Jainism’s roots go back 5000 years to the time of the Harappan civilization. Although people believe that Prabhu Mahavir established the Jain religion in India in the 5th century B.C.E, the textbooks of Jainism indicate the existence of their path from the beginning & will last to eternity. Jainism, unlike Brahmanism & and Buddhism, is an atheistic path that declines the existence of one true superbeing beyond time & matter. However, like Buddhism, it puts faith in rebirth & salvation. Mahavir Jain was the 24th prophet or Thirthankar of the Jain community. They describe their previous prophets as the Arihantas & Siddhas.
Being a Minority in India, it still has a considerable effect on Indian philosophy. Not only the spiritual but Jainism has affected the political understanding of India. And unlike what most of us think, Jainism has a vast in-depth history rich in the ethical & most practical solutions for the complications of life.
As per the 2011 census, the total number of Jain followers in India is over 1.35 Billion. They are mostly in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Karnataka. However, the impact of Jainism can be seen throughout the country where people from each state follow the philosophy.
Jain doctrines say the eternal existence of the path and trace back to Indus Valley Civilization even before the Aryans. We can assume the existence of both in the ancient society parallel. Notably the Jain practices were totally contemporaneous with Indo-Aryan religious traditions. We can call it a part of Indian philosophy that is Santana Philosophy but it is indisputably different from Hinduism.
The very first Prophet of Tirthankar was Rishabha the founder of Jainism. Jain believes that he lived millions of years ago and invented pottery, art, sculpture, painting, writing, and cooking. However, this is certainly an exaggeration. We don’t have many resources to know more about the next 20 such prophets of Jainism.
The 22nd Tirthankara was Arishtanemi who was the son of King Ashvasena- the then king of Banaras and presumed cousin brother of Krishna who held a firm impact on Hinduism in 900 BCE.
The 23rd Tirthankara was Parshva who lived during the 8th century BCE. Legends connect Parshva with snakes. It is said that he gained enlightenment after 84 days of intense meditation and lived the life of a Monk for 70 years.
Jainism- Impact of 24th Tirthankar- Mahavir:
Mahavir was born near Vaishali and was the son of a King. Though Jain texts and historical pieces of evidence differ, the time Mahavir was in the world was the time of King Bimbisara & Ajatshatru. His father was King Siddhartha and his mother was Queen Trishala. Both were followers of Parshva. He lived his early ages in the palace as a prince. Legends say that he showed immense valour since he was a child. He once charged an elephant by the trunk and picked up a large snake. The ‘Mahavir’ name was given to him for his courage which literally means the ‘Great Hero’.
Mahavir left his home, wife, children, and all his wealth to become a monk. He started his meditation under the Ashok Tree in the Kundapura Village. He left food, tore his clothes, and shaved his hair for his further journey. His ascetic journey took 13 years to complete. During this time, he wandered around the country, faced much persecution, and suffered torture. In the thirteenth year of his journey, he attended Kevala.
Mahavir then started participating in a religious conference where he got his first new students. Some of them were Brahmans. He did so by explaining the Vedas and showing miracles of mind reading to the debaters.
Mahavir sorted his community into four groups- Monks, Nuns, Male Households, and Female Households. He preached about the five vows of which four were from Parshva.
The Jain community is extremely serious about non-violence. They are extremely vegetarian & renounce all kinds of killing. Jain monks don’t even wear clothes and household people don’t take part in professions that would require them to kill someone. This led to most Jain becoming businessmen.
The Five Vows hold a firm grasp over the complete philosophy of Jainism. Jain philosophy divides the world into two- Jiva (living beings) & Ajiva (Non-living). We come across the Nine Principles which are Jiva, Ajiva, Asarva, Bandh, Punya, Paap, Samvara, Nirjara, and Moksha.
It teaches that one has to renounce all his attachments to gain liberation from this world and the cycle of birth & death. The three gems of Jainism are the Right Attitude, Right Knowledge, and Right Conduct.
The beauty of Jain philosophy is in its understanding of the world. It declines the existence of one God. But it approves the existence of the soul. Some believe that there is Heaven & Hell but none believe in a God who punishes the soul. Jain philosophy promotes the individuality of a soul.
Mahavir the last prophet of Jains gave the theory of Syadvada. It tells that everyone witnesses their own truth and by listening & examining all points of view, we can reach the truth. It approves of the counter-thought processes to be true at the same time. The theory of Anekantavada or non-absolutism calls for an attitude of openness. Mahavir also taught 73 methods for exertion in Goodness.
Sects in Jainism:
Jains are majorly divided into two sects- Digambara and Svetambara. Both sects have the same vows and principles but their practices hold differences. The community when there was a famine around the 4th century BCE in Magadha. A group of Jain people went to South India whereas another group remained in that place. The group who stayed at Magadha started wearing white clothes which were unacceptable to the other group. Hence it resulted in a dispute further leading to the division of the Jain community into two parts. Though their base teaching & philosophies are the same, they differ in the following points.
– Svetambaras practice wearing white clothes according to the teachings of Parshvanatha. While the Digambaras completely deny clothing.
– Digambara believes that both Parshavanatha & Mahavira were unmarried whereas Shvetambara believes just the opposite.
– Digambara iconography is plain whereas Shvetambara iconography is decorated & coloured.
– Digambara believes in the dominance of males over females in spiritual positioning. According to it, a female must have to do karmic actions to get a rebirth as a Male. Then only she can attain Kevala. Shvetamabra treats both genders equally.
– We find more Sadhvis than Sadhus in the Shvetambara monastery. Digamabara monasteries were always male-dominated.
– Shvetambara treats the Tirthankara Mallinatha as a female whereas Digambara worships Mallinatha as a male entity.
Jainism is a part of a long rich history that most people are not aware of. Unlike the other religions, Jain is a firm believer and propagator of non-violence at any cost. They don’t even keep their mouths open in case they eat micro insects. The philosophy of Jainism has given the world the idea of liberalism. It promotes the practices of Syadvada which means more than one truth.
Though Jain is a minority community in India, we can’t deny its impact on Indian culture. It has given openness & an attitude of acceptance to the very culture of this beautiful country. It has impacted many philosophers and politicians that have helped the country to grow as a home for everyone.