Tree of Life Lessons
Level 1 Lesson 7 World Religions
The answer to the
questions raised by Hinduism found two “heretical” answers: Buddhism and
Jainism. Of the two, only Jainism was able to survive the repeated assaults on
it by the Orthodox Hindu religion. One explanation given for the rise and growth
of these two religions is their clarity against the multiplicity of Hinduism and
their ethical strength.
Jainism was caused by
the Brahmins. During the 6th century BCE, the caste system was yet in
a state of flux with the priestly caste making even bolder claims. Naturally,
the nobility was going to resist this; for the Brahmins put forth the claim that
no one who was not a Brahmin could enter Nirvana.
Offsetting this was the
great creative period of the noble class -- the Kshatriyas -- which produced the
Upanishads. Minds began to turn towards a monastic idea which openly declared
that the physical world was not all there was (against the Brahmin idea of
holding to it). All things were seen as having life and given the ability to
Mahavira is the name
accepted for the founder of Jainism. He came from the noble class and was born
in 599 BCE. He was not the oldest son, which, perhaps, made his later
renunciation of the physical world all the easier for he would not inherit his
After his parents died,
he gave up all his wealth, and joined the Order of Parshva. He took an oath
neglect my body and abandon the care of it; I shall with equanimity bear,
undergo, and suffer all calamities arising from divine powers, men and
He soon left the Order
to strike out on his own. He wandered around southern
He had two
convictions: (1) release of the soul by removal of all negation can only be done
through the strictest asceticism, and (2) keeping the soul pure means that one
must respect all living things. This is called Ahimsa, non-injury.
this to the degree that he carried a soft broom to sweep his path so that he
wouldn’t step on ants or insects.
He only ate food
prepared for someone else and never raw meat. Once he received the food, he
would look through it for anything which might have life such as sprouts, eggs,
Through all this, he
sought to gain absolute control of his body and mind. Cold, heat, hunger, and
pain were all accepted as chances to gain more control. He never spoke to anyone
in order to avoid building any personal attachments.
For 12 years, he
followed this path -- always seeking moksha, or “deliverance”. It is
recorded that as he was sitting “in a squatting position, with knees high and
head low, in deep meditation, in the midst of abstract meditation, he reached
Nirvana -- the complete and the full called ‘Kevala’.”
He thus became the
Jina, “Conqueror”; for he had achieved complete “victory” over his body
and had left the world. He thereupon entered a period of teaching and gathering
disciples for thirty years. Finally, at the age of 72, he cut all ties with the
earth plane and entered into Nirvana where he is now in a state beyond the Wheel
of Karma and rebirth.
Jainism developed a
doctrine which became distinct from both Buddhism and Hinduism. They accept the
Law of Karma and believe the successive layers on the Soul can only be worked
off by going back to the ascetic Parshva. This will throw off as many as five
layers of incrustations which can cover the Soul.
The Jainist knows of
two states of vibration: gross matter and light. Matter is eternal and is seen
as the atoms moving together in infinite patterns.
Karma matter is
understood as the least dense matter. As the being travels from lifetime to
lifetime, this Karma matter sticks to the Soul. At transition, when the Soul is
released, the amount of matter on the Soul determines whether it will rise or
fall into the next lifetime.
All things were
classified according to the sense they possessed. Those being with five senses
-- man, gods, animals, etc. -- were the highest and so on.
Without matter, man is
seen as perfect. When perfection is reached and one enters Isatpragbhara, there
is no loss of consciousness as in Nirvana. Rather, all else is dropped so that
the consciousness can be all there is.
Mahavira held that
there was no Supreme Deity. There were a number of higher beings, but no help
could be expected from them. There was, therefore, no SELF. Even the higher
beings were in need of redeeming. All salvation, both for the higher beings
and those in dense manifestation, was self-attained. Praying was of no use.
The fastest and surest
way to liberation, or Moksha, was the practice of asceticism. Fasting and
mind control were used to induce a trance-like state where one could, in
meditation, transcend his own being. Severe control is needed of mind and body
for lack of purity will block the way and lack of control will lead one off the
took “Five Great Vows”. These were: (1) renunciation of all killing, (2)
speak only truth, (3) renunciation of all greed, (4) avoid all sexual contact,
and (5) complete detachment from all things on this plane of existence.
Later, the Jainists wrote a watered-down set for lay disciples. These
twelve vows were all centered around the first vow which was against killing. As
a result, many Jainists became bankers and professional tradesmen because these
professions did not deal in any way with harming living creatures.
Even while he was
alive, there were many stories growing around Mahavira and many divisions were
occurring within the faith. Later, he was obscured by the teachers who walked
the path after him.
The major division
occurred between those in southern
The effect of Jainism
Although numbering only two million today, their philosophy has helped many people, including Mahatma Gandhi.