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(jī`nĭzəm) [i.e., the religion of Jina], religious system of India practiced by about 5,000,000 persons. Jainism, AjivikaAjivika
, religious sect of medieval India, once of major importance. The Ajivikas were an ascetic, atheistic, anti-Brahmanical community whose pessimistic doctrines are related to those of Jainism. Its founder, Gosala (d. c.484 B.C.
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, and BuddhismBuddhism
, religion and philosophy founded in India c.525 B.C. by Siddhartha Gautama, called the Buddha. There are over 300 million Buddhists worldwide. One of the great world religions, it is divided into two main schools: the Theravada or Hinayana in Sri Lanka and SE Asia, and
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 arose in the 6th cent. B.C. as protests against the overdeveloped ritualism of HinduismHinduism
, Western term for the religious beliefs and practices of the vast majority of the people of India. One of the oldest living religions in the world, Hinduism is unique among the world religions in that it had no single founder but grew over a period of 4,000 years in
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, particularly its sacrificial cults, and the authority of the Veda. Jaina tradition teaches that a succession of 24 tirthankaras (saints) originated the religion. The last, Vardhamana, called Mahavira [the great hero] and Jina [the victor], seems to be historical. He preached a rigid asceticism and solicitude for all life as a means of escaping the cycle of rebirth, or the transmigration of soulstransmigration of souls
or metempsychosis
[Gr.,=change of soul], a belief common to many cultures, in which the soul passes from one body to another, either human, animal, or inanimate.
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. Thus released from the rule of karmakarma
or karman
, [Skt.,=action, work, or ritual], basic concept common to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The doctrine of karma states that one's state in this life is a result of actions (both physical and mental) in past incarnations, and action in this life can
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, the total consequences of past acts, the soul attains nirvananirvana
, in Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism, a state of supreme liberation and bliss, contrasted to samsara or bondage in the repeating cycle of death and rebirth.
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, and hence salvation. Mahavira organized a brotherhood of monks, who took vows of celibacy, nudity, self-mortification, and fasting. Since the 1st cent. A.D., when a schism developed over the issue of nudity, there have been two great divisions of Jains, the Digambaras [space-clothed, i.e., naked] and the Svetambaras [white-clothed]. Jainists, then as now, accumulate merit through charity, through good works, and in occasional monastic retreat. Early Jainism, arising in NE India, quickly spread west, and according to tradition ChandraguptaChandragupta
(Chandragupta Maurya) , fl. c.321 B.C.–c.298 B.C., Indian emperor, founder of the Maurya dynasty and grandfather of Aśoka. He conquered the Magadha kingdom (in modern Bihar and Jharkhand) and eventually controlled all India N of the Vindhya Hills. In c.
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, the founder of the Maurya empire, was converted to the sect, as were several kings of Gujarat. The Jaina canon, however, is preserved in an ancient dialect of NE India (see Prakrit literaturePrakrit literature.
By the 6th cent. B.C. the people of India were speaking and writing languages that were much simpler than classical Sanskrit. These vernacular forms, of which there were several, are called the Prakrits [Skt.,=natural].
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). As Jainism grew and prospered, reverence for Mahavira and for other teachers, historical and legendary, passed into adoration; many beautiful temples were built and cult images set up. However, as time passed, the line between Hindu and Jain became more and more unclear. Soon Hindu gods such as Rama and Krishna were drawn into the Jaina pantheon, and Hindu Brahmans began to preside at Jaina death and marriage ceremonies and temple worship. The caste system, which primitive Jainism had rejected, also became part of later Jaina doctrine. Modern Jainists, eschewing any occupation that even remotely endangers animal life, are engaged largely in commerce and finance. Among them are many of India's most prominent industrialists and bankers as well as several important political leaders. A distinctive form of charity among Jains is the establishment of asylums for diseased and decrepit animals.


See M. S. Stevenson, The Heart of Jainism (1915, repr. 1970); M. L. Mehta, Jaina Philosophy (1970); A. K. Chatterjee, A Comprehensive History of Jainism (1984).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/
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Worshipers in a main hall gathered around a mandala in the Jain Temple in Bombay, India. Fortean Picture Library.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Both Buddhism (see Buddhism, Development of) and Jainism developed in the sixth century BCE as a form of protest against Hinduism. They offered alternatives to the caste system (see Hinduism, Development of) and raised objections to the movement of the time that had begun to view the Vedas as holy scripture.

"Jain" means "conqueror." Its founder, Mahavira ("Great Hero"), was a contemporary of the Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, and the Hebrew prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah. With the possible exception of Lao Tzu and Confucius, none of these men met or were influenced by each other, but the times certainly must have been ripe for spiritual movements.

Much like the Buddha, Mahavira's principal concept was that of dualism. The universe consists of the two opposing forces of good and evil. But where the Buddha discovered the Middle Way between the two, Mahavira proposed another philosophy. He understood the "good" in terms of soul, or life. Evil was lifeless, or matter. Soul or feelings exist in everything, even the dust of the ground or rocks of the landscape. But soul is entrapped in matter, "coated," so to speak, forming a material covering imposed by karma (see Hinduism). The human predicament is that the body (material, evil) is thus a form of prison for the soul (spiritual, good). So since karma placed you into this shell, the only way to break out is by extreme asceticism (see Ascetic).

This is to be carried out through five principal activities:

Non-injury to life Truthfulness Taking nothing unless it is offered Celibacy Renouncement of all attachments Pertaining to the first activity, Jains are vegetarians. Some even place screens over lamps to keep moths from hurting themselves in the flames. Others wear masks to keep from breathing in insects or sweep the path before them to avoid stepping on and crushing ants or bugs. This extreme form of attention is meant to avoid bad karmic repercussions in the next life.

Certainly the most well known of those influenced by Jainism was Mahatma Gandhi (see Gandhi, Mahatma). Mahavira's principles, especially those concerning non-injury, greatly shaped Gandhi's practice of nonviolent political opposition. Such practices proved to be a great influence on a young student named Martin Luther King Jr. So it can be argued that Jainism had a great deal to do with shaping the America we have known since the decade of the 1960s.

Today Jainism is considered a minority sect within Hinduism, but Mahavira has taken his place among the great religious founders of all time. There have only been nine of them in the history of the great world religions: Buddha (Buddhism), Confucius (Confucianism), Jesus (Christianity), Lao Tzu (Daoism), Mahavira (Jainism), Moses (Judaism), Muhammad (Islam), Nanak (Sikhism), and Zoroaster (Zoroastrianism).

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



one of the primary religious and philosophical systems of India, which arose in the sixth century B.C.

The wandering preacher Vardhamana is considered the founder of the faith. He was later given the names Mahavira (“great hero”) and Jina (“conqueror”), giving rise to the name of the religion. In the process of development, Jainism broke up into a number of sects, the most important of which are the Digambaras (the naked or, more precisely, “sky-clad”) and the Svetambaras (“white-clad”). The central religious and philosophical literature of Jainism is the Jain canon, the most important works of which are the Jain sutras. Among the noncanonical works of Jainism, the most interesting are the works of Umasvati (first century B.C.) and Siddhasena (sixth century A.D.). Jainism, whose development paralleled that of Buddhism, was a reaction against the ritualism and the abstract speculative quality of Hinduism. Jainism denounced the authority of the Vedas and opened the Jain community to men and women of all castes.

Basic to Jainism is the teaching concerning jivas living beings, and their two characteristic states of existence, perfect and imperfect. In the state of imperfect being a jiva, whose essence is an eternal conscious soul, finds itself joined to matter—its body. The body entangles the soul in a state of suffering, whose presence is a sign of imperfect existence. According to the relationship of the spiritual and bodily elements, these jivas form a kind of stairway: on the lower steps are jivas, in the form of inanimate objects and plants; on the higher steps, jivas in the form of animals, men, and gods. (A god in Jainism is only one of the forms of imperfect being of a jiva.) A drop of dew, a man, a god—these are all steps in a single system of essentially identical forms of being, distinguished by their being burdened by matter. At the top of this hierarchy are the “liberated” jivas, for which material bonds, or even spiritual determinations of their existence, do not exist—they are completely able to govern their own being. Only jivas of human form can achieve liberation. Such jivas are called Tirthankaras; they appear in the world periodically. Vardhamana is considered the last of the Tirthankaras in the present era (the 24th).

Asceticism is considered the basic path to “liberation.” The ascetic principles of Jainism stipulate the active annihilation of the bodily element (the Jain rules of conduct enjoin refusal to use clothing, strict fasting, and every possible form of torture). Along with the suppression of the bodily element, the rules of Jainism demand observance of ahimsa—the principle that no bodily harm be inflicted on any living creature. The stressing of the primary and, specifically, the moral significance of asceticism and the strict observance of ascetic rules distinguishes Jainism not only from Buddhism but from all the other religious systems of India, which also stress asceticism. In its practice, despite its essential rejection of ritual, Jainism maintains a certain amount of ritualism, which evolved as a necessity of “mass” worship: the worship at the temples of the Tirthankaras, public confession, and the reading of Jain texts.

In contrast to Buddhism, Jainism is strongly ontological, having a philosophy of being: jiva and ajiva (nonsoul, which includes the material) are considered coequal, eternal primal substances. Thus, Jainism, in contrast to Hinduism, is dualistic. Along with the jivas and ajivas,representing two basic essences (tattvas) of Jainism’s ontology, there exist five other tattvas, exhausting all possible types of interrelation between jivas and ajivas. Each of the seven tattvas is classified in a specific manner and arranged hierarchically. In particular, matter is divided into the sensitive (karmic), representing something like power, and the gross, which is perceptible by the senses and which can be divided into atoms (paramanu).

Although it never spread outside India, Jainism has retained its influence there. In the early 1970’s there were several million followers, mostly in Gujarat and Rajasthan, largely of the tradesman and craftsman castes; since plowing involves the killing of living beings, the observance of ahimsa precludes agricultural occupations. The Jains, as tradesmen and pawnbrokers, are a major financial and economic power in contemporary India. The Jains maintain many institutes and colleges and a number of journals.


Radhakrishnan, S. Indiiskaiafilosofiia, vol. 1. Moscow, 1956. Pages 240-89. (Translated from English.)
Glasenapp, H. Der Jainismus: Eine indische Erlosungsreligion. Berlin, 1925.
Champat, Rai Jain. The Practical Dharma. Allahabad, 1929.
Schubring, W. Die Lehre der Jainas. Nach den alien Quellen dargestellt. Berlin, 1935.
Thomas, P. Hindu Religion, Customs and Manners. Bombay [1948].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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