Jainism

Table of Contents

Jainism is an ancient Indian religion. It comprises a set of beliefs and teachings that its practitioners follow in order to achieve enlightenment.

Many of Jainism’s principles can be brought into our everyday lives. Learning about, and practising the Jain way of life can help give us a purpose and bring balance to our lives.

What is Jainism?

Jainism is an ancient religion, with an end goal of total liberation and a soul free from karma. Jains do not worship a specific God as Christians or Muslims do. Instead, Jains adopt the values of the practice and strive towards liberation.

Jainism is one of the main religions in India, alongside Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. It centres around a few key beliefs, with one of the most prevalent being that the path to liberation is through non-violence towards living things. This includes plants and animals, as well as humans.

At the root of this is the belief that all living beings have an everlasting soul. Our souls are of equal value, meaning we should all be treated with equal respect.

For this reason, Jains are strict vegetarians and try to do as little harm to the planet as possible.

Unlike other religions, Jainism doesn’t involve the worship of a God. Instead, Jains believe that life is a cycle of birth, death and rebirth. We are constantly reborn until our souls have shed their karma. Once our souls are free from karma, we can achieve true liberation.

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The concept of karma isn’t unique to Jainism, but it’s highly prevalent in this religion. To eliminate karma from their souls, Jains follow the ‘three jewels’ or ways of living. The three jewels are right belief, right knowledge and right conduct.

When Jains practice good deeds, wholesome activities and charitable acts, they can attain Punya.

This is good karma, and leads to comfort and happiness. Bad deeds lead to Pap or bad karma. To shed their soul of bad karma, Jains believe they need to either wait for time to pass, or ask for forgiveness and practice penance.

The Jain way of life involves showing compassion to all living things, practicing non-violence and rejecting conflict. Most Jains try to be kind to the environment, and they are also taught to practice non-attachment to possessions.

The 4 Jain principles are, no violence, no lying, no stealing and no possessions.

History of Jainism

Jains follow the teachings of the 24 Tirthankaras. The Tirthankaras are those who have crossed the stream of rebirths and shed their karma. They are great teachers who guide others onto how to achieve liberation.

Mahavira was the last Tirthankara. He is often mistakenly thought of as the founder of Jainism, although he did help to popularise it in the present world.

Jainism was born around the same time as Buddhism, although the two religions are not the same. Jainism does not have one single founder. Instead, it is led by Tirthankaras, teachers who have committed their lives to the practice and shed their karma.

The last Tirthankara to appear was Mahavira in the 6th Century BCE. He is often regarded as the founder of present day Jainism. While not the founder of the practice itself, he helped to reform and popularise it.

He added a 5th principle to the already existing 4 principles, the principle of charity.

There are 24 Tirthankaras, and their images are displayed throughout Jain teachings and art. They are not worshipped like Gods, but instead thought of as leaders and teachers. They are beings of the highest value, who have accomplished the spiritual goal that Jains strive towards.

Jainism - Jain temple
Chaumukha Mandir, Jain temple

The Differences Between Jainism and Buddhism

Jainism and Buddhism share a number of similarities, although the two are distinct religions. While Buddhists strive for enlightenment, Jains strive towards the liberation of the soul. Both enlightenment and liberation will lead to the end of suffering. 

Jainism and Buddhism are often confused, and although they share many beliefs, they are not the same.

Buddhism is focused on Buddha’s life and teachings, while Jainism is centred on the teachings of Mahavira and the other Tirthankaras.

Buddhism’s main goal is to reach enlightenment, whereas Jainism is focused on the liberation of the soul.

Buddhists believe that we are in an endless cycle of life, death and rebirth. Once we achieve nirvana, we will be free of suffering and end the cycle.

Jains have adopted a similar view. Until we reach liberation, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth will continue.

We can shed our karma and achieve liberation by following the teachings of the 24 Tirthankaras and committing to Jain principles.

How do Jains Meditate?

The purpose of meditation in Jainism is to develop awareness and knowledge. Many Jain meditations focus on non-attachment, with mindfulness practices often used to bring awareness to the physical body. 

Jain meditations are focused on developing awareness, knowledge and non-attachment. The ultimate goal is to pave the way for liberation and salvation.

Meditation is used to concentrate the mind on a single topic and help Jains to realise the true nature of the soul.

A Jain meditation practice shares similarities with a Buddhist mindfulness meditation. They are usually practiced in a quiet space at the same time each day, with an awareness of the breath and the physical body.

Although many different postures are used, many Jains choose to sit in the lotus pose or a cross-legged posture.

Key Facts

  1. Jainism is an ancient Indian religion.

  2. Jains do not worship a specific God. Instead, they strive towards liberation.

  3. Jains believe that all living things (including plants and animals) have a soul. Every living thing is worthy of respect and compassion.

  4. For this reason, Jains are usually strict vegetarians and try to inflict as little suffering upon living beings and the planet as possible.

  5. Jains follow the teachings of the 24 Tirthankaras, who have all succeeded in liberating their souls.

  6. Once Jains have shed their karma, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth will be broken.

  7. Living according to the Jain principles can eliminate the soul of bad karma.

  8. A Jain meditation has many similarities to Buddhist meditation, with a focus on awareness and non-attachment.