Early History of Jainism
Jainism traces its roots to a succession of 24 Jinas ("those who
overcome") in ancient East India. The first Jina is traditionally believed
to have been a giant who lived 8.4 million years ago. The most recent and
last Jina was Vardhamana (aka Mahavira, "The Great Hero", born 550 BCE) who
was the founder of the Jain community. He attained enlightenment after 13
years of deprivation. In 420 BCE, he committed the act of salekhana
which is fasting to death.
Jainism is a syncretistic religion, which contains many elements similar to
Hinduism and Buddhism.
The world's almost 4 million Jains are almost entirely located in India.
There are about 1,410 in Canada (1991 census).
Jainist Beliefs and Practices
- The universe consists of a series of layers, both heavens and hells.
- Everyone is bound within the universe by one's karma (the
accumulated good and evil that one has done).
- Moksha (liberation from an endless succession of lives) is
achieved by enlightenment, which can be attained only through asceticism.
- They are vegetarians.
- They read their sacred texts daily.
- They practice ahimsa, the principle of non-violence. Committing
an act of violence against a human, animal, or even vegetable generates
negative karma which in turn adversely affects one's next life.
Divisions among Jains
There are two groups of Jains:
- The Disambaras (literally "sky clad" or naked) believe that
they should carry asceticism to the extreme of rejecting even clothing
(except when they appear in public).
- The remaining Jains, the Shvetambaras (literally
"white clad") wear simple white robes.
Return to the OCRT home page.