Jainism: A Religion of Asceticism (New)

 Professor (Dr.) Bhagchandra

Jain Introduction

l.Jainism is one of the most ancient religions based on non-violent and humanitarian approach towards all beings. It is an indigenous religion originated and developed on Indian soil with a profound progressive attitude and judicial understanding and philosophical indispensable necessities of the time. Jinas and Tirthankaras who conquered the senses and worldly desires and attained the perfect knowledge and eternal happiness through observing the right asceticism for welfare of all animate. They are the builders of the ford, which leads across the ocean of suffering. They taught moral causation stating that have a humanitarian attitude and exhaust the bad actions of past by severe practices and asceticism. Their religion is called Jainism and its followers are called Jainism. In early period they were called Sramanas (Ascetics) and their tradition is named as Sramanic tradition.
Meaning of Asceticism in Jainism
2. Asceticism is originally a Greek word, which means training. The “athlete” was one trained and one might be an “athlete” in virtue. Since very early the ascetic became the spiritual athlete of Church history. Two quite different conceptions are mingled in the history of asceticism. One of these preserves the original meaning of discipline of the body for some ultimate purpose as when William James urges sacrifice to God and duty as the means of training the will (Psychology, vol.ii, p.322). The other conception distrusts body altogether. Asceticism has then as its function, and not the training, but the destroying of the body or the negation of its importance (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, edited by John A. Selble, Vol. ii, p.63). Hence Asceticism should be taken to mean � the form of religious life led by those who having separated themselves entirely from the world live in solitude.”1 Another word Monasticism is used in this regard which is derived from the Greek word “alone”, solitary from which the whole family of words has been formed: monks, monastic nun, monasticism and monarchism (ERC.Vol.2, p.69). It means asceticism and monasticism go together in religious sphere.
3. Primarily asceticism consists in the contradiction of natural desires under the mandate of some ideal set by the will before the life. Then every system of morals enforces the discipline of the will and developed its methods of spiritual exercises. Afterwards dualistic asceticism linked with a distinct attitude towards life. In this thought material body is inherently evil and the spiritual eternal is alone good. This is the metaphysical dualism, which separates soul and body, God and world and reaches to Nirvana or Moksa.
4. As regards ascetic practices in Jainism, they are collectively called as Tapes, which have a systematic line of action pursued to gain the distinctive end. It is the essence of asceticism and asceticism is the ideal of Jainism. It has three forms: I) Samana which means equanimity, 2) Samana which means self-control, and 3) Sramana which means strive. There is no spiritual improvement without persistent and sincere efforts in the right direction. This has been mentioned in the Pali Tripitaka and its commentaries at length. Jain asceticism is not in fact a self-torturing religion, but it is the religion of penance rested on right faith, right knowledge and right conduct (Ratnatraya) which is the path of purification and emancipation from all karmas .The etymology of word “Tapa” itself means self-mortification through right actions.
5. Non-violence along with chastity was its fundamental characteristic based on asceticism from the very start. Although the asceticism or Tapa is opposed to sexuality and fertility, but it is itself a powerful creative force, the generative power of ascetic heat. Therefore Jainism may be called a religion of asceticism (Sramanism). The Dighanikaya, Majjhimanikaya and other Texts of early Pali Tipitaka also mention its ascetic characteristic. The word “Nigantha” (unattached one or unclothed without and free from all worldly bonds and its within) is there used exclusively for Jaina ascetics indicating their way of asceticism. . It is not only associated with Tirthankara Mahavira or Nigantha Nataputta but his predecessors Parswanatha and Rsabhadeva also.
6. The term “Jainism” itself connotes the meaning of asceticism. It is derived from “Jina” meaning conqueror of senses, the spiritual victor, and an honorific, similar to Buddha, by which its multiple propagators are known as Jainas. They are in number the little over three million (i.e. 3.15 million= 0.48% of the total population according to the Census of India of 1981). The population is not much increased during last two decades. The Jaina organizations, however offer different figures going into fifteen millions. Jainas live in all parts of India and also abroad. But in fact, it was not much propagated outside the Greater Indian sub-continent.7. The objective of present essay is to highlight the conspicuous feature and discerning appreciation of Jainism in general and asceticism in particular. It will also give a glimpse picture of its positive contribution to human life concerned with the comprehension of rich heritage of social, cultural, religious, spiritual and human values. Its antiquity, esoteric philosophy and spirituality, ritualistic aspects in practice, literature, language and culture will manifest its contribution to the human values. In fact, Jainism has been in existence with vedic religion as an independent religion since inception. It also co-existed with Buddhism and its historical part in India. Therefore, its interaction between them finds ample references to in the early literature like Rgveda, Atharvaveda, Samhitas, Upanisadas, Puranas and Pali, Prakrit and Buddhist Sanskrit, literature.