History

  • Jains believe that their founder, Vardhamana Mahavira (599-527 BCE) is the last of 24 holy teachers who came to teach the way of self mastery.
  • Mahavira is not looked at exactly as a religious founder, but rather as a teacher who came to re-establish what had previously been taught
  • Mahavira was a jina or “conqueror” who sought to give his followers a clear path to enlightenment
  • Mahavira grew up in India where Hinduism was the dominant religion, however he was not satisfied with all aspects of the religion
  • At the age of 30 he abandoned Hinduism and went to pursue his spiritual ambitions
  • He became an ascetic – denying one’s self of food, clothing, and pleasure in order to achieve a higher spiritual goal
  • He followed a very strict vegetarian diet, and gave up all his possessions except one piece of clothing and lead a life of intense meditation
  • Meditation, the process of eliminating self-centered thinking and becoming united with the spirit that governs the universe, is one of the main spiritual practices of Jainism
  • He reached enlightenment, jina, at the age of 42
  • Mahavira’s life and teachings were dedicated to the art of non-violence
  • He achieved “liberation” at the age of 72 when he died of gradual fasting.

Beliefs

  • Jains are encouraged to follow the Five Practices:
    1. non-violence (ahimsa)
    2. truthfulness
    3. non-stealing
    4. celibacy
    5. non-possession
  • Jains think ahimsa is the most intelligent and most noble path to liberation and can be seen in many aspects of everyday Jain life
  • This involves a commitment to all life forms on earth.
  • Ahimsa has influenced many individuals and social justice movements (Ghandi, M.L.K. jr., the social justice movement)
  • Jains believe in karma (every action has a consequesnce)
  • Jains believe in reincarnation (an individuals eternal soul, or jiva, is reborn into different bodies over many lifetimes)
  • Jains believe the goal of one’s life is to achieve moksha which is the salvation from the cycle of rebirth.  This is achieved through meditation
  • Jains believe that everything, including atoms, have a jiva (soul) – this connects everything on the planet and connects the physical and spiritual worlds.
  • Jains believe that all truths depend on perspective and therefore there is nothing that is absolute

Milestones and Symbols

Sallekhana

  • The process of gradually fasting until death
  • This is considered a holy and sacred practice
  • Usually only practiced by spiritually fit individuals such as monks and nuns.
  • Not considered suicide, instead seen as liberation and achievement and complete separation from worldly possessions.
  • Individuals die in meditation
  • A person with an eating disorder is not participating in Sallekhana

Sacred Texts

  • Different sects in Jainism believe in different sacred writings
  • The skyclad sect believes the Satkandagama and

Kasay-aprabhrta are sacred

  • The whiteclad sect believe the Āgama (tradition) is also sacred

Currently

  • There are approximately 4 million Jains in the world
  • Most Jains live in India, with smaller populations in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States

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Anonymous
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Mahavira was not the founder of Jainism. There is NO official founder.

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