Jainism is a more of a way of life than a religion. Credit is given to a man named Nataputta Vardhamana, better known as MAHAVIRA or “The Great Hero”. He lived from 599 b.c. to 527 b.c. , during the same time as Buddha and Lao-Tzu.
However, Mahavira went beyond the teachings of Buddha. He believed that in order to achieve nirvana, one had to live a structured life, guided by 5 spiritual vows. He believed that if one followed these vows, and lived their lives accordingly, they would achieve liberation from the confines of this world; one would be able to achieve Nirvana.
This is a statue of Mahavira near Qutub Minar in New Delhi, India
Jain Dharma, literally translated means the “Law of Jainism”. Dharma means Law, or “that which upholds or supports”. However, in a religious context, it can also mean, “one’s religious duty”.
The five spiritual vows are called the FIVE MAHAVRATAS. Or the “Great Vows”. VRATA is defined as a dedication to oneself permanently, and to a single purpose.
The first vow of Jain Dharma is AHIMSA. Ahimsa is love and non-violence toward all things. This was a new concept of reverence to all life, as opposed to sacrifice of animals to God. Buddhists and Brahmins also believed this during the same time period as Mahavira.
But Jains take this vow to another level. They are vegetarian, surviving on fruits that fall naturally from trees. They are not allowed to eat onions, garlic, potatoes, or any fruit with a large number of seeds in them.
The Jain priests are not allowed to seek alms at night, because they couldn’t see what life forms they were trampling on. Because they are vegetarians, it follows that they are not allowed to even own leather.
The second vow of Jain Dharma is TRUTHFULLNESS. Speech should be deliberate. The tone should not be angry, or filled with greed, or fear. They believe that speaking something that you know to be false is a vow that is broken.
The third vow of Jain Dharma is NO STEALING. They strongly believe that one should not take what on e has not been given.
The fourth vow of Jain Dharma is NO SEXUAL PLEASURES. Mahavira is quoted as saying, “women are the greatest temptation in the world.” Mahavira believed that all “pleasures of the flesh” are evil.
The fifth vow is to RENOUNCE ALL ATTACHMENTS. Mahavira, in his quest for Nirvana left his entire family, and lived on his own for the rest of his life after age 30. He never stayed longer than one night at someone’s home for fear of breaking this vow. Jains even believe that clothing is a form of attachment, and that having clothing indicates one’s residual feeling of shame. This shame was considered a defect in character, not to be desired by a true Jain.
These five vows are very extreme, and are tough to follow in the world today. Currently, there are less than 4 million followers of Jainism. However there are still 40,000 temples in India worshipping the TIRTHANKARAS, or the 24 religious priests who founded Jainism; Mahavira being the 24th priest.
Here is a picture of one of the Jain temples in India.