Jainism is an ancient Indian religion that originated before 3000 BC. The word “Jain” means conqueror, and there are approximately 3.3 million Jains in India today. The Tirthankaras of Jainism are figures that have achieved correct knowledge, correct faith, and correct behavior (the Triratna). There have been only twenty-four Tirthankaras in history.
Jains believe in Mahavira, or that souls are closely embedded in matter. Jainist view of Jiva (“soul”) is often considered primitive and materialist; souls have size and weight and are measurable. The world is full of Jiva, and the only way to live an ascetic life is to liberate Jiva by not hurting life forms. There are earth bodied, fire bodied, water bodied, stationary, and moving things that all have life trapped inside of them. Every form of Jiva attracts Karma. Harmful karma is created by harmful actions. When a soul is free of karma, it rises in the universe. Ahimsa is a multidimensional concept, inspired by the premise that all living beings have a spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself. Samsara is the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound. Jains believe that the universe contains an infinite amount of suffering, and that momentary happiness in no way can make up for the suffering.
Fourteen Jainist religious texts, the Purva, were lost. They contained the main teachings of the Tirthankara. By living an ascetic lifestyle, Jains are wearing away Karma. The Parsva, the twenty-third of twenty-four Tirthankara, created the first ascetic community. Mahvaira (“big man”; also called Jina), the twenty-fourth Tirthankara, expanded on Parsva’s teachings. Mahavira is considered the Father of Jainism (like a contemporary Buddha), and he rejected a life of wealth and royalty. He became a Tirthankara at age fourty-seven, and starved himself to death at age seventy-two.
Svetambara represents one of the two principal sects of Jainism as a result of doctrinal schism in year 80. The Svetambara wear white clothes and differ in the ascetic lifestyle of the Digambara. The Svetamara consider nudity to be the ideal state, but it is not longer possible in the corrupt world. Mahavira was not clothed, but Parsva was. The Svetambaras believe that the Purva texts were persevered.
The Digambara is the other principal sects of Jainism. The Digambara are the “sky clad” (nude), and they left to escape a famine. Monks renounce clothes, but today public nudity is being limited by the Indian government. They also believe that women cannot have the same sense of spiritual action, and women cannot be seen nude in public. The Mahavarata are the five great vows of the monks: ahimsa, truth, non-theifing, celibacy, and detachment from material things. They cannot walk in the dark, and must carry a broom and wear a mask (to prevent breathing in organisms). They eat or drink once a day, and cannot light or put out fire. Drinking water must be strained, and Monks cannot bathe. Sallekhana is when a monk feels like his life work has come to an end, and they fast to death. This is considered suicide by many Indian courts. A Sravaka or Upasaka (“layman”) is anyone who is not a monk. Jains are all vegetarians. They cannot make things or be a farmer; trade or business is the most popular profession. There are twelve vows of Jainism, including Ahimsa, truth, charity, and renunciation of wealth.
The main differences between Hinduism and Jainism are that the Jains reject the Vedas, reject the caste system, and that the gods are subordinate to the Tirthankara. Some jains worship Hindu gods also, and the wealth of the layman has helped maintain Jainism. Both Hindus and Jains believe in reincarnation.