Jainism - an Overview

Jainism is a living faith, a dynamic religion which exemplifies the highest and noblest values, moral upliftment and spiritual elevation, leading to eternal peace and infinite bliss. Jainism is a significant and prominent religion of India, as Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Despite the comparatively small number of its declared adherents, Jainism has creditably retained this important position. It has been doubtlessly established that Jainism is a distinct religion, not an offshoot of Hinduism or Buddhism. No account of important religions of the world or a comparative study of religions is complete without the mention of Jainism.

One of the oldest and greatest religions of the world, Jainism has been in existence since time immemorial. Ample literary and archaeological evidence shoulders the historical authenticity of Jainism. Its independent existence and greater antiquity, not only in relation to Buddhism, but even Brahmanism, have become admitted facts.

What does it mean to be 'Jain'?
Followers of Jainism are called Jains. The word 'Jain', is derived from the Sanskrit word 'Jina'. Etymologically, 'Jina'
means the conqueror or the victorious one.Those who have conquered all their passions and attained complete
liberation from the cycles of birth and death are called 'Jina'. One who follows and worships the 'Jina' is a Jain.

Fundamental Tenets
  • Ahimsa (Non-violence): The principle of Ahimsa is the backbone and focal point of Jainism, which aims at the welfare of all living beings, not only humans. Thus, Jainism is a religion of compassion, universal love and amity.

  • Anekantvada (Non-absolutism): Anekantvada teaches the realisation of truth in its varied aspects, inducing one to respect and accept a wide range of viewpoints in a spirit of cooperation. The principle of non-absolutism is, thus, a valuable contribution of Jainism to the world of philosophy.

  • Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness): The attitude of Aparigraha begets equanimity, whereas attachment to worldly objects results in bondage. Therefore, one desirous of spiritual liberation should withdraw from all attachments to material things and practise non-possessiveness.
If one observes these three tenets in their true spirit, peace and harmony can be attained not only within, but also without – in the world.

The Path of Liberation
Jainism believes the soul to be an independent, powerful substance that can liberate itself from the fetters of karma. This goal can be attained by adopting the right path of moksh (liberation), connoted by the cultivation, development and unification of the three spiritual jewels, namely:

  • Samyak Darshan (Right Faith): It is the faith in the true nature of the substances as they are. Having right belief of God, Guru and Religion is samyak darshan.

  • Samyak Jnan (Right Knowledge): It is that knowledge which reveals the nature of things neither insufficiently, nor with exaggeration, nor falsely; but exactly as they are and with certainty.

  • Samyak Charitra (Right Conduct): It is to free oneself from raag (attachment), and dwesh (aversion), from all the impure activities of thoughts, words and deeds and attain vitragta (the state of perfect equanimity).

Five Great Vows
At the heart of right-conduct, lie the five great vows:

  • Ahimsa (Non-violence): To abstain from causing harm to any living being.
  • Satya (Truthfulness): To speak only the innocuous truth.
  • Achaurya (Non-stealing): To refrain from taking anything without the permission of its owner.
  • Brahmacharya (Celibacy): Abstinence from sexual indulgence.
  • Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness): To abstain from having possessions and possessiveness towards anything.

These five vows must be strictly observed by Jain monks and nuns in their entirety. However, partial observance of these vows has also been formally laid down for householders, with seven additional vows. These enable the gradual and smooth progress of the soul on the path of liberation leading to moksh.

Relevance in Modern Times
In this day and age, where suspicion and distrust are vitiating the atmosphere of international peace and brotherhood, where the world is filled with fear and hatred, the tenets of Jainism are like the oasis in the desert, an answer to a desperate need. It is a perfect blend of philosophy and practicality, an ethical system par excellence. Not stopping at mere philosophy, Jainism is a way of life, proficient enough to elevate an ordinary individual to the greatest height of spiritual realisation. It is imperative that we embrace this philosophy which bears the message of love and respect, non-violence and peace – both internal and external, personal and universal.

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