Jainism traces its roots to a succession of 24 Jinas ("those who
overcome", or conqueror) in ancient East India. The first Jina is traditionally
believed to have been a giant who lived 8.4 million years ago. The most recent and last
Jina was Vardhamana (a.k.a. Mahavira, "The Great Hero") He was born
circa 550 BCE)
and was the founder of the Jain community. He attained enlightenment after 13 years of
deprivation. In 467 BCE, he committed the act of salekhana which is fasting to
death. Each Jina has "conquered love and hate, pleasure and pain, attachment and
aversion, and has thereby freed `his' soul from the karmas obscuring knowledge,
perception, truth, and ability..."
Jainism contains many elements that are somewhat similar to parts of
Buddhism. The world's
almost 4 million Jains are almost entirely located in India. There are about 1,410 in
Canada (1991 census).
Jainist beliefs and practices:
The universe exists as a series of layers, both heavens and hells. It had no beginning
and will have no ending. It consists of:
The supreme abode: This is located at the top of the universe and is
where Siddha, the liberated souls, live.
The upper world: 30 heavens where celestial beings live.
Middle world: the earth and the rest of the universe.
Nether world: 7 hells with various levels of misery and punishments
The Nigoda, or base: where the lowest forms of life reside
Universe space: layers of clouds which surround the upper world
Space beyond: an infinite volume without soul, matter, time, medium of
motion or medium of rest.
Everyone is bound within the universe by one's karma -- the accumulated
evil deeds that one has done. (The Jainist definition of karma differs from the
Hindu and Buddhist meaning. To a follower of Jainism, all karma is bad. To
Hindus and Buddhists, karma can result from a good or a bad deed.)
Moksha (liberation from an endless succession of lives through reincarnation) is
achieved by enlightenment, which can be attained only through asceticism.
Jainism is based on three general principles called the three Ratnas
(jewels). They are:
They are expected to follow five principles of living:
Ahimsa: "non violence in all parts of a person -- mental,
verbal and physical." 3Committing an act of
violence against a human, animal, or even a vegetable generates negative karma which in turn
adversely affects one's next life.
Satya: speaking truth; avoiding falsehood
Asteya: to not steal from others
Brahma-charya: (soul conduct); remaining celibate or sexually monogamous to one's
Aparigraha: detach from people, places and material things. Avoiding
the collection of excessive material possessions, abstaining from over-indulgence,
restricting one's needs, etc.
Jains follow a vegetarian diet. (At least one
information source incorrectly states that they follow a frutarian diet
-- the practice of only eating that which will not kill the
plant or animal from which it is taken. e.g. milk, fruit, nuts.) They are not permitted to eat root vegetables because of the many living creatures that they contain. Also, to uproot a root vegetable kills it.
They often read their sacred texts daily.
Jains are recommended to pass through four stages during their lifetime:
Brahmacharya-ashrama: the life of a student
Gruhasth-ashrama: family life
Vanaprasth-ashrama: family and social services
Sanyast-ashrama: life as a monk; a period of renunciation
Divisions among Jains"
There are two groups of Jains:
(literally "sky clad" or naked): Their monks carry asceticism to the point of rejecting even clothing (even when they appear in public).
The Shvetambaras (literally "white clad"): their monks wear simple white robes. The laity are permitted to wear clothes of any color.
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