Jainism Myths demystified for layman

What comes to your mind when you come across a Jain? How about a Jain sadhu? Last week, a revered Digambar Jain Muni (Tarun Sagar Ji Maharaj) was invited to address Haryana legislative assembly. It stirred social media conflicts. Some highly influential people provided their opinion.

A few of them made inappropriate comments, I was scared to see them asking questions like, “Why was he allowed to enter parliament without clothes and in which vehicle did he come to parliament?” They are extremely ignorant but trying to display expertise. There’s nothing more dangerous than a celebrity showing religious expertise despite being ignorant, especially on social media in India. In India, Religion is paramount to many people. Everyone knows this. They may be ignorant about a religion but they can’t be ignorant about the impact of making uneducated comments on a religion.

Jainism is a minority and hence a lesser known religion. It is like a Mystery for many people. This article is a simple attempt to educate you about the basics of Jainism. To make reading easy, I have avoided usage of religious jargon.

Jainism by the numbers (India numbers) –

  1. 0.37% of Indian population, 0.06% of world population.
  2. 94.1% literacy rate, 65.38% national literacy rate.
  3. Female literacy is 90.6%, national average is 54.16%
  4. Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, MP, Karnataka, UP and Delhi have most population of Jains in descending order. After this, it’s Tamil Nadu that has less than 70,000 Jains
  5. Low sex ratio of 889 despite high literacy.

History of Jainism –

  1. 24 Jain Gods (Tirthankara)
  2. 1st – Adinath
  3. 23rd – Parshvanath ( c. 872 – c. 772 BCE)
  4. 24th – Mahavira – ( c. 599 – c. 527 BCE)
  5. Lord Mahavira is most familiar name – Born in Bihar and attained Moksha (liberation from cycle of birth and death) at the age of 72

Type of Jains –

  1. Two main sects. Digambara and Shwetambara
  2. Digambara comes from “sky-clad”
  3. Shwetambara comes from “white-clad”
  4. A lot of principles and ideologies are similar between different sects of Jainism.

Main Teachings –

  1. Ahimsa (non-violence) – most fundamental aspect of Jainism – not only to humans but to any living being
  2. Satya (Truthfulness)
  3. Asteya (Non-stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (Chastity) – Total abstinence from sensual pleasure, also called celibacy
  5. Aparigraha (non-attachment) – Non possessiveness and non attachment to inner as well as external pleasures

Jain Practices –

  1. Fasting
  2. Vegetarianism
  3. Prayers
  4. Meditation
  5. Festival of Paryushana – 8 days of increased spiritual intensity of people
  6. Festival of Mahavir Jayanti – Birth of Lord Mahavira
  7. Festival of Diwali – Nirvan Laddoo offered in temple on Lord Mahavira’s Nirvana
  8. There are many Jain pilgrimages across India. Jain temples are mostly very simple.

Jain Philosophy –

  1. Dravya (substance) – Body is different than substance. Body can be destroyed but substance can’t be destroyed.
  2. Jiva and Ajiva (Soul and non soul) – Matter, time, space, dharma and adharma are ajiva. Jiva is differentiated with ajiva primarily by intelligence.
  3. Soul and Karma
  4. Live and Let live

Important mantra – Namokar mantra is the most important mantra of Jains. It is very simple and can be recited anytime. Below is the mantra and its meaning –

  1. Namo Arihantanam: I bow down to Arihanta,
  2. Namo Siddhanam: I bow down to Siddha,
  3. Namo Ayariyanam: I bow down to Acharya,
  4. Namo Uvajjhayanam: I bow down to Upadhyaya,
  5. Namo Loe Savva-sahunam: I bow down to Sadhu and Sadhvi.
  6. Aiso Panch Namokaro: This namokar mantra is so great,
  7. Savva-pavappanasano: it destroy all the sins,
  8. Manglanamche Savvesim: It brings blessings to self,
  9. Padhamam Havei Mangalam: It brings blessings to others also.

What comes to your mind when you hear the word Jain? – Here is a common interpretation of Jains among people.

  1. Jains are rich.
  2. Jains are honest
  3. Jains do not fight
  4. Jains are pure vegetarian
  5. Jains are shrewd businessman
  6. Jains migrated from Rajasthan or Gujarat
  7. Jains can’t bear the smell of chicken and egg.
  8. Jain males should wear white cloth on their mouth or be naked
  9. Jains do not eat in night and do not eat onion, garlic and potatoes

If everyone is talking about the same thing, there must be some truth in it. This part will not be covered in this article.

Varying degrees of follower-ship – The world is changing fast. Following any religious practices 100% is not practical for everyone. So, a lot of Jains have also adopted practical and convenient approach in their religious follower-ship as many other religions. Their religious follower-ship varies as per their own value system, situation, convenience, surroundings and age etc.

Jain Monks and Nuns – It is not easy to be a true Jain Monk or Nun. There is various degree of follower-ship within Jain monasticism. Here are some of the key aspects of Digambar Jain Monks (male).

  1. There are only a few hundred Digambar Jain Monks
  2. That is just ~ .000007% of World population and ~ .0001% of Jain population
  3. They follow very strict practices. Some are mentioned below
  4. Ahimsa, They do not injure any living being by action or thought
  5. Truthfulness
  6. Aparigraha, Renunciation of worldly things.
  7. They do not own anything
  8. Irya, They walk carefully
  9. They go everywhere walking, they do not ever use a vehicle
  10. Adantdhavan, They do not use tooth powder to clean teeth
  11. Bhushayan, They sleep on hard ground, whatever the season
  12. They do not use any cushion or cloth to sit
  13. Asnana, They do not to take bath.
  14. Stithi-bhojan, They eat standing up
  15. Ekabhukti, They take food only once in a day
  16. They are vegetarian and they do not eat anything that grows under ground
  17. They eat only between sunrise and sunset
  18. They do not own even a bowl, they make a cup of their hands to eat everything
  19. Kesa-lonch, They pluck hair on the head and face by hand
  20. Naked, They renounce clothing
  21. Pratishṭapan, They dispose of body waste at a place free of living beings
  22. Samayika, Meditate for equanimity towards every living being
  23. Stuti, They worship of the God
  24. Vandan, They pay obeisance to siddhas, arihantas and acharyas
  25. Asteya, They take nothing unless it is given
  26. Brahmacharya, Celibacy in action, word and thought
  27. Bhasha, They do not criticize
  28. Eshna, They accept food from a sravaka (householder) if it is free of 46 faults
  29. Adan-nishep, Carefulness in handling whatever the ascetic possesses
  30. Panchindrinirodh, control of the five senses.
  31. Shedding attachment and aversion to objects based sparsana (touch), rasana (taste), ghrana (smell), chaksu (sight), and srotra (hearing)
  32. Pratikramana, They practice repentance
  33. Pratikhayan, Renunciation
  34. Kayotsarga, They give up attachment to the body

Other than Digambar Jain male monks, the other Jain Monks and Nuns follow most of these practices (apart from renouncing their clothing).  It is extremely difficult for anyone to follow these practices 100%, even for monks and nuns. However, as their level of asceticism grows slowly, they reach the highest level of being a monk (Sadhu or muni) or nun (Sadhvi or Aryika).

Additional points about Jain monks –

  1. Without attachment with anything, they can focus on only knowledge and attaining Nirvana.
  2. Even if you are Jain, just removing clothes does not make you a Jain monk
  3. Jain monk and nuns live in or nearby a temple but they are not priests of the temple
  4. They do not perform rituals or ceremonies like a priest
  5. They stay in small groups and spend most of their time in meditation and self study
  6. They preach religion to the people
  7. At the most, they possess these two items (or their equivalent)
    1. Peechee (bunch of peacock feathers) – required for cleaning the floor etc
    2. Kamandal – a pot for water primarily used for hygienic purpose

The Jains  you see around are also normal people. Do not expect every Jain you see to follow what is written above. A lot of it only applies to Jain monks though others also try to follow based on their commitment and abilities.

If a Jain Sadhu is without clothes, it is because of his years of following asceticism. If you see one next time, please do not make fun. It does not impact them much because they are practiced to be above any kind of feelings. However, the people who look at them with reverence get hurt. They are normal human beings following a simple religion.

Many websites have very good literature on Jainism. It is very interesting and comprehensive. There is a valid scientific reason behind most of the practices mentioned above. A few hours study can teach you a lot about Jainism. Even searching Wikipedia on Jainism will give you lot of information

It’s my attempt to educate people on Jainism in simple terms. Please do not dissect it with a magnifying glass. If you feel that I am biased, it may be because of my love for Jainism. If you find any technical mistake in this article, please pardon me and inform me and I will be happy to rectify the same. All your comments and suggestions are most welcome.

“Jai Jinendra”

Atul Kumar Jain

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22 thoughts on “Jainism Myths demystified for layman

  1. Very nice article. I am saying this not because I am also jain but because it’s true. It’s very difficult to be a jain muni . All our acharyas have become so after so much practice .

    Like

  2. Please rectify point number 24 .

    Ten days of parushan parv for Digamber n two days later followed by kshamawani.

    In point number 32 n 33 you can add perfect soul n body less soul for Arihant n Siddh Respectively.

    Good Article n good effort.

    Like

  3. Jai Jinendra !

    A very good articulation on Jainism . It connects very basic knowledge of Jainism from its core knowledge . Hope the message reach to millions !!!

    Thank you for a making us read a good piece of article !!

    Like

  4. Well some of the facts that aren’t covered are:
    One time the Jainism spread over India and so did Buddhism but as Jainist have left Nadi active they were not able to predict the massive invasion of western world and as Kshatriya were in social questioning, suddenly became useful once more but Jainism faded as they are unable to comprehend to the duality of nature. Jains and Buddhist were responsible for 1000 years of Indian Slavery.

    Like

  5. Dude You are wrong, Jainism doesn’t believe in any kind of God. First check with someone knowledgeable before writing misleading information.

    Like

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