Sunday, February 25, 2024

Principles of Jainism


Jainism not only rejects the notion of a personal god but also the ideas of a single impersonal absolute reality. It regards each living being as an independent Jiva (soul). In its mundane condition, the soul is permeated by material particles through the working of 'Karma'. Every action, verbal, mental or otherwise brings in the influx of Karman of various types in the soul, which determines the circuit of birth as gods, men, devils, etc. Only by pure thoughts and acts the influx of 'Karman' can be stopped and the soul liberated. Everything depends upon 'Karman' and Jainism admits no creator. To attain liberation, a double process is necessary; the incursion of new Karma particles must be stopped; and those that have already tainted the soul must be expelled. i.e.complete liberation of the soul from the Karman. This is possible only through Samayak Vishwas (Right faith), Samayak Gjan (Right Knowledge) and Samayak Karma (Right conduct); the Tri-ratna (Three Jewels) of Jainism. Right faith is the belief in the Tirthankaras and principles and indicated a correct attitude for the acceptance of truth; right knowledge is the flawless understanding of the religious principles; right conduct is abstaining from denying what is harmful and doing what is good.

Right conduct is to abstinence from (a) untruth (a-satya) (b) violence (ahimsa) and injury to living beings (c) theft (d) sex or lust (sangam) (e) greed (lobha) for worldly possessions. These are the five vows. Of these, violence is the most heinous. The highest virtue is the total renouncement of any thought or action which can hurt a living being. 'Ahimsa Paramo Dharmath', Non-Violence is the supreme religion - This Jain motto was adopted by Mahatma Gandhi in the modern age.

In Jainism, there are five instruments of knowledge. 

  1. Mati jnana, perception through activity of sense organs, including the mind

  2. Sruta jnana, knowledge revealed by sculptures

  3. Avadhe jnana, clairvoyant perception

  4. Manapparyaya jnana, telepathic knowledge

  5. Kevala jnana, the temporal knowledge or omniscient

The understanding and acquisition of knowledge is attained by means of Pramana (Instruments of knowledge) and Naya ( point of view). The five 'pramanas' are those noted above and there are seven 'nayas', some refer to the substances, some to modifications, some arise out of  nature of the subject and some out of verbal statements.

The Jains carry their asceticism and their non-violence to extreme limits. A layman progresses in his spiritual upliftment if he observes seven more vows along with the five vows mentioned earlier. They are 

  1. limit the distance up to which he would go in any direction 

  2. abstains from wanton sinful activities 

  3. restrict enjoying consumable and non-consumable articles 

  4. limit the area of his activities 

  5. with minimum possession retire to a quiet spot at stated times and for the time he renounces worldly attachment and aversion and meditates 

  6. fast and leads a rigorous religious life for four days a month

  7. share food with pious and holy persons who come to his house at the proper time and also rend them necessary aid in their religious practices.

A layman after attaining the right knowledge, starts observing the above vows. According to his ability he proceeds stage by stage and when he reaches the eleventh stage he is ready to enter the ascetic life. The code of morality is very vigorous for monks. A Jain monk does not own a house of his own. A Digambara monk goes about without clothes with a gourd pot to urinate and peacock feathers to clear himself after his toilet. A Swetambara monk carries a staff, a skein of wool and wooden pots. To keep himself steadily on the path of liberation a monk has to bear cheerfully all his troubles. There are twenty-two troubles he has to face unflinchingly and his spiritual discipline or conduct is fivefold. He had to do many penance, which are external and internal of 6 kinds each.

An instance of their extreme non-violence state, can be seen from Jaina monks with their nose and mouth covered by fine cloth mask to ensure that they do not involuntarily 'kill' germs while breathing.

Thus in Jainism, God as such does not exist. A liberated soul, that of a prophet is god. A voluntary death through penance is held is high esteem, but suicide is condemned as an act of cowardice.