Jainism is an ancient religion from India that teaches that the way to liberation and bliss is to live a life of harmlessness and renunciation.
The aim of Jain life is to achieve liberation of the soul.
Jainism is essentially a way of life, a system, which, if followed in the right manner, can lead to the spiritual rising of the soul, eventually resulting in its liberation. The ultimate objective of Jainism is to attain total freedom from the cycle of birth, life, pain, misery, and death, and achieve permanent blissful state of one’s self, that is, Moksha.
Some of the salient features of Jainism are:
Essence of Jainism:
Jainism believes that the path to spiritual purity and enlightenment is through a disciplined mode of life founded upon the principle of ahimsa (non-violence) to all living creatures. It teaches that the way to liberation and bliss is to live a life of harmlessness and renunciation. The essence of Jainism is concern for the welfare of each and every living-being in the universe, be it humans, birds and animals or tiny creatures like ants and insects. Jainism believes that like human beings, animals and plants have souls. Each of these souls is of equal value and should be treated with respect and compassion.
Basic Principles or vows:
There are five basic principles or vows of Jainism. These are:
- Ahimsa (Nonviolence) – not to cause harm to any living-beings
- Satya (Truthfulness) – to speak harmless truth only
- Asteya (Non-stealing) – not to take anything not properly given
- Brahmacharya (Chastity) – not to indulge in sensual pleasure
- Aparigraha (Non-possession/Non-attachment) – complete detachment from people, places, and material things.
The cardinal principle:
Out of the five principles, Ahimsa is the cardinal principle of Jainism and can be called its cornerstone. According to Jainism, all living-beings, irrespective of their size, shape or level of spiritual development, are equal. No living-being has the right to harm, injure, or kill any other living-being, including animals, insects and plants. Each living-being has the right to exist and it is necessary to live with all other living- beings in perfect harmony and peace.
Practically, it is impossible to survive without killing or injuring some of the smallest living-beings. Some living-beings are killed even when we breathe, drink water, or eat food. Jainism, therefore, says that we should try to minimise violence.
Jainism has classified all living-beings according to the number of senses they have – from one-sense to five-senses. According to Jainism, higher the number of senses, higher the pain that a living-being feels when killed and greater is the violence involved. Therefore, minimum killing of the lowest form of life should be our ideal for survival.
All non-vegetarian food is obtained by killing living-beings with two or more senses. Therefore, Jainism preaches strict vegetarianism, and prohibits non-vegetarian food.
There are three guiding principles of Jainism, known as the ‘three jewels’. These are: Samyag Darshan (right belief or perception), Samyag Gyan(right knowledge) and Samyag Charitra (right conduct).
Right perception creates an awareness of reality or truth, right knowledge impels the person to proper action, and right conduct leads him to the attainment of total freedom. These must co-exist in a person if one is to make any progress on the path of liberation.
Jainism is a great scientific philosophy. It believes that the universe and all its substances or entities are eternal. It has no beginning or end with respect to time. Likewise, Jainism is considered to be eternal.
According to Jainism the universe is run on its own accord by its own cosmic laws. There is no need for someone to create or manage the affairs of the universe. Hence Jainism does not believe in God as the creator, operator, and destroyer of the universe.
However, Jainism does believe in God. When a living-being destroys all his karmas and conquers his inner enemies like anger, greed, passion, ego, etc., he attains perfect knowledge, vision, power, and bliss and becomes omniscient and omnipotent or a ‘Jina’, meaning spiritual victor. Any individual, by achieving spiritual progress can become a ‘Jina’ or a super soul, that is, ‘parmatma’ or God.
Theory of Karma:
Jainism believes purely in the Theory of Karma; as you sow, so shall you reap.
According to Jainism, from eternity, every living-being (soul) is in bondage of karmas, which are accumulated by one’s own good or bad deeds. One should live in such a manner that the soul does not attract any more karmas and the karmas already accumulated are eliminated.
There are broadly two types of karmas, Nikachit and Nidhatta. While there is no escape from Nikachit karmas, Nidhatta karmas can be shed completely or partially by Nirjara (penance etc.). Liberation is achieved by shedding all karmas from the soul.
Worship of virtues not personalities:
Jainism does not believe in worshiping individuals as such. Instead, it believes in worshiping the virtues possessed by the individuals. The main mantra of Jainism known as ‘Navkar Mantra’ clearly establishes this fact.
The mantra enables one to worship the virtues of all the supreme spiritual individuals instead of just worshiping a particular person as such.
A religion for everyone:
Jainism can be followed by any person belonging to any caste or creed. Anyone who feels, at heart, a faith in truth and non-violence can become a follower of Jainism.
The principles of Jainism, if properly understood in their right perspective and faithfully adhered to, can bring contentment, inner happiness and joy to anyone’s lifestyle.