Below you will find our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on Jainism.
You can also visit yja.org/msm to see the questions asked by youth and answered by Sadhus and Sadvis in India, and even send your own Maharaj Saheb Message!
Jains believe that the universe always has and always will continue to exist; hence, there can be no founder. However, the level of devotion towards religious practices, as well as circumstance of the times, varies. Therefore, during every half of the Jain time cycle, or Kälchakra, a set of 24 Tirthankars (omniscient leaders of the Jain congregation, whose souls have since been liberated) is born. These figures re-establish order and preach Jainism, providing Jains with guidance through their teachings. The last of the 24 Tirthankars in the current set is Mahävir Bhagwän (who lived from 599 BCE - 527 BCE). As the most recent Tirthankar, Jains follow his teachings.
According to Jainism, time is infinite and has neither a beginning nor end. Time is divided into infinite time cycles, or Kälchakras. These are divided into periods of varying length, known as Aras.
One Kälchakra is split into two halves, each having 6 Aras. The half known as Utsarpini is the progressive cycle or the ascending order. In this half-cycle, the conditions of the world (including happiness, development, religious trends) go from the worst to the best. The other half is classified under Avsarpini, which is the regressive cycle or the descending order. In this half-cycle, the conditions of the world go from the best to the worst. The specific names for Aras are:
(1) Sukham Sukham Kal (happiness all the time).
(2) Sukham Kal (happiness).
(3) Sukham Dukham Kal (happiness with some unhappiness).
(4) Dukham Sukham Kal (unhappiness with some happiness).
(5) Dukham Kal (unhappiness).
(6) Dukham Dukham Kal (unhappiness all the time).
We are currently in the fifth Ara of the Avasarpini phase (Dukham Kal). Tirthankars (omniscient leaders of the Jain congregation) are present during Sukham Dukham Kal and Dukham Sukham Kal. We are currently in the fifth Ara of the Avsarpini phase (Dukham Kal). When this half-cycle ends, Utsarpini will begin. The Kälchakra repeats infinitely.
Jains believe that the universe has no beginning or end. It has an infinite timeline. One can reconcile this with the Big Bang Theory as matter and time had to exist before the “Big Bang” as well. While time is infinite, the Jain point of view doesn’t dictate that the current state of the universe also has infinite existence.
One may find the answer to this question in a work written by Acharya Somdev Suri, who explains:
“There are indefinite number of Grahas (Planets) – Nakshatras – Stars (Heavenly elements in the sky). But their numbers are shown to be limited by the rule of nature. In the present era of Utsarpini time-span, there are 24 times only when these heavenly elements are positioned in the best location. This is a certainty. Therefore there are only 24 Tirthankaras only not a one less not a one more.”
The 24 Tirthankaras have been previously determined, according to scriptures. At any point in time, one can only know the names of the 24 Tirthankars from the last, current, and next half-time cycles (or, 72 Tirthankars total).
The next set of Tirthankars will be born in the next half-time cycle. This ascending half is known as Utsarpini Kal, and will begin one the current descending half (Avsarpini Kal) has passed.
Jainism is a religion and a way of life. Jains have five core practices that derive from the Anuvrats (lesser vows) that laypeople take and the Mahavrat (great vows) that monks and nuns take:
- Ahimsa (non-violence) is compassion and forgiveness in thoughts, words, and deeds towards all living beings. For this reason, Jains are vegetarians.
- Aparigraha (non-possessiveness) is the balancing of needs and desires, while staying detached from our possessions.
- Asteya (non-stealing) is the avoidance of taking that which does not belong to us or that we have not earned.
- Satya (truth) is to speak the truth; however when speaking the truth would lead to violence it is preferable to remain silent.
- Brahmacharya (celibacy) is the practice of reducing indulgence in order to reduce attachments in our lives.
In Jainism, karmic particles are attracted to the soul on account of vibrations created by the positive and negative activities of the mind, speech, and body. Hence, karma is the subtle matter surrounding the consciousness of a soul. When these two components, consciousness (the soul) and karma, interact, we experience the life we know at present. It is possible to modify one’s karma and be cleansed of it through the purity of thoughts, speech, and action. This is essential to achieving the ultimate goal of Jainism: liberating the soul from the cycle of life and death.
Jainism is a non-theistic religion. This means that the presence or lack thereof of a supreme God is not vitally important in the context of Jain tenets. All Jains agree that because of the nature of karma (you are the controller of your own actions and thus the consequences), praying to a God would not yield any benefits or grant any wishes. Additionally, since Jains believe that the universe had no beginning (has existed eternally) there is no conception of a creator God in Jain philosophy. There is a heaven (Devlok) in Jainism, though in that context, heaven refers to a place where celestial beings, after a period of time in heaven, must be reborn as humans in order to achieve nirvana.
Yes. Every soul has passed through countless lives, whether as a plant, fish, hellish being, heavenly being, or in some other form, carrying with it the accumulated effects (karma) of its deeds and passions, both good and bad. A soul can occupy various bodies as it is continually reincarnated - for example, a soul may reside within a human body in one life, but be connected with a water life in another. The ultimate goal of Jainism is to end this cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, by shedding all of one’s karma.
Every individual soul (one soul per living being) is potentially capable of breaking themselves from the cycle of birth and death and achieving nirvana (liberation). That is why Jains believe that each soul is capable of becoming ‘God’. The potential for each living being to break themselves from this cycle is why each living being should be treated with kindness and reverence.
The Agams are a collection of sutras written based on Mahavir Swami’s sermons, which guide the present day path of Jainism.
Other scriptures include Kalpasutra and Tattavarth Sutra. The Kapasutra contains biographies of Jain Tirthankars (including those of Parshwanath Bhagwan and Mahavir Bhagwan) and was written 150 years after Mahavir Swami attained Nirvan (liberation). It is read by Jain monks during Paryushan. The Tattvartha Sutra translates to “That Which Is.” It gathers the various facets of Jainism from ancient scriptures and delves into the Jain view of reality.
Originally, Mahavir Bhagwan’s teachings were passed down only through oral memorization. 150 years after his Nirvan (liberation), there was a long drought in which migration separated Jain monks/nuns in the North and South. After the end of this 12-year drought, the ascetics met again to resolve any inconsistencies in the oral traditions which had developed. One set of ascetics could only compile the first 11 parts of Mahavir Bhagwan’s Agams from memorization and dropped the 12th part. The other set of monks didn’t agree with this compilation. This created the split in Jainism.
The split can still be seen: in monks, Shwetämbar ascetics wear simple white clothes while Digambar monks wear no clothes. The distinction can also be seen in the idols of Tirthankars in Jain temples: the Shwetambar sect believes in adorned idols with eyes, and the Digambar sect believes in unadorned idols with eyes semi-closed in meditation. Various other distinctions exist.
The Digambara sect, in recent centuries, has been divided into the following major sub-sects: Bisapantha, Terapantha, and Taranapantha or Samaiyapantha.
- Bisapanth: In their temples, the Bisapanthas worship the idols of Tirthankaras as well as the idols of Ksetrapala, Padmavati and other deities. They worship these idols with symbolic offerings of flowers, fruits, and other green vegetables. They sit on the ground and do not stand while worshipping.
- Terapanth: In their temples, the Terapanthis install the idols of Tirthankaras and not of Ksetrapala, Padmavati and other deities. They worship the idols with sacred rice called ‘akshat’, cloves, sandal, almonds, dry coconuts, dates, etc. While worshipping, they stand and do not sit.
Note: Even though the name Terapantha sub-sect appears both among the Digambara and the Svetambara sects. Still the two Terapanthis are entirely different from each other. While the Digambara Terapanthis believe in nudity and idol-worship, the Svetambara Terapanthis are quite opposed to both.
- Taranapanth: Taranapanthis do not believe in idol worship or outward religious practices. Taranapanthis emphasize spiritual values and learning through sacred literature. Malharagarh, in former Gwalior State in Madhya Pradesh, is the central place of pilgrimage of Taranapanthis.
The Shwetambar sect has also been split into three major sub-sects: Murtipujak, Sthanakvasi, Terapanthi.
- Murtipujak: This sect worships idols through symbolic offerings and adornment. The monks cover their mouths with strips of cloth (muppati) while speaking and collect food from laymen’s houses. They eat and stay in temples or special buildings known as upashrays.
- Sthanakvasi: The main principle of this sect was not to practice idol-worship. Sthanakvasi do not have their religious activities in temples, but carry on their religious duties in places known as sthanaks which are like prayer-halls. Further, the ascetics always cover their mouths, not just while speaking, and only use white muhapatis.
- Terapanthi: This sect concentrates on 13 religious principles: (i) five Mahavrats (great vows), (ii) five Samitis (regulations) and (iii) three Guptis (controls or restraints). Terapanthis do not worship idols and emphasize meditation instead. All monks and nuns follow the instructions of their Acharya (religious head) and preach under his guidance.
The soul has certain qualities and characteristics attached to it (which could be attributed to “destiny”). These qualities can be modified given the right instrumental causes. The instrumental causes are created by the karmas associated with the soul and the presence of other living beings and material surroundings. However, a person can modify his/her reactions to such causes and thus alter the consequences of one’s karmas. (free will). Overall, this process heavily favors free will over destiny/determinism in Jainism. One can be born with certain characteristics (destiny), but can certainly alter the consequences of those characteristics (free will).
Lifestyle & Diet
If unavoidable, a layperson (Shravaka [male] and Shravika [female]) may defend him or herself. It is also the duty of Jain laypeople to defend their country when called upon to serve. Monks (Sadhus) and nuns (Sadhvis) cannot defend themselves, but take every possible opportunity to make sure that they are not in a position to be attacked in the first place.
As scientifically defined, anything with a cell is considered living. For example, the simplest living forms (unicellular organisms) are bacteria. Bacteria have many of the same capabilities that human cells do. Therefore, they are living organisms just like us. That is why you see Sadhus and Sadhvis (monks and nuns) covering their mouth while speaking. This is in order to prevent their breath from killing bacteria in the air. Realistically, we are killing millions of bacteria every day. However, it is important to try to do our best to minimize such violence.
In regard to plants, again, they have an entire cellular network capable of energy production and waste excretion, just like us. Therefore, it is important that we do not purposelessly walk on grass. [Namokar Mantra recitation for the organisms you are harming while stepping on grass is recommended.] However, activities such as cutting through people’s lawns while walking is not necessary and should be avoided in order to refrain from injuring plants and small insects who reside in these lawns.
For consumption purposes, we must sustain ourselves through food. Food can come from two sources: animal or plant. Since plants do not have a nervous system and have limited capability to feel pain, it is more acceptable to eat plants and plant products than it is to use animal products. Ultimately, killing small plants and animals is unavoidable due to our lifestyles. However, decreasing this violence is a priority for all Jains.
The most fundamental tenet of Jainism is Ahimsa (non-violence), which extends to not harming ANY living being. Eating after sundown involves a higher risk of accidentally killing innocent insects that come out at night. While some believe that this extension of Ahimsa was more applicable before the advent of electricity, there are a certainly a number of small bugs attracted to light bulbs. These creatures are at greatest risk of being harmed at nighttime.
Jainism categorizes root vegetables as Saadhaaran Vanaspatikaaya, or organisms with one body but an infinite number of souls. By avoiding the consumption of root vegetables and therefore reducing the number of souls harmed, one better adheres to the central tenet of Ahimsa (nonviolence). Spinach is considered to fall within this category as well.
Jains refrain from alcohol for two main reasons. First, due to the influence of alcohol on one’s mind and actions, Jains feel that drinking alcohol is a form of self-harm. Second, alcohol processing can often involve non-vegetarian additives, such fish glue, gelatin, or egg whites. These ingredients are not required to be declared on labels. Thus, alcohol consumption directly violates a fundamental principle of Jainism: non-violence to oneself and other living beings.
Important Rituals & Holidays
Paryushan and Das Lakshan are two significant Jain religious observances. For both Shwetambars, who observe Paryushan for a period of eight days, and Digambars, for whom Das Lakshana lasts ten days, this is a time of intensive study, reflection, and purification. It takes place in the middle of the four-month rainy season in India, a time when monks and nuns cease moving about from place to place and stay with one community. Watch this video or navigate here to learn more.
All Jains, from householders to monks/nuns, take on various temporary vows (Pachhakhan) of different kinds, which can include study and fasting. Paryushan concludes with a ritual of confession and forgiveness for the transgressions of the previous year – this ritual is called Samvatsari Pratikraman. Das Lakshan focuses on ten different qualities, including forgiveness, over its span. Watch this video or navigate here to learn more.
Fortunately, there is a hotline where you can hear a recorded version of Pachhakhan. Just dial (630) 213-JSMC for the Jain Automated System for Mangalik and Pachhakhan. Listening to Mangalik or taking the Pacchkan of your choice was never so easy!
Whether it’s taking Navkarsi Pachhakhan (a vow to not eat until 48 minutes after sunrise to allow nighttime insects to clear out of visible spaces) or self-made vows such as not eating dairy products for a week or not raising your voice in anger for a few days, any vow can do wonders in regard to increasing your self-control and mental stamina, ultimately benefiting your soul.
Tithi translates to “lunar day;” they occur several times each month. On such days, Jains take care to further limit the violence caused as a result of their thoughts, words, and actions (for instance, not mowing the lawn and not swimming). Jains also avoid the consumption of green vegetables, along with a few other items, on Tithis. The significance of Tithis lies in one’s Ayushya Karma, or life span-determining karma, which decides what kind of body the soul will occupy in its next birth (human, animal, heavenly being, hellish being). This karma is bound on a Tithi, the date of which is unknown to us. One’s mindset during that time plays a role in the kind and intensity of karma bound (in addition to the karma one reaps over the course of their life). Hence, Jains work to be more spiritually focused on those days. To find out which days are Tithis, check the YJA Jain Panchang (lunar calendar).
Diwali (Deepavali or festival of lights) is usually celebrated in late October or early November (on the new moon day of Kartik). On this day, Bhagwan Mahavir, the last Tirthankar, attained Nirvana; he was liberated from karmic bondage and the cycle of life and death. During the night of Diwali, holy hymns are recited to honor Bhagwan Mahavir. New Year's Day is celebrated on the next day.
There are basically two main kinds of prayers:
- Dravya Puja (with symbolic offerings of material objects).
- Bhav Puja (with deep feeling and meditation).
One kind of Dravya Puja is the Ashta Prakari Puja, which involves the offering of eight symbolic objects: Jal (water), Chandan (sandal-wood), Pushpa (flower), Dhoop (incense), Deep (lamp), Akshat (rice), Naived(sweets), and Fal (fruit). One kind of Bhav Puja is Chaityavandan, a ritual in which Jains reflect on the qualities and virtues of various Tirthankars that they themselves strive to achieve, as well as self-reflect on one’s own soul.
- Jal Puja (Water): Water symbolizes the life’s ocean of birth, struggle and death. Every living being continuously travels through the cycles of birth, life, death and misery. This prayer reminds the devotee to live with honesty, truth, love and compassion toward all living beings.
- Chandan Puja (Sandal-wood):Sandal wood paste symbolizes Right Knowledge. The devotee reflects on Right Knowledge with clear, proper understanding of reality from different perspectives.
- Pushpa Puja (Flower): Flowers symbolize Right Conduct. The devotee remembers that conduct should be like a flower which provides fragrance and beauty to all living beings without discrimination.
- Dhup Puja (Incense): The incense stick symbolizes renunciation. While burning itself, it provides fragrance to others. This reminds the devotee to live life for the benefit of others, which ultimately leads to liberation.
- Deepak Puja (Oil Lamp): The flame of the oil lamp represents pure consciousness or a soul without any karmic bondage. The devotee is reminded to follow the five major vows so as to attain liberation.
- Akshat Puja (Rice): One cannot grow rice plants by seeding with household rice. Symbolically it means that rice is the last birth. With this prayer, the devotee strives to make all effort in this life to get liberation.
- Naivedya Puja (Sweet food): With this prayer, the devotee strives to reduce or eliminate attachment.
- Fal Puja (Fruit): Fruit symbolizes moksha or liberation. The devotee is reminded to perform duties without any expectation and have love and compassion for all living beings so as to attain the ultimate fruit,moksha.
Jainism in the Community
Jains believe that the teachings of Tirthankars have been developed over many years and present excellent guides to the nature of life. The various philosophies and practices will ultimately lead to the liberation from the cycle of life and death. However, one of these core practices is Anekantavad, or the multiplicity of viewpoints. Jains believe that different perspectives on truth must be respected as only those who have achieved Keval Gyan can see the ultimate truth. Thus, confidence in Jainism does not correlate to intolerance of other religions, but instead respect for their approaches to truth.
Jainism has impacted the Indian and global society in many ways. In India, Jains had a major influence in the fields of philosophy and ethics through concepts such as Karma, Ahimsa, Moksha, and reincarnation. Jains in the wealthier classes also contributed to the development of society through investment in schools, colleges, and hospitals. Their major presence in the state of Gujarat has also influenced the Gujarati cuisine to be predominantly vegetarian.
Globally, the most well-known impact of Jainism is its influence on the life of Gandhi. While Gandhi grew up in the Hindu religion, his household was strongly influenced by Jainism. He learned the concepts of non-possessiveness, non-violence, and self-control to lead a simple personal life. His peaceful campaign of civil disobedience led millions of people to freedom in India as well as influenced future leaders to utilize the strength of non-violence.
Marwadi means people of Rajasthan, while Gujaratis are from Gujarat. Kutchi Jains are from Kutch, a district in Gujurat. In the practice of Jainism, the three cultural groups do not differ much. While Gujarati and Kutchi Jains tend to be Shwetambar, Marwadi Jains tend to be a mix of Digambar and Shwetambar. Marwadi Jains may have prayers/rituals in Hindi, but the meanings are the same.