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Home > History of religion > Jainism > Origin of Jainism
Origin of Jainism
Jainism is a very old non-Vedic religion and some of its features go back to the times of Indus Valley Civilization.mahavir Like the Upanishads and Buddhism, Jainism was a kshatriya movement. It had its focus in a religion which was not yet touched by Brahmin cult. These regions East of Sadanira (modern Gandaka) were inhabited by non-Aryan tribes. Jainism was formerly allied to Ajivikism. It is said to have been held by a number of 24 Tirthankaras and Lord Mahavira (B.C. 599-527) the last and the most important Tirthankara belonged to the clan of Licchavis of Vaishali. This Vaishali was a maha-janapada or oligarchy and was later on destroyed by Ajatashatru.

Jainism is not an offshoot of Vedic Brahminism. It belonged to the people who were basically agriculturist and valued bulls and cows. They therefore had simple living and could practice ahimsa and austerities. In contrast, the Vedic Aryans were essentially pastoral people and they were used to animal-sacrifice. Naturally the Aryan and non-Aryan people of India were always in conflict, and, so in their religious beliefs too they held opposite views. In the long nil, the Vedic Aryans accepted all that was of importance in Jainism and Buddhism. The present Hinduism is a commingled stream of Aryan and non-Aryan cults.

Jainism is essentially a religion of Tirthankaras. Jainism has come from the word `Jin` which means one who has conquered his passion. It essentially means the conquest of one`s own self in bondage. Again, a Tirthankara is one who has built a ford which takes one across the ocean of bondage and suffering. A Tirthankara has not only conquered himself, but has taught people, the way out of this ocean of suffering. These 24 Tirthan-karas have been mentioned, namely,
Rishabha,
Ajita,
Sambhava,
Abhiriandana,
Sumati,
mahavir Padmaprabha,
Syparshva,
Chandraprabha,
Pushpadanta or Suvidhi,
Shitala,
Shreyarnsa,
Vasupujya,
Vimala,
Ananta,
Dharma,
Shanti,
Kunthu,
Ara,
Mali,
Munisuvrata,
Nami,
Nemi or Arishtanemi,
Parshanath,
Vardhamana or Mahavira.

Rishabha muni has been identified with the image of an ascetic God on a seal amulet of Indus Valley Civilization. However, this cannot be Rishabha Muni as this God is linked with linga-worship. Excepting Parshanath and Lord Mahavira, other tirthankaras are more legendary figures than historical persons.

Lord Mahavira is the twenty-fourth Tirthankar. He was born in 599 B.C. at Kshatriyakund which was a part of the well known Vaish republic. His father`s name was King Siddhha and his mother`s name was Queen Trishal. They were very religious people and were followers of Lord Phvan. Queen Trishal had fourteen dreams (some believe sixteen dreams) when she conceived Lord Mahavira. While she was pregnant, the prosperity of King Siddhha grew. The parents attributed their success to the baby. So when the baby was born, he was named Vardhaman, which means continuously increasing.

He was very bold and while playing he once saved his friends from a snake. Another time, a heavenly angel joined them in the disguise of a young boy. According to the rules of the game, Vardhaman had a chance to ride on the boys back. While he was riding, the boy turned into a monster in order to scare him. Vardhaman however overcame the monster. The heavenly angel then appeared in his true form. He praised Vardhaman for his boldness and called him "Mahavira" meaning very brave.

Though Mahavira was born with worldly comforts and luxuries, they never attracted him. He lived a simple life. So when his parents died, he decided to be a monk. He asked for permission from his brother. His brother was still mourning the loss of their parents. He therefore requested Mahavira to wait for a couple of years before leaving. Mahavira waited for two years, during which he led a totally detached life.

After realizing this, his brother gave him permission to become a monk. Mahavira was thirty years old when he gave up his worldly life and all worldly activities. He spent most of his time in austerity and in meditation. He suffered a great deal of physical pain and torture from various sources. Among them, the most severe was the biting by the highly poisonous snake Chandakaushik. Lord Mahavira remained calm and peaceful in the midst of all these torturous events. He never lost his serenity and never developed hatred for anyone. He magnanimously forgave all of them. He led such a highly austere life for twelve and a half years. At the age of forty-two he attained omniscience, Kevaljnan. He became Jina, the twenty-forth Tirthankar of the present era. As omniscient he knew everything of the past present and future.

As the last Tirthankar, he revived the religious order (Tirth) consisting of monks, nuns, Shravaks and Shravikas. This order is known as the Jain Sangh. His first disciple, called Ganadhar, was Gautamswami. He was a well known Brahmin scholar of the time. Lord Mahavira had eleven Ganadhars. Those Ganadhars compiled twelve scriptures based on what Lord Mahavira taught.

According to Jainism, ontologically there are two kinds of substances, namely, Jiva and Ajiva. A jiva is either nitya-Siddha, siddha or Baddha. A jiva in his pristine nature has infinite jnana (knowledge), ananta darshana (infinite perception), ananta charitra (pure conduct) and ananta virya (infinite power): Through karmas of beginning-less rebirths, the soul it soiled, for these karmas stick to the soul, make its vision and action limited, obscured and obstructed in every way. Of course, the original soul in its pristine nature is pure spirit and karmas are like material particles. Ordinarily no material particles can stick to the pure spirit. Along with this materialized view of the spirit in its embodied body remains either small or big. For example, in an ant, the jiva is small in size, but in an elephant it is big in size. Hence, a jiva has also special features. For this reason, critics tend to think that Jainism is more primitive than Buddhism. Of course, Jainism has a much older history.

Again, the karmic matter may hinder the perception of a jiva by restricting its sense-organs.mahavir According to the development of baddha jivas there is an ascending order of one-sensed, two-sensed, three sensed, four sensed and five sensed jivas. One sensed jiva remains immobile like plants and man is said to be five sensed jiva because he has the traditionally five sense-organs of eye, nose, ear, tongue and skin. But a jiva might win his own salvation by shedding off all the karmic matter. He becomes a siddha (perfected). And a perfected siddha who has laid down scriptural teaching and preaching is called a Tirthankara, and, they are 24 in number, and Lord Mahavira is the last and most illustrious of all of them. But a nitya-siddha is one who is eternally free and has not been a baddha at all.

Apart from an infinite number of jivas there are five a-jivas of dharma, adharma, akasha, kala (time) and pudgala (matter). Dharma and Adharma are used in peculiar meanings. Dharma is an all-pervasive subtle material substance in which motion is made possible e.g., water for fish and air for birds. It is only a medium for motion. As against dharma, adharma is that subtle material substance which accounts for rest. Pudgala is that matter which consists of atoms and molecules. We can put the jivas and a-jivas in a tabular form for easy comprehension.

Siddhas, Arhats, Acaryas, Upadhyayas and Sadhus form as pancaparamesthin i.e., the supreme judge and advisory council.

For all practical purposes Jainism is concerned with the soul in bondage, and, this bondage is due to karmic matter which envelopes the soul and keeps the bondage throughout its countless rebirths. Hence some account of the karman will be given, under the heading of `Bondage`. First of all we have to consider the views of Jainism with regard to God.
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