What is Jainism?

Jainism or Jain Dharma, is an ancient Indian religion. Followers of Jainism are called “Jains“, a word derived from the Sanskrit word jina (victor) and connoting the path of victory in crossing over life’s stream of rebirths through an ethical and spiritual life. Jains trace their history through a succession of twenty-four victorious saviours and teachers known as tirthankaras, with the first being Rishabhanatha, who according to Jain tradition lived millions of years ago, twenty-third being Parshvanatha in 8th century BC and twenty-fourth being the Mahāvīra around 500 BCE. Jains believe that Jainism is an eternal dharma with the tirthankaras guiding every cycle of the Jain cosmology.

 

The main religious premises of Jainism are ahiṃsā (non-violence), anekāntavāda (many-sidedness), aparigraha (non-attachment) and asceticism. Devout Jains take five main vows: ahiṃsā (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (not stealing), brahmacharya (celibacy or chastity), and aparigraha (non-attachment). These principles have impacted Jain culture in many ways, such as leading to a predominantly vegetarian lifestyle that avoids harm to animals and their life cycles. Parasparopagraho Jīvānām (the function of souls is to help one another) is the motto of Jainism. Ṇamōkāra mantrais the most common and basic prayer in Jainism.

 

Jainism has two major ancient sub-traditions, Digambaras and Śvētāmbaras; and several smaller sub-traditions that emerged in the 2nd millennium CE. The Digambaras and Śvētāmbaras have different views on ascetic practices, gender and which Jain texts can be considered canonical. Jain mendicants are found in all Jain sub-traditions, with laypersons (śrāvakas) supporting the mendicants’ spiritual pursuits with resources.

A 1st- to 2nd–century CE water tank relief panel showing two ardhaphalaka Jain monks carrying colapatta cloth on their left hand found in the ruins of Mathura (Brooklyn Museum 87.188.5).[7] This cloth carrying tradition to cover genitalia by ancient Jain monks in principle resembles the beliefs of the Svetambara and now extinct Yapaniya subtradition.

Svetambara

Svetambara The Svetambara (śvētapaṭa; also spelled Svetambar, Shvetambara or Swetambar) is one of the two main branches of Jainism, the other being the Digambara. Śvētāmbara means “white-clad”, and refers to its ascetics‘ practice of wearing white clothes, which sets it apart from the Digambara “sky-clad” Jains, whose ascetic practitioners go naked. Śvētāmbaras, unlike Digambaras, do not believe that...

Artistic representation of a sculpture from the Mathura archaeological site (Kankali Tila) that depicts the last four Tirthankaras, c. 51 CE.

History of Jainism

History of Jainism Jainism is a religion founded in ancient India. Jains trace their history through twenty-four tirthankara and revere Rishabhanatha as the first tirthankara (in the present time-cycle). Some artifacts found in the Indus Valley civilization have been suggested as a link to ancient Jain culture, but this is highly speculative and...

Image of Rishabhanatha at Kundalpur pilgrimage site in Madhya Pradesh, India

Rishabhanatha

Rishabhanatha Rishabhanatha (also Ṛṣabhadeva, Rishabhadeva, or Ṛṣabha) is the first Tīrthaṅkara of Jainism. He was the first of twenty-four teachers in the present half-cycle of time in Jain cosmology, and called a “ford maker” because his teachings helped one across the sea of interminable rebirths and deaths. Jain legends depict him as having lived millions of years ago....

Fourteen stages on the path to liberation

Gunasthana

Gunasthana Gunasthana (“levels of virtue”) are the fourteen stages of spiritual development and growth through which a soul gradually passes before it attains moksha (liberation). According to Jainism, it is a state of soul from a complete dependence on karma to the state of complete dissociation from it. Here the word virtue does not mean...

Kizhavalavu (Keelavalavu) Sculptures

Digambara

Digambara Digambara (“sky-clad”) is one of the two major schools of Jainism, the other being Śvētāmbara (white-clad). The Sanskrit word Digambara means “sky-clad”, referring to their traditional monastic practice of neither possessing nor wearing any clothes. Digambara and Śvētāmbara traditions have had historical differences ranging from their dress code, their temples and iconography, attitude towards female...

Ranakpur Jain Temple Rajasthan India Heritage

Jain Communities

Jain Communities The Jains in India are the last direct representatives of the ancient Śramaṇa tradition. They follow Jainism, the religion taught by the twenty-four propagators of faith called tirthankaras. The total Jain population is estimated to be 4+ million people worldwide. Sangha Main article: Sangha (Jainism) See also: Sangha Jainism has a fourfold order of muni (male...

Shri Mahavirji temple

Timeline of Jainism

Timeline of Jainism Jainism is an ancient Indian religion belonging to the śramaṇa tradition. It prescribes ahimsa (non-violence) towards all living beings to the greatest possible extent. The three main teachings of Jainism are ahimsa, anekantavada (non-absolutism), aparigraha (non-possessiveness). Followers of Jainism take five main vows: ahimsa, satya (not lying), asteya (non stealing), brahmacharya (chastity), and aparigraha. Monks follow...

Lord Mahavira's Jal Mandir (water temple) in Pawapuri, Bihar, India

Mahavira

Mahavira Mahavira, also known as Vardhamana was the 24th tirthankara of Jainism. He was the spiritual successor of 23rd tirthankara Parshvanatha. Mahavira was born in the early part of the 6th century BCE into a royal Kshatriya Jain family in present-day Bihar, India. His mother’s name was Trishala. He abandoned all worldly possessions at the age...

Tirthankara images at Siddhachal Caves inside Gwalior Fort.

Tirthankara

Tirthankara In Jainism, a tirthankara (tīrthaṅkara; literally a ‘ford-maker’) is a saviour and spiritual teacher of the dharma (righteous path). The word tirthankara signifies the founder of a tirtha, which is a fordable passage across the sea of interminable births and deaths, the saṃsāra. According to Jains, a tirthankara is an individual who has conquered the saṃsāra, the...

Gommateshwara statue ಗೊಮ್ಮಟೇಶ್ವರ

Tirtha in Jainism

Tirtha in Jainism In Jainism, a tīrtha (तीर्थ “ford, a shallow part of a body of water that may be easily crossed”) is used to refer both to pilgrimage sites as well as to the four sections of the sangha. A tirtha provides the inspiration to enable one to cross over from worldly engagement to the...

Diwali Diya Deepavali Celebration Traditional

Diwali in Jainism

Diwali in Jainism Diwali has a very special significance in Jainism. It marks the anniversary of Nirvana (final release) or liberation of Mahavira‘s soul, the twenty fourth and last Jain Tirthankara of present cosmic age. It is celebrated at the same time as the Hindu festival of Diwali. Diwali marks the end of the year for the Jains and...

Kalpasutra

Jain Agam Literature

Jain Agam Literature Background Lord Mahavir‘s preaching was orally complied by his disciples into many texts. This knowledge was orally transferred from acharyas (gurus) to the disciples over the course of about one thousand years. In olden times, monks strictly followed the five great vows of Jainism. Even religious scriptures...

Jain Scriptures

Jain Scriptures

Jain Scriptures Jain scriptures are called Agamas. They are believed to have been verbally transmitted by the oral tradition from one generation to the next, much like the ancient Buddhist and Hindu texts. The Jain tradition believes that their religion is eternal, and the teachings of their first Tirthankara Rishabhanatha were their scriptures...

Vasai Jain Temple, Kutch, Gujarat

Jain Temple

Jain Temple A Jain temple or Derasar is the place of worship for Jains, the followers of Jainism. Jain architecture is essentially restricted to temples and monasteries, and secular Jain buildings generally reflect the prevailing style of the place and time they were built. Jain temple architecture is generally close to Hindu temple architecture, and in ancient times Buddhist...

Jainism and Sikhism

Jainism and Sikhism

Jainism and Sikhism Both Jainism and Sikhism are faiths native to the Indian subcontinent. Sikhism rejected the authority of the Vedas and created independent textual traditions based on the words and examples of their early teachers, eventually evolving entirely new ways for interacting with the lay community. History Main article: Indian religions Jainism is the oldest living sramana tradition in India....

Mahavira was the last Tirthankara and Salakapurusa of this descending time cycle as per the Jain Universal History

Salakapurusa

Salakapurusa According to the Jain cosmology, the śalākāpuruṣa (शलाकपुरूष) “illustrious or worthy persons” are 63 illustrious beings who appear during each half-time cycle. They are also known as the triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣa (63 illustrious persons). The Jain universal or legendary history is a compilation of the deeds of these illustrious persons. Their...

Stella depicting Śhrut Jnāna or complete scriptural knowledge (Jain Agamas)

Jain Literature

Jain Literature Jain literature comprises Jain Agamas and subsequent commentaries on them by various Jain ascetics. Jain literature is primarily divided between Digambara literature and Svetambara literature. Jain literature exists mainly in Magadhi Prakrit, Sanskrit, Marathi, Tamil, Rajasthani, Dhundari, Marwari, Hindi, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Tulu and more recently in English. See: Jain Philosophy, Jainism...

An aarti plate.

Jain Rituals

Jain Rituals Jain rituals play an everyday part in Jainism. Rituals take place daily or more often. Rituals include obligations followed by Jains and various forms of idol worships. Jains rituals can be separated broadly in two parts: Karya (Obligations which are followed) and Kriya (Worships which are performed). See: Jain Philosophy Six essential duties In Jainism,...

Jain Schools and Branches

Jain Schools and Branches

Jain Schools and Branches Jainism is an Indian religion which is traditionally believed to be propagated by twenty-four spiritual teachers known as tirthankara. Broadly, Jainism is divided into two major schools of thought, Digambara and Svetambara. These are further divided into different sub-sects and traditions. While there are differences in practices, the core...

Acharya Kalaka, clothed in white at top

Jain Monasticism

Jain Monasticism Jain monasticism refers to the order of monks and nuns in the Jain community. The term nirgrantha (“bondless”) was used for Jain monks in the past. The monastic practices of two major sects (Digambara and Śvētāmbara) vary greatly, but the major principles of both are identical. Terminology Digambaras use the word muṇi for male monastics and aryika for female monastics. Digambara monks are also...

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