The beliefs of the Jains

What Jains believe and how their faith is more than a sect of Hinduism as is sometimes said - it is

Outline of Jain Beliefs

What is it which prompts a prince, used to the best things in life, to abandon his material and worldly pleasures, and to adopt a life of strict asceticism austerity?

Two and half millennia ago, Lord Mahavira (599-527 BCE) did precisely this, at the age of 30.

He spent years in silent contemplation, living a simple and austere life. At the age of 42 he attained Enlightenment or Omniscience, which the Jains called Kevalgnan, and for 30 years shared his message of universal spiritual upliftment until, at age 72, his soul left embodiment for good and he attained Moksha or Nirvana.

Lord Mahavira is a historical figure and he is mentioned in Buddhist texts, being a contemporary of the Buddha, but from an older, established tradition. He is a Jina, or victor, having overcome his inner enemies. A Jain is one who worships a Jina.

In addition to being a Jina, Lord Mahavira is a Tirthankar, a ford-maker. He has made a ford for us so we can cross over from this world of embodied existence (Sansar) to the state of Moksha, Liberation.

He is the last of 24 Tirthankars which Jains believe to have existed in this particular part of the time cycle. The 23rd Tirthankar, Lord Parshvanath, is also a historical figure. It is typically one or more of these 24 Tirthankars who Jains worship.

The Jain tradition is a unique, distinct and ancient part of the culture of South Asia. Often considered to be a sect of Hinduism, it is actually an independent religious tradition.

Like Buddhism, Jainism is considered a Shramanical tradition, as opposed to a Brahminical Hinduism.

While the Tirthankars are worshipped, they are considered to be mortal human beings, who attained Moksha and left behind a religious order and shared the eternal message of Jainism. We believe in them as exemplary beings, whose path we can follow to realise the same exalted states they achieved. In Jain philosophy, any living being, if it so wishes, can attain Moksha, or liberation, and become a Jina.

Each and every living being is, by nature, a soul. Each is eternal, unique and identical, apart from the circumstances of its embodiment. This state of embodiment has been driven since time immemorial by the Law of Karma. Just as gold is found in ore, so our soul is embodied, and the process of purification will lead to its shining liberation.

Despite our spiritual nature, we identify with the body we currently occupy and animate. Without a soul, a dead body is literally lifeless and will not function. The mind, the breath, the senses are all driven by the soul or Atma or Jiva. This soul is the seat of consciousness, which is its defining characteristic. The body is cast off from one life to another, in the same ways as we change clothes.

The misidentification of ourselves as bodies is a function of our delusion. This delusion generates a sense of “me and mine” toward the body, its relationships and its circumstances, with which we have a merely ephemeral, temporary association.

This generates feelings of like and dislike towards situations which are positive and negative for the body, and these are expressed as the quartet of passions, namely anger, ego, deceit, greed, which lead to various vibration activities in the soul, seens as thought, words and actions. This delusion, these passions, and these vibrations drive the process of Karma, in a seemingly vicious cycle. The Jain path is the path of breaking this cycle.

If we realise that we are souls by nature, and that all living beings possess a soul like ours, then this must have a dramatic outcome on both our vision and our ethical conduct. Jains believe in the cultivation of friendship and compassion towards all living beings. These virtues are to be practiced until they become a state of being, rather than conditional on any particular soul, just as a rose give fragrance, regardless of whether anyone is there.

Jain ethics are driven by the principle of Ahimsa, non-violence. This traditionally governs diet, business and professional practice, and general conduct. Jains are usually strict vegetarians: In addition, many do not even eat certain vegetables and fruits, as their cultivation, harvesting or consumption would entail more damage to living beings: in the West, there is increasing adoption of Veganism amongst younger members of the community. The scriptures and codes of conduct contain injunctions against certain professions involving harm, or the exploitation of other lives.

The religion and practice of Jainism, as with other South Asian traditions, is best expressed as Dharma. Dharma can be considered three ways: “Dharma is the nature of things;” it is that which protects us from conduct which is not beneficial to the Soul; and it is the path to Moksha.

Dharma thus brings us closer to the our own true nature, or soul. It generates conduct which will free us from Karma, and it is the path to Moksha or freedom from Karma.

“Right Belief, Right Knowledge, Right Conduct constitute the path to Moksha”

These three are seen as the three Jewels of Jain Dharma. Right belief, at one level, is the belief in our true nature as Soul, and not as body; a belief in the True God, True Dharma and True Guru; it can also be understood, at another level, as the very experience of the soul, of self-realisation. Right Knowledge refers to the insights that are conducive to faith, such as that body and soul are separate. Right Conduct ultimately also resides in the soul, in that our inclinations, thoughts, words and deeds are governed spiritually, and, ultimately, that we become still in the experience of soul.

The nature of the soul has already been described as eternal consciousness. It is our own sense of identity. Also intrinsic to it are the qualities of bliss and energy. In an embodied state, all of these are obscured by Karma, but in the state of Moksha, we experience them in infinity. The state of Moksha is thus freedom from Karma, but, more positively it is the experience of eternal, infinite consciousness, bliss and energy.

The soul is free from the duality of pleasure and pain, from like and dislike, and from the ups and downs of mundane life. Even before the state of Moksha, in self-realisation, one can experience this bliss and peace, even if momentarily, right here and now.

It is this potential to realise the joy and ecstasy of self-realisation, to cultivate a state of selflessness, and equanimity, and to live in harmony with all living beings, which inspires me on my journey.

Ashik Shah is an active lay member of the Jain community. He was a founder of Young Jains of America, and is an active member of Young Jains in the UK. He has been in the fund management business for the last 15 years.
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Ansbach puts Europe's bravest politician under pressure

Angela Merkel must respond to a series of tragedies and criticisms of her refugee policy. 

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, is supposed to be on holiday. Two separate attacks have put an end to that. The first, a mass shooting in Munich, was at first widely believed to be a terrorist attack, but later turned out to be the actions of a loner obsessed with US high school shootings. The second, where a man blew himself up in the town of Ansbach, caused less physical damage - three were seriously injured, but none killed. Nevertheless, this event may prove to affect even more people's lives. Because that man had come to Germany claiming to be a Syrian refugee. 

The attack came hours after a Syrian refugee murdered a pregnant Polish woman, a co-woker in a snack bar, in Reutlingen. All eyes will now be on Merkel who, more than any other European politician, is held responsible for Syrian refugees in Europe.

In 2015, when other European states were erecting barriers to keep out the million migrants and refugees marching north, Merkel kept Germany's borders open. The country has resettled 41,899 Syrians since 2013, according to the UNHCR, of which 20,067 came on humanitarian grounds and 21,832 through private sponsorship. That is twice as much as the UK has pledged to resettle by 2020. The actual number of Syrians in Germany is far higher - 90 per cent of the 102,400 Syrians applying for EU asylum in the first quarter of 2016 were registered there. 

Merkel is the bravest of Europe's politicians. Contrary to some assertions on the right, she did not invent the refugee crisis. Five years of brutal war in Syria did that. Merkel was simply the first of the continent's most prominent leaders to stop ignoring it. If Germany had not absorbed so many refugees, they would still be in central Europe and the Balkans, and we would be seeing even more pictures of starved children in informal camps than we do today. 

Equally, the problems facing Merkel now are not hers alone. These are the problems facing all of Europe's major states, whether or not they recognise them. 

Take the failed Syrian asylum seeker of Ansbach (his application was rejected but he could not be deported back to a warzone). In Germany, his application could at least be considered, and rejected. Europe as a whole has not invested in the processing centres required to determine who is a Syrian civilian, who might be a Syrian combatant and who is simply taking advantage of the black market in Syrian passports to masquerade as a refugee. 

Secondly, there is the subject of trauma. The Munich shooter appears to have had no links to Islamic State or Syria, but his act underlines the fact you do not need a grand political narrative to inflict hurt on others. Syrians who have experienced unspeakable violence either in their homeland or en route to Europe are left psychologically damaged. That is not to suggest they will turn to violence. But it is still safer to offer such people therapy than leave them to drift around Europe, unmonitored and unsupported, as other countries seem willing to do. 

Third, there is the question of lawlessness. Syrians have been blamed for everything from the Cologne attacks in January to creeping Islamist radicalisation. But apart from the fact that these reports can turn out to be overblown (two of the 58 men arrested over Cologne were Syrians), it is unclear what the alternative would be. Policies that force Syrians underground have already greatly empowered Europe's network of human traffickers and thugs.

So far, Merkel seems to be standing her ground. Her home affairs spokesman, Stephan Mayer, told the BBC that Germany had room to improve on its asylum policy, but stressed each attack was different. 

He said: "Horrible things take place in Syria. And it is the biggest humanitarian catastrophe, so it is completely wrong to blame Angela Merkel, or her refugee policies, for these incidents." Many will do, all the same.