Jain

Jain SymbolBasic Belief

Jainism strives to achieve the highest perfection of man, Nirvana (moksha), which, in its original purity is free from all pain and the bondage of birth and death. The main writings, the Agam Sutras, were spoken over 2600 years ago by Lord Mahavira and handed down by his 11 main apostles. They deal with the great reverence for all forms of life, non-violence, compassion and opposition to war, asceticism, and vegetarianism. Social Action is integral to Jains. They are involved in various international relief projects and in feeding and clothing the needy in their local communities.

Symbol:  The hand signifies friendly re-assurance and ethical responsibility.  In the hand is a wheel which represents the dharmar chakra, standing for the resolve to halt the cycle of life and death. Ahimsa (non-violence) is in the middle of the wheel. Below the “hand” is the saying that life is bound together by mutual support and interdependence.

Historical Background

Jain dharma, belongs to the śramaṇa` traditions and is one of the oldest Indian religions.  It prescribes a path of nonviolence (ahimsa) towards all living beings. Practitioners believe nonviolence and self-control are the means to liberation. The three main principles of Jainism are nonviolence, non-absolutism (anekantavada) and non-possessiveness (aparigraha). Followers of Jainism take 5 major vows: nonviolence, not lying, not stealing (asteya), chastity, and non-attachment. Asceticism is thus a major focus of Jainism.

The word “Jain” derives from the Sanskrit word jina “victor”. A human being who has conquered all inner passions and achieved enlightenment is called a jina. Jains trace their history through a succession of twenty-four jinas who were also teachers and revivers of the Jain path known as Tirthankar starting with Rishabha (Adinath) and concluding with Mahavira, who was a contemporary of Lord Gautama Buddha.

This faith was originally known as the śramaṇa` tradition until about 2600 years ago, when Lord Mahavira expanded the code of conduct to such an extent that present Jain scriptures reflect only his teachings. There are basically two major sects: Digambar (sky clad, without clothes) and the Swetambar (white cloth). Worldwide, there are about 10 million Jain adherents. In North America there are an estimated 250,000 Jains.

Customs and People

Most Jains are from India and speak Hindi and Gujarati. They are fully integrated into American way of living.  Only monks are distinguished by wearing dhoti (Indian loin cloth) and shawls. Jains are strict vegetarians, eliminating meat, poultry, eggs, seafood and alcohol. Mahatma Gandhi  was highly influenced by the teaching of Jainism and notably practiced and preached ahimsa (non-violence).

Structure

There is no central Jain religious authority. Jainism is “do it yourself religion”. One does not need an intermediary to pray and worship God. The spiritual guide of the Jain community is the High priest, Gurudev (pastor). Among his many duties are those of teacher, leader of services, and interpreter of religious laws and family counselor. He reached his qualifications after long dedication and deep religious studies with a devout and experienced teacher. The teacher has the final approval of the fitness of the Gurudev to teach. The Gurudev is chosen by the congregation’s governing boards. As part of his commitment to asceticism, the Gurudev is not paid; his needs are fulfilled by the Jain community. Other congregational expenses are covered by donations and holy day collections. Periodically a scholar visits a Jain temple/center to teach and lecture on various subjects.

Major Holidays

Paryushan Parva (Hindi and Gujarati) in August/September, are 18 days of prayer for forgiveness for the entire human community. They are observed with worship and fasting. In April, Mahavira Jayanti, Birth of Mahavira, commemorates Mahavira preaching. It is observed with worship and gatherings and celebrated with cultural dances and dramas. Special food is prepared along with homemade breads, sweets and beans. Mahavira Nirvana, one day in October/November, commemorates Mahavira last preachings and his attainment of Tirthankar hood. It is observed with gatherings and worship. A special dessert, Sweet Ball, is prepared from whole wheat flour, butter and sugar.

Worship

Namokar Mantra is the fundamental prayer of Jainism and may be recited at any time. In this mantra, Jains worship the qualities (gunas) of the spiritually supreme, including those who have already attained salvation, in order to adopt similar behavior. The prayer does not name any one particular person. In Jainism, the purpose of worship or prayer is to break the barriers of worldly attachments and desires and to assist in the liberation of the soul. Jains do not pray for any favors, material goods or rewards.

The Derasar, temple, is a free standing building devoid of any furnishings. It is, however, decorated with intricate marble carvings. The central focuses are pratimas (statues) of the 24 Tirthankar. Services are held Sunday mornings and last about 2-4 hrs. They are conducted by lay people from prayer books and memory. The sermon is conducted in Prakrit, Hindi and Gujarati which is not yet fully translated into English. It explains how to do good deeds and how to avoid unacceptable deeds. As part of the service there are songs and also a lamp is lit in the hope that it will bring light into our lives. Visitors are welcome, but must respect Jain tradition, wearing clean clothes and removing shoes.

For more information

The Jain Center of Central Ohio is located at 6651 S. Old State Road, Lewis Center, Ohio 43035.  Please visit our website www.jcoco.org