India Glossary
Jainism

Buddhism
Buddhism

   Jainism, like Buddhism, was a religious reaction to the growth of Brahmanic religion and power in India in the sixth century BC. The growth of Brahmanism focussed religious power and truth in the figures of the Brahmans, or priests; the byzantine elaborateness of the rituals connected with Brahmanism meant that only a small class of people were capable of carrying them out. In reaction to this, the Upanishadic thinkers stressed the religious power of individuals in contemplative thought. A few centuries later, two heretical Hindu movements would permanently install this inwardness and individuality in Indian religion and its heirs in the non-Indian world: Buddhism and Jainism.


   The great teacher of Jainism, Vardhamana Mahavira, lived at the same time as Siddhartha Guatama, the founder of Buddhism. It appears to Western historians that Jainism actually begins with Vardhamana, although the Jains believe that the religion is far older, extending in fact to the remotest antiquity. Mahavira, they believe, was the twenty-fourth and last of the teachers. He was born in 599 BC, the son of a daughter of the king of Vaisali. At the age of thirty, he learned the ephemerality of the world and devoted himself to an ascetic lifestyle. Over a period of twelve years, he suffered the most self-denying hardships until he finally reached enlightenment and began to teach others.


India Glossary
Samsara

Islam Glossary
Rasul
   Jainism is based on a single idea, that the transmigration of souls is caused by the union of the living with the non-living which then sets up energies, or tapas , which then drive the cycle of birth and rebirth, or samsara. This endless process can be stopped if the energies are used up in a life of discipline. At the end of the process, the soul, freed from the cycle of birth and rebirth, then exists in a state of infinite bliss, knowledge, power, and perception—the soul which has achieved this state is siddha-paramesthin . There is a slightly lower stage of the soul, called the arhat-paramesthin , and the arhat is the one who teaches the rest of humanity. This teacher is called the tirthankara , or "ford crosser," and serves as a vehicle of revelation for the rest of humanity. Like the Islamic rasul , each tirthankara is more or less a founder of a new religion.


India Glossary
Moksha
   The Jains believe that the world was uncreated and lasts for eternity; the only quality that reality has is the fact of change. Things are born, they decay, the pass away. Each physical object is held together by its own internal forces. In the face of this constant change only a few things remain permanent; of these, the most important is jiva , or the soul. The jiva can do two things: it can perceive and it can know. It also controls its own actions when it is part of a concrete body; so also it enjoys all the rewards and punishments of its own actions. There are four categories of souls: gods, humans, demons, and animals; each soul in the infinite cycle of birth and rebirth can enter any of these categories. Moksha occurs only when the soul becomes freed from the cycle of birth and rebirth.


   The path to moksha, moksha-marga , is the central teaching of Jainism. This path has three "jewels": right belief, right knowledge, and right conduct. This path involves a high degree of ascetism; quite literally the best lived life is one of total ascetism: no food or material involvement at all. Since this is an impossible idea, Mahavira developed a second path for normal human beings to follow. This involved five abstinences: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (abstinence from stealing), brahmacarya (chaste living), and aparigraha (abstinence from greed). This, perhaps, is the most important aspect of Jainism. It is overwhelmingly a moral religion. It promises an eventual release if an individual begins now, in this life, to live under a high moral code.   These are then two of the major nastika darsanas , the materialism of the Ajita Kesakambalin and the moral religion of Vardhamana Mahavira. The third, and the most influential, was founded by a prince of the Shakyas at the foot of the Himalayans: Buddhism.

Richard Hooker



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1994, Richard HookerRichard Hooker
Updated 10-01-97