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About Jainism

Jainism is an independent and most ancient religion of India. Jainsim is an eternal religion. Jainism is revealed in every cyclic period of the universe, and this constitutes the pre-historic time of Jainism. And there is a recorded history of Jainism since about 3000-3500 BC.

The discovery of the Indus Civilization seem to have thrown a new light on the antiquity of Jainism. The evidence suggests that Jainism was known among the people of the Indus Valley around 3000-3500 B.C. Some nude figures, considered to be of Lord Rishabha, on the seals have been discovered at Mohenjodaro and Harrappa. There is an article that suggests the representation of the seventh Tirthankara SuParsvanath. The people of the Indus Valley not only practiced Yoga but worshipped the images of Yogis. There are figures in Kayotsarga posture of standing are peculiarly Jain.

In addition, the sacred signs of swastika are found engraved on a number of seals. Furthermore, there are some motifs on the seals found in Mohen-jo-Daro and it is suggested that these motifs are identical with those found in the ancient Jain art of Mathura. This presence of Jain tradition in the earliest period of Indian history is supported by many scholars. It strongly suggests that Jainism existed in pre-Aryan time.

Janism in Vedic Period In the Rig -veda there are clear references to Rishabhdev, the 1st Tirthankar, and to Aristanemi, the 22nd Tirthankar. The Yajur-veda also mentions the names of three Tirthankars, viz. Rishabhdev, Ajitanath and Aristanemi. Further, the Atharva-veda specifically mentions the sect of Vratya means the observer of vratas or vows as distinguished from the Hindus at those times. Similarly in the Atharva-veda the term Maha vratya occurs and it is supposed that this term refers to Rishabhdev, who could be considered as the great leader of the Vratyas.

Jainism in Buddha Period Lord Mahavir was the senior contemporary of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. In Buddhist books Lord Mahavir is always described as nigantha Nataputta (Nirgrantha Jnatrputra), i.e., the naked ascetic of the Jnätr clan. Further, in the Buddhist literature Jainism is referred to as an ancient religion. There are ample references in Buddhist books to the Jain naked ascetics, to the worship of Arhats in Jain chaityas or temples and to the chaturyäma dharma (i.e. fourfold religion) of 23rd Tirthankar Parsvanath.

Moreover, the Buddhist literature refers to the Jain tradition of Tirthankars and specifically mentions the names of Jain Tirthankars like Rishabhdev, Padmaprabh, Chandraprabh, Puspdant, Vimalnath, Dharmanath and Neminath. The Buddhist book Manorathapurani, mentions the names of many lay men and women as followers of the Parsvanath tradition and among them is the name of Vappa, the uncle of Gautama Buddha. In fact it is mentioned in the Buddhist literature that Gautama Buddha himself practiced penance according to the Jain way before he propounded his new religion.

Jain Tirthankaras Neminath or Aristanemi, who preceded Lord Parshvanath, was a cousin of Krishna. He was son of Samudravijaya and grandson of Andhakavrsni of Sauryapura. Krishna had negotiated the wedding of Neminath with Rajimati, the daughter of Ugrasena of Dvaraka. Neminath attained emancipation on the summit of Mount Raivata (Girnar). There is a mention of Neminath in several vedic canonical books. The king named Nebuchadnazzar was living in the 10th century B. C. It indicates that even in the tenth century B.C. there was the worship of the temple of Neminath.

The historicity of Lord Parshvanath has been unanimously accepted. He preceded Lord Mahavir by 25O years. He was the son of King Asvasena and Queen Vama of Varanasi. At the age of thirty he renounced the world and became an ascetic. He practiced austerities for eighty three days. on the eighty fourth day he obtained omniscience. Lord Parshvanath preached his doctrines for seventy years. At the age of one hundred he attained liberation on the summit of Mount Sammd (Parsnath Hills). The four vows preached by Lord Parshvanath are: not to kill, not to lie, not to steal, and not to own property.

Lord Mahavira was the twenty fourth, i.e., the last Tirthankaras. According to the tradition of the Shvetämbar Jains the Nirvän of Lord Mahavira took place 470 years before the beginning of the Vikrama Era. The tradition of the Digambar Jains maintains that Lord Lord Mahavira attained Nirvän 605 years before the beginning of the Saka Era. By either mode of calculation the date comes to 527 B.C. Since the Lord attained emancipation at the age of 72, his birth must have been around 599 B.C. This makes Lord Mahavira slightly elder contemporary of Buddha who probably lived about 567-487 B.C. Lord Mahavira was the head of an excellent community of 14,000 monks, 36,000 nuns, 159,00O male lay votaries and 318,OOO female lay votaries. The four groups designated as monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen constitute the four fold order (tirtha) of Jainism.

Of the eleven principle disciples (ganadharas) of Lord Mahavir, only two, viz., Gautam Swami and Sudharma Swami survived him. After twenty years of Nirvän of Lord Mahavira, Sudharma Swami also attained emancipation. He was the last of the eleven gandharas to die. Jambu Swami, the last omniscient, was his pupil. He attained salvation after sixty four years of the Nirvän of Lord Mahavira.

There were both types of monks, viz., sachelaka (with clothes) and achelaka (without clothes), in the order of Lord Mahavir. Both types of these groups were present together up to several centuries after Nirvän of Lord Mahavira.

Keval-Jnani, Shrut Kevali & Das-Purvi Ächäryas The keval-Jnani are those who have eradicated four soul defiling karmas and attained the perfect knowledge. Shrut-kevalis are those who know all 14 Purvas and 12 Ang-Pravishtha-Agams. Das-Purvis are those who knew the first ten Purvas and 11 Ang-Pravishtha-Agams.

Jain Ägams The Jain literature, which was compiled by Ganadharas and Srut-kevlis, is known as Ägam literature. These texts are the Holy Scriptures of the Jain religion. The Jain Ägams consisted of 1) 14 Purvas, 2) 12 Ang-pravishtha-Ägams and 3) Ang-bähya-Ägams (34 for Shwetämbar murtipujak, 21 for Shwetämbar Sthanakväsi and 14 for Digambar).

With a view to establish order in the preaching of Lord Mahavir, Jain Acharyas assembled three times and prepared three recessions of the preaching. Whenever the Acharyas saw that the Shrut was waning and that there was disorderliness into it, they assembled and established order in it. No documentation occurred during the first recension (320 BC in Patliputra under the leadership of Sthulibhadra) but during the second (380 AD in Mathura and Vallabi under the leadership of Skandil and Nagarjun respectively) and third (520 AD in Vallabhi under the leadership of Devardhigani Acharya) conferences most of the scriptures, commentaries, and other works were documented.

All sects agree that 14 Purvas and Drastiväd, 12th Ang-pravishtha-Ägams are extinct. Digambars believe all Jain Ägams are extinct. While Shwetämbar sects accepts the existing Jain Ägams as authentic teachings of Lord Mahavir. However, Shwetämbar murtipujak believe there are 34 Ang-bähya-Ägams existing. while Shwetämbar Sthanakväsi believe there are 21 Ang-bähya-Ägams are existing.

The composition of scripture has a specific purpose of showing the listener the path of everlasting happiness and liberation. The Ägam Sutras teach the eternal truth about conduct, equanimity, universal affection and friendship, and the eternal truths on thinking, namely, the principle of relativity, principle of non-one-sided-ness and many spiritual things including great reverence for all forms of life, soul, karma, universe, strict codes of asceticism, rules for householders, compassion, nonviolence, non-possessiveness.

Jains believe that Ang-Ägams were at all times in the past, are in the present, and will be at all times in the future. They are eternal, firm, permanent, non-destructive, non-decaying and everlasting. Jains are people of books and there are many great books written on Jainism by many great Ächäryas and scholars.

Digambars And Shvetämbars: Jains were divided into two groups, Shvetämbar and Digambar, nearly six hundred years after the Nirvän of Tirthankar Lord Mahavir. The process of the split continued from the third century B.C. up to the first century of the Christian Era. In the third century B.C. famous Jain saint Shrutakevali Bhadrabahu predicted a long and severe famine in the kingdom of Magadha (in modern Bihar) and with a view to avoid the terrible effects of famine Bhadrabahu, along with a body of 12,000 monks, migrated from Pataliputra, the capital of Magadha, to Shravanabelagola (in modern Karnataka State) in South India. Chandragupta Maurya (322 298 B.C.). who was then the Emperor of Magadha and was very much devoted to Ächärya Bhadrabahu, abdi¬cated his throne in favor of his son Bindusara, joined Bhadrabahu's entourage as a monk-disciple, and stayed with Bhadrabahu at Shravana¬belagola. Chandragupta, the devout ascetic disciple of Bhardrabahu, lived for 12 years after the death of his teacher Bhadrabahu, in about 297 B.C. and after practicing penance died according to the strict Jain rite of Sallekhana on the same hill at Shravanabelagola. This Bhadrabahu ¬Chandragupta tradition is strongly supported by a large number of epigraphic and literary evidences of a very reliable nature.

When the ascetics of Bhadrabahu-sangha returned to Pataliputra after the end of twelve years period of famine, they, to their utter surprise, noticed two significant changes that had taken place during their absence. Among the ascetics of Magadha under the leadership of Ächärya Sthulibhadra. In the first place, the rule of nudity was relaxed and the ascetics were allowed to wear a piece of white cloth (known as Ardhaphalaka). Secondly, the sacred books were collected and edited at the council of Pataliputra in their absence in which they found some inconsistencies. As a result the group of returned monks did not accept the two things, introduced by the followers of Ächärya Sthulibhadra, namely, the relaxation of the rule of nudity and the recension of the sacred texts, and proclaimed themselves as true Jains. Eventually, the Jain religion was split up into two distinct sects, viz., the Digambara (sky-clad or stark naked) and the Shvetämbar (white-clad) about 600 years after Nirvän of Lord Mahavir.

When it comes to the philosophy of Jainism, there is essentially no difference between these two major sects. The following main differences exist between the Digambars and Shvetämbars:

1. The Digambars believe that no original canonical text exists now. The Shvetämbars still preserve a good number of original scriptures.

2. According to the Digambars, the omniscient no longer takes any earthly food. The Shvetämbars are not prepared to accept this conception.

3. The Digambars strictly maintain that there can be no salvation without nakedness. Since women cannot go without clothes, they are said to be incapable of salvation. The Shvetämbars hold that nakedness is not essential to attain liberation. Whence, women are also capable of salvation.

4. The Digambars hold that Lord Mahavir was not married. The Shvetämbars reject this view. According to them, Lord Mahavir was married and had a daughter.

5. The images of Tirthankars are not decorated at all by the Digambars, whereas the Shvetämbars profusely decorate them.

Jain doctrine has been remarkably stable over the centuries and there has not been any serious change. This stability is largely due to Umasvati's (Umaswami) Tattvarthasutra, written in the fourth or fifth century CE. This work was written before the divisions between the Shvetämbars and Digambaras became final and is accepted by both branches of Jainism.

Shvetämbar Sub Sects The Shvetämbar sect has also been split into three main sub-sects: a) Murtipujaka, b) Sthänakväsi, and c) Teräpanthi Digambara Sub Sects The Digambara sect, in recent centuries, has been divided into the following major sub-sects: a) Bisapantha, b) Terapantha, and c) Taranapantha or Samaiyapantha.

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