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 Jain Dharma
(a.k.a. Jainism)

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jainhand.gif (1162 bytes)
Jain symbol

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Early History of Jain Dharma

Jainism traces its roots to a succession of 24 Jinas ("those who overcome", or conqueror) 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 (a.k.a. Mahavira, "The Great Hero") He was born circa 550 BCE) and was the founder of the Jain community. He attained enlightenment after 13 years of deprivation. In 467 BCE, he committed the act of salekhana which is fasting to death. Each Jina has "conquered love and hate, pleasure and pain, attachment and aversion, and has thereby freed `his' soul from the karmas obscuring knowledge, perception, truth, and ability..."

Jainism contains many elements that are somewhat similar to parts of 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).

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Jainist beliefs and practices:

bulletThe universe exists as a series of layers, both heavens and hells. It had no beginning and will have no ending. It consists of:

bulletThe supreme abode: This is located at the top of the universe and is where Siddha, the liberated souls, live.

bulletThe upper world: 30 heavens where celestial beings live.

bulletMiddle world: the earth and the rest of the universe.

bulletNether world: 7 hells with various levels of misery and punishments

bulletThe Nigoda, or base: where the lowest forms of life reside

bulletUniverse space: layers of clouds which surround the upper world

bulletSpace beyond: an infinite volume without soul, matter, time, medium of motion or medium of rest.
bulletEveryone is bound within the universe by one's karma -- the accumulated evil deeds that one has done. (The Jainist definition of karma differs from the Hindu and Buddhist meaning. To a follower of Jainism, all karma is bad. To Hindus and Buddhists, karma can result from a good or a bad deed.)
bulletMoksha (liberation from an endless succession of lives through reincarnation) is achieved by enlightenment, which can be attained only through asceticism.
bulletJainism is based on three general principles called the three Ratnas (jewels). They are:
bulletRight faith.
bulletRight knowledge.
bulletRight action.
bulletThey are expected to follow five principles of living:
bullet Ahimsa: "non violence in all parts of a person -- mental, verbal and physical." 3 Committing an act of violence against a human, animal, or even a vegetable generates negative karma which in turn adversely affects one's next life.

bulletSatya: speaking truth; avoiding falsehood

bulletAsteya: to not steal from others

bullet Brahma-charya: (soul conduct); remaining celibate or sexually monogamous to one's spouse only

bulletAparigraha: detach from people, places and material things. Avoiding the collection of excessive material possessions, abstaining from over-indulgence, restricting one's needs, etc.
bullet Jains follow a vegetarian diet. (At least one information source incorrectly states that they follow a frutarian diet -- the practice of only eating that which will not kill the plant or animal from which it is taken. e.g. milk, fruit, nuts.) They are not permitted to eat root vegetables because of the many living creatures that they contain. Also, to uproot a root vegetable kills it.
bulletThey often read their sacred texts daily.
bulletJains are recommended to pass through four stages during their lifetime:

bulletBrahmacharya-ashrama: the life of a student

bulletGruhasth-ashrama: family life

bulletVanaprasth-ashrama: family and social services

bulletSanyast-ashrama: life as a monk; a period of renunciation

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Divisions among Jains"

There are two groups of Jains:

bulletThe Digambaras (literally "sky clad" or naked): Their monks carry asceticism to the point of rejecting even clothing (even when they appear in public).
bullet The Shvetambaras (literally "white clad"): their monks wear simple white robes. The laity are permitted to wear clothes of any color.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Yahoo has a list of Jain sites at:
  2. The University of Michigan Jains has a very complete and attractive website on Jainism at:
  3. Jainism: Principles, Tradition and Practices is also an inclusive website on Jainism at:
  4. Jainism at:
  5. "Rise of Jainism," at:

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Copyright © 1996 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-OCT-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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