Jainism, a captivating religious tradition hailing from the Indian subcontinent, has an intriguing philosophy that’s worth delving into. Let’s take a casual stroll through its core principles:
1. Origins of Jainism
Jainism is a fascinating religious tradition that hails from the Indian subcontinent. According to Jain beliefs, their teachings are timeless, with no single founder. However, the roots of Jainism as we know it today can be traced back to Mahavira, who lived around the sixth century BCE, alongside the Buddha. Both Mahavira and Buddha developed their doctrines in response to the emerging Brahmanism, a religious system based on Hindu scriptures like the Vedas and Upanisads. The Brahmins preached strict caste divisions and the concept of karma-driven reincarnation. Their orthodox views upheld the authority of these scriptures; hence, they were known as “orthodox darsanas” (meaning ‘views’). In contrast, Jainism, Buddhism, and even the materialist Carvaka school were considered “unorthodox darsanas” since they rejected the Vedas and questioned the supremacy of the Brahmin caste.
- Timeless Teachings: Jainism’s foundational beliefs are regarded as eternal, having no specific founder.
- Mahavira’s Influence: Jainism as we know it today can be traced back to Mahavira, a contemporary of the Buddha, who lived in the sixth century BCE.
- Rejecting Brahmanism: Both Mahavira and the Buddha formulated their doctrines as responses to the emerging Brahmanism, which was rooted in Hindu scriptures like the Vedas and Upanisads.
2. Metaphysics in Jain Thought
In Jain thought, reality consists of various elements, including souls (jiva), matter (pudgala), motion (dharma), rest (adharma), space (akasa), and time (kala). Space is infinite but not all of it is habitable. The inhabitable space is the region filled with dharma, the principle of motion, while adharma is what causes objects to stop moving. The physical world resides in the narrow middle part of inhabitable space. The rest of this space might house gods and other spirits. Jainism, although dualistic in nature, is often seen as atheistic, particularly in denying a creator god. The universe is eternal, with both matter and souls being uncreated. The gods and other superhuman beings are subject to karma and rebirth, just like humans. Liberation from rebirth is achieved by purging the soul of all karma.
- Elements of Reality: Jainism identifies the basic constituents of reality as souls (jiva), matter (pudgala), motion (dharma), rest (adharma), space (akasa), and time (kala).
- The Spatial Perspective: Space is seen as infinite in all directions, but only a finite region of space, pervaded with dharma (the principle of motion), can contain anything.
- Inhabitable Universe: The physical world resides in the narrow middle portion of inhabitable space, while the rest may house gods or other spirits.
3. Jainism: A Unique Atheism
- Denying a Creator God: Jainism is often considered atheistic as it rejects the existence of a creator god that governs the universe.
- Karma and Rebirth: Gods and superhuman beings are subject to karma and rebirth, just like human beings. Liberation from this cycle is the ultimate goal.
- The Karma Connection: Karma, viewed as a form of matter, accumulates through one’s actions, good or bad, determining the course of future lives.
- Pursuit of Liberation: Release from rebirth is achieved by purging the soul of all karma, both good and bad.
4. Epistemology and Logic: Grappling with Multifaceted Reality
Jain epistemology recognizes that reality is multifaceted, and no single view can capture its entirety. This concept, known as “anekanta,” leads to a fallibilistic approach in epistemology. Jainism acknowledges various sources of knowledge (pramanas), including sense perception, valid testimony (including scriptures), extra-sensory perception, telepathy, and kevala (the omniscience of a perfected soul). Notably, inference is implied within these pramanas. Given the multifaceted nature of reality, all knowledge is tentative and provisional, leading to the doctrine of “naya,” where judgments are considered true only from the perspective of the judge, promoting humility in one’s beliefs.
- Anekanta: Jainism’s epistemology is grounded in the concept of “anekanta,” acknowledging the multifaceted nature of reality.
- Sources of Knowledge: Jains recognize various sources of knowledge (pramanas), including sense perception, valid testimony, extra-sensory perception, telepathy, and kevala (omniscience of a perfected soul).
- Tentative Knowledge: Given the complexity of reality, all knowledge is tentative and provisional, leading to the doctrine of “naya” (partial predication).
5. Ethical Path to Liberation
Jain ethics revolves around the goal of liberation from rebirth, which is driven by the accumulation of karma. Good karma leads to better circumstances in the next life, while bad karma leads to worse ones. Karma arises from various sources, including attachment to worldly things, passions (e.g., anger, greed), sensual enjoyment, and ignorance. The moral life in Jainism centers on breaking attachments to the world, ultimately embracing an ascetic ideal. Monks follow five cardinal rules: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (not taking what is not given), brahmacharya (chastity), and aparigraha (detachment). Ahimsa is especially vital, leading Jains to be vegetarians, as even plants are considered to house living beings. The highest ethical ideal is to end one’s life through voluntary fasting to avoid harming any living being.
- The Quest for Liberation: Jain ethics centers around the pursuit of liberation from the cycle of rebirth, driven by the accumulation and purging of karma.
- The Karma Dynamics: Karma arises from attachment to worldly things, passions (e.g., anger, greed), sensual enjoyment, and ignorance.
- Moral Principles: Monks adhere to five cardinal rules, including ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (not taking what is not given), brahmacharya (chastity), and aparigraha (detachment).
- Ahimsa: Non-violence (ahimsa) holds a pivotal role, leading Jains to adopt vegetarianism.
- Ultimate Asceticism: The highest ethical ideal in Jainism is the voluntary fasting to avoid harming any living being.
Jainism’s moral code may appear self-interested, aiming for personal advantage, but it aligns with the belief in karma’s structure governing the consequences of actions.