind to emerge from its modern moral crisis, emotional emptiness, and violence.

Asha Gupta

See alsoJain and Buddhist Manuscript Painting ; Jain Sculpture


Birodkar, Sudheer. "Jainism—Gave Us Non-violence as an Ethical Outlook." Available at <http://india.coolatlanta.com/GreatPages/sudheer/book2/jainism.html>

Chatterjee, Asim Kumar. A Comprehensive History of Jainism. 2 vols. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2000.

Kothari, Ajay P. The Concept of Divinity in Jainism. Jaipur: Prakrit Bharti Academy, 2000.

Mardia, K. V., ed. The Scientific Foundations of Jainism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. 1996.

Mukherjee, Asha, ed. Cognition Man and the World: Perspectives in Jaina Philosophy. Delhi: Kalinga, 2004.

Prasad, Sital. A Comparative Study of Jainism and Buddhism. Delhi: Satguru, 2003.

Sancheti, Asoo Lal, and Manak Lal Bhandari. "The Central Philosophy of Jainism: Anekantavad, the Doctrine of Nonone-sidedness." Available at <http://www.jainworld.com/jainbooks/firstep-2/anekantavad.htm>

Sangave, Vilas Adinath. Facets of Jainology: Selected Research Papers on Jain Society, Religion and Culture. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan, 2001.

Singh, Nagendra Kumar, ed. Encyclopedia of Jainism. 30 vols. New Delhi: Anmol Publications, 2001.


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Famous for its promotion of nonviolence and often paired with Buddhism as one of ancient India's two greatest dissenting religions, Jainism is currently professed by roughly 0.4 percent of the population of India. Its adherents are prominent in business, and some of modern India's wealthiest and most powerful families are Jains. Jain communities are divided between a majority of lay men and women and a much smaller mendicant elite of peripatetic monks and nuns. The mendicants are a source of teaching and blessings for the laity, who in turn supply them with food and other forms of support. A disagreement over monastic discipline underlies the division between Jainism's two main sects: the Shvetambaras (white-clad), whose monks and nuns wear white garments, and the Digambaras (space-clad), whose monks wear no clothing.


Jainism first emerged into historical visibility in the sixth century b.c.e. when it was one among many religious movements of the period that stressed world renunciation and rejected the religious culture and ritualism of the Brahman priestly class. Western scholars often single out Mahavira (who lived, according to Shvetambara tradition, from c. 599527 b.c.e.) as Jainism's founder. The Jains, however, maintain that Jainism's teachings are eternal and uncreated, and consider Mahavira to have been only the most recent of an infinite series of great Jain teachers. In fact, although Jainism's roots predate Mahavira, he played a key role in defining doctrines and practices that became central to Jainism as it evolved. Viable monastic communities with lay followings formed and grew after Mahavira's death. Patronized mainly by newly emerging urban classes (especially merchants) Jainism spread in two directions from its region of origin in the Ganges River basin: down India's eastern coast into the south and westward in the direction of Mathura. The division between the Svetambaras and Digambaras crystallized in the fifth century c.e. The south ultimately became the heartland of the Digambaras; there they flourished and found royal patronage, especially in Karnataka. The Shvetambaras became prominent in the west, especially in what is now Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Canonical Texts

Although their soteriological beliefs are basically the same, the Shvetambaras and Digambaras possess separate bodies of scripture. All Jains believe that their most ancient scriptures, known as the Purvas, have been lost, and that existing texts represent only a remnant of Mahavira's actual teachings. The Shvetambara canon, usually said to consist of forty-five texts, probably assumed its present form in the fifth century c.e. Its most important texts are the twelve Angas (or limbs, one of which has been lost) and twelve Upangas (subsidiary limbs); they deal with a vast range of subjects, including doctrine, monastic discipline, duties of the laity, cosmography, and much else. The Digambaras reject the Shvetambara canon as inauthentic. Their most important texts, each containing material on the soul and the nature of its bondage, are two: the Shatkhandagam (Scripture in Six Parts), dating from the second century c.e., and a slightly later work entitled Kasayaprabhata (Treatise on the Passions).


The term Jain (in Sanskrit, Jaina ) means someone who venerates the jinas. Jina (conqueror) in this context refers to one who, by conquering desires and aversions, achieves liberation from the bondage of worldly existence. Achieving such liberation is the object of Jain belief and practice.

Jains believe that the cosmos contains an infinite number of immaterial and indestructible souls (jivas ). In common with other Indic traditions, the Jains also believe that each soul is reborn after death, and that the type of body it inhabits depends on the moral character of its deeds in past lives. According to Jainism, souls exist in every cranny of the cosmos: they inhabit the bodies of deities, humans, the inhabitants of hell, and plants and animals, and are also present in earth, water, fire, and air. Because the cosmos was never created, each soul has been wandering from one embodied state to another from beginningless time, and will continue to do so for infinite time to come unless it achieves liberation.

The cause of the soul's bondage is karma (action), which in other Indic religious traditions refers to the process by which one's good or bad acts give rise to consequences to be experienced in one's present or subsequent lives. The Jains, however, maintain that karma is an actual material substance (often likened to a kind of dust) that pervades the cosmos; it adheres to the soul, and the encumbrance of accumulated karmic matter is responsible for the soul's continuing rebirth. Karmic matter is drawn toward the soul by volitional actions, and its adhesion to the soul is a consequence of the emotional state of the actor. The passions, especially those of desire and aversion, create a moisture-like stickiness that causes karmic matter to build up on the soul.

To achieve liberation, therefore, one must avoid attracting more karmic matter and shed one's already existing accumulations. This is a complex and arduous process that begins with the awakening of faith in Jain teachings and ends with the removal of the last vestiges of the soul's burden of karmic matter. The liberated soul then rises to the abode of liberated souls at the top of the cosmos, where it will exist for all of endless time to come in a condition of omniscient bliss.

Avoiding violence is essential to one's progress toward liberation. Because violent actions are associated with the passions that contribute to the influx and adhesion of karmic matter, Jains are strongly committed to nonviolence (ahimsa ). At a minimum, Jains should be vegetarian. Observant Jains avoid even vegetarian foods deemed to involve excessive violence in their acquisition or preparation. Root vegetables such as potatoes are proscribed because they are believed to contain multiple souls. Such restrictions are most onerous for monks and nuns who are debarred from activities that run the risk of harming even the humblest and most microscopic of living things. Lay Jains have been attracted to business precisely because buying, selling, and banking are activities that do not involve physical violence.

Ascetic practice is also essential to the attainment of liberation. Often likened to a fire that burns away karmic matter, ascetic practice subdues harmful passions that bring about the influx and adhesion of karmic matter and removes already existing karmic accumulations. Jain mendicants are renowned for the severity of their asceticism, and even lay Jains are expected to engage in periodic fasts and other ascetic practices.

The Jains maintain that the truth of their beliefs is guaranteed by the omniscience of their teachers. Known as tirthankaras ("ford-makers") or jinas, they are human beings who attained omniscience by their own efforts and without the guidance of other teachers, and who, before becoming fully liberated, imparted liberating knowledge to others. The Jains maintain that our section of the cosmos is subject to an eternally repeating cycle of world improvement and decline. Each ascent and descent is immensely long, and in each cycle exactly twenty-four tirthankaras successively appear. We are currently nearing the end of a descending era, and Mahavira was the twenty-fourth and hence the final tirthankara of our era and part of the cosmos. No new tirthankaras will appear until the next ascending period.

The concept of omniscience, seen as a natural quality of the soul when unoccluded by karmic matter, underlies Jainism's celebrated doctrine of epistemological relativity. Known as syadvad (the doctrine of "may be"), it holds that in contrast with omniscient knowledge, which incorporates all points of view simultaneously, ordinary knowledge discloses only partial glimpses of reality.

Contemporary Jainism

Although it was once a proselytizing religion and continues vigorously to promote vegetarianism and animal welfare, Jainism has become a religion into which one is born by virtue of birth in a particular family, lineage, or caste. The castes to which Jains belong are typically merchant castes, although there are many Jains in other occupations, including agriculture. The Jains cannot be said to constitute a single community. Even in situations where they live in close proximity, relations between Shvetambaras and Digambaras are usually minimal because they belong to different castes, and are frequently adversarial, especially because of disputes over control of sacred sites claimed by both sects.

A major recent development in Jainism is the emergence of a diaspora-based religious subculture. The spread of Jainism beyond the subcontinent has been inhibited historically by the requirement that monks and nuns travel only on foot, but in recent times the number of Jains living outside India has risen to around 100,000, most of whom live in North America, Great Britain, and Africa. The difficulty of practicing Jainism in the traditional way abroad has led to a weakening of sectarian differences. It has also given rise to a tendency to stress the contemporary relevance of Jainism by downplaying traditional soteriology and capitalizing on Jainism's emphasis on nonviolence and vegetarianism by recasting the tradition in an eco-religious and environmentalist mold.

See also Asceticism: Hindu and Buddhist Asceticism ; Buddhism ; Heaven and Hell (Asian Focus) ; Hinduism ; Immortality and the Afterlife ; Nonviolence .


Babb, Lawrence A. Absent Lord: Ascetics and Kings in a Jain Ritual Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Banks, Marcus. Organizing Jainism in India and England. Oxford: Clarendon, 1992.

Carrithers, Michael, and Caroline Humphrey, eds. The Assembly of Listeners: Jains in Society. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Cort, John E. Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Dundas, Paul. The Jains. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2002. A comprehensive overview of Jainism and an excellent introduction to the subject.

Jaini, Padmanabh S. The Jaina Path of Purification. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. The standard general study of Jainism.

Laidlaw, James. Riches and Renunciation: Religion, Economy, and Society among the Jains. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Lawrence A. Babb


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Jainism presents many challenges in relation to a discussion of gender. In some aspects gender in Jainism mirrors the prevailing Hindu culture of India. In other ways Jainism offers radical divergences from India's mainstream culture, particularly in its inclusion of a fully developed monastic system for women.


Jains comprise a small percentage of India's population, with estimates ranging from four to seven million people, approximately one-half of 1 percent of the total. A few hundred thousand Jains live outside India, primarily in east Africa, England, and North America, with smaller groups in Japan, Singapore, and elsewhere. Despite their relatively small numbers, Jains have exerted significant influence in the course of Indian history. They have maintained a distinct religion that emphasizes the practice of nonviolence (ahimsa) for more than 2,000 years. Jains posit countless souls (jiva) that have no creator but that through their own efforts and action (karma) can advance beyond repeated rebirth (samsara) to a state of solitary liberation (kevala). To advance on the spiritual path, the Jain must be scrupulous not to cause intentional harm to any living being. Consequently, Jains avoid professions associated with violence and observe vegetarianism. The Jain lifestyle deeply influenced Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948), a world figure who helped inspire the civil rights movement in the United States and championed women's rights worldwide.

Gender in Jainism determines household roles as well as religious responsibilities. Similar to women in Hindu cultural norms, women in Jainism are generally expected to marry and raise a family, whereas men are more public figures, earning income to support the family. Traditionally a man lives within his birth family and women enter this domain as daughter-in-law and sister-in-law to other members of the household. In contemporary times this pattern has been changed by the modern urban lifestyle, particularly among the upper class and those who live outside of India. Women are expected to be responsible for food preparation and religious instruction, which in Jainism are closely related due to the universality of vegetarianism in the tradition.

Jainism, which was established in its current institutional form by Mahavira (c. 599–527 bce), a contemporary of the Buddha, includes two primary sects: the Svetambara, who are found primarily in northern and western India, and the Digambara, in central and southern India. These two groups differ not only on their beliefs regarding the life of Mahavira and the authoritativeness of particular texts, but also on the spiritual status of women. When Mahavira, also known as the Jina, reinvigorated an established monastic order, he continued an earlier tradition of maintaining parallel groups of monks and nuns.


All Jains observe five great vows: nonviolence, truthfulness, not stealing, sexual restraint, and nonpossession. Monks and nuns observe these five practices more assiduously than do laypeople. For laypeople sexual restraint requires fidelity in marriage, with occasional periods of celibacy. Monks and nuns must maintain total celibacy and generally have little contact with one another, traveling and eating separately. Laypeople practice nonpossession by living simply and donating their excess wealth for the support of monastic communities and the building of temples. Monks and nuns own very little, generally a change of clothing, a few books, and eating utensils. They remain itinerant after taking their vows and only stay in a sheltered place during the rainy season when it is difficult to move about without causing harm to insects and vegetation.

The Svetambara sect emphasizes the renunciation of all possessions. Advanced monks own nothing at all, not even a begging bowl or a loincloth. Because it would be too dangerous for women to practice total nudity in the style of Mahavira, Digambara women are not given the highest monastic initiation and hence must hope for rebirth as a man to attain final liberation from all karma, the ultimate goal of the Jain faith. Svetambaras, on the other hand, assert that Mahavira's renunciation of clothing was not central to the faith, advocate the wearing of white robes for all its monastics, and hold that women can achieve liberation (kevala).


Within the lay community Jain women are able to claim a high degree of autonomy though their observance of religious vows. In particular women often join voluntary devotional circles that meet regularly to learn, sing, and in some instances compose songs (stavan) that encapsulate Jain teachings and validate women's roles. Often these songs echo the bhajans composed by Mirabai, the Hindu princess-saint who preferred the worship of Krishna over devotion to her husband. Women play an important role in the rituals performed in the Jain temple (mandal). Another assertion of women's religiosity can be found in the performance of periodic fasting. Sometimes this fasting, particularly during the paryusan observances in early September, requires total abstention from food for several days. Other fasts require eating only once per day for a specified period, or eating every other day, or eliminating certain foods from one's diet. Regardless, a woman's performance of the fast brings prestige to one's household.

Within the Jain faith, there are four times as many nuns as monks, perhaps due to the gentle nature of core Jain practices. In years past most nuns would join the monastic order as widows or at the same time as their husband. In some instances entire families would take religious vows, often with mother and daughter traveling separately from husband and son. Following India's independence in 1947, increased numbers of well-educated, unmarried young women chose to become Jain nuns, a trend that continues in the early-twenty-first century. The monastic life seems to offer for many educated young women a more creative outlook for their talents than does marriage.

In addition to making clear divisions between the roles of men and women, both in lay and monastic communities, Jainism also acknowledges the ambiguity of sexual feelings, citing a third grouping of individuals who experience longings generally associated in contemporary society with homosexuality (napumsakaveda). The ideal for all individuals within Jainism is to eschew sexual thoughts and behaviors in order to cleanse oneself of the karma that impedes spiritual awareness. By the consistent systematic observance of a pious lifestyle characterized by the grounding of all one's activities in nonviolence, all karma can be neutralized and eventually expunged. According to Umasvati's fourth century text, the Tattvarthasutra, this process unfolds over many lifetimes, through which one has the opportunity to ascend fourteen rungs of a psychocosmic ladder leading to eternal consciousness and delivery from rebirth.

The challenges of modernity and urbanization have strengthened the Jain community, providing greater wealth for the support of Jain institutions both in India and in the diaspora community. The number of vocations, particularly among women, has increased, and the publication of materials designed to promulgate core Jain teachings continues to grow.

see also Hinduism.


Flugel, Peter, ed. 2006. Studies in Jaina History and Culture: Disputes and Dialogues. London: Routledge.

Jaini, Padmanabh S. 1991. Gender and Salvation: Jaina Debates on the Spiritual Liberation of Women. Berkeley: University of California.

Kelting, M. Whitney. 2001. Singing to the Jinas: Jain Laywomen, Mandal Singing, and the Negotiations of Jain Devotion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Shanta, N. 1997. The Unknown Pilgrims: The Voice of the Sadhvis: The History, Spirituality and Life of the Jaina Women Ascetics, trans. Mary Rogers. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications.

Vallely, Anne. 2002. Guardians of the Transcendent: An Ethnography of a Jain Ascetic Community. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

                                    Christopher Key Chapple