Updated 5th April 2016
Submitted by Dr Harshad N Sanghrajka, Deputy Chair Insitute of Jainology, and Advisor on Jainism to Faith and Fire.
Modern Jainism traces back its history to Vardhamana, known as Tirthankara Mahavira (The Great Hero) whose generally accepted dates are 599-527 BCE. He was the last of the current era in a series of 24 Jinas (those who are victorious on all passions and desires) or Tirthankaras (ford-founders who show a way across the ocean of life) stretching back to remote antiquity. Born in a royal family in north-eastern India (presently the state of Bihar), he renounced the world for the life of a wandering ascetic and after 12 years of extreme austerity and meditation he attained enlightenment. He then preached his message until, at the age of 72, he left the mortal coil and achieved total liberation (moksha) from the cycle of death and rebirth.
There are two major sects of Jains:
Digambara or the sky-clad whose monks roam in total nudity, and
Shvetambara, the white-clad, whose ascetics wear white clothing.
Jains worship the Tirthankaras. The pious Jain does not ask for material favours from the Tirthankara, but seeks to emulate their example in his or her own life. Jains are also classified as iconic or those who believe in idol worship and aniconic who worship in places of worship without idols. Jains do not agree with the theory of creation and believe that the universe is eternal and self-subsisting; the destiny of the individual is in his or her own hands. The doctrine of Karma, a subtler version of the Law of Causality, delivers the fruit of past actions and is believed to determine the life and place of every living being. Rebirth may be in the heavens, on earth as a human, an animal or other lower being, or in the hells. The ultimate goal of existence for Jains is moksha, a state of perfect knowledge and tranquillity for each individual soul which can be achieved only by gaining self-realisation and enlightenment.
The Jain path to liberation is defined by the Three Jewels: Samyak Darshan (right perception); Samyak Jnana (right knowledge); and Samyak Charitra (right conduct)
Of the five fundamental precepts of the Jains, AHIMSA (non-injury to any form of being, in any mode: thought, speech or action) is the first and foremost, and was popularised by Gandhi as Ahimsa paramo dharma ~ non-violence is the supreme religion.
The largest population of Jains can be found in India but there are approximately 30,000 Jains in Britain, sizeable communities in North America, East Africa, Australia and smaller groups in many other countries.
There are several Jain temples in London and one each in Leicester and Manchester. The temple in Potters Bar, London is the first Jain temple to be built from ground up in Europe. Jains are a peace loving community and Jain precepts preach mutual co-existence in peace. Non-violence, honesty, celibacy, compassion to all living beings are the basic fundamentals.
Dr Harshad N Sanghrajka Deputy Director
INSTITUTE OF JAINOLOGY LIMITED
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