Jainism is an ancient religion that believes that bliss can be achieved if one lives a harmless life. The religion does not depend on gods, but on the self. Therefore, Jainism is known as a self-help religion. There are two major divisions of Jains: the Digambara (sky clad) and the Svetambara (white clad). There are about 4.2 million followers of Jainism in the world, mostly in India.

History of Jainism

Jainism was developed through the centuries by several tirthankaras, or guiding teachers who teach people how to reach liberation or moksha. According to Jainism, 24 tirthankaras have contributed to the religion during the "present age." A tirthankara is an ordinary human being that engages in intense meditation and penitence and improves the soul to the state of purity. Modern-day Jainism is attributed to Mahavira, the latest tirthankara. Mahavira was born as Vardhamana into a royal family in India in the 540 or 590 BC. At the age of 30, he left his princely life and devoted himself to spirituality. After more than twelve years of meditation and fasting, he received enlightenment and was called Mahavira. He spent the rest of his life teaching others and contributing to the spread of Jainism. He died in 527 BC (having reached liberation from rebirth). By mid-19th century, as Hinduism grew stronger, Jainism lost its large following. It experienced a revival later in the 19th century.

Jainism Beliefs

Jainism is interested in the well-being of the universe and mankind. According to Jainism humans, animals, and plants have souls that are equal and should be respected. Because of this, Jains are vegetarians and use natural resources as efficiently and cautiously as possible. They also support reincarnation. The aim of Jains is to attain liberation by erasing all bad karma from the soul in order to halt the repetitive cycle of birth and death and move the immortal soul into a state of eternal bliss. The three jewels or important beliefs of Jainism are: right belief, right conduct, and right knowledge. The five vows or mahavratas are: avoiding violence, detaching from possessions, speaking the truth, not stealing, and practicing sexual restraint. The modern-day version of Jainism is the work of Mahavira, whose teachings are collected in texts called the Agamas. The religious officials of Jainism are nuns and monks who lead disciplined lives.

Jainism Customs

Pilgrimages and fasting are important in Jainism. Pilgrimages are not mandatory, but recommended. On pilgrimages, Jains often visit temples and locations connected to tirthankaras. A holy mountain that Jains often visit is in Shatrunjaya in Gujarat. While praying, Jains bring to mind the tirthankaras and their contributions and teachings. Fasting is an integral part of Jainism. Many followers fast when they please; however most Jains fast only around the time of holy days and festivals, like during the monsoon period. Fasts can be used as a form of penitence or as cleansing of the body and mind. There are various types of fasts ranging from complete fasts to cutting your favorite foods only.

By Ryan Brown