2015 bcfe 101/Ln 11 Jainism

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2015 BCFE 101/Ln 11 Jainism

Jainism - A religion of India that teaches a path to spiritual purity and enlightenment through a disciplined mode of life founded upon the tradition of ahimsa, nonviolence to all living creatures. Beginning in the 7th–5th century BCE, Jainism evolved into a cultural system that has made significant contributions to Indian philosophy and logic, art and architecture, mathematics, astronomy and astrology, and literature. Along with Hinduism and Buddhism, it is one of the three most ancient Indian religious traditions still in existence.

Jainism is a religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice emphasize the necessity of self-effort to move the soul towards divine consciousness and liberation. Any soul that has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state of supreme being is called Jina (Conqueror or Victor). Jainism is also referred to as Shraman (self-reliant).

The name Jainism derives from the Sanskrit verb ji, “to conquer.” It refers to the ascetic battle that it is believed Jain renunciants (monks and nuns) must fight against the passions and bodily senses to gain omniscience and purity of soul or enlightenment. The most illustrious of those few individuals who have achieved enlightenment are called Jina (literally, “Conqueror”), and the tradition’s monastic and lay adherents are called Jain (“Follower of the Conquerors”), or Jaina. This term came to replace a more ancient designation, Nirgrantha (“Bondless”), originally applied to renunciants only.

Early history of Jainism

Jainism originated in the 7th–5th century BCE in the Ganges basin of eastern India, the scene of intense religious speculation and activity at that time. Buddhism also appeared in this region, as did other belief systems that renounced the world and opposed the ritualistic Brahmanic schools whose prestige derived from their claim of purity and their ability to perform the traditional rituals and sacrifices and to interpret their meaning. These new religious perspectives promoted asceticism, the abandonment of ritual, domestic and social action, and the attainment of gnosis (illumination) in an attempt to win, through one’s own efforts, freedom from repeated rebirth.

The first Jain figure for whom there is reasonable historical evidence is Parshvanatha (or Parshva), a renunciant teacher who may have lived in the 7th century BCE and founded a community based upon the abandonment of worldly concerns. Jain tradition regards him as the 23rd Tirthankara (literally, “Ford-maker,” i.e., one who leads the way across the stream of rebirths to salvation) of the current age (kalpa). The 24th and last Tirthankara of this age was Vardhamana, who is known by the epithet Mahavira (“Great Hero”) and is believed to have been the last teacher of “right” knowledge, faith, and practice. Although traditionally dated to 599–527 BCE, Mahavira must be regarded as a close contemporary of the Buddha (traditionally believed to have lived in 563–483 BCE but who probably flourished about a century later). The legendary accounts of Mahavira’s life preserved by the Jain scriptures provides the basis for his biography and enable some conclusions to be formulated about the nature of the early community he founded.

The origin of Jain philosophy traces back to the pre-historic time. It is said 24 tirthankars or liberated persons preached this truth which was handed over one by one in course of time. The last of them was Vardhamana also called Mahavira, a contemporary of Gautam Buddha. The Jina or Tirthankaras so designated as they had conquered themselves through perfect knowledge and gained absolute freedom from the bondage of karma and as they had founded the four orders of monks, nuns, male and female disciples.
According to Jaina traditions, twenty four Tirthankaras were responsible for the origin and development of Jaina religion and philosophy. Of these, the first twenty two are of doubtful historicity. In the case of the last two, Parsvanatha and Mahavira, Buddhist works also confirm their historicity.

According to Jaina tradition the twenty-third Tirthankara, Parsvanatha was the son of King Asvasena of Varanasi and his Queen Vama. He abandoned the throne at the age of thirty and became an ascetic. He received enlightenment after 84 days of penance. He died at the age of 100 years, nearly 250 years before Mahavira. Parsvanatha believed in the eternity of `matter'. He left behind him a good number of followers. The followers of Parsvanatha wore a white garment. Thus it is clear that even before Mahavira some kind of Jaina faith existed.


The twenty-fourth Tirthankara was Vardhamana Mahavira. He was born in Kundagrama (Basukunda), a suburb of Vaisali (Muzzaffarpur district, Bihar) in 540 B.C. His father, Siddhartha was the head of Jnatrikas, a Kshatriya clan. His mother was Trishala, a Lichchhavi princess. Vardhamana was given a good education and was married to Yashoda. He had a daughter by her.

At the age of thirty, Vardhamana left his home and became an ascetic. At first he wore a single garment which he abandoned after 13 months and began to wander as a 'naked monk'. For twelve years he lived the life as an ascetic following severe austerities. In the 13th year of his asceticism, at the age of 42, he attained the 'supreme knowledge'. He was later known as `Mahavira (the supreme hero), or `Jina' (the conqueror). He was also hailed as `Islirgrantha' (free from fetters).

For the next thirty years he moved from place to place and preached his doctrines in Kosala, Magadha and further east. He wandered for eight months in a year and spent the four months of the rainy season in some famous town of eastern India. He often visited the courts of Bimbisara and Ajatasatru. He died at Pawa (near Rajagriha) in Patna district at the age of 72 (468 B.C.).

Teachings of Mahavira

Mahavira accepted most of the religious doctrines laid down by Parsvanatha. However, he made some alterations and additions to them.

Parsvanatha advocated the following four principles:

  1. truth,

  2. non-violence,

  3. non-possession, and

  4. not to receive anything which was not voluntarily given. To this Mahavira added celibacy (brahlinacharya).

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