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W objective: To identify and explain significant beliefs of Jainism

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Jainism: To Do No Harm

Objective: To identify and explain significant beliefs of Jainism

Do Now: What aspects of Hindu thought did Siddhartha Gautama (the founder of Buddhism) disagree with?





  1. Overview - Jainism

  1. Although the majority of Indians follow the Hindu path, India has given birth to several other religions which are not based on the Vedas

  2. One of them is Jainism

  3. Jainism has never condoned war or the killing of animals for any reason

  4. Its major teacher is Mahavira (“The Great Hero”)

  1. Mahavira was a contemporary of the Buddha

  2. Like Buddha  prince of a kshatriya clan and renounced his position and his wealth at the age of thirty to wander as a spiritual seeker

  3. After twelve years of meditation and fasting  achieved liberation

  1. For thirty years until his death  spread his teachings

  2. His followers came from all castes, as Jainism does not officially acknowledge the caste system

  3. But Jain teachings are not thought to have originated with Mahavira

  1. The Tirthankaras (“Fordmakers”)

  1. Mahavira is considered the last of the twenty-four Tirthankaras (“Fordmakers”) of the current cosmic cycle

  2. In Jain cosmology, the universe is without beginning or end

  3. Eternally it passes through long cycles of progress and decline

  1. At the beginning of each downward cycle, humans are happy and virtuous and have no need for religion

  2. As these qualities decline, humans look first to elders for guidance, but as things get worse Tirthankaras must create religion in order to steer people away from the growing evilness of the world

  1. The twenty-second Tirthankara is generally acknowledged by scholars as an historic figure, Lord Krishna’s cousin, renowned for his compassion toward animals

  1. A Split Within the Community

  1. The Digambaras who had left during a famine and did not accept changes that occurred in their absence  felt not authentic to Mahavira

  2. The Svetambaras who had stayed near his original location

  3. Major Differences

  1. Digambara (“sky clad”) monks wear nothing at all, symbolizing their innocence of shame and their non-attachment to material goods

  2. Environment as clothing  damaging environment as little as possible




  1. Digambara monks have only two possessions: a broom of feathers dropped by peacocks and a gourd for drinking water

  1. The Svetambaras (“white-clad”) feel that wearing a piece of white cloth does not prevent them from attaining liberation

  2. Differences Over Women

  1. Digambaras believe that women do not have the strong body and willpower needed to attain liberationmust be reborn as a man

  1. Svetambaras feel that women are capable of the same spiritual achievement as men, and that the nineteenth Tirthankara was a woman

  1. Influence of Bhakti (devotional Hinduism) reduced appeal of Jainism but still practiced by a minority in India

  1. Jain Beliefs

  1. The jiva – the individual’s higher consciousness, or soul – can save itself by discovering its own perfect, unchanging nature and thus transcend the miseries of earthly life

  2. Jains, like Hindus and Buddhists, believe individuals are reborn again and again until they free themselves from samsara, wheel of birth and death

  3. One who has thus brought forth the highest in his or her being is called a Jinni (a “winner” over the passions), from which the term Jain is derived

  4. The Tirthankaras were Jinas who helped others find their way, regenerating the community by teaching inspiring spiritual principles

  5. Like Hindus and Buddhists, Jain believe that our actions influence the future course of our current life, and of our lives to come

  6. But in Jain belief, karma is actually subtle matter – minute particles that individuals accumulate as they act and think

  7. The Three Beliefs

  1. Ahimsa (non-violence)

  2. Aparigraha (non-attachment)

  3. Anekantwad (non-absolutism)

  1. Strict Vegetarians

  2. Agriculture is considered harmful, for in digging into the soil one harms minute organisms in the earth

  3. Believe possessions possess individuals; their acquisition/loss drive emotions

  4. Jains try to avoid anger and judgementalism, remaining open-minded by remembering that any issue can be seen from many angles

  5. Jainism is an ascetic path and thus is practiced in its fullest by monks/nuns

  1. At initiation, they may pull their hair out by the roots rather than be shaved

  1. However, lay people exist

  2. Jains believe that the universe is without beginning and that it has no creator or destroyer

  3. Lives are therefore the results of individual deeds; only by individual efforts can selves be saved

  4. Until it frees itself from karmas, the mundane soul wanders about

  5. Liberation from samsara is a result of personal effort


Strayer Question:

  • What is the difference between the Digambara and Svetambara expressions of Jainism?

  • Compare and contrast Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

  1. Mahavira who is considered Jainism’s major teacher, was a contemporary of

  1. Abraham

  2. Buddha

  3. Jesus

  4. Muhammad

  1. The group of Jain monks who left northern India to avoid a prophesied famine in the third century BCE later became known as the

  1. Digambaras

  2. Svetambaras

  3. Hindus

  4. Buddhists

  1. Like Hindus and Buddhists, Jains believe in the cycle of birth and death called

  1. Karma

  2. Jiva

  3. Samsara

  4. Dharma

  1. In Jainism, the human’s soul called the __________, can transcend this earthly life by recognizing its own nature.

  1. Ahimsa

  2. Jiva

  3. Karma

  4. Jina

  1. Why do Jains avoid eating after night?

  1. To reserve night for prayers

  2. To avoid eating unseen insects

  1. Jains avoid accumulating negative karma by

  1. Working at harmless professions

  2. Building bird hospitals

  3. Being strict vegetarians

  4. Any of these

  1. Being attached to other humans and to one's possessions is a negative attribute according to Jains. Avoiding these attachments is the Jain principle known as

  1. Aparigraha

  2. Ahimsa

  3. Anekantwad

  4. Karma

  1. Short of liberation, this is the highest state of life according to Jains

  1. Human birth

  2. Birth as a bird

  3. Mammal birth

  4. Birth as a woman

  1. According to Jain belief, liberation from samsara comes only through

  1. One’s own efforts

  2. Divine intervention

  3. A Tirthankara’s sacrifice

  4. Any of these

Excerpts from

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, "Hey, there is an elephant in the village today."
They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, "Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway." All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.
"Hey, the elephant is a pillar," said the first man who touched his leg.
"Oh, no! It is like a rope," said the second man who touched the tail.
"Oh, no! It is like a thick branch of a tree," said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.
"It is like a big hand fan" said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.
"It is like a huge wall," said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.
"It is like a solid pipe," Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.
They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, "What is the matter?" They said, "We cannot agree to what the elephant is like." Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, "All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said."
"Oh!" everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.

The moral of the story is that there may be some truth to what someone says. Sometimes we can see that truth and sometimes not because they may have different perspective which we may not agree too. So, rather than arguing like the blind men, we should say, "Maybe you have your reasons." This way we don’t get in arguments. In Jainism, it is explained that truth can be stated in seven different ways. So, you can see how broad our religion is. It teaches us to be tolerant towards others for their viewpoints. This allows us to live in harmony with the people of different thinking.

This is known as the Syadvada, Anekantvad, or the theory of Manifold Predictions.

What basic Jain belief is taught through this story? Apply the story's moral to the study of religions in general.


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