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jain religion and teachings of bhagwan mahavir

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CHAPTER – 2

 UNDERSTANDING JAIN RELIGION

 Lord Mahavir defined religion as one that helps us to know the fundamental nature of truth and universal reality, control the restless mind and purify the soul which is eternal (Jain holy text: Mulachar 5/70 )

Jain religion is rooted in the intrinsic nature of soul as well as other elements that interact with it. Vastu Swabhavo Dharma” constitutes the bedrock of Jain conception of the universe and its animate and inanimate elements. In Jain conception the eternal or abiding nature of a thing is religion. The abiding nature of soul is ‘chetana’ (consciousness). From the introvert or inner spiritual angle, religion invokes the true nature in the self, experience it and merge with it. From the extrovert or exterior angle, religion implies purifying one’s thoughts, perceptions and conduct to attain that purified and sublime state.

Jain world view is that there is no external power like God sitting in heaven creating, preserving, regulating or destroying the universe. The process of integration and disintegration of ultimate particles (paramanu) is responsible for the creation of this physical universe. In the Jain conception, the Universe is made of six elements (dravyas)

namely Jivas (animate elements or souls), and Ajivas (inanimate elements ) comprising ‘Pudgal’ (matter), ‘Akasha (space), ‘Kala’ (time), ‘Dharma’ (the medium of motion), and Adharma (the medium of rest).

The attributes of a living being is sentience (chetana), knowledge and bliss. The attributes of matter are form, taste, smell and touch etc. Space provides the locus for the existence of all entities. The universe undergoes the natural process of creation and transformation through endless cycle of time. The attributes of motion and rest apply to all the six dravyas.

Nothing else exists. These six entities have existed for ever and are eternal. They may with the passage of time undergo transformation, but in intrinsic terms they are a permanent feature of the universe and its natural environment. No one has created them, nor can any one destroy them.

The concept of time is its eternal, infinite and cyclical nature. There is no beginning or end of time. Tattvartha Sutra, a highly regarded second century Jain scripture describes the function of time as follows :

Bringing about incessant, minute, imperceptible change; perceptibletransformation, activity, anteriority and posteriority are the functions of time.”

Time (kala) measures changes in living beings and non-living substances, but it is not the cause of such changes. A child becomes a youth and then an adult and finally an old person who eventually dies. In other words what may be new at the birth becomes in course of time old and worn out. Silver extracted from mines changes its form when converted into an ornament.

A full cycle of time consists of two halves, namely a period of ascent (Utsarpini) followed by a period of descent (Avasarpini). Each of these two periods has six divisions (aras). The level and intensity of happiness, age span, state of health and nature of progress and prosperity etc changes from division to division.

In the Utsarpini period, the six divisions begin with unhappy-unhappy ara and move on to unhappy, unhappy-happy, happy-unhappy, happy and at the climax happy-happy ara (division). Then begins the descent towards avasarpiri period beginning in the reverse order as illustrated in the diagram below :

Kalachakra (Time Cycle)

The six divisions of each half time cycle have a duration as follows :

Happy-happy 1,68,000 years; Happy 1,26,000 years; Happy-unhappy 84,000 years; Unhappy-happy 42,000 years; Unhappy 21,000 years; and Unhappy-unhappy 21,000 years. Right now the world is in ara no. 5 of avasarpini period which began about 2500 years ago.

Jain scriptures indicate that the first and founder Tirthankar (Path-finder) Adinath or Rishabhdev was born towards the end of ara 3 of the descent period namely happy-unhappy. The other 23 Tirthankaras and eleven Chakravartis were born during ara 4 namely unhappy-happy. When the time wheel will take an upward swing, Utsarpini period will start and in its ara 3 namely unhappy-happy ara, 23 Tirthankars will be born, and the last one in ara 4 namely happy-unhappy ara. The same pattern would have taken shape in the time cycle prior to Rishabhdev. This is indicative of the eternal nature of Jain religion.

This time cycle goes on for ever and makes Jain religion an eternal one embracing the entire universe with its animate and non-animate elements which go on interacting with one another. There is infact no single soul or Jiva. There are infinite number of distinct and independent Jivas going through the cycle of birth and death. Every living being is a single soul in a material body of a human, animal, bird, insect or plant transmigrating from one life form to another and in the process becoming impure and polluted.. By itself the soul is eternal, intangible and formless. It can only be experienced by dwelling deep within oneself by detachment from material bondages., and controlling oneself through self-restraint and self-discipline as ordained and elucidated in the Jain spiritual path covering 14 Gunasthanas (stages).

Lord Mahavir observed :

A man conquers millions of warriors in a terrible battle
Another man conquers himself
If these two are compared
The ultimate victory is that in which
The Self is conquered by Self.”

He further preached :

Maker, unmaker of pleasure and pain for the self
Is the Self itself, none else
Self again is friend and foe
That induces good or evil.”

Souls born in form of human, animal, bird, insect or plant accumulate in the course of their interaction with matter knowledge-obstructing particles of transient and illusory material attachments and passions. True happiness begins to elude the soul on account of the false perception of joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain born out of the materialistic environment surrounding all living beings. This happens due to Asrava i.e., influx of karmas followed by Bandh ( bondage of karmas).

Depending on the merit or otherwise of karmas, rebirth could be in any of the four ‘gatis’ namely celestial beings ( devas), human beings (manushya), other living beings (tiryanch), and hell beings ( naraki ). During each life cycle, a soul may add or get rid of positive and negative karmas. The more it sheds negative karmas, the better it can move up on the ladder to liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

Jain religion charts out the spiritual path steadily moving up through 14 stages for soul purification and self-realization of soul’s true eternal nature through a process of Samvar (stoppage of the influx of karmas), Nirjara (partial exhausion of karmas), and finally Moksha (total liberation from karmas). Infact the nomenclaeture of Jain religion is derived from the word ‘JINA’ which is a synonym of Tirthankar, who has conquered his Self and attained Enlightenment.

Unique to Jain religion is the Shraman tradition with its legendary glory of Tirthankars as Path-finders and role models. Beginning with Adinath or Rishabhdev, who was the founder of Jain Religion, and ending with Mahavir, there have been , in the present cycle of time, 24 Tirthankars. Tirthankars were born like any other human beings, but it is through their bold, total and voluntary renunciation from worldly life, and taking to the life of ‘Veetraag’ (total detachment) that they moved towards achieving Omnicience (Keval Gyan) and sublime enlightenment.

The process involved intense and dedicated Sadhana (devoted and disciplined effort), deep introspection, in-depth study and observation, meditation, penance and suffering. Mahavir went through this process for over 12 years before he could achieve enlightenment. Once he became a Tirthankar, he traveled round the country for 30 years preaching what he himself had practiced and experienced before achieving Nirvana and attaining Siddhahood.

Having achieved omniscience and state of perfect and rational knowledge, perception and conduct (Samyak Gyan. Samyak Darshana and Samyak Charitra), the Tirthankars- each in his life time conveyed to humanity through the then prevalent oral (shrut) tradition the principles of Jain philosophy, its doctrines and ritual. Mahavir as the last Tirthankar consolidated the entire religion with its fundamental principles in a comprehensive manner. Mahavir’s everlasting contribution has been the profound impact on the composite cultural heritage of India of the Jain compassionate philosophy with Ahimsa as its sheet anchor.

Ganadhars methodically compiled, and preserved Mahavir’s teachings in the form of 12 main texts called Anga-Agamas or Dwadasanga. These scriptures constitute the soul and backbone of the extensive canonical literature developed by both the Digambar and Shwetambar traditions in the subsequent centuries.

In the long interregnum between Tirthankars, the flag of Jainism was kept aloft by learned Acharyas, Upadhyays and Sadhus and Sadhvis in the best Shraman tradition. Since Mahavir also, over the past 25 centuries, canonical literature including learned commentaries and interpretative texts composed by learned saints and scholars has continued to enrich and enliven Jain philosophy in pursuit of right and rational knowledge, perception and conduct (Samyak Gyan, Samyak Perception and Samyak Charitra)..

Jain religion recognizes the guiding and inspiring role of the Pancha Parmeshthi – the five spiritual achievers, namely Tirthankar (Arihant), Siddha, Acharya, Upadhyaya. And Sadhus/Sadhavis. All of them command veneration since each one at his stage has progressed towards the path of attaining Samyak Gyan, Samyak Darshana and Samyak Charitra- the three fundamental jewels of Jainism. Attainment of rational and right knowledge, perception and conduct is crucial to self realization and enlightenment. Infact Namokar Mantra, widely held by Jains as a divine protector and healer Mantra is a deeply reverential salutation to the Panch Parmeshthi.

Integrated pursuit of the three jewels of Jainism namely Samyak Gyan, Samyak Darshana and Samyak Charitra constitutes the foundation of Jain philosophy. The indivisible and logical trinity reflects a uniquely articulated approach to strike a judicious and wholesome balance between logic and faith, reason and belief. Jain scripture Yogashastra written by Hemachandracharya reiterates that final liberation is none other than experiencing the trinity of right knowledge, right perception and right conduct as the very nature of the Self in its purity.

Jain religion looks at Earth, our home in this Universe as a marvelous planet Jain religion recognizes that on this planet human destiny is intertwined with other living beings and forces of nature in a divine web of interdependence. Interdependence embraces mutual supportiveness, peaceful coexistence and harmonious balance. Tattwarth Sutra has aptly summed it up as “Parasparopgraho Jeevanam”. It is from this philosophy that the three fundamental pillars of Jainism have emanated namely Ahimsa, Aparigraha and Anekant.

The three A’s of Jainism namely Ahimsa, Aparigraha and Anekant constitute an integrated and comprehensive definition of Non-violence. Ahimsa in thought, perception and conduct has been elevated to the exalted status of a Supreme Religion in the Jain philosophy as reflected in ”Ahimsa Paramo Dharmaha”. Nonviolence strengthens the autonomy of life of all living beings, Aparigraha (Non-possession And non-attachment) strengthens inter-dependence and mutual supportiveness of all existence, and Anekant (doctrine of manifold aspects or the philosophy of coexistence) strengthens the autonomy of thought of every individual, and promotes an approach of tolerance and synthesis between differing views.

Jain religion regards Ahimsa as the core attribute of religion and the contrary as sin. Ahimsa is the fountain spring of all virtues like learning and meditation, compassion and charity, non-attachment, pursuit of truth and ethical conduct. Ahimsa, Aparigraha and Anekant taken together also make Jain religion a Religion of Environment and a Religion of Peace and Peaceful Coexistence.

The earth is integrally related like pearls in a necklace to the sun, the moon and the multi-billion star galaxy of the planetary cosmos as well as its hydrosphere, geosphere and biosphere. In his first divine sermon after achieving enlightenment in the year 527 B.C., Jain prophet Mahavir emphatically said :

One who ignores the existence of earth, water, fire, wind and vegetation ignores to one’s own peril the very basis of one’s existence that is interwoven with these elements.”

Ancient Jain Universal Peace Prayer (Jain Brihat Santi) sums up the universal perspective enshrined in the Jain religion:

Shivamastu Sarva Jagataha
Parahitanirata bhavantu bhutaganaha
Doshah prayantu nasam
Sarvatra sukhi bhavantu lokah”

May the entire universe be blessed
May all living beings engage in each other’s well being
May all false illusions and faults vanish
May everyone be happy, peaceful and full of bliss everywhere. 

(end of Chapter 2)

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