Sat | Jan 16, 2021

Understanding Jainism

Published:Sunday | February 9, 2020 | 12:25 AMPaul H. Williams - Sunday Gleaner Writer

For the past three week,s Family and Religion explored Sikhism, a monotheistic religion said to have been founded by Guru Nanak Div in the late 1400s. Some people tend to associate it with Jainism, an ancient Indian religion, but it is regarded as a complete and separate faith from Sikhism.

Yet both share some similarities as they originated from Hinduism. They have rejected and denounced some traditional Hindu practices and philosophies such as the caste system embedded within Hinduism. The two religions focus on karma, the idea that good deeds in one life will lead to a better existence in the next. And while Sikhism seeks peace, Sikhs are prepared to fight oppression and injustice.

It is believed to have its roots in the Indus Valley civilisation and came out of the Sramana traditions of asceticism, which is self-denial and control in order to achieve a higher level of spirituality. Sramana began as a divergent of the Vedic religion. It existed parallel to, but separate from Vedic Hinduism, which followed the teachings and rituals found in the Vedas, the most ancient texts of the Vedic religion.

Sramana, meaning ‘seeker’, promoted spiritual concepts, such as sasãra (the cycle of birth and death), and moksha (liberation from that cycle). It denounced marriage and domestic life and is following a path of asceticism (severe self-discipline and abstention from all indulgences) in order to achieve spiritual liberation. Sramana traditions later gave rise to various schools of Hinduism as well as Yoga, Buddhism, and Jainism.

Jainism, traditionally known as Dharma, espouses non-violence in thought, word, and action at all time. There is also a strong emphasis on morality and ethics. Practitioners of Jainism are called Jains. The word Jain came from the Sanskrit word Jina, meaning conqueror. Practitioners, called Jains, believe a peaceful way can always be found even after great efforts. The ultimate goal of Jainism is to achieve liberation of the soul.

Jains belief

Jains believe in the independent existence of body and soul. For them, there is no creative and omnipotent God, combined with a belief in an eternal universe. The universality of karma is one of the main elements of Jainism. Karma means action, word, or deed. It focuses on the spiritual principle of cause and effect. Every action has a particular consequence. It says that the sum total of someone’s past and present lives determines what happens to him or her in futures lives.

Good intent and good deeds contribute to good karma and future happiness, while bad intent and deeds cause bad karma and suffering. It is associated with rebirth, reincarnation, the idea that death is the beginning of a new existence. This idea is also a feature of Sikhism.

The main principles of Jainism are ahimsa (non-violence); anekantavada (non-absolutism); and aparigraha (non-possessiveness). Jains take five main vows that include ahimsa and aparigraha as well as satya (being truthful); asteya (no stealing); and brahmacharya (chastity). Monks and nuns must absolutely obey these vows.

Modern-day Jainism is divided into two major schools, or sects: Digambara and Svetambara. The Svetambara, meaning ‘white clad’, practise the wearing of white clothes, while the monks of the ‘sky clad’, Digambara, do not wear clothes at all, which some other Jains disagree with.