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Jainism

JAINISM

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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