Jain Doctrine and Practice

General Features and Definitions of Terms


1.    Three general features

a.    Asceticism

b.    Non-violence:  Ahimsa

                                              i.     “Non-violence or injury” to any living being. 

                                            ii.     All living things have a soul (jiva), nuns and monks protect against harm to any being with a soul

c.    Atheistic: No God


2.    “Jain” = “a follower of a Jina.” 

a.    Jina means victor or conqueror - one that has achieved complete victory over attachments and aversions.  A Jain is someone who reveres and follows these persons and regards their teachings as authoritative.

b.    The word “Jina” tells us something about Jainism: Jainism’s emphasis on non-violence does not mean that they stress docility or meekness.  Jainism’s teachings are full of martial values.  The Jina is a conqueror - someone who might have been a conqueror of the world but instead transposed the war from the outer battlefield to the inner one.

c.    About four million Jains in world, 75K in Unite ad States, many in U.K.

3.    Jinas also called “Tirthankaras” - “one who establishes a “tirth” (ford or crossing) across “the ocean of existence (as called by Hindus and Jains).

a.    A human being, but extraordinary one who has conquered attachments and aversions that stand in the way of liberation from worldly bondage.

                                              i.     Does so by means of his own effort, achieved a state of omniscience, all things are known to him (past, present, future)

                                            ii.     Before final attainment, Tirthankaras imparts his self-gained liberating knowledge to others so that they might become victors too.  So he establishes a place of crossing for others.

                                          iii.     Jinas are the core figures of all forms of Jainism -- their teachings are central to Jainism, they are the main objects of veneration -- some Jains worship images of the Tirthankaras, others do not.

                                          iv.     They are longer present in our part of the universe -- they came, achieved omniscience, imparted teaching, departed.

                                            v.     The primary purpose of the teachings is the attainment of liberation from the world’s bondage.

                                          vi.     Compiled in the Angas

4.    An infinity of Tirthankaras have come and gone in the universe -- even now there are Tirthankaras teaching in other parts of the cosmos.  In ours, 24 have come and gone in the present cosmic period.  The first (Risabha) lived for 8.4 million years.

a.    The last of these was Lord Mahavira -- lived and taught some 2500 years ago.  An actual historical figure, a contemporary of Buddha.

b.    There will be no more until the next cosmic cycle of time begins.

5.    Two major sects: Digambara and Svetambara



The Human Condition: Human Bondage of Karma


1.    The Man in the Well

·      A man oppressed by poverty, seek to find a new life in another land.  Loses himself in a forest, hungry and thirsty, surrounded by wild animals.

·      Sees an elephant, mad and charging him, trumpeting with raised tusks.

·      In front of him he sees a hideous and wicked demoness, laughing madly and brandishing a razor-sharp sword.  Terrified, he looks for a way to escape.

·      Sees a great banyan tree off to the east, races across the rugged terrain to the foot of the tree but sees that it is so high that even birds can’t fly over it, and its trunk cannot be scaled.

·      Then sees an old, grass-covered well.  Trembling with fear of death, hoping to survive even for another moment, he jumps in to the well, grabbing a clump of reeds growing from its wall.  Hangs suspended.

·      Beneath him he sees terrible snakes, enraged by the commotion he has caused.  Hissing at the bottom is a mammoth black python with its mouth wide open, looking at him w/intense red eyes.

·      He thinks, “I’ll live as long as the reeds can hold” but sees above him two mice – one white, one black – gnawing at the roots of the reeds.

·      The elephant rams the banyan tree with his head and dislodges a honeycomb swarming with bees. The bees sting him mercilessly but a drop of honey falls on his head and down his face, landing on his lips, giving him a moment of sweetness.

·      He forgets is all and craves more drops the sweet honey.

See Koller for Bhadrihari’s interpretation

Jain Doctrine and Practice


1.    The Jain notions of karma (with a Jain twist):

a.    Jains maintain that karma is an actual physical matter that is attracted to the soul by an individual’s actions; it adheres to the soul because of the individual’s desires and aversions.

                                              i.     Accumulation of karma is responsible for the soul’s bondage - they cover the soul and conceal its true nature

                                            ii.     To be liberated:

1.    One must avoid accumulating any further karma - this is the basis for Jainism’s extraordinary emphasis on non-violence

2.    One must also eliminate karma already adhering to the soul, this requires radical measures: asceticism

a.    Jainism’s highest aspirations are represented in asceticism

b.    Jain scripture uses a traditional Indian image of asceticism as a kind of fire that burns away karmic imprisonment

c.    Jain representations of Tirthankaras are marked by tremendous restraint; holds nothing in the hands; elongated arms and broad shoulders; almost indistinguishable from each other [see images]

2.    Samsara:

a.    The jiva is ensnared in repeating cycles of death and rebirth.  Liberation is escape from this cycle

b.    The cycle has no beginning nor end; the cosmos and souls that inhabit it also have no beginning or end, they will never cease to be

c.    Each soul has been wandering from birth to birth from beginningless time and will do so eternally unless it achieves liberation.  Achieving liberation is based entirely on one’s own efforts, and it’s not easy.


3.    Jain cosmology: Jain scripture envisions the cosmos as a colossal standing human figure [see image]

a.    Nothing in the cosmos is ever created or destroyed

                                              i.     Matter has a reality status unlike in Hinduism.

b.    At the base are the hells, populated by extremely wicked beings

c.    The middle world is represented by a thin disc -- this is where humans live.  Here is where karma can be overcome.  Deities come and go, they too are not absolute

d.    Top of the world is where perfected souls dwell - represented by a crescent moon or a kind of inverted umbrella.

4.    Jiva: The Jain notion of “soul.”  Main feature is awareness, consciousness

a.    A siddha jive is liberated jiva.

                                              i.     No karma or rebirth, resides at uppermost part of universe (siddhashila); perfect knowledge and perception, infinite bliss

b.    A sansari jiva is a non-liberated jiva

                                              i.     Jivas are found on earth, as well as in the water, air, and sky, and are scattered all over the universe

                                            ii.     Human beings, celestial beings, infernal beings, animals, fish, birds, bugs, insects, plants, etc. are the most common forms of Jiva with which we can easily relate. However,

                                          iii.     Jain scriptures state that there are 8.4 million species of Jiva in the universe

5.    Moksha

a.    Visualized as a process occurring in stages (though it can occur quickly in some extraordinary individuals)

b.    Liberation is preceded by obtaining omniscience - an innate quality of the soul that is occluded by karmas

c.    Once the last karmic accretions are shed, the body ceases to function, the soul rises to the abode of the liberated at the very top of the cosmos.

d.    There it abides in omniscient bliss for infinity, among other liberated souls, including those of the Tirthankaras.

6.    The life of lay persons

e.    In Jain culture, laypersons cannot inflict harm on any form of life and are thus generally vegetarians.  They are also expected to abstain from acts of violence and avoid any form of labor or activities where the destruction of life might occur.

f.     Without practicing the intense asceticism of nuns and monks, lay persons are nevertheless enjoined to live by vows known as the anuvratas or lesser vows which closely parallel the so-called greater vows taken by the nuns and monks.

g.    Meditation also forms an integral part of Jain life. Jains practice a form of meditation known as Samayika, which focus on establishing a peaceful state of mind.

h.   Veneration or sometimes worship in the home as well as in temples also forms an important part of Jainism.

                                              i.     Jain homes usually have wooden shrines that are modeled after the stone temples. Jain worship may involve the chanting of mantras or gazing upon an image of one of the gods known as the puja. There are also more elaborate rituals in Jain worship involving the decoration or anointing of images.