The Jain dharam or Jainism is one of the oldest religions of the world. According to Dr. K.C. Sogani, "It represents the continuation of indigenous shramanic culture which is as old as the Vedas themselves, so far as literary evidence goes, though the archaeological evidence takes shramanism far back to Harappall Civilization, which is regarded as non-Vedic in origin and outlook."
Where the Sikhs have the Ten Sikh Gurus and the Guru Granth Sahib, the Jains have had 24 Tirthankars, through whose lives the Jains trace their history. The word "Tirth" (literally, 'ford'), refers to a religious leader that helps others to "ford" (cross) the "river of human misery".
The 24 Tirthankars are:
1) Lord Rishabha, 2) Ajitnath, 3) Sambhavanath, 4) Abhinandannath, 5) Sumatinath, 6) Padmaprabha, 7) Suparshvanath, 8) Chandraprabha, 9) Pushpadanta, 10) Sheetalnath, 11) Shreyansanath, 12) Vasupujya, 13) Vimalnath, 14) Anantnath, 15) Dharmanath, 16) Shantinath, 17) Kunthunath, 18) Aranath, 19) Mallinath, 20) Munisuvrata, 21) Naminatha, 22) Neminatha, 23) Parshva, 24) Mahavira
According to Jain Tradition, Rishabbanatha was the first interpreter of Ahinsa (non-violence). Lord Mahavira, popularly regarded as the founder of Jainism, was the last of the Tirthankars who flourished from 599 to 529 B.C. So he could be called a reformer of the Jain religion or rejuvenator of the faith which was already in existence and had a long tradition.
Scriptures and Literature
The sacred books of Jainism are called Agamas. The Jaina Agamas or scriptures are the works of the immediate disciples of Mahavira. The first sacred books of the Jaina are in Prakrit or Ardhamagdhi language. They were given their written form in the 5th century at Vallabhi, in Gujarat. Dr. L.M. Joshi is of the opinion that the literature of Jainism is vast and varied. Its subject matter includes not only ascetic culture, morality, religion and philosophy, but also fables fairy-tales, legendary romances, history, hagiography, mythology and cosmology. "The body of literature known as Agamas includes a large number of texts. These are divided into two classes" Anga Agamas or the original twelve books and Angabahya Agamas or the texts outside of the original twelve books.
The Jain Scriptures are the source books of Jain ethics, yoga, religion, philosophy and mythology. The Tattvarthasutra is a famous book which summarizes Jain teachings. The Acharangasutra deals chiefly with the ethical conduct and discipline of monks. The Kalpasutra describes in detail the life-story of Mahavira. A most remarkable description of hells is given in Sutrakritanga. The Sthananga discusses dogmatic topics, The Upasakadasha deals with pious men of the time of Mahavira. The contents of other book are mixed and varied. They deal with myths and legends, ethical and monastic discipline, hells and heavens, cosmology and astrology.
The Jain system, like the Buddhist, is non-theistic. It does not acknowledge the existence of a Creator God. Another important feature is that it is a pluralistic system. The atmans are many, infinite in number. Moksha is not absorption into the supreme but the attainment of a perfect, luminous and blessed atman which is without body and without actions.
Philosophically, an important contribution of Jainism is the doctrine of anekan¬tavada. The Jaina thinkers thought that reality can be examined from many (aneka) standpoints (anta). A thing can be described from at least seven standpoints (saptabhangi) and all can be equally true. This doctrine has contributed to the tolerance of contrary opinions among theologians and philosophers. In modern times, when exclusive claims of religions are under strain, this doctrine has a special relevance and meaning.
The religious philosophy of Jainism teaches that there are nine truths or realities (nava-tattva). They are: 1. soul (jiva), 2. non-soul (ajiva), 3. merit (punya), 4. Sin or demerit (papa), 5. influx of karma (asrava), 6. stoppage of karmic matter (samvara), 7. bondage (bandha), 8. shedding the karmic matter (nirjara), and liberation (moksha).
- Jiva: The principle of Jiva is a conscious substance which is different in different indivi¬duals. The number of jivas is infinite. The jiva is not only the enjoyer of the fruits of karma (bhokta), but also the actor, deeply entangled in the worldly affairs and responsible for his acts (karma), good or bad. It transmigrates i.e., it takes successive births, accor¬ding to the nature of the stock of its deeds. It can attain ultimate release (moksha) from this cycle of birth and death by freeing itself from all that is non-soul (ajiva), by destroying accumulated karmas and by stopping their further influx into it.
- Ajiva: Ajiva is the opposite of jiva comprising of dharma, adharma, akash, pudgala and kala substances. Of these, the first three (medium of motion, medium of rest, space or medium of accommodation) are formless (amurta) and indivisible wholes. The fourth substance matter is defined as what is possessed of the qualities of touch, taste, colour and smell. Time is atomic in dimension, and the kala atoms pervade the whole cosmic space. 3. Punya: Punya is the consequence of good and religious deeds. There are nine ways to it. They are, in fact, different forms of practising charity. Giving food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked and rendering personal service to living beings.
- Papa: Papa, sin or evil, is a major factor in the bondage of Jiva. Injury to and killing of living-beings is a heinous sin and results in terrible punishments.
- Asrava: Asrava denotes the inflow of karmic matter by the soul. Just as water flows into a boat through a hole, so the karmic matter flows through asrava into the soul. The nature of the activity determines the inflow as punya (good) or papa (bad) accordingly as the activity is shubha (meritorious) or ashubha (demeritorious). The principle 'Like causes produce like results' is accepted as a determining feature of the Jaina doctrine of karma.
- Samvara: Samvara means stopping, controlling or ceasing of inflow of karmic matter into the soul, Samvara is effected through self control (gupti), restrained movement (samiti), virtues (dharma), contemplation (anupreksha), conquest of hardship and monastic conduct.
- Bandha: Bandha is the union of jiva with pudgala (matter), or soul with non-soul particles. The soul, accompanied by passions, assimilates matter which leads to karma formations. The matter is determined by five causes, namely, wrong belief, non-detachment carelessness, passions and activity. 8. Nirjara: Nirjara means shedding off, drying up or destruction. Nirjara is to destroy and burn up accumulated karma. Take the example of a tank. By stopping the inflow of water into the tank, we arrest the increase of water in the tank. This is samvara, but there is already some water in the tank. In order to dry up this water, it may be exposed to the heat of the sun for some time. This is nirjara.
- Moksha: Moksha is the supreme stage of spiritual attainment when all causes of bondage having been uprooted, the soul is freed from karmic matter. It is a state of peace, perfect faith, perfect knowledge and a state of having achieved sidhi. Moksha is attained through right faith, right knowledge and right conduct. For the perfection of right conduct, five kinds of vows are recommended: non-violence (ahinsa), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), chastity (brahmacharya) and no greed (aparigraha).
The Jains have laid great emphasis on ahinsa vrata. The doctrine of ahinsa (non-violence) is a cardinal principle of Jain Religion. It is so central in the Jaina faith that it may be called the beginning and the end of Jain Religion.