N.L.Jain , Jaina Kendra, Rewa (M.P.) – 486 001.

I have utilised the occasion of presentation of my paper on the concept of Zero in Jaina Texts” at the IV Int. conference of Mathematics, Maebashi, Japan to visit the U.S. and Canada. Many learned Jaina saints, Bhattarakas and scholars have been going to the west for many years promoting Jainism as a world religion through their lectures and practices. Many impressive narratives on these activities are published in Jaina Papers here and abroad. My interest lay in learning the effect of these tours on Western non-Jain and Scholarly world. Accordingly I visited the religion or religious studies department of many universities, their libraries and public libraries. I also met many faculty members of these department. I learnt that there are numerous religion studies departments in universities and abroad and also there are large number of students in them. Despite this, there was hardly any knowledge about Jainism and its literature among them. There was virtually no Jaina literature there (expect in Austin. T.X.) However, there are courses on World’s Religions and we could find many textbooks on this subject written by competent teacher scholars. The students got the knowledge of Jainism through these books only. I read about 25 of these books written between 1889 and 1999. (Two of them are published in India). They describe Jainism in four to twenty four pages including some pictures of architectural importance. I was surprised to read their contents about Jainism in them. I could feel that there are many wrong conceptions about it among most of the scholars and therefore students also. If such descriptions are read, the new generation will have negative opinion. (This does not mean that all the books have similar descriptions. Some books have good analytical descriptions like the OUP books of 1996 and 1997). The reason for this could be that our literature has neither reached the authors nor the publishers. Also whatever has reached them, it is either indirect or traditional which have led them to present it then way they have done it. Of course, this indicates the lop-sided studies of these scholars. I do not know whether any attempt has been made to remove these types of conceptions. How, otherwise, the same would have been expressed even in the book of 1999. I also felt from all this that the western world remains immune of these yearly lectures and expositions by about two dozens saints and scholarly people. The appreciation of a system by others has a better promotional effect rather than self-praise. Many books like “Seven System in Indian Philosophy” (Trigunayat) and “The World Religions Reader” (Rutludge) do not contain even any description about Jainism. Of Course, Sikhism and its literature finds place everywhere. Many authors still state Jainism and Buddhism are reformatory forms of Hinduism and they describe them in a single chapter. Even many Indian Scholars in religious studies departments they do not agree to Jainism as an independent religion. The resident Indian Jainas also do not seem to attempt to remove these incorrect concepts in their books. This is the case even with the books “Jainism in North America” (1996) and “Conquerors of the World (1998). A similar situation was pointed out by S.K. Jain in U.K. and Europe while he was a visiting fellow there in 1992. Dr. Johrapurkar and Jain also felt the same way much earlier with some suggestions. As a result there is need for purposeful exposition of Jainism on global basis. Accordingly, we require to collect books – text books, general books and reference books published during, say half the century in different important languages and serialise the lop-sided or incorrect views in them and try to prepare multi-faceted book refuting them logically and send it to the authors and publishers so that they may modify their views in the next edition of their books. I shall describe here only some points for proper refutations.

Concept about Jainism in many books of World Religions in the West

The various concepts described in these books may be classified under many categories. 

General Conceptions about Jainism

Barring few books, most books still point out Jainism (and Buddhism too) as a reformed form of Hinduism. They have been developed as a revolt against vedic tradition. Jainism is a minority section of Hinduism. (Thrower, Hopfe, Munroe, Kaufman etc.)

Jaina Sect is a strange one and it is understood difficultly

Jainism does not seem to be as attractive as Buddhism because the Jaina texts are tasteless and difficult. They are not understood by all.

According to Toynbee, Jainism is highly self-centered. The self-centeredness is an intellectual and moral error. It creates egoism. That is why it could not undergo expansion.

According to Basham and Scheitzer, Jainism is basically selfish and negative. Its concepts of Arhat and Tirthankara are based on selfishness. They are not all welfarist as the concept of Bodhi-Sattva. (Despite this, Thrower agrees that the negative tendency has two positive effects : (1) Satisfaction of curiosity about the knowledge of the fine entitles and (2) Knowledge of external and internal world. These are also important achievements).

The Jaina thought and practices are extremist. The concept of theism, devotionalism, austerities and non-violence are forms of extremism. In fact the western world feels strange to think atheistic system as a form of religion. It questions about this point. This type of system is the most difficult path for the progress of life and beliefs.

Prof. Munroe opines that the western religious system are more organised than the eastern ones.

Prof. Hutchinson opines that the Jaina tenets are unwordly. This is not a religion for the world. However it requires thinking why it is a living religion even today. The hedomist west gets a shock by Jaina etc.

Some authors have assumed it to be the religion of Salvation and austerities. The naked sainthood is essential for infinite bliss.

Origin of Jainism and Biography of Mahavira

Many books published upto 1995 have stated Mahavira as the founder of Jainism. Some authors,

however refer to the tradition of Lord makers. Some books have stated Mahavira as the historical founder of Jainism and they keep silence on the earlier history. Some authors have stated that Mahavira gave Jainism a more positive from (Celibacy, penitential retreat etc.) than Parshvanatha and he was renovator, modifier and time tuner of Parsvan system. Despite the opinion of Dr. Rice and Dr. Zinmmer that Jainism existed (though under different name of Nirgzantha) in Pre-Aryan (1900-2700 BC) these authors seem to be lop-sided.

Almost all the books have biography of Mahavira based on Kalpasutra (foetus transference, marriage, one daughter, divine cloth etc.) Some authors agree to some miracles in his life. However his biography is not as marvelous as Christ, Mohammed and Buddha. That is why, most western scholar’s state his biography is not as unattrative, formal less reliable and legendary. On the one hand, these authors agree Mahavira to be a staunch austerity, adventurous, deep philosopher and capable organiser (of four fold order) on the other, they state him a sage engaged in extremely tormenting and inconscientious harsh austere life. 

Though Jainism is said to be naturalistic, the descriptions of his foetus transference etc. are stated to be super natural. They seem to be more legendary. His period of 540-468 B.C. is said to be better historical than 599-527 B.C. On this basis he is given contemporarieness heretic scholars.

Many books have a number of mistakes about his life (1) his place of birth (Patna), (2) age of initiation (28 years) (3) acceptance of only peacock –feather broom (Pichi) and (4) 70 years of fourth aeon remaining after Mahavira’s salvation etc.

Almost all the authors have stated the harshness of austerities as sermonised by Mahavira. These are extremes. However, his philosophic concepts are fundamental and adventurous. He was a wrestler of spiritualism and escapist from the physical world. His sermons were generally meant for the minority of followers (Monks).

Jaina Tenets : (1) Ethics and Practices

The Jaina Society may be classified in tow categories (1) Majority (laymen) and (2) Minority (Monks). The monk practices are general taken as model. In contrast, the conduct of laymen is practical. Currently a third category intermediate between the two has also come to exist. Its conduct is nearly monk like (but it has some freedoms like going abroad etc.) All the laymen have six daily duties. The detail worship is prominent among them.. This creates a positive mental state. Fynes, Hopfe and others have described it on the basis of Svetambara system and no Digambara process has been mentioned despite Jaini’s book (1979).

Most of the western scholars presume Jaina tenets as tenets of austerity and salvation. Many authors upto 1995 have postulated them to be following detachmental path where the life and the word are negated and there is an idea of escape from both the corners. It is pessimistic towards life and the world and discourages every type of activities. Its ethics and practices are based on this concept. The Jainas are like Quakers- worshipper of peace and satisfaction. But their five principles of non-violence, non-false-speaking , non-stealing, non-sex and non-attachment possession are indicative of the tendency of life negation. Prof. Hopfe states that the laity generally observe the first three as far as possible but there is laxity in observing the last two. However the monks and nuns do observe them fully. Secondly all those five concepts have no boundary. They apply to all the living creatures. Prof. Schwetizer has said that these concepts are not the basic concepts of the Jainas. They are originated from their detachmental ideology, which promotes inactivity in life. The Jainas talk about compassion etc. so that they may become deatched from the world. What is the purpose there for others for them? They accept the passionate in activity and negate the sympathetic assistance for others. It is due to this that the Jaina ethics / practices promote individualism and egoism (Acharya Rajnisha had also similar thoughts). According to Basham also the Jaina ethics and practices are basically negative and selfish. They are individualistic rather than socialistic. That is why, the lifestyle of Jaina is controlled by harsh rules. This is the secret of their longevity. Despite this, the Jaina tenets do not offer permanent happiness without monkhood. This is in contrast with other religions.

All the above five principles of the Jainas are the same for both the laity and monks. However, their total observance is there in the monkhood only. (Many scholars discussed the effect of the principles of non-violence in terms if the lifestyle of the Jainas in the form of vegetarianism environmental preservation and non-involvement in violence-involving professions. It is also influenced other systems too.) Despite this Prof. Noss opines that the Jaina ethics detaches us from evil actions and promotes the overall hapiness. Not only this the harsh austeritic life has also an indirect effect of moving towards welfare of all and the self. Despite the ethical code of the Jainas being individualistic, it accepts the self as the maker of own destiny. It is not therefore, incarnationist. Its torch bears are not bestowers of fortunes. But their remembrance serves a source of direction and encouragement. That is why, the temples, worship and prayers have no value for the Jainas. Despite the fact that their fundamentals are easily comprehensible their elaboration and philosophy is not simple to be easily understood.

(2) Ontology (Metaphysics)

The ontology of Jainas is duelist (living – non – living) and pluralist ( six physical realities, nine spiritual categories, seven spiritual reals etc.). The Scholars have opined it as a realist ontology. It has an object of acquiring salvation by breaking away the combination of living and non living (Karmas). The relationship of these entities through Karmas is very interesting. Their non-living world is atomistic. Generally, Jainism is not deterministic because of its realistic nature. However it is naturalistic and a-theistic where there is no positivism. It seems that man was initially a-theist. That is why Carvakism is said to the oldest (Thrower). The Jainas do not admit actorship of God but they admit capicity of Godhood in every living being and hence they are polytheists. It is due to this that they could not be popular like the Carvakas.

The Jainas are not purely devotionalists like the Muslims or Christians. They admit the triad of right knowledge, faith and conduct. It is because of this multi-dimensionism that they have been surviving since hoary past. The western world is not ready even to accept any atheist system as a religion. (It is not even prepared to accept the anti-theist logic.

The Jainas are Karmists and Aureolists. (This is the result of their psychological understanding). These principles are also infested with pessimism. But these are the specific principles of the Jainas, which serve as a spiritual glue for the living-non-living combination. Rice has opined that Jaina ontology is totally pessimistic. It starts from hylozoism and goes upto goodhood for all. He admits the tetrad of love, compassion , happiness and peace of the Buddhists as positive (but does not even mention the tetrad of friendship, happiness , compassion and neutrality of the Jainas.) They even call the positive of the Jainas as leftist.

The concept of cyclically devolving and evolving world also makes a bit under trouble. Their logistics and epistemology is fine but complex. Their theory of seven fold predications also confuses the western mind. However it is not consistent with determinism (Mention of stand pointism is rare)

Jainism and Women

There are three times as many nuns as male monks (Fynes). However their level has taken as inferior to monks. In Svetambara tradition, women may have salvation while there is no salvation for them in Dig. Tradition. (However it is the nuns who have preserved the traditional Jain practices and rituals.

Jaina Religion : Social Religion

It is agreed, in general, that Mahavira was an excellent reformer and awakener of contemporary society. However, most authors do not seem to admit Jainism as a social religion because the general tendencies of society are heterodox with their principles. Moreover, the individualistic principles do not apply to society (like the macro world theories to micro-world). According to Schwetizer there are no principles useful for society in Jainism. However if there are any, they have come from Hindu religion.

Jains Literature

Many authors have mentioned the Dig./ Svet. Literature. However , Basham has clearly mentioned it to be tasteless and scholarship – showing.

G. Erronsous Statements

Almost all authors admit origination of the two main schisms in the first century C.E. They also mention about them. The non-idolator Sthanakavasi sect is also sometimes mentioned. But Terapantha of Sve. And Taranpantha of Digambaras generally do not find mention.

The Jainas are generally found in every part and state of India. However most authors have pointed Digambaras to exist in south and the Sve in the north. (It is probable that this concept of theirs might be with early historical perspectives. They have generally forgotten central, eastern and western India (Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Jabalpur, Calcutta, Dimapur etc.)

The Svet. Have been stated to be more liberal and popular (on the basis of some of their tenets) than the Digambara (stated as conservative).

It is only women who undertake religious fastings. Also, it is only the males who participate in bidding.

Generally, there are no mention of holy places in terms of salvation and miraculous places. However, Pavapur, Sammed Shrikhar (and Kailash also) find rare mention. Of course Mount Abu and Shatrunjaya (shravana belagola also) find mention due to their art / architectural values.

Dr. Kaufmanns has stated that the Jaina images are different from and unattractive than Buddha images. These do not express the compassion and softness on their faces. When they are adored and ornamented, they look fierce.

Almost all authors have expressed holy death process as “Self starvation”

The Jainas have abandoned the theory of nakedness for salvation and many Digambaras have adopted clothes while monks.

The Jainas do not have spiritual practices like the Hindus. However the practices of hair plaucking, harsh postures, meditation under heat, fastings (Mahavira has approx. 4000 fasting days out of 4380 days in 12 years) and the like are extremes and non –conscientious activities. Rev. Murray opines that alms-begging and tasteless foods are also such activities.


It will be clear from the above as to what type of lop-sided and denatured concepts about Jainism are there in the Western academic World even at the end of the 20th century. About 70 % basic tenants of Judaism and Christianity are negative in character but they are not taken in that way. However, the Jaina tenets are called negative and secondary. Similarly, it is not proper to call Jainism as a religion of monks only on the basis of some earlier texts. Many of its texts contain laity practices for wordly welfare. The male and female laity are the important components of four-fold order of Jainas and it is on them that the institution of monks and the order has become so much long lived. The Jainas are also credited for their non-violent professions (like banking, textiles, transport, computers jewellery etc.) and rigid spiritual practices.

It is therefore, necessary to prepare a book through the serious Jaina scholars to scholarly refute the above mentioned ( and many others involving philosophical principles also) opinions. The Institutions involved in promotion of Jainism abroad should come forward in this project. To prepare such a monograph, one will have to compile various points mentioned in western book published in the last fifty years (as suggested earlier) an analyse them to present the correct picture of Jainism.. One will have to abandon the status quoits concepts and to elaborate the dynamism, positively and enormous capacity of happiness promotion of Jainism. It is hoped that some National and International Jaina Institutions will come forward leading to the rightful exposition of Jainism on global arena. Some of the suggestions of S.K. Jain may also be taken of by them.

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