Origin of Jainism

  • Jainism is a very ancient religion, potentially as old as the Vedic religion.
  • The Jain tradition follows a succession of great teachers known as Tirthankaras.
  • There were 24 Tirthankaras, with Vardhaman Mahavira being the last.
  • The first Tirthankara is believed to be Rishabhanath or Rishabhadev.
  • The 23rd Tirthankara was Parshvanatha, born in Varanasi, possibly in the 8th or 7th century BC.
  • All the Tirthankaras were born into the Kshatriya (warrior) caste.

Vardhaman Mahavira (540 – 468 B.C.)

  • Considered the last Tirthankara in Jainism.
  • Born at Kundagrama near Vaisali.
  • Parents were Kshatriyas: Father – Siddhartha (Head of Jnatrika Clan); Mother – Trishala (Sister of Lichchhavi chief Chetaka, whose daughter married Haryanka King Bimbisara).
  • Married to Yasoda and had a daughter, Anojja or Priyadarsana.
  • At the age of 30, Vardhaman renounced his home and became a wandering ascetic.
  • Observed self-mortification during his ascetic life.
  • After 13 years of penance, he attained the highest spiritual knowledge called Kevala Jnan at Jimbhikagrama village under a sal tree, aged 42. This state is called Kaivalya. He was then known as Mahavira, Jina, Jitendriya (one who conquered his senses), Nigrantha (free from all bonds), and Kevalin.
  • Preached his teachings for 30 years and died at Pava (near Rajagriha) aged 72.

Causes of the rise of Jainism

  • Vedic religion had become highly ritualistic.
  • Jainism was taught in Pali and Prakrit, making it more accessible to the common man compared to Sanskrit.
  • Accessible to people of all castes.
  • Varna system had rigidified, and people of the lower castes led miserable lives. Jainism offered them an honourable place.
  • About 200 years after the death of Mahavira, a great famine in the Ganga valley prompted Chandragupta Maurya and Bhadrabahu (last Acharya of the undivided Jain sangha) to migrate to Karnataka. Jainism spread to Southern India after that.

Mahavira’s Principles in Jainism

  • Rejection of Vedic Principles:
    • Rejected Vedic principles in his teachings.
  • Non-Belief in God:
    • Did not believe in God’s existence.
    • Viewed the universe as a product of the natural phenomenon of cause and effect.
  • Belief in Karma and Transmigration:
    • Believed in Karma and transmigration of the soul.
    • Soul persists while the body dies.
    • Punishment or reward based on one’s karma.
  • Austerity and Non-Violence:
    • Advocated a life of austerity and non-violence.
    • Emphasized equality but did not reject the caste system, distinguishing individuals based on actions rather than birth.
  • Asceticism:
    • Ascetic practices included starvation, nudity, and self-mortification.
  • Elements of the World:
    • Identified two elements: Jiva (conscious) and Atma (unconscious).
  • Observance of Five Vows:
    • Right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct (observance of five vows):
      • Ahimsa (non-violence).
      • Satya (truth).
      • Asteya (no stealing).
      • Aparigraha (no acquiring property).
      • Brahmacharya (abstinence).

Jainism Sects and the Split

  • Bhadrabahu’s Migration:
    • Bhadrabahu migrated to South India during a famine.
    • Sthulabahu stayed in the North with his followers.
  • Code of Conduct Change:
    • Sthulabahu altered the code of conduct, allowing the wearing of white clothes.
    • This led to the split in Jainism into two sects.
  • Swetambaras (White-clad):
    • Followers in the North.
    • Allowed the use of white clothing.
  • Digambaras (Sky-clad or Naked):
    • Followers in the South.
    • Continued the practice of being naked.

Jainism Councils

  • First Council:
    • Date: 3rd century BC.
    • Location: Pataliputra.
    • Presided by: Sthulabhadra.
  • Second Council:
    • Date: 512 AD.
    • Location: Vallabhi, Gujarat.
    • Presided by: Devardhi Kshemasarmana.

Important facts about Jainism

  • The doctrine of Jaina predates the Buddhist doctrine.
  • Buddha and Mahavira were contemporaries.
  • The word ‘Jaina’ means the follower of ‘Jina,’ which means ‘Victor’ (Someone who has attained infinite knowledge and who teaches others how to attain moksha.)
  • Another name for ‘Jina’ is ‘Tirthankara,’ which means ford builder.
  • There is a Jaina conception of time divided into six stages called Kalas.
  • The 22nd Tirthankara Neminatha is said to have belonged to the Saurashtra region of Gujarat.
  • The 23rd Tirthankara Parshvanath lived in Benaras.
  • All Tirthankaras are supposed to have taught the same doctrine.
  • A Jina is said to possess ‘Avadhijnana,’ (Superhuman cognition or psychic power.)
  • Jaina doctrine insists that: Reality is Anekanta (Manifold).
  • Sat (Being) has three aspects – Substance (Dravya), Quality (Guna), and Mode (Paryaya.)
  • Jaina Doctrine of Anekantavada mentions the manifold nature of reality.




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