About Jain Dharma
Jain Dharma is an ancient religion, philosophy and a way of living. Its thorough emphasis on speech and actions has significantly influenced world peace. Followers of Jain Dharma (jains), have respect for all forms of life, including humans, animals and even plants. Its wisdom has inspired many peaceful Jains and Non- Jains including Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Jain Dharma is believed to be one of oldest religion with archeological evidence dating back at least 3000 BC.
Jain Dharma believes in the duality of the body and soul and the eternity of that soul as well as physical universe. All souls have the same spiritual characteristics of infinite perception, potential and bliss. Since time immemorial our souls have been locked in the eternal cycle of birth, death and rebirth; a cycle in which living beings tend to suffer pain and misery. The ultimate objective is to break free from this cycle and achieve the permanent blissful state known as Moksha or Liberation. Only during human life, wherein the soul has the capability to understand and take the necessary steps, can this goal be achieved.
The doctrine of karma is central to Jain philosophy. As individual souls our karma governs all aspects of this and all future lives. Our action, speech and thoughts lead to the binding of karma (subtle form of physical energy) with the soul. Karma prevents us from experiencing the infinite knowledge, perception and potential which is our soul’s true nature. The spiritual aim of our existence is to gradually purify our soul by shedding all karma, realise the true potential and obtain liberation. The path to purification is attained by simultaneously following the path of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct.
The word “jain” is derived from Jina, which means spiritual conqueror. Jinas are individuals who have conquered their own inner enemies that stop one from realising ones own infinite spiritual potential, and have realised their inherent supreme knowledge (Keval Gyan). Jains revere twenty-four jinas, who explained the Jain message to the human race during various periods of antiquity. The last two Jinas were Lord Parshvanath (877-777 BC) and Lord Mahavir (599-527 BC).
Lord Mahavir was born as a prince with many worldly pleasures and services at his command. But at the age of thirty, he left his worldly possessions and became a monk in search of truth. He spent the next twelve and a half years in deep silence and meditation, when he achieved Keval gyan, enlightenment. The remainder of his life was spent preaching this eternal truth and at the age of seventy-two (527 BC), Lord MAHAVIR attained MOKSHA, liberation (Nirvana).
Lord Mahavir’s spiritual teaching and philosophy have always attracted people from all walks of life.
He proclaimed that, the potential for spiritual advancement is within oneself, and that all living beings are equal whether they are human, animal or plant. This reverence for all forms of life was his most important teaching.
Lord Mahavir promoted the following five vows:
Non-violence, Non-possessiveness (Aparigrah). Truthfulness, Non-stealing and Chastity.
While Jain monks and nuns adhere to these vows completely, lay people follow these vows as far as their worldly obligations will permit.
The foremost principle of Jain Dharma is Ahimsa (non-violence). Ahimsa refers not only to refraining from visible physical acts of violence, but also from speech intended to harm or upset others. It is because of their reverence of all living beings and their belief in ahimsa that all Jains are strict vegetarians. Their compassion for all living beings has resulted in the age old tradition of Jains running sanctuaries dedicated to protecting and nurturing injured and starving animals. Community service of providing free shelter, food, clothing and health care to the under privileged is a well known hallmark of Jains around the world.
The next principle of Jain Dharma is Aparigragh. Lord Mahavir emphasized that accumulation of possessions should be curbed and consumption levels be kept within reasonable limits. Using any resources beyond one’s needs and misuse of any parts of nature is considered unethical
Another important teaching of Lord Mahavir is Anekantvad or the doctrine of multiplicity. Anekantvad suggests that reality is multi faceted and its perception changes depending on the time, place, nature and state of the viewer.
What is considered true from one point of view can be open to question from another; absolute truth cannot be grasped from any one particular viewpoint. Such an approach encourages Jains to think in the most critical ways possible and to truly respect all belief systems.
Prayers and practices:
The sacred Jain prayer, called the Namokar Mantra revere the five types of great souls: Arihant (enlightened souls), Siddha (liberated souls), Archarya (head of congregations), Upadhaya (ascetic teachers), Sadhus (ascetics). Many Jains symbolically worship the Jina. Such reverence is never for worldly favors or grace, but is rather designed as inspiration to follow the very same path shown by those spiritual leaders.
Universal Obeisance Prayer
Namo Arihantanam: - I bow to the arithantas - the ever-perfect spiritual victors
Namo Siddhanam: - I bow to the siddhas - the liberated souls
Namo Ayariyanam: - I bow to acharyas - the leaders of the jain order
Namo Uvajjayanam: - I bow to upadhyayas - the learned preceptors
Namo Loe Savva Sahunam: - I bow to all saints and sages everywhere in the world
Eso Panch Namukkaro: - These five obeisances
Savva PavapPanasano: - Erase all Sins
Mangalancha Savvesin : - Amongst all that is auspicious
Padhamam Havai Mangalam: - This is the foremost
In the above prayer, Jains do not ask for any favors or material benefits from their Gods, the Tirthankaras or from monks and nuns. They do not pray to a specific Tirthankara or monk by name. By saluting them, Jains receive the inspiration from the five benevolent for the right path of true happiness and total freedom from the misery of life.
Daily spiritual practice also includes Samayik(meditation), Pratikraman (confession of passed sins and forgiveness is sought), Svadhaya (reading spiritual Jain Scriptures), and Pratyakhyan (taking vows renouncing certain activities to discipline oneself).
The texts containing the teaching of Lord Mahavir are called the Agams. Once a compilation of sixty books, today only forty-five remain. The Agams discuss not only Jain philosophy and practice but also mathematics, astrology, astronomy, physics, music, poetry and many more. It is said that there is not a topic in the world that is not discussed in the Agams.
Jains in UK:
There are 30,000 Jains in UK and 30 million in India.