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Jainism

Category: Mystic groups and systems

All humanity is one, there must be no hurt of
anything human, animal, the planet, even
the smallest insect

Jainism, traditionally known as Jaina dharma, is theoretically an Indian religion, however, its  basic approach and teachings are essentially mystical in nature. 

The majority of Jains currently reside in India. With 5 million followers, Jainism is relatively small compared to major world religions. Jains live throughout India, with the largest populations concentrated in the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu also have significant Jain populations.

Outside India, large Jain communities can be found in the United States and Europe. Several Jain temples have been built in both of these places. Smaller Jain communities also exist in Kenya and Canada, Belgium, Hong Kong, Japan and  Singapore.

There is little emphasis on politics in Jainism, as such it differs considerably from most established mainstream religions, including the Hindu religion, in that it is not a politically based movement.

Spiritual practises

The sets of activities that are used by the Jains include many of the suppression based activities, and the objective is to obtain spiritual experience as a means of progress on the spiritual path

a Jain vegetarian meal

Most Jains, apart from being vegetarian, practise various sorts of dietary control.   At its most practical it consists of dietary moderation, but occasionally true fasting is used.  The two purposes of this true fasting are to exercise self-control and to clear the mind to devote more mental energy to prayer.  A fast may occur throughout the year, but is used particularly during festivals.

Jains have developed a type of meditation called samayika, which is essentially a type of contemplation and detachment.  The goal of Samayika is to “achieve a feeling of perfect calmness and to understand the unchanging truth of the self”. Such meditation is also based on “contemplation of the universe and the reincarnation of self”.

One of the mainstays of true Jainism is the activity ‘Don’t hurt’.

Jainism prescribes a path of total non-violence towards all living beings and emphasises spiritual independence and equality between all forms of life. The essence of Jainism is concern for the welfare of every being in the universe. Practitioners believe that non-violence and self-control are the means by which they can obtain liberation.  

No hurt - no words that hurt and eating nothing that hurts a fellow being
- the jains are vegetarians, the paper also stops them inadvertently
swallowing anything living by mistake!

The word Jainism is derived from a Sanskrit verb Ji which means to conquer. It refers to the battle with the ego – thus the essence of Jainism is to conquer the ego.  There is a misconception by some people [including it seems some Jains themselves] that the conquering is of ‘passions and bodily pleasures’ – and to this end one does find Jain ascetics. But the original intention was never the somewhat extreme overload practises ascetics tend to adopt.

Instead, the principle of not hurting applies to oneself as well as to others, it being more important to ‘squash the big I am.  Those who win this battle are termed Jina (conquerors).  This said, Jainism includes the almost universal spiritual practise of reducing and curbing desires.

Some history

Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world. Jains traditionally trace their history through a succession of twenty-four propagators of their faith known as tirthankara with Adinatha as the first tirthankara and Mahavira as the last.

For long periods of time Jainism was the state religion of Indian kingdoms and widely adopted in the Indian subcontinent. The religion has been in decline since the 8th century CE due to the growth of, and oppression by, the followers of other faiths.

   

Jains have the highest degree of literacy of any religious community in India, and their manuscript libraries are the oldest in the country.  Jains developed a system of philosophy and ethics that had a great impact on Indian culture.

They have contributed to the culture and language of the Indian states Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Their temples must rank as some of the most beautiful buildings in the world.  I was shown round one in India [by a chap whose cousin lived in Hemel Hempstead!] that was breathtakingly beautiful.

Literature and texts

The early teachings of the tirthankara were verbal and were memorized and passed on through the ages. 

There are two major denominations of Jain monks and nuns,
the Śvētāmbara ("white-clad", who wear white garments)
and Digambara, or "Sky Clad", who wear no clothes.  This
latter group uses the symbolism of clothes meaning 'of this earth'
Those without clothes are enlightened beings - 'gods'.

Much was lost, but what remains are the Agamas - texts based on Mahavira's teachings. These comprise forty-six works:

  • twelve angas,
  • twelve upanga agamas,
  • six chedasutras,
  • four mulasutras,
  • ten prakirnaka sutras and
  • two culikasutras

In addition to these, there are an additional twenty-five scriptures written for their religious practice by great Acharyas. These include:

  • two main texts,
  • four Pratham-Anuyog,
  • three charn-anuyoga,
  • four karan-anuyoga and
  • twelve dravya-anuyoga.
The Jain religious symbol incorporates
the hand above, their cosmology [see below]
the swastika, and the three dots, which
given the inclusion of the swastika may
denote kundalini energy, or may denote the
three routes - sun, moon and stars

The 2001 census states that Jains are India's most literate community. Jaina libraries, including those at Patan and Jaisalmer, have a large number of well preserved manuscripts. To give an idea of how much literature has been encouraged amongst Jains, the number of its poets "is estimated to be in the vicinity of 1500". 

Jaina scholars and poets authored Tamil classics of the Sangam period, such as the Civaka Cintamani and Nālaṭiyār which was composed by Jain monks from South India during 100-500 CE. 

The Silappatikaram is the earliest surviving epic in Tamil literature and was written by a Jain (Samaṇa), Ilango Adigal. This epic is a major work in Tamil literature, describing the historical events of its time and also of the then prevailing religions, - Jainism, Buddhism and Shaivism. The main characters of this work, Kannagi and Kovalan, who have a divine status among Tamils, were Jains.

Jain monks and nuns also usually keep a cloth for ritual mouth-covering to avoid
inadvertently harming micro-organisms in the air. Most will carry a broomlike object
(Rayoharan), made from dense, thick thread strands, to sweep the ground ahead of
them, or before sitting down, to avoid inadvertently crushing small insects

In the beginning of the mediaeval period, between the 9th and 13th centuries, Kannada language authors were predominantly of the Jain and Lingayati faiths. Jains were the earliest known cultivators of Kannada literature, which they dominated until the 12th century. Jains wrote about the tirthankara and other aspects of the faith.

Pampa (Kannada: ಪಂಪ), called by the honorific Ādikavi (ಆದಿಕವಿ "Original Poet") is one of the greatest Kannada poets. Court poet to the Chalukya king Arikesari, a Rashtrakuta feudatory, he is best known for his epics, Vikramārjuna Vijaya or Pampa Bharata and the Adipurana, both written in the Champu style, which he created and served as the model for all future works in Kannada.

The works of Jain writers Ādikavi Pampa, Sri Ponna and Ranna, collectively called the "three gems of Kannada literature", heralded the 10th century era of Medieval Kannada literature.

 The earliest known Gujarati poem in Rasa genre, Bharateshwar Bahubali Rasa, was written in 1185 by Shalibhadra Suri, a jaina monk.

Cosmology

 Before taking a look at the beliefs use in Jainism, it is worthwhile taking a look at their cosmology.  In order to provide some sort of comparative mechanism of describing the diagram it will be helpful to have some familiarity with the Map of the Egg. 

All the terms on the Map can be found in either the Concepts or the symbols section

 

 

 Jain cosmology uses the symbolism of the Mountain [to convey ascension] and the Hourglass, but includes all the levels and layers shown above but with different names.

Jain cosmology

 

Siddhasila is the same as the Inner court and the abode of the symbolic Stars, together with the Trinity.

Devloka is the Inward Court and the abode of the Intelligence hierarchy - symbolically and synonymously the Planets.  Notice the use of ladders to indicate ascent through the vibrational levels.  Then we get the levels and layers related to the Outward Court, dropping down to the Underworld and Hell.

Outside is Chaos - Aloka; Energy that has not been ordered –  analogously like unprogrammed energy.  Inside we have Spirit called Lokakash [poor translation here in the diagram as 'space' - this was not my diagram].  Spirit is analogously the software and hardware of the universe.  It is Energy that has been ordered.

In effect the cosmology is identical, though differently named, to all other mystical cosmologies.

It is a very well thought through symbol, as the bottom part of the diagram is a triangle or cone, the top is a diamond, which has its own symbolic meaning.  The use of gold is important at the very pinnacle of the diagram, with just a hint of a section of the Egg above.  The idea of the moon comes from Hindu scripture

Bhagavad-Gita
At this juncture, those who tend towards union, ....leave manifest existence behind them, some to return to it later, others never to return....Fire, light, day, the crescent moon, the half year of the sun's ascendence and its northerly course – these are the luminous signs which lead to Brahma.
Smoke, night, the waning moon, the half year when the sun descends towards the south – such are the signs that lead to the lunar light and immediately to the return to states of manifestation

States of manifestation mean reincarnation.

 Higher spirit and karma

an 'ascetic' Jain meal, during the latter stages of the spiritual path, one is
actually often very very hungry, you need all the nourishment you can get

 Although not at all well explained in Western literature, Jains understand the two parts to the soul - the immortal soul and the mortal soul. 

The immortal soul or the Higher spirit is called the Jīva.  The Higher Spirit together with our Perceptions cycle round and round from death to birth and death again and forms the basis for any new ‘person’ or a new ‘soul’ on birth.  The cumulative perceptions a person acquires is called the 'karma'.

As a person lives in the physical, they not only accumulate perceptions, but they also accumulate memories and these memories tend to mask the jiva preventing spiritual experience.  This is why meditation is so important, one effectively suppresses memory.

Furthermore by behaving in a kindly way, bad memories don't accumulate to bother you during meditation - you have a conscience free mind.  At the later stages of the spiritual path one can also use acts of purification and relearning to 'cleanse' the memory of the last remnants of unpleasantness, leading the way to moksha and nirvana.

The idea of the final stage of purification is called  Nirjarā: and is wrongly translated in much western literature to mean asceticism, which is entirely incorrect.

Spiritual path

According to Jainism, the soul can gradually attain liberation (moksha) by guiding it through the following fourteen stages (gunasthana).  It maps reasonably well with the generic spiritual path that we have used for the site, with each symbolic day on the generic diagram equal to two stages in Jain mapping.:

#

Quality

Stage name

01

Wrong believer

mithya-drishti

02

One who has a slight taste of right belief

sasvadana-samyagdrsti

03

Mixed belief

misradrsti

04

True belief but no self-discipline

avirata-samyagdrsti

05

Partial self-control

desavirata

06

Complete self-discipline with some negligence

pramatta-samyata

07

Complete self-control without negligence

apramatta samyata

08

Gross occurrence of passions

nivrtti badra samparaya

09

Utilizing meditation to further minimize passions

annivrtti badara samparaya

10

Subtle occurrence of passions

suksama samparaya

11

Every passion is suppressed but still does not possess omniscience

upasana kasaya vitaraga chadmasta

12

Every passion is annihilated but still does not yet possess omniscience

ksina kasay vitaraga chadmasta

13

Omniscience (Kevala Jnana) with activity

sayogi kevalin

14

Omniscience without any activity

ayogi kevalin

 The very end point is then annihilation.

Aeons and configurations

 

Jains represent the aeons and spiritual configurations there have been as a wheel.  This same wheel is also sometimes shown on the hand symbol [notice the little triangles pointing inward].

As of 2015, exactly 2,539 years have elapsed and 18,461 years are still left before we have come to the end of this particular era.  According to Jain cosmology, currently we are in the 5th ara, Duḥṣama (read as Dukhma).

Ours is [or was] an age of sorrow and misery, conflict and aggression. Hurt and hate are prevalent, loneliness and isolation.

No liberation was possible, no chance to attain moksha or nirvana.  All claims of having done so were false.  Although people practice religion, they do so in in lax and diluted form.

At the end of this ara, even the Jain religion will disappear, only to appear again with the advent of 1st Tirthankara in the next cycle.

We are in some senses as an entire planet, about to undergo the dark night of the soul, comparing with the spiritual path - a sort of purgatory!  And on that cheerful note we will stop.

 

Swami Vivekananda

What could have saved Indian society from the ponderous burden of omnifarious ritualistic ceremonialism, with its animal and other sacrifices, which all but crushed the very life of it, except the Jain revolution which took its strong stand exclusively on chaste morals and philosophical truths?

 

   

References

Please note that the observations for Mahavira are to be found on the page for this mystic.

Jain texts are extremely hard to find in anything but their original language.  Thankfully a number of biligual Jains are starting to put this to rights, thus we should see an improvement over the coming years

Useful background books

  • A History of the Canonical Literature of the Jainas by Hiralal Rasikdas Kapadia (Author)
  • Philosophies Of India - Heinrich Zimmer, Joseph Campbell, ed.
  • Adipurana: Sanskrit Text with English Translation and Notes (Set of 2 Volumes) Hardcover – 1 Apr 2011  by Shantilal Nagar

 

Observations

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