A religion with elements similar to Hinduism and Buddhism.

Everyone is bound within the universe by their Karma, and trapped in a cycle of reincarnation until they achieve enlightenment, which can only be attained through asceticism. They practice fruititarianism. They refrain from any violence toward ANY living thing (including plants). Avoid lying/stealing. Avoid excessive material possessions.

Jainism is one of the Indian philosophies that does not consider the Vedas divine authority and advocates atheism because a God can't be seen through perception or inference.

The doctrine governing the faith sounds a little like the Eight Fold Path of Buddhism. The main ideas

Jains do believe in the existence of a soul and that it is inherently perfect but is usually bound in an imperfect body because of past karma. The practice of Jainism is intended to perfect the soul again so it can overcome its past karma and, of course, passions of the flesh.

Jain followers typically wear cotton masks to prevent them from swallowing insects or even germs. They consider this part of their dedication to the idea of non-violence. Along with this they usually have their evening meal before the sun sets as a precaution against insects being attracted to lights.

Years ago, one of my history professors told the class a story to illustrate the concept of Jainism. Although perhaps slightly hyperbolic, it served to communicate the concept and entrench it in our memories. I will attempt to recreate it from memory.

A Tiger was prowling about the forest one day, when he came upon a Jainist sitting underneath an apple tree. The Jainist's stomach was growling fiercely.

"You are hungry" The tiger observed. "Why don't you do as I do, and take nourishment from the creatures of the forest?"

"I cannot, for I am a Jainist. I cannot harm any living thing."

"Interesting" Murmured the tiger. "Why don't you pluck an apple from the tree behind you?"

"I could not do such a thing," The Jainist replied "for plants are living things as well, and so I must not harm the apple tree by tearing off one of it's fruits."

"There are fallen apples all around you, why don't you eat one of them?"

"Surely, I would, but they are out of reach. I cannot move for fear of harming the grass and insects beneath my feet."

The tiger replied: "Fear not, Jainist, for I believe I have the solution for both of our problems!"

The tiger then devoured the Jainist, and continued on his way.

Jainism is an Indian ascetic religion, with influences from both Hinduism and Buddhism. Jains follow the teachings of Mahavira (c540-468 BC). They are best known for their doctrine of ahimsa, which forbids the causing of harm to any living being, including some plants. Mahatma Gandhi was deeply influenced by Jain teachings, and was a keen believer in non-violence.

Jains believe that individuals must ensure their karma is not weighed down by evil actions in order that their soul, or jiva, may obtain release from worldly suffering.

Jains follow a strict ethical code, summarised in the Five Vows:

  1. non-injury (ahimsa)
  2. non-lying (satya)
  3. non-stealing (asteya)
  4. non-possession (aparigrah)
  5. chastity(brahmcharya)

Jainism is a non-theistic religion, believing that spirits and deities cannot help the jiva escape worldly existence.

Jainism has two main sects: Digambaras and Svetambaras. The Digambaras, or 'sky-clad ones', advocate the giving up of all possessions, including clothes, and stipulate maleness as a prerequisite for attaining an enlightened state. The sect's monks go naked as they advance on their spiritual path. The Svetambaras, or 'white-clad ones', believe that neither nudity nor maleness are required, and that both sexes can gain enlightenment.

Jains try to choose careers which do not clash with their strict beliefs - they often choose a trade as merchants.

The Hutchinson Encyclopedia, Helicon Publishing Ltd, 1996
The World's Religions, Cambridge University Press, 1992

Jain"ism (?), n.

The heterodox Hindoo religion, of which the most striking features are the exaltation of saints or holy mortals, called jins, above the ordinary Hindoo gods, and the denial of the divine origin and infallibility of the Vedas. It is intermediate between Brahmanism and Buddhism, having some things in common with each.


© Webster 1913.

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