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PREFACE

 

ESSENCE OF JAINISM

 

TIRTHANKARA MAHAVIRA

 

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ESSENCE OF JAINISM


 

 

The six necessary daily duties of a Jaina householder are: devotional worship of the 'Deva (Jina), reverence to the Guru, study of holy books ('shastra'), practice of self-discipline, observance of fasts including the curbing of desires, and charity. The last duty includes providing food to holy persons and to the indigent, medicine and medical aid to the ailing, educational facilities for those who are in need of them, and a sense of security and fearlessness to those who are under duress, are wrongfully oppressed, persecuted or tyrannized. This fourfold philanthropy is a very important positive aspect of the Jaina way of life and in substance consists in selfless service of humanity as a pious duty done out of love for all and compassion for those in want or distress, the Jaina motto being, 'piety is rooted in active compassion'.

Another significant feature of the Jaina way of life is the great emphasis it lays on what you think and how you think, that is on the Bhavanas, or yearning pure thoughts and pious aspirations. On leaving bed in the morning and going to it at night, while worshipping before the images of the Jina in the temple or performing Samayika, a Jaina fervently wishes for the well being, happiness and peace of all and every body.

Sects & subsects: Schismatic tendencies resulting in sects and subsects are known to have existed in Jainism since the early periods of its history. In course of time many died out, a few survived and several new ones emerged. At present, the community is divided into two principal sects, the Digambara (sky-clad) and the Shvetambara (white-clad). The former is so called because its male ascetics go naked and possess nothing except a peacock feather brush and a wooden jug for water. The followers of this sect also install in their temples the nude images of the Tirthankaras in the Kayotsarga (standing) or lotus-seated postures of complete bodily abandonment and contemplative spiritual meditation. This sect is further divided into three subsects: the 'Terahpantha' which is more puritanical in conduct and simpler in worshipping ritual; the 'Beespantha' which is much less so in both these aspects and adheres to the institution of the Bhattarakas, the saffron-robed religious pontiffs; and the Samayya or 'Taranapantha' which is opposed to temple and image worship. The Shvetambara sect is divided into the temple worshippers and Sadhumargis. The former adorn the images of the Jinas and indulge in an elaborate worship-ritual, while the latter are opposed to temple and image worship and are further divided into the Sthanakavasis and the Terapanthis. The ascetics of both these denominations wear a piece of cloth ('muhapatti') over the mouth. All the Shvetambara ascetics of the three divisions wear a piece of two or three simple, unsewn , white garments and keep very limited possessions. A Jaina ascetic, male or female, of whichever sect or subsect, has no home, no worldly possessions, no intimate associations with house-holders, takes meals only once in a day, and does not stay in any one place for more than a few days except during the four-months rainy retreat when they abide in any one place. The basis of these sects and subsects is not so much the difference in the doctrine or the basic principles of the creed as in the codes of conduct, particularly of the ascetics, and in the modes of worship and ritual. There are some other differences, too, relating to certain traditions, etc., but they are of minor significance.

Literature: The original Jaina scriptures ('Agama', 'Shruta' or 'Jinavani'), as preached by the 24 Tirthankaras, one after the other, and finally codified in the time of Mahavira (599-527 B.C.), the last of them, consisted of the twelve 'Angas' (limbs of canon) and a number of Miscellanies ('Painnas'). The last of the 12 Angas, the 'Drishtivada', comprised five sections, the most important of which was that of the fourteen 'Purvas' dealing with philosophy in detail. Thus, the Jaina canonical knowledge has often been described as the Eleven Angas & Fourteen Purvas. After Mahavira's nirvana, this body of knowledge flowed down by word of mouth through a succession of eminent Acharyas, dwindling in volume with the passage of time. At last, about the beginning of the Christian era, what remained of the contents of the Purvas was recollected in the form of 'Mahakarmaprakritiprabhrita' and Kasayaprabhrata, and the remnants of the 11 'Angas' together with certain other older texts were redacted about the middle of the 5th century A.D. Side by side, a number of quasi-canonical texts were also compiled by eminent Acharyas like Kundakunda, Battakera, Uma-Svami, Sivarya and Yativrishabha, during the first and second centuries of the Christian era. The original language of the canon was the Ardhamagadhi Prakrit, most of the other texts also being in Prakrit. A vast exegetical literature came into being and numerous independent works and treatises written on different topics in the Prakrit, Sanskrit, Apabhramsha, Kannada and Tamil languages. The entire religious literature of the Jains is classified into four 'Annyogas': 'Prathamanayoga', dealing with 'Puranic' and historical traditions and religious lore; 'Charananuyoga', dealing with the rules of conduct of the ascetics and the laity, including consecrations, ritual and devotional compositions; Karananuvoga, dealing with metaphysics and, cosmology; and Dravyanuyoga, dealing with pure philosophy, mysticism and dialectics. In addition, the Jains also produced a rich secular and scientific literature on different branches of ancient learning. They have handsomely contributed to the development of almost all the ancient, mediaeval and modern Indian languages literary styles and forms. The institution of 'Shastra' 'bhandaras' ('manuscript-libraries') has helped the preservation and dissemination of Jaina works. Jaina literature forms a valuable part of India's literary heritage.

Holy Places & Monuments: The principal places of Jaina pilgrimage are those associated with birth, 'nirvana' or any other important event in the life of the twenty-four Tirthankaras, or with some important event in the ecclesiastical history of the Jains, some miraculous Jina image or shrine, or some important ancient religious or cultural center. As such, the Jaina holy places are scattered all over India, from 'Mt. Kailas' (in Tibet) to 'Cape Comorin', and from the western coast to the Bay of Bengal. Jaina 'stupas', 'caves', cave-temples, pillars, shrines, temples and temple-cities, with superb sculptural and architectural specimens, are to be seen in almost every part of the country. More important of the Jaina pilgrim centers are: 'Parasnath Hill', 'Rajgir', 'Pawa', 'Champapur', 'Kolhua-pahar' and Vaishali in Bihar; Paharpur and Pak-Vir in Bengal; Udayagiri Khandagiri caves in Orissa; Ayodhya, Ratnapuri, Shravasti, Varanasi, Kakandi, Kaushambi, Kampilya, Hastinapur, Prayag, Shauripur, Ahichchhatra, Mathura and Deograh in U.P.; Khajuraho, Una, Siddhavarakoot, Dronagir, Nainagiri, Muktagiri, Badwani, Sonagir, Kundalpur, Bandhaii and Bahoriband in Madhya Pradesh; Rishabhadeva, Mt. Abu, Mahavirji, Ranakpur, Osia, Padmapuri, Tejara and Chittor in Rajasthan; Gimar, Taranga, Shatrunjaya and Palitana in Gujarat; Ellora, Ajanta, Badami, Dharasiva, Nasik, Mangitungi, Kunthalgiri and Ramtek in Maharashtra; Ramkond and Banvasi in Andhra; Shravanabelagola with its Gommatesha colossus, Moodbidre, Karkal, Venur, Humcha, Hampi and mbhoj-Bahubaliin Karnataka and Kanchi, Madura, Sittanvassal, Tirumalai, Mylapore and Nagarcoil in Tamilnadu; Mithila in Nepal; Mt. Kailas in Tibet; and Taxila in Pakistan. The Jaina monuments are important not only from the religious but also from the cultural, artistic, antiquarian and historical points of view.

Festivals: There is hardly any month of the year which does not contain one or more Jaina holidays, fast days, festivals or fairs. The 8th and the 14th days of each fortnight are regular fast-days. Then, there are the three Ashtanhikas (eight-day festivals) and three Dashalakshaniks (ten-day festivals) including the Paryushana, falling in different months. The birth and 'nirvana' anniversaries of the Tirthankaras, especially those of Rishabha, Parshva and Mahavira, are celebrated with great eclat. At most of the important places of pilgrimage, annual fairs are held, and in many cities and towns car-processions of the Jina are taken out annually. Keeping fasts, worshipping the Jina and other adorable objects, recitation of hymns and of the sacred texts holding religious discourses, alms giving, taking the vows, and such other acts of piety usually characterize the celebration of their holidays by the Jains.

To sum up, Jainism is a rational creed and a living religion which has preserved in a large measure its originality and integrity. It is a well developed system with a rich cultural heritage and its own characteristic way of life and thinking The number of its declared adherents may be comparatively small, the percentage of literacy and education among them is very high, and numerous educational, charitable and social-welfare institutions owe their existence to the philanthropy of the Jams.