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Jainism

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Jainism is one of the oldest religions and was founded in the sixth century B. C. E in India. Vardhamana, known to his followers as Mahavira is traditionally known as the founder of Jainism.

Mahavira was born in 599 B. C. in Bihar, India. His parents were of the Kashatriya caste. Mahavira was born into a wealthy family. His father was King Siddartha. He lived a life of luxury. Later Mahavira married Princess Yasoda. They had one daughter named Anoja. Through out this time period Mahavira wasn’t happy. He decided to leave all of his wealth, luxury, and loved ones behind in search of a religious answer to his unhappiness.

Mahavira first went out and joined the ascetics. He didn’t find what he was looking for with them. He believed you had to practice extreme asceticism to find release of the soul from the life. Mahavira also believed to find release one had to practice ahimsa, which means non-injury to life.

To find total release from life, Mahavira imposed extreme measures of asceticism. He didn’t want to be attached to people, or things, he never stayed more than one night in any one place. He swept the road before he walked so he wouldn’t step on any insects. He also strained the water he drank to avoid swallowing any living creatures that might be living in it.

Mahavira tormented his body by staying in the coldest places during the winter and the warmest places in the summer. He would always walk around naked. He would only eat food that was given to him. He would avoid meat, since an animal would have to die, thus, Mahavira was a vegetarian

After a long twelve years of the most extreme forms of asceticism, Mahavira achieved mokaha (release) from the bonds that tie ones soul to the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Thus, Mahavira achieved the release of karma.

Mahavira taught that karma built up over time, was a result of any type of activity. So for a Jian to escape karma and be free from life (reincarnation) they should do as little as possible.

Jains believe the world is comprised of two substances. One is jiva (soul), and the other is ajiva (matter). Soul is life, and matter is evil. Matter clings to ones body from past actions. As long as the soul is attached to matter, it cannot be freed from the cycle of lives.

Jains divided themselves into two distinct groups. The first is the majority. They are the ones that can’t afford to leave their homes and families. And the second is the minority. Those who can and do leave their lives behind and become monks. Jain monks must take five vows to guide their lives.

The first is a vow of non-injury to all life, also known as ahimsa. Jain monks go to great lengths to avoid harming any living creatures. Jains are vegetarians and they also avoid all leather products. They also sweep the path before they walk to avoid walking on insects. They also strain the water so they won’t drink any life that lives in the water.

The second is the vow to always tell the truth (satya). There is a well-known story believed to be of Jain origin where several blind men were asked to describe an elephant. All were given a different part of the elephant to touch, each than described what they felt. Of course all of them described the elephant in different ways. Because of this Jainism has tended to view truth as relative rather than absolute.

The third vow is non-stealing (asteya). This means a Jain monk will not take anything that isn’t his own. He will only eat and drink what is given to him.

The forth vow is to renounce from sexual pleasures. This vow goes back to ajiva (matter) since flesh is considered matter than its evil. Sex is one of the greatest pleasures of the flesh and it must be forsaken.

The firth and final vow is non-possession (aparigraha). Jain monks have very few possessions. Their only possession is the clothing on their backs and their food bowl.

Jain scriptures were written over a long period of time. The scriptures are called Agames. Orthodox Jains believe the Agames are the actual sermons Mahavira gave to his disciples. The most cited is the Tattvartha Sutra, or The Book of Reality written by the monk-scholar, Umasvati about 1800 years ago.

There are two sects in the Jainism religion. The sect is called Svetambara. Which are known as the white clad. They are mainly lactated in the northern part of India. This is the liberal of the two groups. They reject the necessity of nudity and allow their monks to wear a white garment. They also allow women into the religion and their monasteries. They even accept the possibility that a woman can find release.

The second is Digambara which mean “the sky clad”. Its members live mainly in southern India. They live by the old ideals, and require their monks to go nearly nude. Going totally nude is reserved for those of greatest holiness. Also they believe a woman can not find release

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