- Religion and Philosophy
Jain Mahavira taught a simple doctrine to attain knowledge and enlightenment
The life of Mahavira
Jainism was founded by Vardhamana Mahavira around 2500 years ago.
Mahavir taught a simple doctrine to attain knowledge and enlightenment. He preached that men and women who wished to know the truth must leave their homes. He believed in leading a simple life. He was against rituals sacrifices. Like the Buddha, Mahavir laid great stress on non violence, but he was more strict.
Lord Mahavir believed that every living being had a soul. Therefore, not even an insect as small as an ant should be killed intentionally. Mahavir preached that the main aim of human beings in their life is to set the soul and not to be born again in this world.
Mahavir travelled far an distant places preaching his message. He also visited the courts of famous rulers like Ajatshatru and Bimbisara.
For the Jain faith, the New Year, Mahavir Nirvan
Jains believe that the whole universe consists of souls
The Jains believe that the whole universe consists of souls or Jives and soulless things collectively called a – jiva (not soul). Jiva and a – jiva roughly correspond to what we call spirit matter, except that by a – jiva, jains understand not only matter, or pudgala, as they call it, but also such elements as time (kala), space (akasha), etc.
The jains believe that there are innumerable souls which are all capable of perfect knowledge and central bliss. However, associated with matter or a - jiva since beginningless time, they are mostly in a state of bondage. Bondage is understand in Jainism as going through the process of birth and death without interruption and remaining confined to one material body or another, a – Jiva or matter, therefore, is like a shackle for jiva, and the goal of life for the jiva is to be free from this shackle and achieve its true state of perfect knowledge and eternal bliss.
According to the jain doctrine both jiva and a - jiva are permanent categories. There is no God or Creator who created the universe at any point of time. The universe is timeless and eternal. However, the Jains do believe in the existence of minor gods and goddesses who represent different states of existence of the souls of jivas. They also believe in the existence of intelligent beings like Yakshas who possess more powers than human beings. They also believe in ghosts and spirits.
The jains do not accept the authority of the Vedas. They also declare that the Vedic rituals or sacrifices cannot lead to freedom or moksha.
Like the Upanishad and Buddhist faiths, the jains also believe that the jivas our souls are born again and again in the various human, divine or animal forms, to suffer or enjoy the results of their karma or acts in previous lives. They, however, differ in taking the past karma and its effects as not merely mental but as something material which sticks to the jiva and keeps it bound to the wordly condition.
The goal of life is moksha or liberation of the jiva from the cycle of births and deaths. This is achieved only when he jiva is completely separated from karmic matter. The spiritual discipline leading to moksha consists of three elements. 1) right faith, 2) right knowledge, and 3) right conduct, which are called the three precious jewels or Triratnas. Right faith is faith in the teachings of Jain prophets and Right knowledge is knowledge of the Jain doctrines. It is third, the Right conduct, which contains the actual Jain code of conduct.
The Jain Tirthankaras declared that caste discrimination was based on a false point of view. However, the Jains did not take any active steps to abolish caste distinctions even in their own community.
The Jain monks keep their mouths and noses covered with a piece of cloth
The Mahavratas (great vows) are meant to be practised only by the Jain monks. For the householders non possession is modified to mean reducing possessions to the minimum and giving up pleasure to mean limiting one's desire for pleasures. These are known as `little – vows' or Anuvratas'. The jain code of conduct puts a great emphasis on ahimsa or abstention from killing or causing pain to any form of life. The Jain monks keep their mouths and noses covered with a piece of cloth so as not to inhale any insects and sweep the ground on which they walk so as not to step on any living creature.
The Jain way to the liberation from the shackles of karma recommends complete breaking of all attachment to worldly things. They sometimes take it to the point of stopping all actions, including eating food, and thus voluntarily bringing one's life to an end. However, this extreme step is recommended only for the Jain monks and not for householders. It is not compulsory even for the monks.
As Mahavir had connections with the ruling families of Bihar, the religion he preached soon become sufficiently popular. He travelled on foot for thirty years preaching the doctrines, halting only during the rainy season. His mission took him to Kasala, Magadha, Mithila, Champa and many other parts of the country. He founded monasteries manned by learned munis (sages) who led a life of renunciation, detachment and rigorous austerity. After his passing away, the Jain munis were patronized by Bimbisara, the Nanda King Chandragupta Maurya.
The spread of Jainism continued even after the Mauryas, and their centres were established in different parts of India, especially Gujarat and Karnataka. Soon after Mauryan rule, the followers of Jainism was divided into two sects – Svetambara and Digambara. Svetambara were so called because their monks wore white clothes. The Digambara formed the more orthodox sect and their monks went about naked like Mahavir himself. They kept long fasts and led a life of extreme austerity. There was no difference in them about the doctrines of Jainism. Still later, most of the Digambara monks also started white robes.